Race: An Open Letter to American Elementary Schools

img_4856 by Steph Holton

Almost everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten, to paraphrase Robert Fulghum. Kindergarten was when I learned to share, play fair, and to wonder unapologetically. But there was one lesson I didn’t learn until I was 18 years old and starting a degree in anthropology here at Portland State – a lesson that, three years later, I’m still upset I didn’t learn earlier.

The lesson was this: Race is not a biological reality.

Today, we’re lucky enough to not only have an impressive archaeological record containing fossils of our ancestors reaching back millions of years, but also to have the capability to sequence entire human genomes. These databases of knowledge support the model of human evolution beginning with humans in Africa 200,000 years ago and migrating into Europe around 60,000 years ago. Change in skin pigmentation was a result of the increasingly limited UV radiation those migrants were exposed to, and was merely a surface-level change – both phenotypically and genotypically. Because it was an adaptation to different environments, loss of pigmentation occurred at varying levels.

This history of early man means two big things for modern man: 1) The range in human skin color we see today only started evolving in the last fourth of our history! 2) There’s no biological way to validate racial categories, because human variation exists on a spectrum, with no places to draw distinct divisions between populations.

Race is very much a social reality. In no way do I intend to take away from its cultural significance. But it is a much too common misconception that there is more than a social justification for dividing humanity into discrete units. We need to celebrate the remarkable phenotypic and cultural diversity among us. But, now more than ever, we should also be taking Robert Fulghum’s advice to “hold hands and stick together” – by recognizing and teaching that we’re more alike than different.

A couple of great TED Talks on this topic are Nina Jablonski’s “Skin color is an illusion” and Spencer Wells’ “A family tree for humanity.”

Thank You for Not Breeding

img_4856 by Steph Holton

On Friday, April 21, Portland State hosted its annual Earth Day Festival, which featured booths from dozens of environmentally-minded student and community organizations with a passion for educating and engaging the public in sustainability efforts. I passed through the festival several times that day but only stopped by one booth, simply because I could not resist knowing what was meant by the words on its canopy: Thank You for Not Breeding. It turned out, this was a booth promoting the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, which supports the complete cessation of human procreation to allow the earth to reset itself from the damage caused by the human race.

When I asked whether the movement had considered promoting limited procreation, the person manning the booth told me that while the goals of the movement are essentially impossible, even the birth of a single human being beyond the current population is unjustifiable because of the damage inflicted on the earth and the loss of life due to starvation every day.

I agree, the goals of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement are impossible. However, overpopulation is becoming a greater issue every day; the human population doubled in the years between 1960 and 2000 alone, while more than 10,000 species go extinct each year. A global increase in life expectancy is partially responsible for the population bubble we see now, but there has also been a dramatic increase in birth rates in modern times. That points to the necessity of nationally and globally supported resources for family planning. There are myriad facts on this topic, which of course are too numerous to list here; however, for those who are interested, some great resources to look into are:

https://www.populationmatters.org/

http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/family_planning/en/

and http://wwf.panda.org/

Petextrians

img_4856 by Steph Holton

In October, I fell down a flight of stairs in Lincoln Hall. It was not the way I’d planned on leaving film class that day, but then again, my attention was mostly on my phone at the time. Other than several days of a limp, I was lucky enough not to sustain any major injuries, thus my friends and family felt the luxury of laughing at my clumsiness. I’m glad it turned out that way instead of what could easily have been broken bones.

I’m telling you this story to show that I’m guilty of being a petextrian. That is, a person walking while distracted by their handheld device. According to CBS News, at least 10 percent of pedestrians ending up in emergency rooms are injured from distracted walking, and in a recent survey, more than three-quarters of Americans said distracted walking is a “serious issue.”

If the recognition is there, why are people still falling off cliff edges while looking through a lens and walking onto train tracks while checking email?

Last year, I wrote a blog declaring my New Year’s resolution to lessen my cell phone use in order to more fully engage in the moment. I realize what a challenge that is in the Digital Age that we live in, but the statistics on distracted walking are clear, and so my appeal to you now is more urgent: Don’t be another YouTube video of a pedestrian jumping out of the way of the Max at the last moment.

Time of the Season

 

img_4856 by Steph Holton

“It’s the time of the season

When love runs high”

-The Zombies, 1968

Just like The Zombies sang back in ’68, it’s the time of the season. More specifically, it’s the time for heart-shaped candies, heart-shaped balloons, heart-shaped cards… well, the pattern presents itself. If you’re anything like me, at least once in your life you’ve expressed disdain for the oh-so-Hallmark nature of the day and all the lovey-doveyness it’s meant to build.

No matter where your opinions lie on Valentine’s Day, I think we can at least agree that it’s supposed to be about love. Whether or not you plan to celebrate the day this year, I have a proposition for you. There’s been so much hate and divisiveness in our country recently that maybe we need a day all about love – even if it’s cheesy and sentimental and sugar-laden. Hell, we need more than a day. For starters, though, I’m proposing that we all focus on who and what we love this February, and make a commitment to being vocal about it! (Perfect way to start – Leslie Knope—inspired Galentine’s Day brunch with your ladies!)

Unfortunately, hate can be extremely (and effortlessly) loud. But I think love can drown it out. At the Jan. 21 Women’s March I saw signs over and over again reading “Love Trumps Hate.” The sentiment rings true, we just can’t be passive about it anymore.

Image above: the crowd assembled in love and solidarity on Portland’s west waterfront for the Jan. 21 Women’s March.

Millenials Learned Nothing From John Hughes

 

img_4856 by Steph Holton

I’m a millennial and I don’t know how to date.

But I’m also a film minor who puts way too much stock in the “art imitates life” concept, and I want to know who the onscreen-dating-dynamic of the ‘80s was imitating! Because apparently dating now is in no way as simple as when John Hughes was directing Judd Nelson and Molly Ringwald.

Characters in “The Breakfast Club” didn’t have to navigate Tinder (or Match or Bumble or any of the numerous others), and dating in the movies almost always happens within the more or less reliable confines of high school where participants have considerably fewer responsibilities than college students. As students at PSU, most of us not only have school, but work and extra-curriculars, not to mention family and friends to fit into our schedules. And then to top that off with attempting to find someone to give you warm fuzzies – worrying about ‘the right way’ to go about doing so? Is anyone else floundering out there? We don’t ask each other to “go steady.” Hell, we can’t even change our Facebook relationship statuses because that’s so 2010.

So what are the rules?

What I’ve finally come to realize in this millennial world of ours is that even though we’re doing things differently (the trademark of our wonderfully weird, often frustrating, brilliantly innovative generation), there were never any rules. I’ve come to realize that even though we don’t swap letterman jackets anymore, there’s still no right way or perfect time to ‘become official,’ or meet the parents, or hit any other relationship milestone. Every relationship is unique, and no matter how you met or what the current culture may deem the right way to go about it, it ultimately comes down to the feelings of the individuals involved, and that’s something that transcends generations.

Torn Between Now and Then

IMG_2069 by Steph Holton

I’m a conservative liberal.

I’m a feminist who hates the word ‘feminism.’

I’m a traditionalist who believes in change.

Three years ago, I was none of these things, for the chief reason that I never thought about myself in any of these terms. But then I graduated high school, and I flew the nest. I moved from a rural town, where I graduated with the same 90 kids whom I’d gone to kindergarten with. And I, like most other children, was a product of my environment. My “beliefs,” though I hesitate to even call them that given they were rather inactive, were the product of never having left the comfort of home.

Then, becoming a student and resident of Portland State where residents and opinions are so diverse, all of my beliefs were challenged. And you know what? Many of my preconceived notions about the world have changed in the last two years. Sometimes, that fact terrifies me. I’m torn between the ideals of my hometown and the ideals I’ve come to have as a college student at PSU. Even though I’m aware that change is very much a part of becoming an adult, I worry that my Portland community won’t accept my small-town values, and I worry that my hometown will think I’ve become a “flaming liberal” (actual quote).

It’s taken me awhile to accept that I’m an individual with a view of the world shaped by my unique experience, and my opinions and values are more valid than my fears of not being accepted. I’ve even found that the more I show both sides of me, the more I connect with the people around me and the more interesting my conversations become. We all share an experience as students of PSU, but we also all have a unique background that has helped shape who we are, and that’s definitely something to be proud of and own as an individual

The Kaepernick Controversy

IMG_2069 by Steph Holton

Whether you’re an avid 49ers fan, a casual NFL follower, or you’re completely oblivious to sports in general, Colin Kaepernick is now likely a familiar name. In protest to police brutality and racial inequality in the U.S., the NFL quarterback stayed seated during the national anthem at a recent pre-season game, and says he plans to continue protesting in this way throughout the season.

Unsurprisingly, backlash in the weeks since has been relentless. Accusations have been that Kaepernick’s actions are disrespectful and even illegal. Another common criticism is that the action ignores the sacrifice of veterans, but #VeteransforKaepernick has cropped up in support of his choice to sit or kneel during the anthem. On the other hand, encouragement has come from the many who say it is the quarterback’s right to exercise his freedoms in this way.

One thing is for certain – Kaepernick has sparked conversation about the nature of patriotism and right of protest. In response to the growing controversy, San Francisco Police Chief Michael Sellers said, “blanket statements disparaging the law enforcement profession are hurtful and do not help bring the country together, [however] police officers are here to protect the rights of every person, even if we disagree with their position.” Meanwhile, soccer player Megan Rapinoe, who also recently took a knee during the anthem as a nod to the San Francisco quarterback, said “Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties.”

Is this form of protest a stepping stone to change, or another act that further divides the nation? Colin Kaepernick’s decision to remain seated during the national anthem, while certainly controversial, is his right. Though while the country considers whether his actions are a disrespect to a long standing symbol of unity, the topic Kaepernick originally meant to bring to light has been largely overshadowed.