By now, every human in the world with access to a TV has probably seen the video of the frightened toddler who fell into a gorilla habitat at the Cincinnati Zoo. I've watched it twice, and both times I reached the same conclusion: The ape had to die.
Let's put aside for a moment how it happened. Maybe the zoo should rethink those natural habitats and keep gorillas in cages. Perhaps the mother of four is unfit because she took her eyes off one of her kids for a few seconds. Maybe the toddler is to blame for being too curious about what was going on behind those bushes. And of course, let's not let the dad off the hook. He has a criminal past, as at least one news outlet has reported, and wasn't even at the zoo when his son needed him most.
Regardless of the ridiculous accusations floating around, here's the bottom line: A helpless child ended up in a silverback gorilla's front yard, while the animal and his friends were home. Now, let's make it personal. How would you react if you suddenly found yourself face to face with a 450-pound dominant male gorilla? How many people would be willing to wait calmly while someone tried to determine if the gorilla had grabbed your arm in a friendly gesture or to sling you back and forth against a rock. My guess is that you'd do the same thing that I would — scream at the top of my lungs for someone to immediately take him out before he took me out.
It might appear that I'm a cold-hearted animal-hater, but I assure you that's not the case. In fact, I'm a firm believer that animals should never be used to entertain humans. By most standards, I'm probably at the extreme. I don't like zoos. I hate when whale sharks — the largest fish in the sea — are shipped to an aquarium and housed in a glass enclosure. I refuse to attend a circus where animals perform stunts while spectators munch on peanuts and popcorn. I wouldn't even take a ride on a horse-drawn carriage down Michigan Avenue. And I've been known to call the police when I see a dog tied to a tree in someone's backyard or left outside in a snowstorm. I considered it a huge redemption for humanity when Ringling Brothers bowed to public pressure and agreed to retire its circus elephants. I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard that wildlife officials were shutting down the infamous Tiger Temple in Thailand, where tourists get to pet drugged animals while posing for pictures.
I feel sorry for Harambe, who had to die simply because he was being held captive in a place where he never belonged. But I also realize that what happened at the Cincinnati Zoo last month was real. It wasn't a scene in a movie where the ape is shot to death before falling from the Empire State Building — the film's tragic ending that brought us to tears.
I'm not saying that Harambe was a monster, but he wasn't King Kong, the fictional beast who eventually was tamed by the beautiful young woman who had been offered to him as a sacrifice. Harambe didn't dip the 3-year-old into the water to wash him and then dry him off with his gentle, warm breath.
And 17-year-old Harambe, though raised in captivity, was no Binti Jua. Twenty years ago, Binti drew national attention when she cradled an unconscious 3-year-old boy who had fallen into her enclosure at the Brookfield Zoo, near Chicago. She lifted the child into her arms and carried him to the safety of zookeepers, all while her own baby gorilla clung onto her back. Binti, as it turned out, was hand-raised in the zoo and had been trained to care for her baby, even learning to take him to zoo doctors for exams.
No one knows what was going through Harambe's mind when that kid came splashing, seemingly out of nowhere, into his moat. And as much as some people would like to believe that the gorilla was trying to protect the child from the screaming humans overhead, no one could ever know his actual plan.
In most cases, even experienced zoo workers keep a safe distance away from the gorillas. While the primates might be misunderstood and their incredible strength often mistaken for aggression, the caretakers wouldn't dare enter their habitat unannounced, take a seat on a stone and share a bamboo shoot with them. Maybe the gorilla wouldn't have intentionally killed the child. But think of the damage he could do just playing around.
The most sensible thing I've heard so far is from the man who knew Harambe best — his caretaker for 15 years. Jerry Stones cut Harambe's umbilical cord when he was born at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, and took care of him before the gorilla was transferred to Cincinnati last year for a breeding program. "Ninety-nine percent of people, on both sides of the fence, pro or con, don't have a clue what they're talking about and I'm not going to comment on it. I wasn't there and they weren't either," Stones told the Cincinnati Enquirer. Instead of assigning blame, Stones started the Harambe Fund, a crowd-funding campaign to help endangered gorillas in the wild. With western lowland silverback gorillas like Harambe critically endangered — fewer than 100,000 are in existence — I can't think of a better way to pay respect. The money will go to the Mbeli Bai Study, a long-running project to research and protect western lowland gorillas in the Republic of Congo, where they're severely threatened by poachers and environment.
I Used to Work as a Zookeeper. Here’s What We’re Missing About the Death of Harambe.
By Amanda O'Donoughue Slate 6/1/16
I worked with gorillas as a zookeeper at the Knoxville Zoo from January 2006 until August of 2008; after that I volunteered doing sanctuary work and wildlife rehab. Of the dozens of animals I worked with closely, gorillas were my favorite—for their soulfulness, curiosity, and playfulness. Since the news emerged last weekend that Cincinnati Zoo officials shot and killed the gorilla known as Harambe after a little boy fell into his enclosure, I’ve realized that there are some misconceptions out there about both the gorilla species itself and how a zoo operates in emergency situations. Here, I’d like to try to clear up those misconceptions.
Gorillas are often considered to be “gentle giants,” at least when compared with their more aggressive cousins, the chimpanzee. But a 450-pound male such as Harambe has the strength of roughly 10 adult humans. What can you bench-press? Now multiply that number by 10. An adult male silverback gorilla has one job: to protect his group. He does this by bluffing or intimidating anyone and anything that he feels threatened by.
Gorillas are considered a Class I mammal, the most dangerous class of mammals in the animal kingdom—again, merely due to their size and strength. They are grouped in with other apes as well as tigers, lions, and bears. While working in an Association of Zoos and Aquariums–accredited zoo with apes, keepers do not work in direct contact with them; they never share an enclosed space with these animals. There is always a welded mesh barrier between the animal and the humans.
In recent decades, zoos have begun to redesign enclosures, removing all obvious caging in the attempt to create a seamless view of the animals in a more natural-looking habitat. Many viewing areas have glass fronts or more elaborate designs, including moats and waterfalls, as a means to keep the animals safely inside their enclosures. Walkways are lined with basic guard rails and shrubbery that can be breached, with strong enough intentions. This is fine—until little children begin falling into exhibits. This of course can happen to anyone, especially in a crowded zoo setting.
I have watched the video of Harambe and the little boy over and over again. The silverback's posturing and tight lips are a sign of agitation—a signal that the animal was stressed. Like humans, great apes have many different facial expressions that reveal what they are feeling. When a gorilla stands tense on his knuckles with shoulders high and lips tucked in tight, he is ready to intimidate whatever is threatening him.
Gorillas can be kind, curious, and sometimes silly, but they are also very large, very strong animals. I always brought my OCD to work with me, checking and rechecking locks to make sure my animals and I remained separated before entering.
I keep hearing on the news and on social media that the gorilla appeared to be trying to protect the boy from the yelling onlookers. I do not think this was the case. Harambe reaches for the boys’ hands and arms, but only to position the child better for his own displaying purposes. Males perform very elaborate displays when highly agitated, slamming and dragging things about, as Harambe did with the young child.Typically, male gorillas in captivity (and in the wild) will drag around large branches, barrels, and heavy-weighted balls to make as much noise as possible—not in an effort to hurt anyone or anything (usually), but just to intimidate. It is clear to me from Harambe’s body language that he was reacting to the screams from the gathering crowd and possibly from the child himself.
Harambe was most likely not going to separate himself from that child without seriously hurting him first—again, due to mere size and strength, not malicious intent. Why didn't the staff use food to lure Harambe away from the boy? I am under the impression that the keepers called the animals “off exhibit,” which is usually done using food as a lure; the females shifted into their indoor enclosures, but Harambe would not leave the boy. What better treat for a captive animal than a real live kid?
Tranquilizers may sound like a great option, but they weren’t used likely for a few different reasons. First, it would have taken too long to immobilize Harambe with tranquilizers, and in the intervening time, he could have seriously injured or killed the child. Second, it’s possible that Harambe could have drowned in the moat if immobilized in the water—which meant that he could have trapped the boy beneath him and drowned him as well.
Many zoos have the protocol to call on their expertly trained dart team in the event of an animal escape or when a human is trapped with a dangerous animal. They will evaluate the scene as quickly and as safely as possible, and will make the most informed decision as how they will handle the animal. I can't point fingers at anyone in this situation, but what’s needed is a reevaluation of the safety of the animal enclosures from the visitors’ side. It’s easy to build an exhibit so that the animals cannot escape. What is difficult is building an exhibit that showcases the animals in a natural-looking environment that mimics its wild counterpart without using caging. Caging impedes the patrons’ views of the animal, and many zoos have moved away from cages for purely aesthetic reasons. Zoo visitors want to be able to see the animals at all times, but more recent designs allows for animals to move off exhibit and out of sight if they feel the need, giving them places to hide and reducing their stress levels. Many exhibits designed in this way offer a view from above; moats and waterfalls, hills and valleys are carefully laid out to give the patron and the exhibited animal exactly what they need from the experience.
One thing I know for sure is that the keepers in Cincinnati lost a gorgeous silverback, and a friend. I feel their loss with them. As educators and conservators of endangered species, all we can do is shine a light on the beauty and majesty of these animals in hopes of sparking a love and a need to keep them from vanishing from our planet. Child killers, they are not. It's unfortunate for the boy and his family, for the conservation of the species, and for a beautiful zoo such as Cincinnati’s.
Who Is to Blame When a Child Wanders at the Zoo? By Kj Dell’Antonia 5/31/16 NYT
Some children are just harder to keep track of than others. When Elodie Mailliet Storm realized her 2-year-old, Jasper, wasn’t standing with his sister at the entrance to the park at Pier 6 in Brooklyn, she suddenly knew, with sickening clarity, that her toddler had boarded the ferry to Governors Island. But the ferry doors were closed. The boat was leaving, and the security staff refused to let her board. “They said they would have seen him,” she said. But she knew her son, and she was sure the small boy had slipped past. She was right. When the guards finally relented, they found Jasper seated under a bench among the crowd. “I still can’t think about what might have happened,” said the Brooklyn mother of two. “He was physically capable of almost anything, but he had no concept of danger.”
Parents, of course, are fallible. But children — some more than others — are wily.
Who, if anyone, is to blame when a child wanders away? That question is at the center of a vociferous debate surrounding the case of Harambe, the majestic silverback gorilla who was shot on Saturday after a little boy climbed into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. The brunt of the online criticism has fallen on the child’s mother, who has declined to be interviewed about the incident. On Tuesday, the police said that they were investigating the family’s actions in connection with the episode. There is even a petition on Change.org demanding that the parents be held accountable. So far, more than 350,000 people have signed.
But parenting experts and many parents themselves view the case differently. Not only did the child slip away from his mother, but he squeezed under a rail, through wire barriers and over a moat wall, all in the presence of numerous bystanders surrounding the gorilla exhibit.
“I do not fully know the details of this incident, but before you judge this mom, you have to remember that she may have taken every precaution,” said Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, author of “Raising Your Spirited Child.” Some children, she said, are just wired differently, with “a Lamborghini engine where most of us have a Chevy truck.” Those are children who are more likely to react to their environment, to become highly stimulated and to struggle with impulse control. “They’re high energy, they’re intense, and they’re very committed to their goals,” she said. Unfortunately, those goals may not be in line with those of their caregivers.
That clearly was the case of the boy at the gorilla exhibit. A witness told CNN that she heard the boy joke with his mother about going into the moat. The mother was briefly distracted by other children with her, and then “suddenly, the boy was in the water.”
For parents who are raising a risk-taking child, the story gives us pause. We know most trips out of the house require extra precautions. Closed doors and barred gates are like beacons to some kids, just waiting to be breached or climbed.
Jessica Bayreuther of Canaan, N.H., said her daughter Morgan climbed up into a machine where players try to grab toys with a claw at a Walmart in Maine when she was 2. She sat in there, victorious, for 45 long minutes while her parents, police officers and store employees searched the building. After the store had been shut down and panic was setting in, a boy playing a nearby video game pointed into the machine. “You looking for her?” he asked. Eventually, Morgan was persuaded to climb back out through the prize door (the store didn’t have the key to the machine).
In the case of the gorilla enclosure, Cindi Andrews, the opinion editor at The Cincinnati Enquirer, wrote this week that she initially criticized the parents for not supervising the child. But then she remembered the time she misjudged her own 18-month-old daughter’s foot speed as she approached a busy road. She chased the child down, but not before she ran in front of a car, which thankfully stopped quickly enough to avoid hitting her. “Raising a child to age 18 means maneuvering him or her safely through more than 567 million seconds,” Ms. Andrews wrote. “And it only takes one of those seconds for something to go terribly awry.”
Most parents have experienced “that second when your attention is turned, and the child darts away,” Dr. Kurcinka said. “This mother probably started her day thinking, ‘I’m going to do something special for the kids today.’ She never imagined anything like this would happen.”
After Harambe’s Death, Debating Whether Gorillas Belong in Zoos ByNATALIE ANGIER6/6/16 NYT excerpts
Harambe, the 17-year-old Western lowland gorilla shot dead at the Cincinnati Zoo late last month after a 3-year-old boy fell into his enclosure, may be physically gone, his tissues harvested for research and his sperm extracted to help diversify the captive breeding gene pool. Yet the 440-pound silverback leaves another metaphorical gorilla in the room, raising questions that extend far beyond the particulars of the case, including whether the zoo or the boy’s mother were more to blame for Harambe’s death.
For primatologists and conservationists who devote their lives to studying the great apes and to doing what they can to help protect the rapidly vanishing populations of the primates in the wild, a linked set of ethical and practical dilemmas looms almost unbearably large. As research continues to reveal the breadth of our genetic, emotional and cognitive kinship with the world’s four great apes — gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans — many primatologists admit to feeling frankly uncomfortable at the sight of a captive ape on display, no matter how luxe or “natural” the zoo exhibit may be.
“When I visit zoos, I have to turn off my feelings and just tell myself that I am at a museum admiring nature’s masterpieces,” said the primatologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, professor emerita at the University of California, Davis. “Otherwise, I can’t really justify keeping great apes in cages.”
At the same time, researchers acknowledge that apes in today’s zoos, at least in the industrialized world, were all born and raised in captivity, and could no more survive being “set free” into the forests of Africa or Indonesia than could the average tourist on safari.
Catherine Hobaiter of St. Andrews University in Scotland, who studies chimpanzees in Uganda, described the reaction of zoo gorillas that had been raised in indoor enclosures when the zoo finally added an outdoor annex to the exhibit. “It was heartbreaking to see,” she said. “The gentlest specks of rain, and the gorillas were drumming to get back inside. They were afraid of getting wet.”
Yet while primatologists concur that people have a moral obligation to care for the thousands of apes who are now in captivity and may live 60 years or longer, they differ on what that care should look like. Barbara Smuts, a renowned primatologist at the University of Michigan, recently distributed a petition asking that the other gorillas at the Cincinnati Zoo be relocated to a sanctuary far from the ogling, screeching crowds of their clothed relations.
Researchers also disagree on whether we should continue breeding apes in captivity, and if so, to what end. Some experts believe that well-designed zoos play an essential educational role, and that exposure to a flesh-and-blood ape can be a transformative experience, especially for children. “I remember going to the Milwaukee zoo when I was a kid and seeing the gorilla,” said Peter D. Walsh, a biological anthropologist at Cambridge University who works on gorilla conservation in Africa. “I was rapt. It’s like a drug. You don’t get that emotional bond from an IMAX movie.”
Others deride most zoos as little more than amusement parks with educational placards that few people bother to read. “There’s no good evidence that captive apes are having any positive effect on their wild relatives,” said Marc Bekoff, a behavioral ecologist and professor emeritus at the University of Colorado. As for education, he added, “one of the most wonderful and educational lessons in biodiversity I’ve ever seen was a snail exhibit at the Detroit Zoo.”
Peter Singer, a bioethicist at Princeton University, said, “Our primary concern ought to be the well-being of gorillas, but zoos are constructed the other way around: The primary concern is that humans can see the gorillas.”
No matter their feelings about zoos, primatologists despair at the shocking statistics on wild apes. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, all species and subspecies of wild apes rank as endangered or critically endangered, and in all cases, the trends point implacably downward. Apes are being lost to poaching, the bushmeat trade, habitat destruction and disease. In Sumatra and Borneo, forests have been pulped to make way for palm oil plantations, with devastating consequences for orangutans. Since the 1990s, 80 percent of Eastern lowland gorillas in Central Africa have died of Ebola.
By the Red List reckoning, the planetwide total for all wild apes amounts to 350,000 individuals, down from premodern figures estimated in the millions. Nor does it help, said Dr. Walsh of Cambridge University, that the public’s concern for the environment is now focused almost exclusively on climate change: “I feel like shouting, ‘Hey, guys, you could end climate change tomorrow and we’d still be facing the greatest extinction crisis we’ve ever seen.’”
A Meeting of Relatives
There’s a reason humans and the great apes are bunched together taxonomically in the superfamily Hominidae. We split off from the other apes only about seven million years ago. The DNA of a chimpanzee is about 98 percent analogous to ours.
According to meta-analyses of intelligence studies, the average ape has the cognitive, quantitative and spatial skills of a 2½- to 4-year-old human child. Yet Tetsuro Matsuzakawa’s laboratory in Japan showed that an exceptionally sharp-witted chimpanzee named Ayuma was twice as good as any university student at recalling numbers flashed on a screen. The great apes also exhibit basic temperamental differences. David Watts, a primatologist at Yale University who has studied chimpanzees and gorillas in the wild, found that while chimpanzees generally didn’t like people or show much interest in their affairs, gorillas were deeply curious.
“I quickly realized that the gorillas not only wanted to touch me, but to climb all over me,” he said. In one famous incident, a female gorilla stuck her hand down the shirt of a female primatologist and started feeling around. That innate curiosity, researchers suggest, may explain some of Harambe’s behavior seen on the video of his fatal encounter with the boy who fell into his enclosure — fiddling with the boy’s clothing, taking a quick peek as he pulled the boy’s pants upward. He tried pulling the boy into a grotto, perhaps to protect him or to claim the fascinating new playmate for himself.
But with the mounting commotion and screams from the onlookers above, researchers said, Harambe grew agitated and soon assumed the stance of a male silverback in dominance display mode. “It’s what we used to call strutting, and male gorillas do it all the time,” Dr. Watts said. “A silverback will stand or walk around with arms and legs stiffly extended, his hair piloerect, to make himself look bigger and more impressive. Harambe was definitely doing that when he was standing over the boy.”
The behavior is mostly bluster: If Harambe had been intent on killing the boy, Dr. Hrdy said, as an interloping male gorilla might kill the babies sired by the silverback he just deposed — the quicker to claim the resident females for himself — “he would have done it in seconds,” probably with a stereotypical bite to the skull. Nevertheless, the strut introduced risks of its own, particularly when Harambe began dragging the boy around the enclosure, as a displaying gorilla will sometimes drag around a large branch.
Dr. Watts, who said he had been “punched, knocked over and dragged” by male gorillas but never seriously injured, wishes he had been at the Cincinnati Zoo as the crisis unfolded. He would have volunteered to enter the enclosure and assume a submissive fetal position on the floor to try drawing the gorilla’s attention from the boy.
A Welcoming, Limiting Captivity
The look and logic of zoos have changed drastically over time. When the first apes were exhibited in the West, in the late 18th century, they were seen as trophies, evidence of imperial victory over savagery. The unfortunate souvenirs usually died within months of their arrival from disease or malnutrition. As zoos sought to improve the health of their resident apes, the enclosures often assumed a blandly sterile configuration, devoid of risky foliage or toys. That approach led to problems of its own, like boredom, repetitive behaviors and depression.
More recently, most zoos have worked hard to give apes the mental and emotional stimulation they need, with tires for swinging, rocks for climbing, social groups for mutual grooming or bouts of contagious laughing or yawning. Frans de Waal of Emory University and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center said he was a “big fan” of quality zoos, although perhaps not for large, gregarious animals like killer whales and elephants. “But for great apes, the record now is excellent,” he said.
Their health is good, they reproduce readily in captivity and they live 10 years or more longer than their wild peers. Indeed, the first gorilla born in captivity, a female named Colo, is still alive at the zoo in Columbus, Ohio, for which she was named. She will turn 60 in December, a birthday the great-great grandmother will not celebrate, zoo officials said, by wearing the adorable pinafore and straw bonnet her caretakers dressed her in as a youth. Dr. de Waal said that it was easier than ever to keep apes enriched and entertained. “They like to work on computers,” he said. “When you bring in a touch screen, they get excited about that, and it’s a great way to teach the public about how smart they are.”
But what the public must accept, he said, is that the pleasant notion of zoos as nurseries for restocking wild populations of endangered animals has proved a fantasy in all but a handful of cases, most notably the successful reintroduction of zoo-bred golden lion tamarins into the rain forests of South America. By contrast, when the British aristocrat Damian Aspinall released 11 of his captive-bred lowland gorillas into the wilds of Gabon last year, five were soon violently dispatched, probably by a resident gorilla, while the rest disappeared.
Yet critics say that zoo life has its serious downsides, too, as Harambe’s story made plain. The captive ape is the designated “ambassador” for its kind, an object lesson in evolutionary fraternity and shared fate for those of us who remain on the other side of the glass, proclaiming the primacy of human needs, desires and lives.
Broadway Union Takes Issue With ‘Hamilton’ Casting Call For ‘Non-White’ Performers 3/29/16
NEW YORK (CBSNY) — The hottest show on Broadway has won praise for its groundbreaking casting of black and Latino performers, but now, “Hamilton” may have run afoul of the strict New York City Human Rights Law. The controversy was sparked by a casting notice posted by the producers of “Hamilton,” which specifically seeks “non-white” performers.
One critic said “Hamilton” takes a story that “valorizes dead white guys” and replaces it with black, Latino and multi-ethnic performers playing America’s founding fathers.
But as the blockbuster musical looks to expand to other cities, the casting notice with its call for “non-white” performers looks problematic to civil rights attorney Randolph McLaughlin. “What if they put an ad out that said, ‘Whites only need apply?’” said McLaughlin, of the Newman Ferrara Law Firm. “Why, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians would be outraged.” McLaughlin believes the ad violates the New York City Human Rights Law, which makes it unlawful “for an employer… because of the actual written or perceived… race of any person, to discriminate.”
“You cannot advertise showing that you have a preference for one racial group over another,” McLaughlin said. “As an artistic question – sure, he can cast whomever he wants to cast, but he has to give every actor eligible for the role an opportunity to try.”
That is also the policy of Actors Equity, the Broadway union, which says, “…producers agree that auditions for all productions… will be conducted in such a manner as to provide full and fair consideration to actors of all ethnicities.”
The press representative for the show told CBS2’s Aiello the language in the notice, “seeking non-white performers,” was approved by Actors Equity. But the union general counsel denied that, saying such language was not and would not be approved. And in fact, the audition notice approved by the union welcomes performers of “all ethnicities” to audition, which is posted on the site Backstage.com.
What Is "Reverse Racism"? Here's Why It Doesn't Actually Exist in the US By Philip Lewis 4/14/16
The questions have come up before: Why isn't there a White History Month? Why isn't there a network for White Entertainment Television, like BET? Black Girls Rock? What about White Girls Rock?
Clearly, these few examples demonstrate "reverse racism," or
the discrimination against members of a dominant racial group.
Right? Not quite.
"Things like BET, Black Girls Rock or Black History Month
are not reverse racist against white people," Zeba Blay, a
Huffington Post Black Voices writer, illustrates in a video.
"Because remember, in a society where white is seen as
the default race, all history is white history. But racism isn't
just someone feeling superior to another race and then
discriminating against them."
Racism and prejudice aren't quite the same thing. Racism, rather, is best known as a system in which a racial majority is able to enforce its power and privilege over another race through political, economic and institutional means. Therefore racism can be described as "prejudice plus power," as the two work together to create the system of inequality.
"To be guilty of racism, however, to be a racist, say the revision proponents, one must have power, and power of a special sort," Carlos Hoyt Jr, who is an assistant professor of social work at Wheelock College, wrote in The Pedagogy of the Meaning of Racism of those who would like to change the dictionary definition of racism. "For the revisionists, racism is prejudice plus power leveraged at an institutional level to maintain the privileges of the dominant social group."
Most of the time, when the term "reverse racism" is brought up, it is in response to a slight that a member of the dominant group perceives has happened. But in reality, the United States has a long legacy of racism that makes it difficult for people of color to receive quality health care, access affordable housing, find stable employment and avoid getting wrapped up in the justice system. These examples of institutionalized racism don't quite match with the examples of reverse racism, such as "Why don't WE have a White History Month?"
"There has never, ever, everbeen a national set of laws or system put in place to systematically oppress white people or push them to a status that is 'less than,'" senior editor Alexia LaFata wrote for Elite Daily. "Not once. Ever. So 'reverse racism' can truly never exist."
Belief in Reverse Discrimination Bolsters Whites’ Self-Esteem By Tom JacobsPacific Standard, 3/29/16
Whites in America are being discriminated against. To victims of actual racism, that’s a laughable assertion, but it’s widely accepted among sizable segments of the population.
In a survey taken last year, half of white Americans — and 60 percent of white working-class Americans — expressed the belief that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against minorities. (One can only guess at the percentage of Donald Trump voters who hold that opinion, but it’s no doubt huge.)
Newly published research traces the roots of this belief it to a deep-seated psychological need. It finds that, for many whites, progress toward a more equal, multi-racial society decreases feeling of their own self-worth. “When experiencing threat due to racial progress, whites might be motivated to perceive racial bias because the more they do, the better they feel about themselves,” writes a research team led by Wesleyan University psychologist Clara Wilkins. “Changes to the racial status quo are threatening to whites, and perceiving greater racial bias is a way to manage the threat.”
In the journal Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, Wilkins and her colleagues describe two studies that provide evidence of this dynamic. They use the relative size of one’s signature as an indicator of self-esteem.
In the first study, the participants — 81 whites at the University of Washington — began by signing a consent form, as well as an “application for a merit-based cash award of $10.” They were then randomly assigned to read one of two articles: one that “described racial minorities’ social advancement in the U.S.,” or another that focused on an underdog swimming team. After answering a series of questions assessing how well they understood and remembered the articles, they again signed their name on a “study completion form.” Researchers found that the size of the signatures decreased for those who read about racial progress, but not for those who read the unrelated article.
In the second study, 77 white Wesleyan University students similarly began by signing a consent form. They then “graphed changes to student racial demographics in their university.” Half of them used statistics “indicating that the proportion of students of color at their university was higher than projected in analyses conducted several decades earlier.” The others used numbers indicating the percentage, while increasing, was falling below the level of previous predictions.
After doing so, “participants were informed that they had not been selected for the award. They then signed a release form,” providing the researchers with a second signature, and were given information on the person who did win the prize. The packet included a photo revealing that the winner was African American.
Finally, each participant completed a questionnaire “in which they indicated why they believed the competitor was chosen instead of them.” They then provided one last signature.
There were no significant changes in the size of the three signatures provided by participants who had made the chart showing racial progress had slowed. But among those who made the chart showing minority representation on campus was growing at a faster-than-expected clip, there was a definite pattern.
The size of their signatures shrunk after they made the chart, and then grew — essentially returning to baseline levels — after they provided reasons why the black student got the award over them. Importantly, “those who made greater racial attributions” — that is, expressed the belief that their competitor benefited from affirmative action or anti-white bias — “experienced greater increases in self-worth.”
This suggests that, for whites who believe the racial make-up of their community is rapidly changing, “attributing a negative outcome to racial discrimination is self-protective,” the researchers write. “This reaction is consistent with our argument that racial progress threatens the status hierarchy and thus, whites — who traditionally occupy dominant positions in society,” Wilkins and her colleagues conclude. “Participants (who saw evidence of) high racial progress experienced greater self-worth protection to the extent to which they attributed their loss to race.”
This sort of deep-seated reaction will be difficult to counteract. There is evidence that self-affirmations can restore lost self-worth, but, as the researchers note, “other strategies that are easier to implement on a large scale are needed,” particularly as the nation moves closer and closer to minority-majority status.
It has long been suggested that the intense opposition to President Barack Obama, and support for Trump, are based not on their policies, but rather on the deep emotions each man stirs. This study pinpoints threatened self-esteem as a driver of these emotions among many white Americans. Obama’s election symbolizes the fact that the traditional hierarchy, in which whites enjoyed certain advantages simply because of their skin color, has been upended. For many whites, that hits home on a deep and painful level, prompting them to adopt beliefs that further widen the racial divide. As always, the political is personal.
Assisted suicide is legal in Oregon and Washington, but elsewhere around the nation, the right-to-die movement has struggled to make many inroads. Since 1992, efforts to legalize the practice have failed in California, Michigan, Maine, and most recently, in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, 41 states have passed laws making it a crime to assist in a suicide, legislation that has led many who want help dying deeper into the shadows.
As FRONTLINE reported in The Suicide Plan, this underground world of assisted suicide has added new layers of moral and legal complexity to one of the most polarizing issues in America. For example, what does it mean to actually assist in a suicide? Who, if anyone, should be allowed to pursue aid in dying, and what safeguards should be in place in states where the practice is legal? We asked six experts to watch the film and wrestle with these questions. Here is what they had to say:
Andrew Solomon: Liberty and the Right to Die in America (Solomon’s new book, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, is out Nov. 13; he won the National Book Award for The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.)
I should begin by admitting to my bias. When my mother contracted ovarian cancer at 56, she was very clear that she wanted to be able to depart the world with dignity. One of her best friends had died of cancer, screaming in a hospital bed, and my mother would not be doing the same thing. On the appointed day, my father, my brother and I all joined her in her room as she took a lethal dose of Seconal. It was the hardest day of my life. I nonetheless believe it was the right decision — right for her and for us all. She valued control and she valued coherence, and she died as she had lived, with elegance.
I think our society is very confused about liberty. I don’t think it makes sense to force women to carry children they don’t want, and I don’t think it makes sense to prevent people who wish to die from doing so. I feel there should be notice boards reminding everyone that the right to physician aid in dying is not a spreading infection that will afflict those who deplore it. Just as my marrying my husband doesn’t damage the marriages of straight people, so people who end their lives with assistance do not threaten the lives or decisions of other people. Opponents of the right to die often express as outrage what they appear to experience as anxiety; they can express as moral rigor what is in fact merely fear.
The Suicide Plan does an excellent job of portraying the lived nobility of people who help relatives and friends to die; the ambivalence that clings to this as to all major decisions; the immense love that is needed for the final letting go. It also limns darker matters: that people may seek suicide for “the wrong reasons”; that people who spend their lives helping others to die are frequently creepy and are sometimes on their own peculiar power trip; that everything turns sordid when access to lethal medications is restricted. It accomplishes a great deal.
It leaves out, however, a crucial group, who seem not to be in the film even by inference: the vast number of people who would like aid in dying and have no access to it, who live in agonizing pain and see no relief in sight. There is an idea that if we don’t allow aid in dying, we are protecting people from the possibility of harm, and there is reason to believe that. But in our rage to protect the next Jana Van Voorhis, for example, we subject people — far more people in my own view — to gratuitous agony. There is harm associated with loosening restrictions, but there is also harm associated with keeping them in place.
If I get to a place of terminal pain, I hope those around me will allow me to exit with dignity. I’m my mother’s son, and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Ira Byock: Why Assisted Suicide is No Realm for Physicians (Ira Byock is the director of palliative care at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., and author of The Best Care Possible: A Physician’s Quest To Transform Care Through the End of Life.)
The Suicide Plan provides an unblinking look into a world that few of us could imagine. I thought the program would explore the issues that surround physician-assisted suicide, but within moments I realized that FRONTLINE had opened a door into an even darker phenomenon.
Proponents of legalizing physician-assisted suicide often contend that there is no evidence that acceptance of lethal prescriptions will lead to abuses or devalue the life of disabled, frail, or mentally ill people. This documentary shows that slippery slope toward death on demand is being actively paved by groups such as Compassion & Choices and the Final Exit Network.
The leaders of these organizations may be well intended, but they hold a profoundly different worldview and understanding of society from my own. The admonition against killing other people is the bedrock of civilization. Our earliest ancestors decided to collaborate, protecting and looking after one another as an alternative to competition and individual conflict over resources. An obligation to protect and care for one another is an integral part of social compacts. You will not find a “right to die” in the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence or Constitution. Instead, society exists in service of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As a physician who has cared for people with serious illness for more than 30 years, it was particularly distressing to hear fellow physicians advance a pro-death agenda. From its very inception, the profession of medicine has formally prohibited its members from using their special knowledge to cause death or harm to others. This was – and is – a necessary protection so that the power of medicine is not used against vulnerable people. The profession has reinforced this proscription throughout the arc of human history – through wars, famines, economic depressions, and political upheavals. The Nazi doctors are condemned to ignominy. Jack Kevorkian was convicted of murder. The profession has reaffirmed the principle that doctors are not supposed to kill patients. They are also prohibited from using their expertise to torture prisoners – even when ordered to do so by civil or military authorities – and doctors are not allowed to participate in executions, even of convicted murderers.
I would not presume to judge the completed suicide of any terminally ill person. But there is a clear distinction between suicide and assisted suicide – particularly physician-assisted suicide. Our primary role in society is to protect and preserve life, while recognizing that our care extends to people who are facing the natural end of life. As a palliative medicine specialist, I know from years of experience that it is possible to alleviate pain and other physical suffering and enable patients to die gently. Physicians who remain confused about the difference between killing a patient and allowing a patient to die should not be practicing medicine.
As the program ended, I found myself hoping that The Suicide Plan would provoke outrage while recognizing that many viewers will applaud the fact that assistance with suicide is becoming readily available. For me, that realization is the most distressing of all.
Soo Borson: Confronting the End with an Unsound Mind (Soo Borson is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and psychosocial and community health nursing at the University of Washington.)
Twenty-two years ago, Janet Adkins, a 54-year-old woman newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, became Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s first public assisted suicide. There was considerable outcry from physicians who saw her as she was at the time — a vital, athletic, engaged woman with mild dementia — for whom life had lost neither its savor nor its “quality.” Adkins, as she conveyed in a final explanatory note, chose not to subject herself or her family to the years of inevitable decline into total dependency and indignity that so often occurs with neurodegenerative dementias, failing death by other means — the particular fate of those who develop disease in midlife when their bodies are still robust and their family relationships lively. Adkins felt she knew what was coming and wanted none of it, but had to decide when she was still capable of choice. In Alzheimer’s Disease, the capacity for this kind of choice is lost long before patients reach the terminal phases of disease.
As a specialist in dementia, I’ve become all too familiar with the challenges facing people like Adkins and like George Brodigan from The Suicide Plan, patients who have diseases that will rob them of autonomy long before their bodies are ready to die. Brodigan, an elderly widower, chose to end his life with Alzheimer’s Disease four years after his diagnosis, and did so with the support and loving care of his sons. Brodigan had “late-onset” Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common form of neurodegenerative dementia. Because it affects older people, late-onset Alzheimer’s seems less tragic than young-onset cases like Janet Adkins’. Having witnessed others’ suffering with this disease and having lived a long and good life — though a lonely one since his wife’s death — he, like Adkins, was still capable of choosing the time of his death.
Existing laws in the two states that permit physician assisted suicide require that patients have a terminal illness, be of sound mind (competent to make decisions), and be expected to die within six months of their request. No one with Alzheimer’s Disease and related disorders can qualify under these laws: the problem is with the requirement of decisional capacity within six months of a natural death. Many patients have spoken with me about their wish to avoid the debilitating stages of advanced Alzheimer’s Disease. Our conversations inevitably touch on what makes life worth living for each of them — and what would constitute a life that to them no longer has value or meaning. Both fear and grief walk alongside us as we talk, and so do puzzlement and indecision. Most of us have trouble imagining so far in advance what we would have to lose before we, in our present state of mind, would judge our future, deeply demented selves, no longer desirous of living. At the same time, families of very demented patients often tell me: “If he only knew how he’s living now, he would never agree to this.”
As our society continues the debate around assisted suicide, here is what I’d like to see:
First, a long, deep, and intimate look at what matters to us as individuals: What makes life worth living to you, to me? How do life experiences change the way we value various elements of our lives, and can we predict the direction and stability of these changes? Can we form stable “valuation cliffs” for our own lives that hold true over long periods of time? And how do those who love us come to know what we would have wanted when we never said and can no longer say?
Secondly — while everyone who thinks of seeking aid in dying is a “special case,” with and for whom decisions must be individualized within the framework of existing law — we also need new categories that allow us to describe and think about the many ways that people die a “natural” death, especially those who linger long in hopeless states of incomprehension and all too often intractable fear.
We also need better safeguards. When it comes to incurable degenerative conditions that degrade the personality for years before they kill, the safeguards built in to existing law do not apply: decisional capacity when aid in dying is requested; having a life expectancy of six months or less, as determined by two physicians; and two requests, one oral and one written separated by at least 15 days, with two witnesses, for medication to hasten death.
What safeguards might be substituted in Alzheimer’s Disease and similar situations? First, advance directives, completed when an individual is still competent to decide, should allow a provision for assisted suicide when the patient’s own “value threshold” for life has been crossed. This means that we need a way to define that threshold and to be confident that it is stable over time — something we don’t yet know how to do, either as individuals or as a moral community.
A second safeguard might call for documentation, over a period of time, of thoughtful discussions with a personal physician who knows and cares for the patient and the family.
Next, someone other than the patient would need to request termination of the life; this would usually be a member of the immediate family.
Fourth, perhaps more than two physicians should be asked to adjudicate whether a patient has become eligible for aid in dying, based on her or his current condition relative to the values she or he articulated when still of sound mind. Delays and opportunity to reconsider would offer further protection.
All these safeguards could mitigate the moral hazard stemming from what Pauline Boss calls the problem of ambiguous loss. This important concept denotes the uncertainty caregivers face in gauging who and what is left of identity in a person whose self is undermined by brain failure. Physicians and families would do well to bring this notion into their conversations on behalf of the patients they care for.
Finally, there must be a willingness for us — as a society, through our private conversations and public media, and through advocacy groups — to have an open dialogue with people who are living with Alzheimer’s Disease and need the rest of us to listen to what they will want for themselves when they are past wanting.
David Orentlicher: How We Die Vs. Why We Want To Die (Orentlicher teaches law and medicine at Indiana University, where he is also co-director of the William S. and Christine S. Hall Center for Law and Health. Previously, he served as director of the Division of Medical Ethics at the American Medical Association.)
In its portrayal of underground aid in dying (or assisted suicide), The Suicide Plan teaches us that what really matters is not how a person chooses to die but why the person wants to die. The law may distinguish among methods of hastening death, but our moral intuitions distinguish among reasons for hastening death.
Legal rules commonly draw a distinction between “passive” and “active” measures that can shorten one’s life. Patients may die by refusing ventilators, dialysis or other life-sustaining medical treatment. Outside of a few states, however, they may not die by taking a lethal dose of medication.
But distinguishing between passive and active measures misses the moral mark. Consider the contrast between the deaths of two women in the documentary, Joan Butterstein and Jana Van Voorhis. It is easy to respect the people who helped Butterstein end her life by ingesting prescription medication. Joan was terminally ill from incurable lung cancer, had seen her first husband suffer from efforts to prolong his life and had thought carefully for months about her options. It also is easy to condemn those who helped Van Voorhis end her life by inhaling helium gas. Jana was not dying. Rather, because of mental illness, she harbored false beliefs about her health. For most people, Butterstein had good reasons for choosing death, while Van Voorhis did not.
And most people would come to the same conclusion if the two women had died by the passive measure of refusing life-sustaining treatment. We would understand if Butterstein became unable to breathe on her own and declined mechanical ventilation. However, we would not think it acceptable if after developing pneumonia, Van Voorhis declined antibiotics because of her false beliefs about her health.
If public morality would view Butterstein’s death as permissible, why does the law generally prohibit people like her from choosing aid in dying? It does so not because the public thinks it wrong for them to end their lives. Rather, the public worries that if it permits aid in dying, the practice will not be reserved for patients like Butterstein. Rather, there might be many people like Van Voorhis who would end their lives too.
Can we recognize the interests of all people, whether they are like Butterstein or Van Voorhis? When we compare the experience with legalized aid in dying in Oregon and Washington with the experience elsewhere with underground aid in dying, the case for a limited right to aid in dying seems persuasive. In Oregon and Washington, aid in dying is permitted for terminally ill persons like Butterstein but prohibited for persons like Van Voorhis who are not terminally ill. Moreover, aid in dying may not be provided unless two physicians confirm that the patient is truly terminally ill and also has the mental capacity necessary to make an informed and considered choice. There is good reason to think that people like Van Voorhis are at greater risk when aid in dying is relegated to the secret and unregulated underground than when it is brought into the open and regulated strictly.
Ben Mattlin: The Dangerous Divide Created By Assisted Suicide (Mattlin is author of Miracle Boy Grows Up: How the Disability Rights Revolution Saved My Sanity.)
I was born with an incurable, severe neuromuscular delight called spinal muscular atrophy. It’s similar to muscular dystrophy or Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which probably should be renamed “Stephen Hawking-itis”). I can’t wash, dress, or feed myself. I have difficulty swallowing and breathing, and wasn’t expected to live to adulthood. Yet I’m nearly 50 years old, a married Harvard graduate and professional writer with two kids.
Nevertheless, when many people first see me, including and perhaps especially doctors, all they see is my ragdoll floppiness and emaciated limbs. Assumptions are made. Prejudices, I call them.
My point is, I could easily convince anyone that suicide is a rational option for me — particularly members of groups like Compassion & Choices and the Final Exit Network. And that scares me. Why shouldn’t I have the same barriers protecting me from moments of suicidal fantasies as everyone else has? To be clear: My opposition to physician-assisted death doesn’t stem from any religious belief. It comes from my experience as a profoundly disabled person living on the cusp between life and death.
No, I don’t have cancer. And I don’t want to deny anyone a choice. The problem for me is that distinctions about who should and should not be eligible for physician-assisted suicide make for unfair, even dangerous, divisions. Why should it be easier or more acceptable for certain groups to end their lives than it is for others? What does that say about the value we place on those lives?
In other words, if you want to end your life, that’s fine with me. But why on Earth should we as a society rush to make it easier for people with incurable conditions to end their lives before we’ve done all we can to ensure they have the same opportunities and protections as everyone else? Even in their final days, they should feel welcome and valued, not burdensome and desperate. We should provide adequate health care and personal/custodial care. We should support them with sufficient financial resources to secure whatever they need.
Only then can we say that the choice is truly a fair choice. Otherwise — without adequate supports to sustain a worthwhile life, even in its final days — the options are needlessly limited. They are slanted in favor of fear, hopelessness, and ultimately suicide.