Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lessons from Lance Allwrong

*A Special Research Bytes Blog Report*

I listen to Mike and Mike in the morning. For those who do not know, it is a sports talk show. I prefer it to being scared to death by the morning “news.” Anyway… this morning was excruciatingly painful. For four hours I listened to the hosts and listeners drone on about the ethics related to Lance Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). I learn a lot when I listen to white folks discuss ethics. It was telling how many people actually thought it was OK that Armstrong (a) defrauded his colleagues, fans and financial sponsors by using PEDs, and (b) attacked innocent people who bore witness against him with physical threats, harassment, slander and legal action. The argument of many listeners was that, “He has done so much for cancer victims, he should not be judged too harshly for what is a minor infraction by comparison.”

Lesson #1. I’ve heard this argument before. I sometimes have my class read Harriett Washington’s book Medical Apartheid. One of the most common responses that white students give to the book is, “It’s terrible what they did[1] to the Blacks. But if they hadn’t done it we wouldn’t have all the medical advances we have today.” In the mind of white folks, the end justifies the means. This is lesson #1. Armed with this mental aberration, they will genocide an entire race of people. “It’s really bad to do it. But if we don’t get rid of the Indians where will we live?” They will enslave another race of people. “It’s really bad to do it. But if we don’t get the Africans who is going to pick this cotton?” They will feed you toxic food, criminalize your sons, use media to degrade your image, deceive you to get elected, experiment on you without your knowledge or consent, fabricate lies to start wars, molest your children, and more. And it will be done with the idea that, “It’s really bad to do it. But…”

Lesson #2. Back to Lance Allwrong. Listening to this four-hour talkfest, not once did anyone offer any self-reflection. By this I do not mean reflection on the individual self, but reflection on the whole of Western culture. There was no “cultural critique.” During one commercial I saw a movie trailer for a new Sylvester Stallone film. How old is he now, 200? …Anyway, he’s still doing action films and he looks good. I wonder if he is taking Performance Enhancing Drugs (or at least Appearance Enhancing Drugs). How can a 200 year old man maintain the body of a fit 40 year old? Right after that another commercial came on asking me if I get sleepy around 2:00pm. The announcer then encouraged me to take a 5-Hour Energy. That way, when my body tells me I need to rest, I can ignore it, take a PED, and work right through dinner to enrich someone else. I didn’t see the Viagra commercial this morning, but it did come to mind. Maybe Congress should hold hearings around that PED and put its collective self in jail. In fact, when you consider the caffeine in soft drinks, coffee and energy drinks, alcohol, diet pills, male enhancement “medication,” Ritalin, Adderall (and other psychotropic drugs given to children), it seems that Lance Allwrong is alright in the Western world. Who isn’t on one or more PEDs. Dare we include nicotine, the “comfort” foods, that many use to self-medicate their depression, marijuana, and other illegal drugs? But alas, their hypocrisy knows no bounds. This is lesson #2. In many ways the Western world is like Oceania and its citizens walk around like Winston Smith drinking Victory gin all day to make the existence bearable.

Moving Forward. My dear parents, teachers and guardians of Black youth, do not feel that these lessons are too heavy for our children. We want our children to be critical readers of the word. But we also want them to be critical readers of the world. Present them with the following challenge, “Where do we see examples in the Western world of people operating on the idea that the end justifies the means? What is the consequence of that idea for the various people involved? Where do we find examples of profound hypocrisy among Western people? How are these ideas embedded in the culture of Western people? Based on what you know, how might non-Western cultural practices be different? Where do we see these ideas at work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics?” These are good questions for stimulating critical analysis of media. They also make good drive time conversation. If we don’t teach our own children, no one will.

And remember… Have Fun!

Jomo W. Mutegi, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Science Education at the Indiana University School of Education in Indianapolis. He is also a member of the (ES)2 Research Program, which works to advance STEM curricula that position people of African descent to improve their current social condition. To learn more about the (ES)2 Research Program visit: www.ES2RP.org.

[1] Please note the past tense.