By Nerijus Adomaitis, Tim Hepher and Phil Stewart OSLO/PARIS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Navy reconnaissance aircraft flew near the site of the ruptured Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Baltic Sea hours after the first damage emerged, according to tracking reviewed by Reuters, a flight Washington said was routine. Russia's Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines burst on Sept. 26, draining gas into the Baltic Sea off the coast of Denmark and Sweden. Seismologists registered explosions in the area, and police in several countries have launched investigations. Flight data showed a P-8A Poseidon maritime pa...
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Student ‘slave auctions’ illustrate the existence of a hidden culture of domination and subjugation in US schools
In an otherwise normal football season, two California high schools abruptly canceled the remainder of their games for the same reason. Players on both teams participated in troublesome acts of racism.
In nearby Yuba City, members of the River Valley High School football team produced and filmed a modern day slave auction.
In the film, three teammates – all young Black men – were offered for sale.
“They needed another person to be in the video, and being the only Black person left in the locker room, they all turned to me,” one of the Black students said. “I made it clear I didn’t want to do it and tried to leave, but wasn’t able to.”
Clad in their underwear and with their eyes downcast, the three were paraded through the locker room and put on an auction block. At least one of the Black teens had a belt representing a noose looped around his neck.
Their white and Latinx teammates feverishly bid on them. Even through the lens of the video camera, the “mock” enslavers’ excitement and frenzy were palpable.
Many are upset with the Black youth for participating in their own degradation. I understand that. But as I outline in my recent book, “Bodies Out of Place: Theorizing Anti-blackness in U.S. Society, I also understand that "public degradation ceremonies are meant to debase and dissuade Blacks from walking in their full humanity, as full citizens.”
Less than 2% percent of the students at River Valley High – 31 out of the total 1,801 – identify as Black.
These numbers render Black students both extremely visible and invisible at the same time.
In my view, the slave auction operated as a perverse public performance used not only to reinforce the Black students’ inferior status in their own minds, but also to signal the same to those watching.
What lies underneath the mockery
A Boston University teaching guide defines the “hidden curriculum” as an amorphous collection of implicit cultural messages of the dominant culture. These unwritten rules reinforce an often unspoken social order in which people of color are subordinate.
The hidden curriculum refers not only to unwritten rules, but also “unspoken expectations” that serve as “unofficial norms, behaviors and values.” These norms become institutionalized. As sociologists Glenn Bracey II and Wendy Leo Moore write, “Although the norms are white, they are rarely marked as such.”
Mock slave auctions are not rare occurrences.
In May 2022, white middle school students at Chatham School District in North Carolina held one by staging the sale of their Black classmates.
One of the parents, Ashley Palmer, posted on Facebook that her son had been “sold” by his classmates.
“His friend ‘went for $350’ and another student was the Slavemaster because he ‘knew how to handle them,’” Palmer wrote. “We even have a video of students harmonizing the N word. Since when were children so blatantly racist?”
A flyer detailing an auction of enslaved people in 1859.
In another incident, students at Newberg High School in Oregon participated in a yearlong virtual slave auction called “Slave Trade” that was uncovered by their parents in 2021. On the chat, they targeted Black students and used homophobic and racist slurs while joking about how much they would pay for their Black classmates.
These patterns continued in 2021 when students in Texas created a social media group called “N***** Auction” and pretended to auction off their Black peers.
Not all of the auctions are held on virtual platforms.
In 2016 in Barrington, Illinois, for instance, a “mock slave auction” was staged by Barrington High School students in order to create what they described as “school spirit” during an event meant to bring students from Chicago and the suburbs together.
Why it all matters
Group performances not only serve as a bonding experience among members, but they also reinforce an imaginary social hierarchy that harks back to the days of Jim Crow at the turn of the 20th century and legal racial segregation.
These performances convey a message about a sense of belonging. Without using the specific words, the acts suggest to Black students in stark images that their status is marginal at best.
It is important to connect the past and present, as Yuba City Unified School District Superintendent Doreen Osumi did in a statement obtained by CNN.
A slave auction in New Orleans is the subject of this sketch.
“Reenacting a slave sale as a prank tells us that we have a great deal of work to do with our students so they can distinguish between intent and impact,” Osumi wrote. “They may have thought this skit was funny, but it is not; it is unacceptable and requires us to look honestly and deeply at issues of systemic racism.”
For their part in the mock slave auction, the Black students at River Valley High School issued apologies.
Each received a three-day school suspension – a punishment that proved harsher than that issued to some of their non-Black counterparts, according to Greater Sacramento NAACP President Betty Williams. Though it’s unclear what the punishments were for white students, Williams said they “were not equitable in their distribution.”
I understand Williams’ frustration. In my mind, it could be argued that the onlookers were no more culpable than the hundreds and sometimes thousands of whites who packed picnic baskets and gathered after church to watch a Black person get lynched.
“I am hurt that the school moved so quickly to punish us instead of taking their time to understand the situation better,” said one of the Black students.
“But looking back I wish I had done more to stop it,” the student wrote. “When the video was made I was not feeling good about it and I froze. I wanted to get it over with so I could get to practice.”
While it remains unclear why the team thought holding a mock slave auction was a good idea, one thing is clear: The harm caused by their actions continues to reverberate.
This article was updated to correct the fraction of Black students at River Valley High School.
I reached two big conclusions. First, I found that adults often think that kids can’t understand science fiction – but they can. Second, I found that authors and illustrators are not depicting characters from diverse backgrounds in children’s stories about the future. As a researcher who specializes in children’s literature, these findings make me wonder if the reason there is so little diversity in children’s science fiction is because authors don’t believe that their readers will be children from diverse backgrounds.
Out of the 357 science fiction children’s books that I read for my research, I found that only a quarter of them featured diverse characters. Less than half – 37% – featured a girl in a major role. While children’s science fiction books have lacked diversity historically, I found that those written in the 21st century are more diverse than children’s books overall.
The case for diverse characters
In 2014, authors Malinda Lo and Ellen Oh launched the ongoing #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign to call for more children’s books with characters of various races, genders, cultures, religions and physical and mental disabilities. Since then, the number has risen from 397 diverse children’s books published in 2014 to 1,155 books in 2021.
Diversity matters in children’s science fiction because it suggests who belongs in the future.
In recent years, some vocal fans have reacted negatively when major television and film series like “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and other science fiction and fantasy television shows cast actors of color to play main characters.
When fans refuse to accept non-white fantasy and science fiction characters, they demonstrate what children’s literature expert and professor Ebony Elizabeth Thomas calls the “imagination gap.” Thomas explains that the imagination gap begins in childhood. Children who rarely see diversity represented in their fantasy and science fiction books grow up to be adults who see diversity as out of place in their favorite stories.
Diverse representation in science fiction is especially important because these authors are not only imagining futures, but also the sorts of people who create those futures. NASA scientists and mechanical engineers have reported that their interest in science was fueled by their childhood encounters with science fiction.
When science fiction authors imagine a wide variety of people like women, people of color, disabled people and queer people as the scientists of the future, then they provide models for more children to imagine themselves in those careers. Research has shown that seeing female scientists in media affects whether girls imagine themselves in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – careers. Even seeing just one positive character from a diverse background in science fiction can motivate young people to enter and persist in STEM careers. The first Black female astronaut, Mae Jemison, says that she was able to imagine herself going to space because as a young person she saw Nichelle Nichols playing Lieutenant Nyota Uhura on “Star Trek.”
NASA astronaut Mae Jemison says she was inspired by Nichelle Nichols’ Lt. Nyota Uhura character on ‘Star Trek.’
Yet children’s science fiction is more diverse than children’s literature at large. I compared the recent science fiction books in my sample published from 2001 through 2016 with the overall diversity in children’s books over those same 16 years. I found that 19 percentage points more of the science fiction books contained diversity.
I have found that the presence of girls and diverse characters in children’s science fiction has been slowly increasing over the last 90 years. The first science fiction picturebook, “Little Machinery,” written by Mary Liddell and published in 1926, avoids human diversity entirely through focusing on a robot and its animal friends. It is hard to include diversity in books with no human characters.
Even though the plot of the 1999 picturebook “The Worst Band in the Universe” by Graeme Base is an analogy for the history of Black music in America, it contains only aliens from the planet Blipp. De Witt Douglas Kilgore, an expert on race in science fiction and a professor of English at Indiana University, says that science fiction must include a variety of humans rather than a variety of aliens to celebrate the potential of diversity in the future.
The earliest example from my sample to include diversity was a collection of “Buck Rogers” comic strips from 1929. It contained at least a few characters with different skin tones and some independent female characters. This is more than can be said for the other stories I read from the same era, like the “Flash Gordon” comics from 1934 and the “Brick Bradford on the Isles Beyond the Ice” comics from 1935. The women in the stories prior to the 1960s were often trying but failing to be independent. “Connie: Master of the Jovian Moons” from 1939 stood out for having an active and successful female protagonist and an elderly female scientist.
Only five books out of the 357 that I read had detailed non-white or non-European cultural content. The 2014 graphic novel “Lowriders in Space” by Cathy Camper and Raúl The Third, for instance, features Mexican American lowrider culture and rasquachismo, which is a uniquely Chicano aesthetic that values survival and uses discarded and recycled materials in art in defiance of the perceived value of those materials. The illustrations in “Lowriders in Space” were drawn with ballpoint pens that Raúl The Third picked up from sidewalks.
The books that I read did not show any queer characters, but I found that recent children’s television has ventured into this type of representation. The cartoon “Steven Universe” uses the unlimited possibilities of the science fiction genre to think about gender and queerness creatively. For example, the aliens in “Steven Universe” can transform their bodies at will, and yet identify as female and have queer relationships.
Science fiction authors could be leaders in the efforts to diversify children’s books if creators fill the shortage of children’s science fiction with stories that include characters from diverse backgrounds. Inspired by my own research, I collaborated with illustrator Lauren A. Brown to craft a picturebook about a girl learning to care for an adorable stowaway alien. The girl is Black and disabled, but the story is about her discovery of life in space.
If the creators of children’s science fiction don’t diversify the genre, they risk perpetuating the idea that only some groups belong in science and in the future. The burden is not only on creators, though. Educators and parents also need to seek out science fiction with diverse characters in order to make sure that children’s book collections reflect a future that welcomes everyone.
Genocides persist, nearly 70 years after the Holocaust – but there are recognized ways to help prevent them
The newly formed United Nations passed its first international treaty on Dec. 9, 1948, just three years after the Holocaust ended. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was designed to prevent genocide from ever happening again.
But governments worldwide currently remain far from the goal of preventing genocide – despite 152 of them eventually signing on to the Genocide Convention.
Genocide, meaning actions taken with the intent to destroy a group of people because of their identity, happened again in Cambodia in the 1970s. The communist Khmer Rouge regime tried to kill all ethnic Vietnamese and Cham people in the country, resulting in the deaths of 1.5 million to 3 million people. And it happened in 1994 in Rwanda, when the Hutu ethnic group murdered hundreds of thousands of Tutsis.
Today, governments are also carrying out genocide against ethnic minorities in Myanmar, where the military is killing the Muslim Rohingya people. Many experts and some governments, including the United States, also say genocide is happening in China, where the national government is arbitrarily detaining Uyghur people.
Some human rights experts also say that there is growing evidence Russia is committing genocide against the Ukrainian people.
Genocide has not been prevented, almost 75 years after the Genocide Convention was passed, in part because of a misunderstanding about how genocide happens and what prevention looks like.
As co-director of Binghamton University’s Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention and a program director at the Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, I focus on helping students and government officials understand five important things that scholars and practitioners have learned about preventing genocide. Here are those five key points.
Muslim Uyghur people show photos of their relatives who are detained in China in May 2022.
Genocide is a process, not an event
Polish Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin first coined the term genocide in 1944. Specifically, the Genocide Convention protects racial, ethnic, religious and national identities.
Although this destruction often happens through mass murder, it can take other forms. It can mean taking children of one group away from their parents and transferring them to another group, for example.
For instance, the Nazis did not build death camps immediately when Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany in 1933. The Holocaust began with smaller steps, like preventing Jewish people from holding certain jobs, then preventing Jews and non-Jews from marrying each other.
It was not until the late-1930s that the Nazis transitioned to their Final Solution, which called for the destruction of all Jewish people. And the Nazis did not construct the first death camps until 1941. But all these steps over the years constituted what we now call the Holocaust.
Prevention is also a process
When people understand genocide as a process and learn to recognize the early stages that can lead to genocide, there is more opportunity to intervene before people are killed.
Prevention scholars and activists stress a long-term view of prevention that entails three stages.
First, there are actions people can take before genocide occurs to make sure it never happens. This involves identifying which groups of people are at risk of violence, then passing laws, for example, to protect those groups.
A second stage of prevention involves responses to a genocide once it breaks out. This can include using military troops to quash violence. But it could also extend to things like diplomacy, threats of prosecution and economic sanctions.
Finally, a third stage of prevention only occurs when a genocide has already happened. This stage aims to prevent its recurrence. This can include things like truth commissions, which aim to expose and document mass violence or other periods of turmoil, trials against the perpetrators or reparations to victims.
Obviously, stopping a genocide before it actually happens is the most effective and least costly form of prevention.
The sudden influx of Venezuelan migrants into Colombia prompted the Colombian government to put in place a plan in 2021 to lower the risk of genocide.
Prevention starts with reducing risk
Migrants and refugees are people who are especially at risk of experiencing identity-based violence.
When more than 1 million Venezuelan refugees entered Colombia starting in 2015, for example, many risk factors were present. One risk factor is when a group has unequal access to basic resources and services.
The Colombian government saw this as a risk factor and responded. It introduced a new policy in February 2021 that gave temporary legal status to all refugees. This gave them access to public services, education and health care, immediately lowering the risk for large-scale violence in Colombia.
True prevention starts at home
Every country in the world features some risk factors associated with genocide, including the United States.
But not every country in the world has the same level of risk.
In recent years, many countries have recognized the need to assess their own genocide risk factors. Some have fashioned specific government initiatives focused on genocide prevention. This work spans government departments and ministries to make sure governments keep genocide prevention in focus. Argentina, Mexico, Tanzania and Uganda are among the countries to undertake this kind of work.
The United States also has a national strategy focused on genocide prevention, though it does not look inward at this point – it is only concerned with atrocity prevention in other countries.
A row of human skulls and remains cover the interior of a church in Kigali following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Prevention isn’t over when the genocide stops
There could be temptation to think that when mass killing stops, the work of prevention is finished. But one of the biggest genocide risk factors is if a society has already been involved with one. For example, the Holocaust happened only a couple decades after Germany perpetrated the genocide of Herero and Nama people in present-day Namibia.
For this reason, the work of prevention continues, even after a genocide is over.
This requires societies to deal with the risk factors that allowed genocide to take place, even as they rebuild.
For instance, after the 2007 elections in Kenya, massive inter-ethnic electoral violence broke out, killing over 1,000 people and displacing at least 350,000. The United Nations and the Kenyan government collaborated with nonprofits and local leaders to develop an early-warning network called the Uwiano Platform for Peace. This provides a hotline system where ordinary citizens can call or text if they hear hate speech or see violent acts. The information is then verified and, if it is credible, the central platform contacts local authorities to respond.
Following the implementation of Uwiano, no large-scale violence was reported after the 2010 and 2013 elections. Of course, Uwiano was not the only reason that Kenya avoided this violence. It took many international, national and local experts and others working together.
There is no single way to prevent genocide. What is clear, however, is that there are many different measures available that, together, can reduce the risk of genocide.
Kerry Whigham, Assistant Professor of Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention, Binghamton University, State University of New York