Grindr describes itself as “the largest and most popular all-male location-based social network out there,” functioning as a site of interaction for men seeking sex with men. I seek to understand the interactions that occur on Grindr through a lens of racial analysis, focusing on the ways that race influences self-presentation and messaging on the app.
As I was looking through the course catalogue at the start of this semester, this course immediately jumped out to me. This course was perfect for my social studies focus field on “Representations of African-Americans in the Media.” Additionally, this course stood out to me because it promised to take me through the historical structures that shaped technological and racial discourse today. Now, as I reflect on the semester, I have come away with so much than what is listed on the courses’ syllabus.
This reflective essay assignment kind of allows me to come full-circle to the start of my semester. Our first assignment for this course was to write a digital autobiography that required me to trace my journey alongside technology and look back on how technology has shaped my upbringing. While that first assignment required me to reflect backwards on how the Internet and technology have impacted my development until now, this assignment allows me to think back on this course and how it fits in with my life long journey thinking about the implications of race in technology.
Now I would like to talk about how the units in this course that were the most formative. Even though all of the units in this course were incredibly helpful to my understanding of race and formations of technology, there are particular units in this course that really expanded my view on what racism is and what ‘counts’ as technology.
I think my favorite unit hands down was “Slavery and Capitalism.” This unit really helped me broaden my definition of what constituted technology. In our modern era of computers, phones, the Internet, apps, etc., I only thought of technology in terms of digital tools. This unit reminded me of a technology class I took in sixth grade. My teacher told us, “Technology is anything that is designed to simplify human life.” Since the “Slavery and Capitalism” unit, my sixth grade teacher’s definition has become my working definition of technology.
The “Slavery and Capitalism” unit also taught me that technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are always social and political constraints on how and who uses technology. The technologies we use are always colored by a complicated history based in capitalist structures. The Seth Rockman reading “The Future of the Civil War Era Studies” and the Darla Thompson dissertation “The Materiality of Slavery” really drove home these points.
What I found most intriguing was how American students are socialized to believe that capitalism is a 20th century phenomenon, and not something that has been occurring since the beginning of slavery. The tales of the slave collars in the Thompson reading also moved me. Never did I think about technology as a means to subordinate an entire race of people. I was able to draw connections between the controls of the collars in the era of slavery to today’s technologies of control.
In addition to expanding my definition of technology, this unit also helped me realize the important role technology can play in reparations for slavery. Professor Vince Brown’s work on digitizing the narratives of slaves and providing interactive tools to tell stories that would have otherwise gone unheard was incredibly moving.
I think the most eye-opening unit was “Ownership, Privacy, and Information.” Throughout all of the readings and the documentary Terms and Conditions May Apply, my jaw was always slightly agape, There is a wealth of information collected on you, even if you don’t have a social media website. The data collection that is mundane today would have been fodder for a dystopian novel thirty years ago. This unit caused me to think critically about the disparities that exist in technological literacy. There is a huge gap in the knowledge and resources that everyday people, much less people of color or economically disadvantaged people, have to battle behemoth social media agencies. It is also concerning how little regulation there is to defend the privacy rights of citizens. The government has access to so much personal data that could be damaging to the lives of average citizens.
The units that challenged the most on how I think about my identity the most were “Black Twitter” and “Intersectionality.” As a black woman from rural Georgia with Caribbean parentage, I always had a hard time thinking about my own blackness in relation to these sometimes-monolithic definitions of blackness. I really enjoyed Baratunde Thurston’s How to be Black. This comedic memoir and social commentary really resonated with me. I also enjoyed the Andre Brock reading on Black Twitter. Brock really got at my own thinking: why do people always want to study what black people do, but at the same time if people do not study ‘blackness’ then there is no dialogue to encourage action that makes social structures that benefits black people.
Both pieces reminded me of the idea of black people being ‘unicorns.’ I always remember growing up how impressed people were with me—not always by my personality or skills. Instead they were impressed that me—a black girl with a ‘ghetto’ name—was as smart and capable as I am. I was definitely always the unicorn of my friends in high school. I also realized that being the resident black person in many settings is a huge responsibility that I did not choose to bear. The “Black Twitter” and “Intersectionality” units pushed me to think about how I use social media and other story telling tools to add more diversity to the conversations of blackness. I have a unique voice because of all the identities I possess—very few, if anyone else, can provide the perspective I offer.
Overall, this course has been incredibly meaningful to me. As an aspiring journalist, this course gave me tools and strategies that will help me do a better job of telling the stories of people. This course also made me more thoughtful about what structures impact how and when particular individuals make the news. Going forward, I am going to be more cognizant about how to present news through graphics, long-form articles, and smaller packages that are more reader friendly.
In my time at Harvard, I don’t I have every interacted with a professor or teaching fellow as much as I have talked with Carla and Kera. Even though all of my classes won’t be small seminars, I am now more inclined to reach out to my professors and talk to them about my interests. I only have four years as an undergraduate at Harvard, so I need to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge surrounding me. I have also never spoken up as much as I have in this course. Being brave enough to put your ideas forward is incredibly important to enhancing not only your own learning, but also the learning of everyone else in the room.
For the rest of my time at Harvard and for the rest of my life, I would like to challenge myself to the following: 1) Always write, 2) Always speak up, and 3) Always treat people as people.
Brock, André. 2012. “From the Blackhand Side: Twitter as a Cultural Conversation.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 56 (4): 529–49.
Thurston, Baratunde. 2012. How to Be Black. New York, NY: Harper. (selections)
Carbado, Devon W., Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Vickie M. Mays, and Barbara Tomlinson. 2013. “INTERSECTIONALITY: Mapping the Movements of a Theory.” Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 10 (02): 303–12.
Rockman, Seth. 2012. “The Future of Civil War Era Studies: Slavery and Capitalism.” Journal of the Civil War Era. http://journalofthecivilwarera.com/forum-the-future-of-civil-war-era-studies/the-future-of-civilwar-era-studies-slavery-and-capitalism/.
Thompson, Darla J. 2014. “The Materiality of Slavery.” In Circuits of Containment: Iron Collars, Incarceration and the Infrastructure of Slavery. Cornell University dissertation, pp. 1-57.
Before taking this class, I have always thought about discrimination as an “in real life” issue. But over the semester of the class, I was able to realize that there are so many different avenues to explore when discussing discrimination. This issue becomes even more interesting when discrimination against minorities in our modern world is studied in the context of technology. I think that studying the Internet was most exciting because it was something I had never explored before in my academic career.
As someone who has had access to computers and the Internet since childhood, it is easy for me to take these things for granted. The Internet and all the technology that comes with it, has just become a way of life. I never question its meaning or how it was used before this class. I discovered in this class that there was so much I didn’t know. Even though it seems so obvious, I had never considered the fact that not everyone has access to Internet. In my small world of an educated American, typing something into Google doesn’t even take a second. But what I soon realized is that not only do most people not have access to Internet, but also the way the Internet is set up is biased against certain people. This realization not only helped me have a newfound understanding for the biases in technology but also served to inspire me in my final project.
I was fascinated with uncovering the silences of certain minority groups and their relation to the Internet. I had always thought about the Internet as being a ubiquitous platform that was available to all. But after taking this class, my feelings on this were transformed. I realized that the way that technology and the Internet is set up today, houses many silence among minority communities. For example, in the reading, Configuring the User as Everybody: Gender and Design Cultures in Information and Communication Technologies, Nelly Oudshoorn, Els Rommes, and Marcelle Stienstra discuss how the Internet does appeal to everyone’s needs. That is because the Internet is designed by a very homogeneous set of people, there is a struggle to find users outside of that audience. This concept of a lack of diversity in people on the Internet and the people creating the Internet was further emphasized by a video that we watched in class. In the video (shown below), it resonated with me how technology can really affect people’s lives. I took away from the video that because the Wukchumni tribes do not have access to technology to record their language, their culture slowly starts to fade away.The video reiterates the connection between the user and the creator. Because the internet was not created by Wukchumni speakers, the tribes people couldn’t use the internet, and the language was not perpetuated. This video was somewhat shocking to me because I had never thought about how powerful technologies can be.
As I mentioned, one of my major growth spots in the class was a deeper understanding of the many silences in technology in the modern era. I was always interested in Women’s gender studies, so I wondered how I could explore this passion on a technical platform. As a frequent Instagram user, I noticed that there were a lot of fitness pages. I decided I wanted to explore this movement further and determine how it was affecting women and the relationship with their bodies. There has already been a lot of power in the voice of woman countering pressures of body image. I feel that the public now understands that the bodies of rail thin models are not an aspiration young women should be seeking. But, I think people have yet to realize that the extreme health movement is just as detrimental to women’s mental and physical health.
I began to notice a trend occurring around me. Girls were posting workout videos and pictures of green smoothies on Instagram. Gone were the days of posting a picture of a barely visible leg. It seems that now social media users have a new pressure of demonstrating to all viewers that they are extremely physically fit. It seems to show that these people care about their bodies, and those who don’t workout are lazy. The observations I began making were further underscored by the book Body Panic by Shari Dworkin and Faye Linda Wachs about the selling of the fitness lifestyle. I began to realize that indeed there was a silence of women’s voices here. Not every woman has a perfectly toned stomach and barely an ounce of fat. But since these models are now under the guise of “healthy” these voices are seen as lazy and go unheard. My goal of my project was to bring my reader to the same moment of epiphany I had in the class. That is, I wanted my reader to realize that the woman’s body image movement is not as simple as fat versus skinny. There are silences masked by the voices of TV personalities and celebrities claiming the perfect body is reflected of a healthy lifestyle. What I hoped to illuminate was that healthy is different for everyone and working out everyday twice a day and only eating vegetables is not the only way to be healthy.
One of the most enriching parts of the class was that I was able to directly apply what I was learning in the classroom to my everyday life. Every time I logged on to the Internet, I had a new appreciation for the fluidity in which my searches occurred. Like I previously mentioned, one of the biggest lessons I learned was how fortunate I was that it was so easy for me to access modern technology. I also became weary of the Internet. I was made aware that there are certain biases against certain groups. As Oudshoorn et.al. point out, the users experience is directly affected by the creator and vice versa. This creates a cycle that seems impossible to break out of. When specific groups remain the exclusive consumers of technology, creators design technology to fit their needs. This class has made me much more aware of the complexities of modern technology, and its role in the technical space as well as the social one.
Heller, Chris. “Saving Wukchumni.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 22 Sept. 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.
Oudshoorn, Nelly, Els Rommes, and Marcelle Stienstra. “Configuring the User as Everybody: Gender and Design Cultures in Information and Communication Technologies.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 29.1 (2004): 30-63.
Setting the Stage:
“‘I do not see myself as a female rapper anymore, I’m sorry. I see myself as a rapper,” said Nicki Minaj in an interview with MTV. Minaj is the preeminent black female rapper of our modern era and unapologetically uses her sexuality to push the boundaries of what is possible for a female rap artist. Minaj holds her own in the Drake and Lil Wayne dominated Young Money rap collective, often collaborating on songs together. While Minaj wants to be viewed as an outright rap artist and not just the token female rapper, her identity as an African-American female rapper actually lends her a distinct voice in shaping not only black hip-hop culture, but also black feminist thought more broadly.
Over the course of this paper, I will argue that how black female rappers engage with the traditionally male-dominated rap culture verbally and visually is culturally important in order to critique and further discussions on black feminist thought. The unique status of African-American female rappers provides broader insights into understanding a shifting rap culture and perhaps other, more general elements of black culture. According to Patricia Hill Collins, “black women fashioned an independent standpoint about the meaning of black womanhood” (White 609). Collins goes on to say black women have the ability to “resist negative evaluations of black womanhood advanced by dominant groups” (White 609).
Black female rappers, including Minaj, subvert the oppressive elements that create a new forum for black female empowerment and appropriate the traditional tropes used in African-American rap because they “draw additional energy from their simultaneous discussions of race and gender” (Roberts 141). While Nicki Minaj is not the first woman to use rap as a way of reclaiming space and expressing other sides to black women’s sexual identities, she has been the one to do so in the view of mainstream America. Minaj’s predecessors including MC Lyte and Lil Kim have used their words and the visual portrayals of their bodies to make statements on rap culture and its treatment of women. Although these statements on rap music have been made in forums outside of the African-American community (and outside of the music industry), I am choosing to focus on black hip-hop culture from the rappers’ perspectives because rap as a medium is built upon self-expression and personal viewpoints. In addition, there is an extensive history of black hip-hop culture that I can use as a reference for my own arguments. I also am interested in adding to the theoretical analyses of how black men and women interact with each other.
As I’ve mentioned before, black feminist theory will be incredibly important to how I orient black female rapper’s détournement of traditional rap culture. While black feminist theory doesn’t have one monolithic definition, I do need to lay out a few fundamental tenants on which to present my arguments about black female rappers engagements with rap culture. According to Patricia Hill Collins, one of the most widely known black feminist scholars, states, “all African-American women share the common experience of being black women in a society that denigrates women of African descent” (Collins “Defining”). She goes on to say that black feminist thought is rooted in “a legacy of struggle” (Collins “Defining”). My analysis of black female rappers and their music will illuminate how black females fight against the structural oppressions that face them.
For this paper, I will also be using the framework of Guy Debord and Gil Wolman’s theory of détournement to analyze the subculture of African-American female rappers and the ways in which they participate in the subversion of the tropes within the African-American male-dominated rap tradition. Rap as a cultural art form engages audiences both verbally and visually. That is to say, female rappers have the ability to infiltrate the canon of rap tropes and then disrupt their normal uses through both verbal and visual appropriation schemes. Black female rappers’ uses of détournement are done most effectively when it utilizes the prevailing language of African-American rap culture. African-American female rappers use lyrics and backbeats to engage their audiences through common word plays and allusions to other rap cultural markers and then utilize them in a way that is inclusive of the black female perspective. The advent of social media and blogging have also expanded the verbal cultural communication of female rappers beyond three-minute songs to include a plethora of word content that inserts a black female perspective into a more prominent place in African-American rap culture.
African-American female rappers also use videos, photography, and other graphics to visually subvert traditional archetypes within rap music. Female rappers place their bodies in photos and videos in the traditional stances and environments of male rappers. This changed engagement with the camera shifts the gaze and scope of roles for the black female’s presence in rap culture.
Now that I have outlined what it means for rap to be a verbal-visual culture, I would like to further elucidate the role of détournement as a theoretical framework for my analysis. I see détournement as the type of subversion female rappers engage in when they appropriate and sabotage the male-dominated rap culture. In particular, the “deceptive détournement” Debord and Wolman describe speaks to rap and the black female rapper’s unique position. “Deceptive détournement […] is in contrast the détournement of an intrinsically significant element, which derives a different scpe from the new context” (“User’s Guide”). They go on to write, “the main impact of détournement is directly related to the conscious or semiconscious recollection of the original contexts of the elements” (“User’s Guide”).
In relation to my study of black female rappers, the idea of relating to the subversion to the original contexts is key to how their music is able to be widespread—it is subtle enough to pass through the censors, but bold enough to change the way black women are included in the formation and continuation of African-American rap culture. Throughout this paper, I plan on outlining how black female rappers express their individual stories and unique approaches to engaging with the black rap culture in addition to analyzing the common themes and tools they use to achieve détournement. These larger themes can be included into the discourse around black feminist thought and how it can be understood.
Given the scope of this paper, I have decided to focus my analysis on four rappers whose experiences collectively cover a wide range of engagements with the rap industry, verbal content and style, and visual representations. Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliott, Azealia Banks, and Rapsody all play with traditional rap culture to create new spaces for women. All four artists contribute different perspectives that challenge prevailing notions of black women’s sexuality and position in the broader rap sphere.
My analysis of how détournement is a tool for black female rappers to dismantle traditional tropes in rap music can be extended beyond the particularities of this paper. With the research constraints of this paper, I am not able to include more female rappers in my study and take into account how critical race theory can compliment the claims of black feminist thought. Another piece I am not able to include within this paper is how other racial and ethnic groups appropriate African-American rap culture.
Another broader stroke of this paper would be an in-depth look at how the capitalist nature of the music industry can help to structurally reinforce the oppressions against African-Americans, and in particular African-American women. I am also curious to study how the relations between male-dominated rap culture and female rapper’s subversions relate to other forms of culture and entertainment. It would be interesting to note the similarities and differences in gender relations between black men and women in rap music culture and other media forms. These broader implications could be studied in a senior thesis.
Theoretical Framework & Research Design:
There are two main components to my research design. The first part of my research design includes outlining all of the terms and theories I will be using so I have a solid foundation on which to build my arguments. For the second part of my research design, I will use the four female rappers I selected as case studies to do a content analysis of their work.
As I presented in my introduction, I will be using the black feminist thought and the concept of détournement to ground my arguments. The détournement of black female rappers pairs beautifully with black feminist thought because, “détournement not only leads to the discovery of new aspects of talent; in addition, clashing head-on with all social and conventions, it cannot fail to be a powerful cultural weapon” (Debord and Wolman “User’s Guide”). The détournement work of African-American female rappers adds to the sometimes-nebulous definition of black feminist thought.
Perhaps most important to my paper’s analysis is the description of what exactly composes traditional rap culture. The rap culture we are most familiar with today arouse out of the Bronx in the 1970s. Rap music is composed of “a complex social institutions that contain the individuals within it and is constituted by a history of practices, rituals, and habits” (Brunson 7). Rap culture “functions as a source of identity formation and social status by and for black and Latino youth” (Brunson 7). However, this medium of story telling has ben appropriated by major white capitalist music behemoths. Given our modern context, rap music has moved from a space of giving black youths voices to a space hat silences one half of the African-American population it was intended to serve.
Noah Hubbell, a blogger on hip-hop culture, designed a comprehensive chart that outlines the four domains of the rap kingdom and catalogs the main tropes and stereotypes within them (see appendix). Hubbell’s chart breaks down the “practices, rituals, and habits” of rap music (Brunson 7). The four main domains found within rap culture are the streets (the main space of violence; the rapper’s playground), the grind (the everyday hustling and power-reification), the game (how a rapper engages with the ‘system’ and his personal rapping skills), and the swag (the physical manifestations and symbols of power; i.e. cars, money, jewelry, etc.) (Hubbell “Top Ten Tropes”). In each of these spheres, rappers use their lyrics as autobiographies of how they personally dominate each space. As a culture based on self-promotion and bragging, a constant trend within each space is how rappers exercise their power over others. Street cred and status are measured in violent bouts and sexual conquests.
What is most particularly interesting within the scope of my paper is the treatment of women within the traditional male-dominated rap culture. Historically, male rappers treat women as bitches. Women are only as valuable as the male rapper deems them. In this respect, women are treated as side objects and only gain function at the leisure of the male rappers. Within the scope of traditional rap culture, women are not people, but rather units of currency that add to the status and sexual prowess of male rappers. Women have particularized purposes, sexual identities, and aesthetics within the traditional rap game.
In the orthodox rap space, women are seen as trophies and objects in the overall narratives of the rappers. Visually and lyrically women take secondary roles in the biography of this subset of black culture. In many rap songs, women are discussed in terms of what pleasure they can provide their male counterparts or how their involvement in the rapper’s life can derail his personal success. Rap music videos feature up-close footage of gyrating, barely-clothed women surrounding one alpha male rapper. While I do think that rap is music is a valid medium for the black voice to be heard, I find it problematic how rap traditionally relegates women to secondary roles. Rap as a genre that upholds personal story telling and autobiography cannot and should not silence the stories and personal experiences of a subset of its population.
Now that I have outlined my academic foundations and specified what makes up the traditional rap game, I must actually engage with black female rappers. While conducting interviews with black female rappers would have been ideal, I will instead use content analysis to learn about the female rappers. I have methodologically done this by selecting four female rappers to be used as case studies. I performed an in-depth content analysis of their music and personas to see instances of détournement. The rappers I chose to study how female rappers engage and play with prevailing rap stereotypes in their music to enact the ideals of black feminist thought are Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliott, Azealia Banks, and Rapsody. Across all four MCs, I also want to study how they rose to prominence. Their tales of entering the rap game can be quite telling of how they were raised and became acclimated to the dominant rap culture.
Where my emcees at?!
Before continuing my analysis, I think it would be helpful to provide brief justifications and background information on each of my case study selections. Generally, I wanted to have a range of artists with different relationships to mainstream rap culture. I also wanted artists to engage with female sexuality and blackness in different ways so I could draw broader conclusions when I relate my findings to black feminist culture. Even though all of my rappers have had different career trajectories and have different styles, “the legacy of struggle against racism and sexism is a common thread binding African-American women” (Collins “Defining”).
Although Minaj seems like an obvious choice because of her popular and mainstream success, I also decided to use her because close ties to the male-dominated rap collective Young Money. Out of all of my rappers, Minaj has the closest relationship to the traditional rap culture so any subversion she engages in is particularly interesting. Minaj is also an interesting player given her verbal-visual self-presentations. Minaj plays were her sexuality and persona in interesting ways that incorporates non-traditional forms of sexuality. Despite her current solo-success, Minaj rose to prominence after being featured on several of Lil Wayne and Drake’s songs after dropping several mix tapes and signing minor music deals.
Missy Elliott, who has also enjoyed mainstream success during her career, plays an important role to my research as well. Elliott’s lyrics are known for their explicit references to female sexuality. What I also find interesting is how she positions herself visually; she consistently dons baggy pants, oversized shirts, and a fresh pair of Jordans. These masculine touches challenge the typical way women are portrayed in rap culture. Elliott’s entry into the rap music industry differs from my other exemplars; Elliott wasn’t “discovered” in the typical sense. She had formed her own rap all-female rap group and then sought out her neighborhood friend and major producer Timbaland. Elliott’s rap career also included several years of writing top hits for other artists. Elliott, the oldest rapper in my paper, didn’t drop her first solo album until 1997.
Azealia Banks and Rapsody are much-less known out of my four case studies. However, both ladies’ careers can speak to the various ways black female rappers navigate the male dominated rap culture. Banks is interesting for not only her lyricism, but also for her social media presence. While she hasn’t signed a contract that has lasted more than a year with a major label, Banks utilizes the free resources of the Internet to share her music. Banks is also famous for using sites like Twitter to share her opinions of rap culture and other African-American issues. Rounding out my quartet of female rappers is Rapsody. Originally hailing from North Carolina, she aims to restore rap to its original, story telling purpose. Rapsody avoids using sexual references and wearing suggestive clothing as a part of her brand. She has yet broken into the mainstream rap industry, but she is famous for her mix tapes and collaborations with artists like Big K.R.I.T. and Mac Miller.
Word Play: Female Rappers Use Lyrics to Subvert Dominant Rap Culture
Rap culture at its core is a large part of the oral (and aural) traditions within African-American lives. The lyrics and beats of each song play into a larger network of songs that reinforce the dominating elements of modern rap music. As I mentioned in my map of the traditions of today’s rap game, song lyrics are often braggadocious reminders of power, violence, and often times, continue the oppression of black women. I, however, contend that the work of black female emcees breaks apart these oppressions by using similar words, themes, and beats in their own music.
Roberts writes, “Since rap revolves around self-promotion, female rappers are able to use the form without being accused of being self-centered for narcissistic” (142). Whereas other spaces usually condemn outspoken black women and label them ‘angry black women,’ rap music is an outlet for African-American women to speak up without the fear of vilification. African-American female rappers’ utilization of a music form most associated with black men is a prime example of deceptive détournement. Still, as black female rappers continue to be subversive, they must remember, “détournement by simple reversal is always the most direct and the least effective” (Debord and Wolamn “User’s Guide”). When Minaj, Elliott, Banks, and Rapsody create their music, they cannot directly steal from their male counterparts. They must instead take particular elements and use them in a way that is unique only to the black female rapper perspective.
In this section of my paper, I would like to present how my four female rappers have used their music to creatively combat the oppressive rap structures they face. While I am not trying to create a single monolithic way each artist détourns, I do think it is important to see the commonalities among their techniques (Collins “Defining”). Black culture sociologist Robin Roberts says, “through lyrics, female rappers make explicit and overt assertions of female strength and autonomy” (42). Robert goes on to assert “through their lyrics, style, and dance, female rappers draw what Audre Lorde has described as ‘usees of erotic: the erotic as power” (42).
Let us first consider Nicki Minaj’s song “Anaconda.” While this originally came off as another hypersexual big-booty anthem, one must take a deeper look to see Minaj’s musical genius. Sampling the infamous line from Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”: “My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun,” Minaj is able to strike a chord within listeners’ collective memory. At the same time, Minaj is changing the voice of who is talking about female bodies. Instead of male rappers talking about the black female body as a tool for sexual pleasure, it is Minaj talking not about other bodies, but her own body. In addition, the men Minaj references in the rap are her personal sex objects. Throughout the song, Minaj talks about how they pleasure her. In the media, people often comment on Minaj’s body, especially her impressive derriere. Minaj’s “Anaconda” is one way of her reclaiming her body and sexuality.
In Minaj’s most recent hit “Only,” her first line is “Yo, I never fucked Wayne/ I never fucked Drake.” Minaj is clearly directing these lines towards individuals that see her as just Lil Wayne’s prodigy. Another example of Minaj lyrically reclaiming her sexuality and pushing the boundaries of what is possible for women in the rap game is the remixed version of Beyoncé’s “Flawless.” Minaj’s verse is the epitome of the self-praise trope within rap music. From rapping how she is the “queen of rap, slaying with Queen Bey,” to “It’s every hood nigga dream/fantasizing about Nicki and Bey/ Curvalicious,” Minaj is making herself the main subject of desire. Minaj doesn’t only use her sexuality in her music. She is also known for her aggressive lyrics and cutthroat rhymes. Within “Anaconda,” Minaj turns the vision of gun-toting male rappers on its head when she mentions how she has a “gun in her purse, bitch I came dressed to kill/ who wanna go first/had them pushing daffodils.”
Minaj isn’t the first female rapper to use lyrics to increase dialogue on black women’s sexuality. In fact, Missy Elliott has been one of the female rappers at the forefront of this type of détournement in rap. Elliot is perhaps best known for her it “Work It.” This song not only always gets people moving on the dance floor, but it also provides a space for black women to talk about sex as subjects, rather than objects. The lyrics “you do or you don’t, you will or won’t you/ go downtown and eat it like a vulture” is different from the traditional male expectation to sexualize women. Instead, Elliott expects men to pleasure women. In her seminal hit “Get your Freak On,” Missy Elliot references her long-time collaboration with producer Timbaland, and continues rap’s bravado tradition of challenging other emcees to dethrone her. Not only is she stating her status as an equal with male rappers, but she is also sharing her confidence in her abilities to remain a top contender in the rap game.
Elliott and Minaj’s sexual lyrics not only challenge the ways in which black female bodies are discussed in the traditional rap game, but they also magnify a larger issue within black feminist thought—the large exclusion of black female sexuality from the conversation. Rapper Azealia Banks follows in a similar vein to Minaj and Elliot in terms of her lyric’s sexual content. Banks’ lyricism is crucial to understanding how black female rappers use détournement to challenge traditional tropes within rap music. These trends can be noticed in her latest album “Broke with Expensive Tastes.” Her song “JFK” with Theophilus London talks about how she is “Miss Icon,” and how she’s come to give lessons to all the other people at the party. Banks has also changed the setting of where the rap is taking place. No longer on the streets and maintaining street cred, Banks as a rapper says that she can school people no matter the setting or circumstance.
Also on the album, Banks brings back her most famous hit “212.” While several female rappers including Minaj, Elliott, and Rapsody have reclaimed the word “bitch,” few other rappers have attempted to reclaim the word “cunt.” Banks has turned one of the most derogatory terms for a woman into a term of sexual desire. One last example of how Banks is subverting the canonized elements of dominant rap culture is how she has battled colorism in her song “Liquorice.” Often times in rap culture, rappers discuss their preferences for lighter-skinned women. Colorism, “cultural construction…that is learned and cultivated” is an issue beyond rap culture (Brunson 7). Banks’ decision to have an entire song about making darker-skinned women just as desirable adds to the conversations people have in regards to black feminist thought and challenges the dominant “team light-skin” culture. Banks’ decision to take on rap culture’s colorism is a bold move on her part. The lyrics, “Can I catch your eye sir/Can I be what you like, yeah/ I could be the right girl/ tell me if you like your girl in my might color.” She is changing the dialogue surrounding dark-skinned girls and giving them a newfound sense of sexuality.
Even though Rapsody’s lyrical talent is not as prevalent, she has still garnered critical acclaim for her work. In each of her albums, Rapsody strives to be different from the mainstream artists and strives to retain a “classic” hip-hop vibe. Particularly in her first two albums, Rapsody presents a bold challenge to modern day rappers. The title of her first album, “Return of the B-Girl” hints towards the early days of hip-hop when it was more closely tied with breakdancing culture and less commercialized. Her second album titled “Thank H.E.R. Now” seems to reference the title of Drake’s debut album “Thank Me later.” On this album, I find her song “Black Girl Jedi” interesting for two reasons. First of all, the science fiction reference to Star Wars is very different from the typical allusions rappers make. Secondly, when Rapsody says, “Keep it hot, we beat girls forever/ Hip-hop on top, won’t stop forever” seems to reinforce her desire to include more female voices in rap music for the better men of rap music’s future.
Rapsody’s song “All Black Everything” seems like it would be a take on Chief Keef’s “All Gold Everything.” However, the song is different from traditional rap songs that are self-praising and discuss personal struggle. Rapsody instead uses the song to discuss the larger systemic issues facing all African-Americans. Throughout the entire song, she ties her individual actions to mean movements of solidarity for African-Americans.
Video Girls: Changing the Visuals of Female Rap Culture
The lyrics to rap songs are central to rap culture, but the music videos and other accompanying visuals also help perpetuate the tropes and themes of the traditional male-dominated African-American rap culture. The visuals present in rap music videos allow rap culture to be replicated in a variety of spaces outside the vicinity of the rap music industry; inventions like Twitter and Instagram allow not only the artists other platforms to share their image, but fans can more directly engage with the artist’s representation. “In a music video, the performer’s dress, gestures, enunciation, and style all become signs liable to interpretation,” Roberts comments (143). That being said, the artistry of rap music videos adds to the richness of the lyrics and provides another layer on which black female rappers can use détournement in African-American rap culture. As African-American female rappers subvert the traditions within African-American rap culture, it is important to keep in mind “the main impact of a détournement is directly related to the conscious or semiconscious recollection of the originally texts of the elements” (Debord and Wolman “User’s Guide”). Not only must Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliott, Azealia Banks, and Rapsody use their lyrics and other words to inform their visual presentations, but they must use them in ways that relate to the particular images that are iconic to male-dominated rap culture, including “violence, sex, political awareness, and materialism” (Zhang, et al 789).
Knowing that the modern rap game involves several corporate players, Minaj uses her body with the motto “sex sells.” Her curves sign her paychecks. Despite critics saying her over sexuality detracts from the aims of black feminism and contributes the continued sexualization of the black female body in African-American rap culture, I argue that Minaj using her body as she pleases (sexually or not) is actually reclaiming agency over her body.
In addition to her image as a hypersexualized woman, Minaj also plays with various personas in her music videos. Minaj utilizes both dominatrix-like and Barbie-like images to evoke different moods. Minaj is able to engage audiences multiple ways and play with multiple tropes. In fact, “this duality, of confrontation, is central to the female appropriation of the music video form and helps explain why so many black female performers are so effective in this subversion” (Roberts 144). These changing personas help female rappers be viewed in multiple lights and not in one monolithic image. Minaj’s visual representations also play around with concepts of sexual identity. Minaj’s use of the video girl challenges traditional heteronormative interactions between rappers and video girls. Minaj’s dueling personas can be seen in her music video for the song “Monster.” Minaj utilizes both her dominatrix and Barbie personas. By including both personas in her music video, Minaj breaks down the idea that rappers must be tough all of the time. The use of multiple personas allows for vulnerability to be introduced to a space that traditionally rejects it.
While at first glance Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” music video may seem like an anthem that once again dissects a black woman’s body into bits and pieces for the male gaze, Minaj is actually subverting the traditional scope of rap in two ways. First of all, she is using the backbeat of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” to frame her lyrics on her sexuality. Secondly, she is using her body and the bodies of her video vixens to add to her own subjectivity. In the traditional rap landscape, rappers use their backup dancers to add to their power and sex appeal. Minaj is using them in a similar way. Minaj is “assert[ing] her right to express sexual desire and to control her own body” (Roberts 149). She is also using their bodies to play with the ideas of heteronormativity. Minaj has ” taken agency in defining her personae and thus encapsulates the essence of the “sexual entrepreneur'” according to black feminism researcher Theresa Renee White (610).
Missy Elliott is also famous for her visual representations in her songs. Elliott’s stance as the center of her highly sexual songs changes how black female sexuality can be represented. The traditional visage of a light-skinned, curvaceous woman with long hair are subverted and replaced with Elliott’s masculine-dressed body. Elliott has been vilified and snubbed by various media sources because she doesn’t have the traditional video girl look. Despite the pushback from traditional media, Elliott aims to subvert “the skewed and unrealistic picture of female bodies” (Zhang et al 794). In the opening sequence to Elliott’s “Lose Control” video, Elliott has her male and female backup dancers wear the same exact blue sweat suits. Even though the clothing choices do not immediate identify her dancers’ genders, all of them are still dancing in provocative ways. To that end, Elliott is putting male and female sexuality on a more even playing field. Elliott’s “initiative and presentation of sexuality as power goes against the stereotypical image of black women in hip-hop” (White 615).
Azealia Banks, who identifies as bisexual, can contribute an interesting perspective to the visual representations of women in rap culture. Banks creatively uses the damsel-in-distress archetype and the image of expensive cars and motorcycles in her music video “Heavy Metal and Reflective.” Banks is initially tied up in the middle of the desert in the video. However, she boldly claims that she is the “baddest bitch in the rap game” as the removes her restraints. The video is also filled with sequences of her rapping against a backdrop of motorcycles and automobiles. Even as she rides on the back of one of someone else’s motorcycle, Banks still commands the gaze of the camera by maintaining sexual poses. Azealia Banks also uses her social media presence to share her visual persona in ways not directly tied to her music. Her Instagram feed is full of memes that reference historical moments in rap and also photos of her that play with traditional notions of sexuality.
Rapsody has said explicitly in multiple interviews that she does not want to play into the traditional means of female representations of rappers. In an interview with Ebony Rapsody says:
“When you think about the female artist today, you’re supposed to be sexy. You’re not supposed to rap about messages or current events. It’s always supposed to be about your body or what you can do sexually for a man. It’s really disheartening for that idea to be put out, especially when you have young girls that look up to that.”
Rapsody chooses not to use her body sexually to engage her audience, much less subvert the traditions within African-American rap culture. Instead, Rapsody takes images from older iterations of rap culture and brings them back in a 21st century context. For example, Rapsody utilizes images of underground rap battles where male rappers would verbally eviscerate each other in her video “Drama.” Rapsody stands at the center of crowed of men and completely owns the stage—all while wearing a baggy hockey jersey. Also in the video, Rapsody takes on traditionally male stances and flips the bird to the camera multiple times. These gestures seem to say that she doesn’t need to sexualize herself in order to be a successful rapper.
Even though the four rappers I have outlined use different methods to visually subvert the male-dominated African-American rap culture, all four ladies do so effectively.
Conclusion: What’s next for female rappers in the rap industry
I was initially drawn to this topic because I constantly think about how I participate in the traditional rap narrative. As a listener and viewer of a music genre that simultaneously provides a voice to people who look like me and silences a group of people who look like me, I felt it was incumbent upon myself to learn about the various structures at play. In addition, “feminist rap music […] requires the viewer to participate in their construction and analysis” (141). The swirling of discussions in my classes along with the Internet breaking and re-breaking because of the “controversial” things rappers were doing converged to create a perfect moment for me to write this paper.
Despite laying out all of my theoretical claims and my definition of what constitutes the modern mainstream rap culture of African-Americans, analyzing how female rappers use détournement was much more complicated that I had originally anticipated. Even though I limited my research to the content analysis of four female rappers with differing backgrounds, there was still of plethora of information on their individual artistry and black female rappers generally. There was so much rich information that I was not able to utilize within the scope of this paper.
One of the major take-aways from this paper is that the female rappers I studied are not only trying to subvert the tropes within African-American rap culture. They are also navigating the intricacies of the capitalist music industry. In that regard, I am left with questions regarding how affective my rappers are in subverting the oppressions within rap culture.
Without a doubt, Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliot, Azealia Banks, and Rapsody all contribute an immense amount of talent and intellect to the rap music industry. In each artist’s way, she is able to manipulate bits and pieces of male rap culture to not only serve the purposes of individual self-expression, but also to push rap music culture to include more female voices. More broadly speaking, Minaj, Elliott, Banks, and Rapsody contribute to the on-going dialogue of black feminist thought. The verbal-visual creative process these artists use add to the richness of black feminist thought. Music is often the best exemplar of a movement, and the raps included in this paper can be anthems for African-American women and their allies.
As Debord says in his User’s Guide to Détournement, “Ideas and ceations in the realm of détournement can be multiplied at will. For the moment we will limit ourselves to showing a few concrete possibilities, in various current sectors of communication—it being understood that these separate sectors are significant only in relation to present-day techniques, and are all tending to merge into superior syntheses.” In this regard, the work of Minaj, Elliott, Banks, and Rapsody, among all other female rappers is not done. Their work is part of a larger network of work done by different people who are using different mediums to subvert the hegemonic forces at play. While I was obviously not able to bring all of those discussions into the scope of this paper, I do believe that my analysis of black female rappers contributes to the cause of détournement as a whole.
White, T. R. “Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott and Nicki Minaj: Fashionistin’ Black Female Sexuality in Hip-Hop Culture–Girl Power or Overpowered?” Journal of Black Studies 44.6 (2013): 607-26. Web.
Zhang, Yuanyuan, Travis L. Dixon, and Kate Conrad. “Female Body Image as a Function of Themes in Rap Music Videos: A Content Analysis.” Sex Roles 62.11-12 (2010): 787-97. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.
Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 2000. 221-38. Print.
”Nicki Minaj Just Wants to be a Rapper, and not a Female Rapper” by Eliza Thompson via cosmopolitan.com
Brunson, James E., III. “Showing, Seeing: Hip-Hop, Visual Culture, and the Show-and-Tell Performance.” Black History Bulletin 74.1 (2009): 6-9. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.
Collins, Patricia H. “Defining Black Feminist Thought.” The Feminist EZine. The Lilith EZine, n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2014. <http://www.feministezine.com/feminist/modern/Defining-Black-Feminist-Thought.html>.
Debord, Guy, and Gil J. Wolman. “A User’s Guide to Détournement.” Situationist International Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/presitu/usersguide.html>.
Hubbell, Noah. “The Ten Biggest Tropes in Rap Music.” Backbeat. Denver Westword, LLC, 14 Sept. 2013. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <http://blogs.westword.com/backbeat/2013/09/ten_biggest_rap_tropes.php>.
Morgan, Glennisha. “Why Is Rapsody Still ‘Hard to Choose’? [INTERVIEW].” EBONY. Ebony Magazine, 17 Sept. 2014. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <http://www.ebony.com/entertainment-culture/why-is-rapsody-still-hard-to-choose-interview-403#.VIm4N2TF-Vc>.
Roberts, Robin. “Music Videos, Performance and Resistance: Feminist Rappers.” The Journal of Popular Culture 25.2 (1991): 141-52. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.
Rucker, Coral. “‘Broke With Expensive Taste’ By Azealia Banks: Album Review.” Neon Tommy. University of Southern California, 14 Nov. 2014. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <http://www.neontommy.com/news/2014/11/broke-expensive-taste-album-review-0>.
Nicki Minaj’s website “My Pink Friday” (mypinkfriday.com)
Missy Elliott’s website (missy-elliott.com)
Azealia Banks’s (azealiabanks.com)
Azealia Banks’s Instagram (@azealiabanks)
Rapsody’s website “I Am Rapsody” (iamrapsody.com)
All song lyrics courtesy of AZ Lyrics (azlyrics.com) and MetroLyrics (metrolyrics.com)
More than a decade ago, the scientific community completed what was once deemed an impossible task: researchers from around the world finally decoded the entire sequence of the human genome. With this accomplishment, the “cost of sequencing dropped dramatically – from $3 billion for the first human genome to [just] a few thousand dollars today” (Wojcicki, “Know Your Genome: What We Can All Gain from Personal Genetics”). Although the plummeting numbers on these DNA price tags may not mean much to the general public, the implications of this breakthrough are life-changing. Indeed, the most recent advances in genetic research have just made it possible to answer the question “who are you?” in the most definitive way possible – a person’s past, present, and even future all available at our fingertips. Furthermore, with this data, leaps and bounds can be made to cure disease, eliminate crime, and even pave the way for improvements in the way people live, the likes of which the world has only ever seen in science fiction. But what does this all mean for the concept of identity? Can the genetic information that is extracted and analyzed really define who someone is as a person? Not as a biological being, but as an individual? This very dilemma is one of the most debated issues of the 21st century, and as the world moves ever further into the future, this question will no doubt become more and more prevalent. Thus, it is vitally important to understand how and why the use of genetic information can be both a blessing and a curse, and more importantly, what society should do when confronted with such deeply ethical matters.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” Even though Uncle Ben may not have intended for his famous line to become the principle behind genetic research, it definitely reflects many of the ethical concerns regarding this new technology. DNA databases, government genomic records, and public access registries to sensitive genetic information are all growing in number in an effort to crack down on criminals and develop new treatments for disease. On the contrary, what may be just as terrifying as a bloodthirsty serial killer or a growing tumor, is the fact that authorities can abuse the power of “DNA to accumulate information on people’s racial origins, medical history, and [even] psychological profile” (Lawless, “Spread of DNA Databases Sparks Ethical Concerns”). And yet, even with these concerns in mind, more and more government DNA databases are adopted by nations around the world. These databases consist of DNA profiles – information extracted from biological samples like cheek swabs – and are represented by a 20 digit serial code that includes an indicator for gender. In other words, a person’s identity can be, and has already been reduced to mere numbers, like those on a credit card. The only difference is: a credit card number has never at any point so absolutely defined a person’s identity. In 2010, the United Kingdom established the “world’s first national DNA database, which… contained over 5 million” of these DNA “fingerprints,” the majority of which were taken from “those who [were] suspects in investigations,” even if the individuals were later found to be not guilty (“What Is the DNA Database?”). As such, this DNA database essentially contains profiles on thousands upon millions of the innocent population, giving authorities access to sensitive genetic information that can be misused by employers or healthcare insurance companies if given the chance – a chance that may just be within their reach.
Whereas large amounts of genetic information, like that stored in DNA databases, can help solve crimes and treat diseases, it is also highly possible that this information can fall into the wrong hands. For instance, imagine a well-qualified, hard-working job applicant who just had a smooth interview and subsequently the shot of landing the position of her dreams. However, when her desired employer calls her the next time, it isn’t to congratulate her on a new offer, but to tell her that they have rejected her based off genetic information implying her risk of breast cancer. Apparently, the company just can’t afford the resources to train an employee who may not be working continuously for a very long time. On the other hand, imagine an older individual who although has been in good shape for the majority of his life, would like a more reliable medical insurance plan as he nears retirement. However, he later finds out that he is being denied coverage not because of his age or because he is presently unhealthy, but because his DNA samples taken from a government database indicate an increased chance of Alzheimer’s disease in his near future. These scenarios may seem improbable and extraordinarily unjust, but with greater advances in genetic research and a stronger emphasis on the storage of DNA “fingerprints,” both screening for the risks of hereditary diseases as well as accessing this information from simple government databases have become far easier than ever before, allowing employers and insurance companies to take full advantage of who they hire or who they insure (“Liberty, Privacy, and DNA Databases”).
With this kind of genetic data and the sheer amount of it in one place, what’s stopping the public from discriminating against each other on the basis of genetics? What’s preventing health insurance organizations from withdrawing their services due to unfortunate medical risks? And most of all, what’s prohibiting society from defining who and how someone should be through inferences made through their genetic identity? What’s more, many would even argue that the use of DNA databases and the analysis of the information gathered from the general public is a violation of many essential rights, including the right to privacy, the right to physical and moral integrity, the right not to declare, and the right to health and liberty, just to name a few (Guillén, “Ethical-Legal Problems of DNA Databases in Criminal Investigation”). These concerns have become so great and so pertinent that a law has already been passed in an attempt to address foreseeable issues in the days to come. According to the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 or GINA, “it is illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because” of their DNA profile (“Genetic Information Discrimination”). Indeed, GINA not only prevents individual health insurers from using a “person’s genetic information to set eligibility requirements [and]… premium… amounts,” but it also forbids employers from basing their “decisions about hiring, firing, job assignments, or promotions,” on any acquired genetic data. Nevertheless, this doesn’t solve everything. GINA unfortunately cannot provide protection against life, disability, or long-term-care insurers, nor can it prevent discrimination based on current or manifesting genetic conditions (“The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA): A Discussion Guide for Clinicians”). Seeing as how the majority of these issues stem from either the risk of diagnosing a long-term disability or the slow development of a life-altering condition, the extent of GINA’s protective influence is fairly limited. Thus, no matter how many steps are taken to mitigate these controversies, they very much still exist, and will continue to further down the road. In the end, as troubling as any type of privacy breach may sound, the truth of the matter remains the following: the ethical concerns and the practical benefits surrounding the use of genetic information are two sides of a double edged sword. The real question is, which edge is sharper?
Although the privacy concerns associated with genetics are no doubt problematic, few can deny the revolutionary benefits that come about from this new technology. The use of DNA today is an important tool to help clear the name of many innocent suspects, suspects who would have been punished irreversibly for crimes they never committed (Lawless, “Spread of DNA Databases Sparks Ethical Concerns”). In fact, since the advent of DNA testing in criminal investigations, “there have been 321 post-conviction DNA exonerations in [just] the United States,” as shown below, and this growing number only scratches the surface of how much forensics practice has aided Interpol internationally” (Massie, “DNA Exonerations Nationwide”).
Furthermore, as the number of innocent suspects exonerated through DNA evidence increases, so too does the number of suspects correctly apprehended for the crimes they did commit. Using genetic information to solve criminal investigations is a relatively straightforward process: if a suspect has already been identified, then a simple comparison between his DNA to the samples found at the crime scene can easily determine his culpability. On the other hand, if a suspect has not been identified, then the advantages of a government DNA database become apparent. The genetic information found at the crime scene can be compared to the DNA profiles that are on record, and in that way determine possible suspects to be taken in for further questioning (“Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology: Using DNA to Solve Crimes”). As such, the use of “DNA fingerprinting” in criminal investigations has completely revamped how society approaches crime solving. From the case in 1999 in which “New York authorities linked a man through DNA evidence to at least 22 sexual assaults” to the case in 2002 in which DNA evidence allowed for the identification of the individual behind a series of rapes and murders, it is clear that the addition of forensics analysis to the criminal justice system has been a successful venture.
As impressive as these accomplishments may be, where genetics research has made the most impact is in today’s medical field. Hundreds upon thousands of people in society have depended on genetic information to screen and diagnose for diseases in their imminent future, and many more are seeking personalized treatment in preparation for whatever conditions may arise. In fact, through the analysis of patient DNA with genetic testing, doctors are able to provide clear medical benefits regardless of the test’s results: if tests are negative, then patients can rest assured knowing they are relatively safe, and if tests are positive, then the necessary preparation for whatever disorder may arise can begin early, allowing for the greatest chance of survival once the time comes. For example, by evaluating how patients react to certain drugs, genetic research can “help them prevent harmful side effects” when it really counts “…and [even] potentially avoid preventable deaths” (Wojcicki, “Know Your Genome: What We Can All Gain from Personal Genetics”). But there’s more. With this type of preparatory information, genetic testing is also able to influence the next generations to come, both by advising parents on lifestyle habits in the future in regards to having children as well as by screening newborns in order to identify possible disorders that may manifest early on in their childhood (“Genetic Testing”). In these ways, the use of genetic information can save countless lives, and improve the conditions of many more as well.
Gene therapy, or the modification of an individual’s genes in order to correct genetic abnormalities, has become the most popular topic in today’s medical field. With this strategy, the potential to treat many of the diseases that were once deemed incurable becomes a reality, especially as the applicability of this therapy itself allows for endless possibilities. Gene therapy, as shown below, consists of identifying specific mutations involved in the disease to be treated and creating a suitable replacement for that part of the genome. Then, by using engineered viral or non-viral vectors, this recombinant DNA can be delivered to the body’s cells to isolate, replace, or regulate the particular DNA element that was originally responsible for the patient’s condition. These vectors will repeat the process from cell to cell, slowly repairing the genome through the spread of adjacent areas until a significant portion of the patient’s cells have regained normal function, effectively treating the individual of his or her disease.
Indeed, gene therapy has already demonstrated promising results treating several types of immunodeficiency diseases, including cancer, and is on its way to treat many more. However, “long-term treatments for anemia, hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy…cardiovascular disease, [and] diabetes” still remain elusive today (“Gene Therapy and Cell Therapy Defined”). It is only by dedicating a greater public effort to advancing this technology – and learning more about the human genome – will it be possible to apply this strategy’s benefits to many of these crippling diseases and more.
In the end, there are hardly any other alternatives that can offer as much to the world as genetics do, but will the advantages truly outweigh the disadvantages? Does knowing that a cure for diabetes may be waiting to be discovered in the human genome make up for the threats to privacy and personal security? According to some of the world’s most renowned media sources, it seems genetics may just be the more popular choice. But should it be?
In order to assess general knowledge and opinion regarding genetics research, a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey or NHANES was completed in June of 2006. Since this survey consisted of more than 5000 home interviews with randomly selected individuals above the age of 20, it is reasonable to assume that such a large sample size may serve as an adequate representation of the United States population. During the survey, individuals were asked for their consent to the collection and storage of their biological samples to be used for future research, assuming their samples would be used for genetic studies (McQuillan, “Consent for Genetic Research in a General Population: An Update on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Experience”). The participant’s responses as to whether or not they would agree to such an idea were recorded and the rates of consent were then cross examined with sociodemographic factors, such as ethnicity, gender, and age . Furthermore, NHANES was repeated across several rounds, in 1999-2000, 2001-2002, and finally in 2003-2004, each time with the same number of participants, in order to record the changes in public opinion over time (McQuillan, “Consent for Genetic Research in a General Population: An Update on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Experience”). In this way, a comprehensive evaluation of the general attitude towards the use of genetic information in the US can be acquired relative to several different factors, while general support or disapproval regarding genetics can be measured as it progresses through time. As a result, very interesting patterns were extrapolated from this data, and by examining these trends, a more accurate idea of the nation’s take on the use of genetic information can be acquired (McQuillan, “Consent for Genetic Research in a General Population: An Update on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Experience”). Thus, the information garnered by this survey will ultimately determine the need for more accessible education on this topic, the extent to which more advancements should made towards adopting the use of genetic information, and whether or not there should be greater limitations to genetic research in order to protect individual rights and freedoms.
One of the most prominent trends that can be observed from the data collected from NHANES in Table 2 is the significant increase in consent rates across the three different rounds, 1990-2000, 2001-2002, and 2003-2004 (McQuillan, “Consent for Genetic Research in a General Population: An Update on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Experience”). These rising values indicate that the general population is becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of donating personal biological samples to be used for genetic research. In fact, assuming that the same pattern has continued since the publication of this survey, it is safe to conclude that the percentage of individuals who would be willing to allow the collection and storage of their biological samples today is even closer to or approaching 100%. Nevertheless, it is important to note that in the 2003-2004 survey, participants were not told that their samples could be used for genetic research. Therefore, the dramatic increase from a 90.1% consent rate in 2001-2002 to a 98.4% consent rate in 2003-2004 cannot be explained by an increase in public acceptance of genetics research (McQuillan, “Consent for Genetic Research in a General Population: An Update on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Experience”). What can be deduced from these results, on the other hand is that even though people are increasingly comfortable, or at least more lenient, with the continuation of this technology, there is still some uneasiness associated with DNA collection. This anxiety is what prevents the majority of individuals from consenting, and should be taken into account if genetics research is to be more widely incorporated into social protocol.
Although public opinion of genetics research may be improving, as seen by the results from year to year, certain sociodemographic groups tend to be less comfortable with the idea than others. In the 1999-2000 survey round, non-Hispanic blacks compared to other ethnic groups, non-Hispanic whites, Mexican American, and other, had the lowest consent rates. Additionally, in the 2001-2002 survey round, female participants had significantly lower consent rates than male participants (McQuillan, “Consent for Genetic Research in a General Population: An Update on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Experience”). These two groups, blacks and females, tend to be marginalized by institutions far more frequently than other social groups, and as such may be the reason for their unease. In other words, it is a distinct possibility that due to their increased weariness of racial and gender discrimination, these participants opted not to participate with the genetic testing provided by NHANES in fear of potential genetic discrimination in the future. This issue, fortunately, can be addressed with more stringent laws on genetic discrimination as well as greater education on the relatively safe usage of this information for its many benefits. This way, society can take steps to make sure that the advantages of this technology can be available for all people and not just for those who are more comfortable with giving such personal data to medical authorities.
NHANES demonstrates the recent public perspective on genetics research: even though consent rates are generally increasing to a fairly large percentage, there are still some individuals, mainly blacks and females, who are unable to reconcile the benefits of this technology with the risks to their personal and social well-being. With that in mind, it is difficult to distinctively say whether the public is truly for or against genetic testing. However, what can be determined is that as stricter regulations are proposed to protect against genetic information abuse, the more likely it will be that this technology benefits more people than it hurts. This notion should remain the guiding principle for DNA use in the days to come; it is only by showing the public that there is nothing to be afraid of, that society can finally capitalize on how much more can be gained with the use of genetic information. Perhaps by then, the double edged sword can become the instrument of society’s future accomplishments and not a threat upon those who wield it.
“Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology: Using DNA to Solve Crimes.” N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
Alana Massie. “DNA Exonerations Nationwide.” Innocence Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.
Catherine Doss. “College of Science Magazine Explores Genetic Medicine, Cancer Therapies.” VirginiaTech: Virginia Tech News. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.
“DNA Exoneree Case Profiles.” Innocence Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.
“Gene Therapy and Cell Therapy Defined.” American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy. N.p., 2011. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
“Genetic Information Discrimination.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.
“Genetic Privacy.” N.p., 2 Oct. 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
“Genetic Testing.” Medic8. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
“GINA: Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.” Web.
Guillén, Margarita et al. “Ethical-Legal Problems of DNA Databases in Criminal Investigation.” Journal of Medical Ethics 26.4 (2000): 266–271. jme.bmj.com. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
“How Does Gene Therapy Work?” Genetics Home Reference. N.p., 9 Dec. 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
“Is This How We’ll Cure Cancer?” Forbes. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
Jill Lawless. “Spread of DNA Databases Sparks Ethical Concerns.” The Big Story. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.
Kravets, David. “Court OKs Taking DNA From Felony Arrestees.” WIRED. N.p., 23 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
“Liberty, Privacy, and DNA Databases.” The New Atlantis. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
McQuillan, Geraldine M., Qiyuan Pan, and Kathryn S. Porter. “Consent for Genetic Research in a General Population: An Update on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Experience.” Genetics in Medicine 8.6 (2006): 354–360. http://www.nature.com. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
Saporito, Bill. “The Conspiracy To End Cancer.” Time. healthland.time.com. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
“The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA): A Discussion Guide for Clinicians.” National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics. N.p., 2014. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
“TIME Magazine — U.S. Edition — January 11, 1999 Vol. 153 No. 1.” N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
“TIME Magazine — U.S. Edition — January 17, 1994 Vol. 143 No. 3.” N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
“What Is the DNA Database?” webpage. N.p., 19 Apr. 2010. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
Wojcicki, Anne. “Know Your Genome: What We Can All Gain from Personal Genetics.” The Guardian 13 Mar. 2013. The Guardian. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.
Otherwise known as the “Me Me Me Generation” (Sharma, 2014), the millennial generation strikes many with their attitudes and behaviors. The first millennials were born in the early 1980s when child abuse and child safety started to become hot topics of discussion. As a result divorce rates, violence against children, and abortion fell steadily, as parents made sure that their children weren’t going to suffer from a lack of self-esteem or attention. Thus, the millennial generation became what the media often refers to as “narcissistic.” These millennials were raised at the center of attention, as parents put their children in the middle of the family with their parents orbiting around them. Celebrating their every move, it was nothing out of the ordinary for parents to give overwhelming praise for the smallest of accomplishments. They have had every bit of their parent’s support and undivided attention. Every moment of their lives was documented by their very own “momma” and “paparazzis.” They have had their opinions so valued growing up at home that they could not help but to expect the world to see them this way (Hubert, 2014). This style of parenting has even garnered its own name: “peerenting.” That is, parents today are more peers than parents (The Learning Treehouse). Simply put, parents started to cater toward their children despite the fact that this was the antithesis of the way their parents raised them. With all of this adult attention, it is no surprise that this millennial generation has developed a sense of specialness. And as a result, their actions, thoughts, and behaviors have followed suit. It is this generation that supports the large revenues of many Silicone Valley businesses that offer people faster ways of doing things, ultimately enabling their need for patience. With a culture switch that effects a person’s life from birth, many scholars have looked into what difference this treatment might make down the line. This generation expects everything they do to be fast, easy, and convenient, as their time is the most valuable resource in their lives. With the backing of both scholarly and non-scholarly sources, I strive to entertain the idea that their impatience for everything they desire has become a necessity rather than a convenience. In doing so, I will furthermore support the idea that when people are presented with easier, faster and more efficient ways to do things, they will always take that route.
Significant improvements in technology over the last 20 years or so have perhaps made patience unnecessary in the modern world. Think about it, one can make credit card payments, get a taxi, talk to a friend across the world, or even check their mail – all of this online, right from their home, and within the matter of seconds. As technology grows, our behaviors change and adapt to the revolutionized world around us. It seems that people have adopted a need for instant gratification that is guided by modern technology, but they ultimately expect it in all facets of their life.
However, although instant gratification is the result of high-end technology that provides us with a much easier lifestyle, there are some limitations to it. Take for example the longitudinal psychology study done by Dr. Walter Mischel that addressed exactly this. Dr. Mischel first conducted an experiment with preschoolers to see how long they would willingly wait to receive a treat. Specifically, the preschoolers were told that they could receive a treat at that moment, or they could wait 15 minutes to have their treat doubled. The results of this study showed that less than one third of the preschoolers were able to wait to receive a greater reward. The video below replicates a demonstration of the exact study done by Dr. Walter Mischel.
Dr. Mischel studied these same students 20 years later and found that the preschoolers who were patient enough to wait 15 minutes doubling their treat were more intelligent, had higher SAT scores, had more self-control, had better abilities related to concentration, and were less likely to be overweight adults (Discovery). Thus, it appears that delayed gratification contributes to a healthier lifestyle and overall well being. More importantly though, this proves that patience and self-control should be a cherished and practiced value by all. Given the results of Mischel’s study, it is genetically troubling to possess patience, and with a revolutionized world of technological advances, it provides for an environment where patience is even harder for people to conquer.
In addition to the positive effects that Mischel found in his study, scholars such as Jaime Cundy have found a relationship that exists between patience and decreased stress levels – one that directly correlates patience with an overall improved way of life, and impatience with greater stress levels. A psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania, Cundy narrows her focus towards her experience of spending many years living, working, and traveling around the continent of Africa. She noticed something very different there. The people she encountered were not afraid of losing time, and were living much more in the present moment. In her article, The Beauty in the Beast, Cundy discusses her adaptation to the countries of Africa she visited, and how she was ultimately forced to let go of her rigid time schedules. She references in her article that meetings scheduled at a specific time would start at least two hours late. Coming from a fast-paced American society, where people cannot even wait two seconds for a streaming video to load (supported by research later in this post), she came to a fork in the road. She could either adapt to the culture of the African lifestyle or remain frustrated throughout the duration of her stay. She found that when she began to adapt, she was able to better appreciate the time being spent in those present moments. This equipped her with the ability to focus on her given tasks at hand much more than she was able to in America, as she was not anxiously awaiting the next step of life’s many obstacles and challenges. When she returned home, she concluded that the pace of life in America is simply too fast. So fast, she states, that many Americans do not appreciate the present moment, as they are thinking about their next task in life (Cundy, 2012). The rushed pace of the American culture gives its people the feeling that they are constantly behind and will never be on top of all of their work. It is this exact reason why Karen Paullet found in her experimental study that subjects between the age of 30 and 39 have taken work related calls while on vacation. Even on vacation, a distinguished time for relaxation and living in the present moment, high-paced Americans prove that they simply cannot detach themselves from their busy lives (Paullet, 2010). But, the novel contribution of Cundy’s article is that it reveals the benefits of slowing down, especially in a fast-paced American society. With the mastering of patience, not only does a person gain the ability to complete his or her tasks more efficiently and effectively, but one can decrease the level of stress in his or her life. Thus, understanding the side affects of the constant pressure of an instant gratification culture is indeed important. It is only when we recognize the fast paced world we live in that we can see how hectic our lives really are.
Another study done by a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Professor Ramesh Sitaraman, examined how long people would wait for a video to load on a computer. The picture below is a graph that displays his findings.
One of the most significant parts of this graph shows that people displayed impatience only after two seconds. That is, if the video was not completely loaded after two seconds, the participants in the study chose not to wait for the video to load. Furthermore, after one half of a minute almost all of the participants in the study displayed impatience by deciding not to wait for the video to load. Taking the inferences of this study into account, it is very logical to believe that Internet speeds have risen so much that people expect for their wait time to be almost none. Advancements in technology have provided people with these high expectations that ultimately deplete people’s patience. Professor Narayan Janakiraman best puts it, “the need for instant gratification is not new, but our expectation of ‘instant’ has become faster, and as a result, our patience is thinner” (Muther, 2013). This is most synonymous with my aforementioned words that if people are presented with an easier, faster, and more efficient way of doing something, they are always going to take that route.
And speaking of easier, faster, and more efficient ways of doing things, let’s take a look at the mobile application business that has absolutely skyrocketed over the past five years or so. Specifically, connecting a buyer to a seller, while taking a percentage of that transaction is one of the most exhilarating businesses. Just look at what has been done. Uber for example is on the cusp of replacing the entire taxi business. As a matter of fact, the taxi business has sued Uber for its infringement on their market. When comparing to taxis, it is fact that Uber is cheaper, more efficient, and most of all, its faster. We will examine the experience from the Uber user’s point of view, the driver’s point of view, and from Uber’s point of view. Here’s how it works for the user. One simply downloads the Uber application on his or her iPhone and registers as a customer with Uber with their credit card and personal information. Once this process is completed, the user simply requests a ride when he or she needs one, and boom! Within minutes, a registered Uber driver arrives at your exact location to take you where you need to go. Once you get there, there is no need to fuss around with sliding your credit card, providing a signature, or even waiting for the driver to print out your receipt. Just get out of the car and go. An email from Uber containing the transaction receipt and a brief summary of your trip will arrive in your mailbox shortly after your trip is completed. Thus, it is pretty evident that Uber thrives on providing the fastest and most convenient driving service for their customers. As for the Uber driver, Uber conducts a background check followed by a general registration process for all aspiring candidates. Whenever the driver feels like making a few extra bucks on his own time, he can get in his or her car, open the Uber application, and slide the “on-duty” button. What’s great about the Uber culture for its drivers is that they can work on their own time and make some quality money. But, Uber has to make money too right? After all it is a business. Simply put, they take twenty percent off of every transaction. And when you have an application that posts millions of transactions, that adds up to a lot of money. Not to even mention the valuation of the application itself. Anytime there is access to a multitude of people, the high demand for advertisements will undoubtedly be there, as companies will pay deep pockets for a solid advertisement to large audiences. Although they have not done it yet, Uber holds millions of users around the world, and it seems inevitable that advertisements will soon become part of the Uber culture as well. The video below captures an interview with Matt Whiffen, Uber’s operations manager, as the conversation fosters deeper analysis of how Uber works and exactly what it is.
So, it appears that the Uber application is a clear-cut, slam-dunk for everyone. A slam-dunk for its users, its drivers, and most of all, Uber itself. And when there is a business plan that is a slam-dunk for everyone, you have a pure gold mine because everyone is “winning.” And just like Uber, there are thousands of mobile applications that connect buyers and sellers alike.
Another mobile application that is beginning to see lucrative returns is a company by the name of Postmates – a mobile application based delivery service that offers its users the ability to order anything they want from any store they want in a given radius. Its users pay the price of the item bought in addition to the price of the delivery service, which is given to the currier. And just like Uber, Postmates takes a percentage of each transaction posted on their application – precisely nine percent. So, if you are too busy after work to pick up laundry detergent from CVS, or you simply want a chicken and quinoa salad from your favorite local restaurant delivered right to your doorsteps, download the Postmates mobile application to save the day. The video below displays a walk-through demonstration for a typical Postmates delivery transaction.
As you can see in this example, the cost of buffalo wings was seven dollars. Yet, the delivery service was a whopping eleven dollars, making the total price of the order eighteen dollars and change. The fact that people are willing to pay, in some instances, over 60 percent more just to have the convenience of something delivered right to their exact location reveals something deeply significant. That is, people are willing to pay for things that are faster, easier, and more efficient. Taking into account that the newly established Postmates is valued at almost 20 million dollars, it is evident that the demand is high for these business models that connect buyers to sellers, and ultimately provide a fulfillment for instant gratification.
Given the in depth review of how companies like Uber and Postmates work, it is no surprise that many start-ups are attempting to recycle this business model. Its simple, and it’s one of the hottest business models out there – connecting a buyer to a seller, and taking a chunk of that transaction. John Mullins best describes this approach in his article in the Harvard Business Review, as he states, “some companies’ entire business models consist of connecting buyers and sellers. This strategy can dramatically reduce the need for capital, because the companies have no inventory and the cost of goods sold is extremely low” (Mullins, 2013). It’s striking how many tech start-ups are finding new, different, and improved ways of ensuring advance access to customer cash. Instead of focusing on how to get enough capital from investors, companies with this this business approach can narrow down their main focus to test, reshape, create, and refine their business models to produce a better product for their customers. Furthermore, companies that wait to receive outside funding or capital for their thriving businesses will often be rewarded with higher valuations in the end (Mullins, 2013).
In the completely revolutionized world we live in today, it is undoubtedly recognized that technology has become more of a necessity rather than a convenience. In Jamie Pinchot’s research experiment, Technology: Convenience or Necessity, he and his colleagues support this statement by testing exactly this. His study aimed to obtain information from students on technology dependency using a five page, 39 question survey. One of the most significant findings in his study related to my argument here is that approximately 60 percent of students revealed that they could not spend an entire day without using technology devices. Jaw dropping, I know. He further adds in his concluding remarks, “today, cell phones and other mobile devices are not simply used for telephone communications and text messaging. Many mobile devices can also access the Internet and a variety of applications, making them equivalent to a pocket-sized computer with wireless Internet access” (Pinchot, 2010). Since the mobile smart phone is something we can carry around with us everywhere we go, Pinchot suggests that it is becoming more than just a phone. Rather, it is a fulfillment device that is becoming a part of how people go about their daily lives and furthermore how we interact with the world we live in. Advancements in technology are indeed changing our world. And when intersecting the inferences from Pinchot’s study with the the words taken from the article in the Harvard Business Review by Mullins, it can be concluded that it is changing because people are willing to pay for the high demand they have for instant gratification. The services catered towards a convenience is ultimately becoming a necessity in our world, and is, by default, heavily gravitated to by the millennial generation. Through the Internet and mobile applications, it is finally efficient enough to connect objects in the real world to the people that want them. And this is driven by our expectations from our very own mobile devices giving us the idea that we should be able to get anything we want at any time we want. The only difference is that businesses like Uber and Postmates are applying these expectations to the real world we live in. Patience in the modern world provokes huge controversy because on the one hand, eliminating time makes our lives much more efficient in many areas (Pinchot, 2010). However, on the other hand the elimination of time triggers my expectations to be higher in regards to instant gratification. Thus, the real underlying question beneath all of this; is patience in the modern world even necessary anymore?
From a more philosophical standpoint, we can attribute the overall nature of this developing technological economy to the Users as Agents of Technological Change: The Social Construction of the Automobile in the Rural United States by Ronald Kline and Trevor Pinch. In their work, the two authors use the early automobile industry as a parallel for the current technological industry. Specifically, they make an example of how the rural society shaped the early car industry in America. For example, they supported the description of how farm people used their automobiles or modified them for purposes not intended by the original manufacturers. Often times, farmers would use their cars to grind their grain, plow their fields, or carry goods into town. But over time, manufacturers for machinery like tractors or pickup trucks became prevalent, ultimately creating their own niche in the market. In this regard, the users of the automobile industry helped to reshape and redevelop further extensions of the automobile industry (Kline and Pinch, 1996). Similarly, companies like Postmates and Uber in today’s society have taken the foundations of the internet culture and disrupted the market with their own extensions of this technological industry.
Although much research has been done in this field, we are interested in the real world applications of these findings. We have thus developed a study that aims to explore this new realm of instant gratification. The purpose of this research study is to search for any clues that will help to answer some of the questions related to instant gratification (i.e. why people cannot wait more than two seconds for a video to load). We will recruit 1,200 Harvard College students, as this will represent 20 percent of the student population. Accordingly, we will print out 1,200 surveys, as each subject will be asked to fill one out. Refer to table 1 (located at the end of this post) as a reference for the testing prompt we will use in this study. The surveys were carefully constructed and are intended to capture their innate level of patience in our participants. As you can see in table 1, the survey consists of a series of questions that asks participants to simulate a hypothetical situation that ultimately tests their patience. Essentially, our subjects will be asked to determine how long they would be willing to wait for something. Once gathering the responses of our participants, we will carefully code each response in order to quantify our findings. We propose that the quantification of our subject’s responses is the best way to arrive at the rightful conclusions we hope to get. After quantifying the findings of our surveys, we are curious to see if there will be significant implications that can be extracted. We are especially interested in whether there will be a positive or negative relationship between Harvard College students and the rest of the millennial generation. Thus, we will cross the results of our findings with the information we already know about the millennial generation with regards to instant gratification. We hypothesize that Harvard College students will follow suit with their millennial peers. But, if we are to find a negative correlation in our findings (meaning that Harvard College students have greater patience than their peers), we suggest the need for further research in this field. Furthermore, if this negative relationship does prove to exist, our study is not constructed in a way that would be able to provide reason for why this relationship exists. Rather, it serves to simply prove that it does exist.
We are interested in the learning about what factors play into people’s patience. Could there be something biological about impatience or is it truly just a reflector of our environment? Furthermore, if an unwillingness to wait has become more of an American trait as explored in Cundy’s article, we would be interested in how other cultures treat and value time. Would the people in a culture where cell phones or Google remain non-existent be more patient? A future study that effectively approaches these questions will certainly take a step forward, discovering more about how our surrounding cultures and environments influence the way we act. Indeed there are serious implications for why patience is a value that should be cherished and practiced. But, in a world in which there is always a deadline, and a desire to constantly keep leaping into the next stages of life, slowing down is most definitely lost on people. As I observe my millennial peers, it seems that we are becoming anxious to gain years of experience. But, it is in this desire that we lose the appreciation for the present. In a very real way, time is speeding up for millennials, and it is therefore important that we become aware of the ways in which time is slipping away from young people. Since advancements in technology provide for a much faster, easier, and more efficient lifestyle, it is hard to determine ways to condone this technological revolution while still taking into consideration the importance of patience. Thus, this issue presents itself as a serious concern that will most certainly require further investigation, as it will be a definite obstacle of our future.
“Anything Delivered In One Hour?” Youtube. Youtube, 15 November 2013. Web. 16 December 2014.
“Big Question: Is Technology Killing Our Ability To Practice Patience?” Discovery. Discovery, n.d. Web. 17 October 2014.
Cundy, Jaime. “Impatience and Unhappiness.” The Beauty in The Beast. Psychology Today, 2 Jan. 2012. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.
Hubert, Anne. “The Question of Attention.” Youtube. Youtube, 29 September 2014. Web. 26 November 2014.
“Instant Gratification Screenshot.” 2014. JPG file.
Kaufman, Micha. “How Company Culture Needs to Adapt to the So-Called ‘Me, Me, Me Generation’” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 16 Sept. 2016. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.
“Marshmallow Instant Gratification Experiment.” Youtube. Youtube, 28 January 2013. Web. 17 October 2014.
Mullins, John. “Use Customer Cash to Finance Your Start-Up.” Harvard Business Review. N.p., 01 July 2013. Web. 16 Dec. 2014.
Muther, Christopher. “Instant Gratification Is Making Us Perpetually Impatient – The Boston Globe.” The Boston Globe. N.p., 2 February 2013. Web. 16 October 2014.
“Patience Screenshot.” 2014. JPG file. http://www.stacyigel.com/2014/07/entrepreneurship-patience-is-virtue.html
Paullet, Karen. Technology: Convenience or Necessity. N.p., 2012. Web. 16 Dec. 2014.
Pinchot, Jamie. Technology: Convenience or Necessity. N.p., 2012. Web. 16 Dec. 2014.
Sharma, Rakesh. “These Two Problems May Delay Gratification For Instant Gratification Economy Startups.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 11 Aug. 2014. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.
“The Boston Globe Screenshot.” 2014. JPG file. http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/style/2013/02/01/the-growing-culture-impatience-where-instant-gratification-makes-crave-more-instant-gratification/q8tWDNGeJB2mm45fQxtTQP/story.html
“The Problem With Peerenting: A Modern Family Dilemma.” The Learning Treehouse. N.p., 23 Sept. 2013. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.
“What is Uber?” Youtube. Youtube, 4 February 2014. Web. 19 October 2014.
Redlining, the practice of charging more for services or denying jobs to people in particular areas, was defined by sociologist John McKnight in the late 1960s. It was used to describe areas where banks refused to invest based on the red lines drawn on maps that demarcated areas of low-income minority families. The United States has experienced significant growth since McKnight’s coining of the term; however, redlining is still a debilitating presence in the fight against racism today.
Over the years, redlining has become less discernable but it still influences the levels of interactions between people in society. Today, redlining is occurring under the mask of new forms of technology, either intentionally or unintentionally, that pride themselves on accessibility and customer care.
Sketch Factor, a crowdsourcing application for smartphones created by Allison McGuire and Daniel Harrington, has recently emerged as one of the clearest reinforcements of redlining in current times. The purpose of the app is to share user testimonies and descriptions of neighborhoods to provide background information on a particular area. This is intended to increase safety and comfort while venturing into regions that are unfamiliar or foreign. Users are given options to rate cities or areas based on their degree of “sketchiness” which is solely based on the user’s perception of the area that they are in. As one might assume, similarly to the majority of critics, the app has implicit racial biases and discriminatory views that are perpetuated to all users of the apps. The video below touches on the flaws in the apps by diving into the unintended consequences that the creators of the map may have overlooked. Though it is unclear if the creators were legitimately oblivious to the possible issues that might come to fruition due to their application, I will refer to these implications as unintended consequences because there is no evidence otherwise.
As seen in the video below, the application appears to be predominately centered on the wandering white protagonist who looks to the app for reassurance or warning. There is one person of color in the video, and he is portrayed in a comical manner. The video served as a teaser for the app before its release, and though the creators claim to have no intention to circulate racist or classist sentiments, the choice of actors display a different viewpoint. The creators of the application, intentionally or not, are conveying messages with racial undertones for an application with the potential to reinforce stereotypes for entire regions within a state or city. The application already treads a thin line on the racial equality radar by means of its functions, and the choice of actors in the trailer lack the diversity necessary to promote an application like SketchFactor without an accompanying aura of racism.
The creators of the app feel justified in it’s probable correlation with racist beliefs simply because they feel as though they have made efforts to encourage people to not be racist when using the app. The creators stated that if someone found themselves in a neighborhood with people that looked different than they did, it would be important to wait and report “sketchy” rankings after seeing what actions were taken by the other person or group of people. If they began to harass you, then it would be okay to report the neighborhood is sketchy, but that should only be based off of actions as opposed to predetermined feelings. Although this sounds like a way to combat overtly discriminatory acts, in reality it’s impossible to actually keep track of whether users are detaching their inherent beliefs from their actual experiences. Allison McGuire argued that as far as she and Daniel are concerned, “racial profiling is ‘sketchy’ and [they] are trying to empower users to report incidents of racism against them and define their own experience of the streets.” (Cueto) However, that does not appear to be the situation that’s occurring on this app. According to an article by Kimberly Turner, “all of Atlanta is pretty sketchy” according to the app. These rankings show the highest levels of danger across the majority of Atlanta, but the picture below also exposes the unintended consequences of the application. The red faces, representative of the highest levels of sketchiness or danger, seem to be concentrated in clumps around certain neighborhoods. It is hard to believe that every person who ranked the area found it to be the same level of sketchiness as another random stranger. Users will undoubtedly avoid the areas with clumps of sketchiness even if there is no real sense of danger.
There are also instances where people have used the app in ways that incite anger such as in the image listed below. The app’s unintentional consequences are clear cases of redlining. People are encouraged to avoid areas that are considered to be “sketchy” by users who are predominately privileged white Americans. The result is racial segregation with encouraged stereotypical undertones. The image below causes controversy for multiple reasons. As referenced in the comment below the SketchFactor screenshot, the post describes the criminal as “a black” instead of continuing the phrase with a pronoun to clarify the sex of the assailant. The lack of a pronoun to determine if a female or male was involved in the incident presents the reader with the feeling that whoever wrote this post had the intention of sharing a sentiment to generalize and stigmatize a group of people. Additionally, one should question the relevance of including race at all in this post, given that the proposed goal of this application is to simply help people navigate and express sketchiness. According to the creator’s goals for the app, the post would have conveyed the same message without mentioning the race of the criminal, but instead it is included so that users will not only be aware that they might possibly get mugged, but they will be warned that there is added danger because the criminal or surrounding population is black.
Once again, Allison McGuire and Daniel Harrington argued of the equality of the application. Any one can utilize SketchFactor to report something that warranted a sketchy label. When confronted about nature of SketchFactor, the pair described the power that the application would have in terms of reporting cases of racism or racial profiling from the point of view of those being oppressed. The options for reporting, as seen below, fall into categories of catcalling, racial profiling, or something else. The creators did a great job of including racial profiling as one of the standard options, so it is hard to say that this application is intentionally offensive, but believing that this application would actually serve as a voice representing instances of racial profiling is naïve and idealistic.
Communicating sentiments of racial profiling on a mobile application is oversimplification at its finest. It would require an audience that is more committed to combatting racial discrimination and modern segregation than the audience that will be holding their iPhone in their hand to report a “sketchy” zone.
In a recent study, titled Minority Rights and Relations poll, 2,250 adults (ages 18 and over) were interviewed over the phone during the month of June in 2004. The sample was adjusted to contain data on non-Hispanic whites, blacks, and Hispanics that was representative of each of their proportions in the general population. The Minority Rights and Relations poll scrutinized American citizens’ belief in the prevalence of racial profiling, as well as whether such profiling is ever justified. As seen below, blacks and Hispanics believe that racial profiling is a lot more prevalent in society than their counterpart. In malls or store theft to be specific, 65% of the blacks reported widespread racial profiling, while on 45% of the whites believed that racial profiling was present in the same situation. This disparity between perceptions of racial profiling offers a challenge that SketchFactor might not ever be able to address. Members of society with enough white privilege, or any other sort of privilege that would allow them to elude the harsh realities seen recently in the cases of young, black males such as Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, remove themselves from the appalling racial tensions that are still prevalent in our society. It is easier to be blissfully unaware of racial profiling when you have never actually experienced the hardships of being profiled.
The poll did not cease after exposing the discrepancies mentioned above. Instead, the poll asked participants if they thought that the racial profiling was justifiable in three different situations. Shockingly, Hispanics tend to report in ways more similar to non-Hispanic whites than blacks. In regards to racial profiling for traffic stops, 31% of non-Hispanic whites believe that it is justifiable, while 23% of blacks and 30% of Hispanics expressed similar sentiments. For preventing theft in shopping malls, 24% of non-Hispanic whites justified racial profiling, while 19% of black participants agreed.
Complications with reporting racial profiling exist for a few reasons. As seen above, the members of society who are not experiencing discriminatory actions are detached from the problem. They are either fully unaware resulting from their lack of experience with such occurrences, or they are actively in denial due to their inability to empathize and imagine the hardships of a group of people who have historically experienced bigoted adversities. The members of society who admit that racial profiling is prevalent, despite being a member of a victimized race, mend one part of the problem, but their acceptance and justification of racial profiling exposes another gap in the bridge that we hope to create to connect all members of our society. If they aren’t convinced that racial profiling is unjustifiable, then how will we address this issue adequately?
The SketchFactor posts from New York demonstrate the playing field that users are experiencing. The post to the far left details a scenario that lacks any tangible danger, aside from the fact that the people standing outsides were “thugs” according to the poster and his three dogs. The ‘thugs” did nothing to scare or incite fear in the poster, and the post was likely only written because the user felt uncomfortable around males or females of a different race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. The second post describes “local public housing people” who are likely to be selling drugs, which is once again a situation where people and a neighborhood are labeled dangerous with out legitimate evidence. The diction and tone of this post implies that the user who posted this is a member of a higher socioeconomic status and the user is encouraging others to avoid the area. These represent examples of SketchFactor’s ability to encourage redlining. In relation to the idealistic benefit of the app mentioned by its creators, imagine being one of the “thugs” mentioned in this rating. Simply listening to music without interfering in the lives of others. How would the “thugs” use the application to counter the racial biases and profiling thrown their way without having knowledge of the post. The “thugs” might be able to notice a shift in pace or stride by a random person passing by, but they are not fully aware of the thoughts running through the minds of their prejudiced counterparts. This application gives privileged people even more of a privilege than before. Alternatively, consider the amount of attention dedicated to a post created by one of the “thugs.” If the “thug” were to post that a random individual exhibited tendencies of racial profiling, how many people do you think will believe the post or find it worthy of attention. How many people will decide to actually practice discretion with respect to the new information that they suddenly have access to? Sadly, as reinforced by the above mentioned poll, despite discussions and debates about racial discrimination and unjust policing, non-Hispanic whites still believe that racial profiling is not prevalent in most cases.
In addition to creating a stigmatized environment with racial boundaries and segregation, the mobile application has the propensity to encourage a method of policing known as broken window policing. According to a recent U.S. News post, broken window policing is a police tactic in which law enforcement officers focus on rooting out minor disorder as a way to prevent more serious crime.” (Sneed) Upon first glance, it might seem like policing in support of the broken window theory is an adequate approach to deter and decrease crimes in large cities. Countless studies have been conducted to support the claim, particularly focusing on the large decrease in crime seen in New York in the 1990s.
A study conducted in 2006 by Jens Ludwig and Bernard E. Harcourt revisits past studies on the topic.The authors, fully aware of the hindering influence of such policing methods, decided that revisiting the best available evidence from New York City about the influence of broken window policing would provide more discourse on the discriminatory factors that are inherent in its practice. They were able to collect a dataset that resembled the data used in the study by Kelling and Sousa, which was used to argue that conclusions drawn in support of the broken window policing strategy were not substantial enough to prove that other factors were not the cause of the decrease in crime rates seen in the 1990s. When inspecting data points closer, it was evident that the cities that experienced the greatest decline in crime rates were those that had previously had the greatest increase in crime during the 1980s. This rise and fall in crime was referred to as ‘Newton’s Law of Crime’ which essentially supports the idea that large scale increases in crime are often followed by large scale decreases in crime. However, even if one believes in these assertions and counter arguments to the previous studies on broken window policing, we are left with an alternative reason for decreases in crime that is still inconclusive in terms of highlighting the effects of broken window policing.
For that reason, the authors proceeded to investigate the findings through another avenue. Utilizing data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a closer inspection was granted due to the randomized experiment known as Moving to Opportunity (MTO). The Moving to Opportunity experiment focused on approximately 4,600 low-income families in public housing communities with high rates of crime who were then given housing vouchers to move into neighborhoods that were characterized by less violence and community unrest. This study collected data form as early as 1994 in five cities; luckily New York was one of them. In regards to analyzing the broken window policy, “the random assignment of families to neighborhoods in MTO helps overcome the problem of determining the causal effects of neighborhood disorder on individual criminal behavior that plagues most previous studies in this literature.” (Harcourt and Ludwig) People were moved from areas with a great deal of disorder, which was thought to have been a key influence on continued disorder or crimes, to affluent societies containing populations that coexisted with minimal disorder. The results showed a lack of evidence in support of the influence of current disorder on future disorder, which is the very principle that the broken window theory stands for. Policing minor incidents in areas already dubbed sketchy or disorderly didn’t necessarily result in a decrease in crime overall for that area.
This concept of policing according to the broken window theory does influence our society in a particular way. Mass incarcerations of minorities in communities with dense concentrations of minorities have been one of the few byproducts that we can actually accredit broken window policing strategies for. In and article featured on the American Civil Liberties Union’s website, Taylor Pendergrass, a senior staff attorney, states that broken windows policing has “led to mass incarceration, widespread civil rights abuses and severe and disproportionate consequence for America’s youth.” A troubling statement, no doubt, but zooming in on specific data points highlights a problem with decreased shock value depending on how removed you are from discussions of race. In 2011, the New York Police Department arrested more that 350,00 people for low-level marijuana offenses encouraged by broken windows law enforcement. Of those arrests, “eighty-six percent of people arrested for marijuana possession in New York City [were] black or Latino, even though these groups make up only a quarter of the city’s population,” and if that doesn’t shed light on the inequalities perpetuated by the policing strategy then maybe a little more should be shared. (Pendegrass) Maybe we’re looking for a reason to pull the race card. Could it be that blacks and Latinos are the only people in New York City with drugs on their person? Though supporters would love to communicate that ideology to the average citizen, government surveys showed that for young adults aged 18-25 whites consumed marijuana more than young blacks; the two groups consumed the drug at similar rates across all age groups. The disparity arises due to the methods of policing in varying neighborhoods, that different neighborhoods are policed.
The creators of this mobile application are either painfully oblivious of the possible consequences of their applications use or they harbor minimal empathy for those without ancestry similar to theirs. SketchFactor, as discussed above, has the power to create clear boundaries for areas that are considered ‘sketchy’ to users. These ‘sketchy’ neighborhoods, which tend to contain larger numbers of minorities are then avoided by the majority, while isolating minorities into pockets of cities. These areas may not be nearly as dangerous as they are made out to be, but fleeing white inhabitants endorse fear of specific areas, which then encourages others to avoid the area while spreading news that the area is not considered to be safe. The result is an isolated area with a bad reputation. As discussed above, areas with bad reputations tend to receive different treatment from authorities, so this application can influence the volume of mass incarceration for minorities.
A senior research fellow at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, Seeta Pena Gangadharan, described the power of a tool like SketchFactor to encourage people to think further into what the application is capable of. The application has the power to create safe communities through the sharing of personal stories, but context trumps all. Crowdsourcing users and using as ambiguous of an indicator as sketchiness places a significant amount of responsibility in the hands of anonymous users. SketchFactor lends a voice to individuals who are able to standing behind their iPhones and project their preconceived notions or biases on a forum lacking checks and balances. In a society that has not completely rid itself of exclusionary tendencies, an application with the power to do just that can only strengthen racial tensions and biases. Yes, ideally SketchFactor is an application that can provide a rode map to provide safe trips to its users, but more importantly it is a box containing tools powerful enough to reinforce ideologies that countless minorities have sacrificed their lives for. SketchFactor, by nature, is a form of redlining, whether its creators intended for it to be or not. The redlining caused by SketchFactor often leads to broken window policing due to the generalizations and stereotypes formed and applied by the application. The broken window policing is correlated with minority mass incarcerations, which also result from instances of racial profiling.
Parkinson, Hannah J. “SketchFactor City App Sparks Accusations of Racism.” The Guardian. N.p., 12 Aug. 2014. Web.
Turner, Kimberly. “Controversial App Thinks All of Atlanta Is Pretty Sketchy.” Curbed Atlanta. N.p., 11 Sept. 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014
“SketchFactor Teaser.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
Schapiro, Rich. “Going to a Sketchy Neighborhood? New App Called SketchFactor Will Tell You.” NY Daily News. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
Cueto, Emma. “SKETCH FACTOR APP IS RACIST — NOT ON PURPOSE, BUT THAT DOESN’T MAKE IT BETTER.” Bustle. N.p., 08 Aug. 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
“SketchFactor: The New App Enabling Racism, One Neighborhood at a Time.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
Murphy, David. “App That Crowdsources ‘Sketchy’ Areas Fights Charges of Racism.” PCMAG. N.p., 09 Aug. 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014
Garcia, Arturo. “White Duo behind App to Avoid ‘sketchy’ Neighborhoods Is Shocked to Hear It’s Racist.” Raw Story. N.p., 07 Aug. 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
Pendergrass, Taylor. “In New York, A Rogue Wave Of Criminal Injustice.” American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU, 23 June 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
Levine, Harry. “The Scandal of Racist Marijuana Arrests-and What To Do About It.” The Nation. N.p., 30 Oct. 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
Gittelson, Kim. “‘Sketchy’ App Sparks Racism Row.” BBC News. N.p., Aug. 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
“On Michael Brown, Sketch Factor, and Finding a Safe Way Home – 48 Hills.” 48 Hills. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
Harcourt, and Ludwig. “Errata: Broken Windows: New Evidence from New York City and a Five-City Social Experiment.” The University of Chicago Law Review 74.1, Symposium: Intergenerational Equity and Discounting (2007): 407. Web.
“Racial Profiling Seen as Pervasive, Unjust.” Racial Profiling Seen as Pervasive, Unjust. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2014.
Sneed, Tierney. “From Ferguson to Staten Island, Questions About Broken Window Policing.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, Aug. 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.