Boomer’s been re-educated, but the rest of us still have a lot to learn about maternity care

Last week, the sports world was aflame over some particularly nasty comments that Mike Francesa and Boomer Esiason made about Mets second-baseman Daniel Murphy’s decision to skip out on the season opener for the birth of his first child — an event that happens exactly once a lifetime. Those comments included 1) telling Murphy he should have told his wife to schedule a C-section for before the season started and 2) telling Murphy he should have left immediately after the birth once it was clear mom and baby were fine.

I feel some kind of way about the whole situation, but that’s been rehashed enough by everyone and Esiason at least has apologized (props to March of Dimes for “re-educating” him, although I hope it was on more than just their mission statement) so I won’t take your time here to do that. However, there are severe health implications for both of those suggestions.

How severe? Try these stats on for size:

  • Infants born pre-term (even at 37 or 38 weeks) are 50% more likely to die than those born full term.
  • Over 60% of maternal deaths in the US are due to complications that arise after birth, and it’s not always clear during labor whether further complications will arise.

For more reasons why the whole paternity leave fiasco was terrible from a public health perspective, check out the full blog that Maura Reilly and I wrote for Rabin Martin last week.



On Being Chang

When I was in college, I was given a nickname.


It is not my last name. It is not my “Chinese name” — I neither am Chinese nor carry multiple names, one for Asian and one non-Asian consumption. Rather, this name was bestowed on me by a White acquaintance, and it stuck.

My name-giver did not see this act as racist. She thought it was funny. Satiric. Solidified by the fact that I can do a passable impression of Margaret Cho’s mother. But not racist. And it wasn’t racist to call another woman “Asian X” because we knew a Black woman with the same name — although according to the name-giver, it was unacceptable to call the second woman “Black X” because “that would be racist.”

My point here is not to point fingers at one particularly misguided White liberal college woman. Rather, it is to help provide some context for the incident that launched #CancelColbert, and to help explain why Colbert fans’ outraged screams that Asian-Americans simply don’t understand satire ring particularly false. As Suey Park noted on HuffPost Live before she was cut off by Josh Zepps, racism against Asian and Asian-descendant people in this country is not considered racism. It is considered humor.

Humor can be a powerful tool for attacking racism, and I do believe that is what Stephen Colbert and his writers intended to do. However, for humor or any other artistic medium to start to deconstruct racism, it needs to make the audience engage critically with why racism exists and how our language and actions re-inscribe that racism. Merely making fun of a more racist individual doesn’t serve to advance the conversation. It just makes everyone (read: White liberals) who are “in on the joke” feel better about themselves for not (getting caught) being so explicitly racist.

Colbert et al. would do well to take their cues from the countless comedians of color who use smart humor to drive a real critique of race — if you don’t know what I’m talking about, take a peek at Key and Peele’s Obama “anger translator” or Ken Tanaka’s “What kind of Asian are you?” skit — or if you need to hear what good critical use of humor to critique racism sounds like from a White comedian, how about Louis CK on “the n-word”. In the meantime, maybe Colbert should just steer clear of tired clichés about minorities and the people who humiliate/vilify/don’t give a crap about us.

As for me, I still go by Chang. It’s short. Easy to remember. And it creates a space to have a meaningful dialogue about race every time someone asks me how I got the name. Some folks then continue to use it, some don’t. Am I offended by it any longer? No. There are other things I’d rather focus my attention on. And it’s pretty amusing to watch people address my White father and his White girlfriend as “Mr. and Mrs. Chang.”

What #occupywallst could learn from the Chilean student protests

(Victor Ruiz Caballero / Reuters) Demonstrators are hit by a jet of water released from a riot police vehicle during a rally against the public state education system in Santiago, Oct. 13, 2011.

I’ve been following the Chilean student protests for the past several months (despite the lack of US coverage, see more below) and I’ve been really impressed by how well the students there articulate the relationship between their struggles and the failure of the global economic system as a whole. It’s something that #occupywallst and the other #occupy movements springing up around the US have so far failed to do.

The first in the world to implement neoliberal policies, Chile instituted tuition fees in the previously free public universities and cut nearly all funding to public primary and secondary schools under the Pinochet dictatorship in 1973. Today’s Chilean university students are buried in a mountain of debt, much like American students, but theirs is from both university loans and secondary school loans (which are at times even more expensive than university). Camila Vallejo (president of the Universidad de Chile student body and one of the leaders of the movement) and others have called student debt out as a repressive strategy that forces students to buy into the neoliberal capitalist system rather than challenging it.

This is, of course, the same logic that situates student debt at the center of #occupywallst (along with a great many other issues). Naomi Klein hints at this in an interview with Democracy Now! but she’s missing just how interlinked these movements are. The Chilean students (and now their teachers, parents, etc.) are protesting the same thing as the #occupywallst-ers: the ravaging effects of a neoliberal capitalist system that values a dollar more than a human life.

There’s a reason why the mainstream American media has largely ignored the Chilean protests; we Americans have too much in common with Chileans to not draw parallels between the politico-economic crisis here and the one there. We just might get inspired.


Ark Music and the sexualization of little girls

My morning started out pleasantly enough…and then I saw this.

So, aside from the fact that this is a horrific song (“Yesterday was Thursday, Thursday/Today it is Friday, Friday/We we we so excited….” really?!) this is a perfect example of the sexualization of young girls. According to Ms. Black’s Ark Music page, she’s 13 years old. So why are her friends driving and throwing house parties? And the sequin dress that she’s dressed in around 1:40 is pretty darn short.

But this could be an anomaly. Apart from the fact that Ark Music focuses on turning tween girls into pop sensations. Here’s their “star of the month,” Abby Victor.

I know this whole sexualization of little girls things has been going on for a long time but really?! Can we take a moment to call Ark out on this?

Gaga and the politics of Queer

**NOTE:  none of the below comments are intended in any way as anti-queer or anti-freedom-of-sexual-expression**

Gaga, Gaga, Gaga…. *shakes head*

I’ve been trying to give Gaga the benefit of the doubt. I love her music and I think she’s a brilliant artist. But the subliminal messages she (or whoever’s coming up with the video’s) are driving me crazy. In spite of Gaga’s professed support for the LGBTQ movement, she’s not really adding anything (constructive) to the conversation. Sure, the lyrics of “Born this Way” are pretty clearly pro-queer, but her whole schpiel about “Mother Monster” and pure evil is a little…confusing? misleading? And I find it problematic that her “race within the human race, a race which bears no prejudice, no judgement, but boundless freedom” is all just blonde Gaga-look-alikes. My artist roommate reminds me that that’s because they’re all Gaga but….really? Are we actually so post-racial that we can just depict everyone as a member of the Aryan race?

But whatever…if it were one video I’d shut my mouth and enjoy it. But it’s not just one video. In “Telephone,” we learned that queers are mass-murderers. In “Alejandro” we learned that queers are cross-dressing “sexual deviants” (and maybe anti-christs?). And now we’re all born of “Mother Monster”? Thanks, but no thanks Gaga. I don’t want your love or your ally-status and I sure as hell don’t wanna be friends. Let’s talk when you stop sensationalizing queerness and reinforcing what the right wing already thinks.

ESL and the Right to Health

Last night, I taught English class for the first time. When I was in high school, I had tutored math and science, but this is a completely different ball game. I have to write my own lesson plans rather than rely on the homework assigned by another person and there’s no textbook to flip through if I forget something (or don’t know how to explain something). My students are (probably) all older than me (a few of them didn’t make it to class yesterday, and one man seems to be about my age), and some of them have been in this country longer than I’ve been alive. But they are all driven by a ferocious desire to learn—every single one thanked me for teaching after class had finished. I didn’t know how to respond.

One of my students is a woman who’s been here for over twenty years, and yet has learned very little English. After class, she pulled me aside. “My husband speaks English very well,” she told me in Spanish. “He used to work, but now…” she trailed off, gesticulating to a man seated in a wheelchair in the other room. “I used to just stay around the house, but now I have to learn English.”

Her husband appears to be quadriplegic. In class, as we took turns telling brief life stories to practice different tenses, he told us “I used to be a painter. One day I will try to walk again. Right now, I am sitting in this chair.” Simple sentences, and perhaps mis-ordered, but powerful nonetheless. I remember feeling infinitely grateful that he had revealed this truth to me in the context of an English class, where I could praise his use of three tenses and move on to the next person, rather than grapple with his thoughts and feelings about his disability and my fundamental incomprehension as an able-bodied person.

I don’t know what kind of healthcare this man and his wife have access to. Obviously they have something, because this man was conversing with us despite having severed his spinal cord. But his wheelchair is manual, not electric, which means he is incapable of going anywhere unless someone pushes him. He will require extensive (and in this country, expensive) rehabilitation if he is ever to walk again. His health has powerful ramifications for that of his family as well. His wife is learning English in order to find  work to cope economically with the loss of the primary household provider and any bills incurred by her husband’s accident. An event like this could drive a family into poverty even without a private, free-market healthcare system (never mind the impact of poor English comprehension and usage in either the healthcare or work setting). Viewing health as human right demands that we provide care for this man and his family, regardless of their ability to pay, regardless of how long his rehabilitation takes, and regardless of their status in this country (I don’t know if they are here legally or not).

But this case also demands that we set parameters for rehabilitation of disabled patients. Does health care as a human right require that we provide basic treatment so that he is “functional” in a wheelchair, or does it require the most advanced treatment we can provide, holding his goal—to someday walk again—as our mandated end of treatment? Part of me says that providing the best possible treatment isn’t feasible. But part of me says that to do anything other than that would automatically set up divisions between people, and force us to value one disabled person over another so as to decide who gets cutting edge treatment. And that fundamentally undermines any claims of the intrinsic human rights-ness of health.