Flexin’ in her Complexion: Bullied girl a messenger of hope
By LEANNE ITALIE
Thursday, January 10
NEW YORK (AP) — Kheris Rogers was in the first grade in a predominantly white private school in Los Angeles when she felt the bite of racism among her peers — she was being bullied because of her dark skin. She tearfully kept it to herself, eventually turning to her older sister, Taylor Pollard, and switching to a more diverse school, where colorism among fellow African-American students surprised and confused her.
With her young sister’s self-esteem bruised, Pollard inadvertently launched Kheris to social media fame in 2017 when she posted a photo of the girl on Twitter dressed up for a fashion show, using their beloved grandmother’s down-home words for a hashtag: “Flexininhercomplexion.”
Soon, Kheris had her own Twitter and Instagram accounts (KherisPoppin) and was posting photo shoots of herself that she and Pollard created. Her own fashion line followed, with T-shirts sporting her tagline, “Flexin’ in My Complexion ,” along with backpacks reading “The Miseducation of Melanin” and other apparel and accessories.
Lupita Nyong’o posted a photo of herself wearing a black version of the shirt with bright yellow letters in support of Kheris. Another celebrity sported one while attending the Rodarte show at New York Fashion Week in September. Alicia Keys lauded her black girl magic.
While the words of her tormenters no longer sting, they haven’t been forgotten. The behavior wasn’t restricted to children, either.
“The kids would always call me names,” Kheris, now 12, told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “They would always tease me for my dark-skin complexion. They used to call me dead roach and say I’ve been in the oven too long. When I really knew I was being bullied because of my color was when my teacher handed me a black crayon instead of a brown crayon to draw our portraits for parent conferences.”
Pollard, who at 24 is now Kheris’ manager, suspected something was amiss and Kheris finally told her family.
“I had no friends. I was only invited to one of the birthday parties that they had. Everybody else was invited and I wasn’t,” Kheris recalled.
Now in middle school, things are more than just a little looking up.
Kheris was chosen as one of Teen Vogue’s “21 Under 21” inspiring girls and femmes of 2018 and attended the magazine’s teen summit. She was picked by LeBron James as one of 16 people to help mark his 16th shoe release with Nike, modeling in ads for the company. She’s been featured in a spread in Essence magazine and walked the runway of “America’s Next Top Model” after Tyra Banks learned of her plight.
She has shown her own line in Harlem during New York Fashion Week, and she hasn’t hit the eighth grade yet.
Julee Wilson, fashion and beauty director for Essence magazine, called support for Kheris “both an honor and responsibility.”
She added: “To stand in the face of society’s narrow beauty standards isn’t an easy task, and she’s doing it with an incredible amount of grace. We can’t wait to see how Kheris pushes the ‘Flexin’ in My Complexion movement forward in the future. There’s no doubt in our minds that she’ll continue to remind the world that Black is incredibly beautiful.”
Mom Erika Pollard, a social worker, said Kheris travels the country speaking at conferences about empowerment.
“As a parent, of course, you know, it was heartbreaking, but it made us stronger,” she said of the rough years. “It pulled us together as a family because it’s something that we had to conquer together. Now she’s making a positive difference within her community, which I’m so proud of at such a young age.”
Kheris said she now considers her life a mission.
“Flexin’ in My Complexion isn’t just about me,” she said. “It’s about every brown, dark, freckled, fair-skinned person who wants to tell the world, ‘I am more than just the color of skin.’”
She hopes to spread her message across the world.
“I want to be a spokesperson for racism and colorism (issues),” she said.
Kheris now has lots of friends as a seventh-grader and knows exactly how to handle bullies: “Back off because I’m flexin’ in my complexion and it doesn’t matter what you think about me. It matters what I think about myself.”
The politics of fear: How fear goes tribal, allowing us to be manipulated
January 11, 2019
Author: Arash Javanbakht is a Friend of The Conversation and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Wayne State University.
Disclosure statement: Arash Javanbakht does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Wayne State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Fear is arguably as old as life. It is deeply ingrained in the living organisms that have survived extinction through billions of years of evolution. Its roots are deep in our core psychological and biological being, and it is one of our most intimate feelings. Danger and war are as old as human history, and so are politics and religion.
Demagogues have always used fear for intimidation of the subordinates or enemies, and shepherding the tribe by the leaders. Fear is a very strong tool that can blur humans’ logic and change their behavior.
I am a psychiatrist and neuroscientist specializing in fear and trauma, and I have some evidence-based thoughts on how fear is abused in politics.
We learn fear from tribe mates
Like other animals, we humans can learn fear from experience, such as being attacked by a predator. We also learn from observation, such as witnessing a predator attacking another human. And, we learn by instructions, such as being told there is a predator nearby.
Learning from our conspecifics – members of the same species – is an evolutionary advantage that has prevented us from repeating dangerous experiences of other humans. We have a tendency to trust our tribe mates and authorities, especially when it comes to danger. It is adaptive: Parents and wise old men told us not to eat a special plant, or not to go to an area in the woods, or we would be hurt. By trusting them, we would not die like a great-grandfather who died eating that plant. This way we accumulated knowledge.
Tribalism has been an inherent part of the human history. There has always been competition between groups of humans in different ways and with different faces, from brutal wartime nationalism to a strong loyalty to a football team. Evidence from cultural neuroscience shows that our brains even respond differently at an unconscious level simply to the view of faces from other races or cultures.
At a tribal level, people are more emotional and consequently less logical: Fans of both teams pray for their team to win, hoping God will take sides in a game. On the other hand, we regress to tribalism when afraid. This is an evolutionary advantage that would lead to the group cohesion and help us fight the other tribes to survive.
Tribalism is the biological loophole that many politicians have banked on for a long time: tapping into our fears and tribal instincts. Some examples are Nazism, the Ku Klux Klan, religious wars and the Dark Ages. The typical pattern is to give the other humans a different label than us, and say they are going to harm us or our resources, and to turn the other group into a concept. It does not have to necessarily be race or nationality, which are used very often. It can be any real or imaginary difference: liberals, conservatives, Middle Easterners, white men, the right, the left, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs. The list goes on and on.
When building tribal boundaries between “us” and “them,” some politicians have managed very well to create virtual groups of people that do not communicate and hate without even knowing each other: This is the human animal in action!
Fear is uninformed
During the first year after my arrival in the U.S., one night I entered a public parking lot to turn around. People were leaving a building in Orthodox Jewish dress; it was a temple. For a short second, I noticed a subtle, weird but familiar feeling: fear!
I tried to trace the source of this fear, and here it was: My hometown was almost all Muslims, and I never met a Jew growing up. One day when I was a little child and we were visiting a village, an old lady was telling a crazy story about how Orthodox Jews steal Muslim kids and drink their blood!
Having come from a well-educated family that respects all religions, being an educated doctor and having so many great Jewish friends, I felt embarrassed that still the child within had taken that stupid and obviously false story a bit seriously, only because that child had never met a Jew.
This human tendency is meat to the politicians who want to exploit fear: If you grew up only around people who look like you, only listened to one media outlet and heard from the old uncle that those who look or think differently hate you and are dangerous, the inherent fear and hatred toward those unseen people is an understandable (but flawed) result.
To win us, politicians, sometimes with the media’s help, do their best to keep us separated, to keep the real or imaginary “others” just a “concept.” Because if we spend time with others, talk to them and eat with them, we will learn that they are like us: humans with all the strengths and weaknesses that we possess. Some are strong, some are weak, some are funny, some are dumb, some are nice and some not too nice.
Fear is illogical and often dumb
Very often my patients with phobias start with: “I know it is stupid, but I am afraid of spiders.” Or it may be dogs or cats, or something else. And I always reply: “It is not stupid, it is illogical.” We humans have different functions in the brain, and fear oftentimes bypasses logic. There are several reasons. One is that logic is slow; fear is fast. In situations of danger, we ought to be fast: First run or kill, then think.
Politicians and the media very often use fear to circumvent our logic. I always say the U.S. media are disaster pornographers – they work too much on triggering their audiences’ emotions. They are kind of political reality shows, surprising to anyone from outside the U.S.
When one person kills a few others in a city of millions, which is of course a tragedy, major networks’ coverage could lead one to perceive the whole city is under siege and unsafe. If one undocumented illegal immigrant murders a U.S. citizen, some politicians use fear with the hope that few will ask: “This is terrible, but how many people were murdered in this country by U.S. citizens just today?” Or: “I know several murders happen every week in this town, but why am I so scared now that this one is being showcased by the media?”
We do not ask these questions, because fear bypasses logic.
Fear can turn violent
There is a reason that the response to fear is called the “fight or flight” response. That response has helped us survive the predators and other tribes that have wanted to kill us. But again, it is another loophole in our biology to be abused. By scaring us, the demagogues turn on our aggression toward “the others,” whether in the form of vandalizing their temples or harassing them on the social media.
When demagogues manage to get hold of our fear circuitry, we often regress to illogical, tribal and aggressive human animals, becoming weapons ourselves – weapons that politicians use for their own agenda.
US apparel firm cuts off Chinese factory in internment camp
By MARTHA MENDOZA and YANAN WANG
Friday, January 11
A U.S. supplier of T-shirts and other team apparel to college bookstores has cut ties with a Chinese company that drew workers from an internment camp holding targeted members of ethnic minority groups.
In recent years, authorities in the far west Chinese region of Xinjiang have detained an estimated 1 million Uighurs and Kazakhs in heavily-secured facilities where detainees say they are ordered to renounce their language and religion while pledging loyalty to the China’s ruling Communist Party.
Last month, an Associated Press investigation found the Chinese government had also started forcing some detainees to work in manufacturing and food industries. The investigation tracked recent shipments from one such factory, the privately-owned Hetian Taida Apparel, located inside an internment camp, to Badger Sportswear, a leading supplier in Statesville, North Carolina.
In a statement posted to its website, Badger said Wednesday it will no longer do business with Hetian Taida, nor import any goods from the same region “given the controversy around doing business” there.
“Furthermore, we will not ship any product sourced from Hetian Taida currently in our possession,” the company said, adding that the supplier accounted for about 1 percent of Badger’s total annual sales.
Repeated calls to Hetian Taida’s chairman, Wu Hongbo, rang unanswered Wednesday. In a previous conversation with the AP, Wu said while Hetian Taida was located in the same compound as one camp that the government calls a “vocational skills education and training center,” Hetian Taida was not involved in the camp’s activities.
However, Wu said his company employed 20 to 30 “trainees” from the center as part of the region’s efforts to alleviate poverty.
Asked about the case, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Thursday that while the ministry doesn’t generally comment on individual business decisions, Badger appeared to have been acting on “misinformation.”
The vocational training centers in Xinjiang are “totally different from so-called forced labor,” Lu said, referring further questions on the camps to statements made by the regional government, which maintains that the centers help poor Uighurs gain employable skills.
“It’s a tragedy for that business,” Lu said.
Universities stocking Badger clothing began pulling items from their shelves and websites after the report appeared in December.
Hetian Taida was certified as complying with good business practices by Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production, which sent an auditor to a different Hetian Taida facility, not the one inside the internment camp. That factory “is not engaged in the use of forced labor,” WRAP and Badger concluded. But Badger added that “historical documentation provided by Hetian Taida regarding their prior facility was insufficient to conclude with certainty” that it had met Badger’s sourcing standards.
WRAP spokesman Seth Lennon confirmed to AP that the facility they investigated is not the same place AP wrote about.
“Our model centers around factories approaching us requesting to be audited,” Lennon wrote in an email. “We do not seek out any factories whatsoever to audit unsolicited.”
The Washington-based Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), which has agreements with many educational institutions across the U.S. to ensure the products they sell on campus are ethically manufactured, conducted its own investigation and found additional evidence confirming the factory supplying Badger was inside an internment camp.
WRC executive director Scott Nova said Wednesday’s announcement reinforces that finding.
“There is nothing in Badger’s statement, or WRAP’s, that calls into question the conclusion that Hetian Taida used detainee labor while producing for Badger,” he said.
Any item that is the product of forced labor is illegal and subject to seizure by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which said in December it was reviewing the reports. A CBP spokesperson had an automatic message Wednesday that they were unable to respond to emails or telephone calls due to the government shutdown.
Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.
More solutions needed for campus hunger
January 11, 2019
As many as half of America’s college students face campus hunger.
Author: Suzanna Martinez, Academic Researcher, University of California, San Francisco
Disclosure statement: Suzanna Martinez does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
A new federal report does a good job of explaining what many researchers have been saying for a decade – food insecurity among college students is a serious national problem.
As one University of California, Berkeley student revealed in an interview for a 2018 research article I helped write: “Food is always on my mind: ‘Do I have enough money? Maybe I should skip a meal today so I can have enough food for dinner.‘”
However, when it comes to offering up solutions, the new report from the Government Accountability Office comes up short.
My experience as one who has researched campus hunger goes back to 2014, when colleagues and I conducted the first public university system wide survey of campus hunger. We found that over 40 percent of University of California students – about half of all undergraduates and one out of every four graduate students – faced food insecurity. That is more than three times the national household rate of 12 percent. Food security is generally defined as access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.
Our findings on campus hunger have been replicated in the University of California system, the California State University system and in colleges throughout the nation.
Effects of an empty stomach
For those who are food secure, it might be easy to scoff at the notion that somehow college students can’t find enough to eat. The reality is hunger among college students has psychological impacts that affect student performance. For instance, in a 2018 study, colleagues and I found students experiencing food insecurity had a lower grade point average than students not facing food insecurity.
Researchers and I also found that not having access to enough food at all times increased a student’s risk for poor mental health. This, in turn, increases their risk for lower grades.
So what does the latest federal report – released 10 years after the first study documenting hunger on campus – say about the problem and what should be done about it?
The new federal report states that from nine to over 50 percent of America’s college students face food insecurity. The report also reveals that of the two to three million students at-risk for food insecurity who were potentially eligible for participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – more commonly known as SNAP – only 43 percent were receiving those benefits.
More solutions needed
The report recommends that government administrators do more to make students aware of their potential eligibility for SNAP benefits. The low participation rate in SNAP may stem from lack of awareness of exemptions for eligibility. Or it could have to do with the stigma of receiving food assistance. Some organizations recommend campus-based initiatives to combat food insecurity in order to lessen the stigma associated with receiving food assistance for students.
Will better SNAP guidance end student hunger? In my view as one who has been looking at this issue for some time, not entirely.
For example, college students cannot get SNAP benefits unless they meet certain criteria, such as working at least 20 hours a week and attending school full-time. This rule should perhaps be rethought in light of how difficult it is to go to school full-time, keep up one’s grades and work more than 20 hours a week.
What else can we do to fix student hunger? Updating college student financial aid is one solution. For instance, the purchasing power of the Pell grant – a federal grant for low- to middle-income students – is at a 40-year low.
Another solution is to extend the Federal School Lunch Program, which could help pick up the slack for the lost purchasing power of the Pell grant.
In my view, more assistance should also be given to graduate students, who also face campus hunger but who were not mentioned in the new federal report.
Lastly, students must be better educated on things such as financial aid, personal budgeting and self-advocacy. At a time when the cost of going to college is becoming more difficult to cover, it’s more important than ever to help students succeed and be healthy so that they can lead future generations.
Roland Magyar: So things haven’t changed in the 40 years since I’ve been to college. I remember going to the student union and grabbing free crackers and 1000 island dressing for lunch on many a day. I think you’re looking at this all wrong. It’s more of a right of passage. As the student says in the article…what decision about money do I make today. Mom and Dad aren’t there to supplement. Get a job or not? How do I survive? It’s called becoming an adult, and whether you are in college or not, at some point you have to take responsibility for your own survival. It’s an experience to fall back on when, as a self sufficient adult, there are hard times and no one to fall back on, you know you will make it.