Addiction and Brain Disease: Intertwined but Not One and the Same

by Vignesh Subramanian, October 18, 2021

Today, nearly every major medical organization in the United States defines drug addiction as a primary brain disease – a progressive, relapsing disorder driven not by choice, but rather by neural dysfunction. From patient advocacy organizations like the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine to top research organizations like the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this characterization of compulsive substance misuse is believed to effectively counter stigmatization of treatment while still accounting for biological and psychological realities. Yet if one is to evaluate other possible classifications and the present state of diagnostic protocols in fair measure, it could be reasonably asserted that a discussion is still to be had about the addict’s role in their own entrapment. The degree to which addiction may be considered a chronic illness is therefore contingent on not just the relativity of its prognosis, but also on what physicians believe to be appropriate recourse. 

The scientific tenets of addiction agreed on by psychologists, neurobiologists, and practitioners alike are key to judging the applicability of the brain disease model. Unwarranted assumptions about either the appositeness of a standard of comparison or a propensity for self-domestication can derail precedents set and determinations previously made by the discipline in question. It is fair to accept the medical discipline’s rhetoric on the need for restrictiveness in exposition, defining “chronic illness” as controllable but hitherto incurable conditions often identifiable by long periods of latency and protracted clinical course [3].

Proponents and opponents of the brain disease model also concur on the neurochemistry behind addiction. It starts with unregulated surges of the neurotransmitter dopamine in response to drug consumption occurring in the basal ganglia, the area of the brain tasked with executive functions that, among other behavior, enable learning from the ‘reward’ of brief ecstasy [5]. An affinity for a substance leading to increased use will cause neural circuits to adapt by restructuring receptors, by scaling back sensitivity to the drug’s effects – requiring more consumption to attain the same euphoric “high” – and by increasing tolerance of the substance as this subconscious demand is satisfied, completing the cycle [8]. The patient eventually develops dependence (inability to function without the substance) and dysphoria (a state of unease in the drug’s absence), fomenting cravings that prioritize reducing pain over experiencing pleasure [11]. The cycle is ultimately difficult to break, for reasons that demonstrate the true interplay of biology and behaviorism: parallel remodeling of the extended amygdala – tasked with controlling responses to stress – and the prefrontal cortex, which manages decision making, drives the user to form associations between increased consumption and decreased stress, causing inhibitory pathways to shut down as short-term reward is favored and sought after [5].

At no point in this slippery slope beyond the first ‘gateway’ use is the chemical compulsion of a drug resistible or reversible; indeed, the same reward circuits that drive addiction account for most human physiological needs, including reproductive activities [2]. In that regard, addiction is not just subconscious, but natural, solely dangerous in excess; patients of more socially sanctioned chronic illnesses – diabetes, heart disease, skin cancer – are victims of similar bet-hedging, whether it be by consumption of processed carbohydrates and meats, lack of exercise, or even sun exposure. Opponents of the brain disease model argue that the problem is initial awareness of risk: addicts must understand that intoxication is a precursor of worse to come, and addiction has a spectrum of severity, making accurate diagnosis difficult if not impossible [4]. With no physical measures of identifying mental health disorders (such as objective lab tests using biomarkers) yet deployed in medical practice, physicians must rely on neuropsychological assessments and dissociated imaging scans to compare a patient’s cognitive impairment with normal executive function and processing abilities. Such measures have found that neural changes associated with addiction matched those of “deep habits, Pavlovian learning, and prefrontal disengagement”, but did not match the “development-learning orientations” of various mental illnesses [1]. In other words, addiction stimulates synaptic pruning and neuroplasticity (the ability of neurons in the brain to change connections and reorganize) just as a conventionally developed brain does, but in atypical patterns poorly reflecting normal maturation and psychological tendencies. This information only sharpens the question of whether addiction is truly an aberration of the mind’s development or simply a collection of varying and even rectifiable effects elicited by the drug itself; to put it metaphorically, would a stabbing through the heart be considered cardiovascular illness? The concept of placing addiction on par with the likes of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease – surrounded by questions of whether all manipulated neuroplasticity is pathogenic, whether addicts can be responsible for consciously committed actions, and what even constitutes a problem with the brain – is thus far from conclusive. 

Acceptance – or lack thereof – of substance addiction as a brain disease has had and will continue to have wide-ranging implications for patient protections under law and avenues of treatment. Distinguishing between the public perceptions of users’ behavior and the intimate worldviews of addicts as shaped by their battles for recovery help sustain the idea that addiction medicine can be entirely recontextualized into being a centerpiece of public health. For example, even if addiction is not to be considered a disease of the brain, its contribution to the later development of chronic illnesses such as lung disease, stroke and HIV/AIDS makes addiction treatment itself a form of preventative medicine rather than rehabilitation alone [10]. Conversely, if classification of addiction as a brain disease remains the status quo, it might justify dependence as a ‘side effect’ of self-medication started because of lack of access to care, much the way it is for some substances with addictive potential – like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and opiates – that are used and abused as antidepressants and for pain management, respectively [2][7]. As is clearly evident, proponents and opponents of the brain disease model ultimately do not disagree on the facts of addiction, but simply emphasize different contexts that, when taken to their conclusions, have different implications for diagnosis and stigmatization; both camps have proven willing, however, to oversee an explosion of medicalization that address those biological and psychological realities [6]. Today, trained physicians can administer pharmaceutical agonists and antagonists in clinics and other outpatient settings; the importance of psychosocial therapy, monitoring and follow-up in addiction treatment has been amplified; and the establishment of drug courts and diversion and harm reduction programs attests to the idea that drug consumption is not inherently a moral failing and that natural reactions to its effects can be less painfully anticipated and controlled [9]. 

Addiction is a convoluted condition: it has an onset influenced by environmental conditions but no infection agent, has little known pathological prognosis but a tendency to run in families, and displays outward behavioral changes but is not anatomically degenerative. A disease model that assumes partial responsibility on the part of the addict but recognizes the extent to which addiction rewires the brain is perhaps the best road on which to pursue a patient freedom-centric means of battling dependency and decay.


Works Cited

  1. Lewis, Mark. “Addiction and the Brain: Development, Not Disease.” Neuroethics, vol. 10, 2017, pp. 7–18, doi:10.1007/s12152-016-9293-4.
  2. Hammer, Rachel, et al. “Addiction: Current Criticism of the Brain Disease Paradigm.” AJOB Neuroscience Journal, vol. 4, no. 3, 2013, pp. 27–32. doi:10.1080/21507740.2013.796328.
  3. “Is Addiction a Disease?” Partnership to End Addiction, July 2020, drugfree.org/article/is-addiction-a-disease.
  4. Levy, Neil. “Addiction is not a brain disease (and it matters).” Frontiers in Psychiatry, vol. 4, no. 24, 2013. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00024.
  5. United States, Department of Health and Human Services. “The Neurobiology of Substance Use, Misuse, and Addiction.” The Surgeon General’s Report, 2016. addiction.surgeongeneral.gov/sites/default/files/chapter-2-neurobiology.pdf.
  6. NIDA. “Preventing Drug Misuse and Addiction: The Best Strategy.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 10 July 2020, http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/preventing-drug-misuse-addiction-best-strategy.
  7. Satel, Sally, and Scott O. Lilienfeld. “Addiction and the Brain-Disease Fallacy.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, vol. 4, no. 141, 2014. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00141.
  8. “The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics.” National Institute of Drug Abuse, 25 June 2020, http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-use-addiction-basics.
  9. Smith, David E. “The Evolution of Addiction Medicine as a Medical Specialty.” AMA Journal of Ethics, vol. 13, no. 12, 2011, pp. 900–905. doi:10.1001/virtualmentor.2011.13.12.mhst1-1112.

Homophobia as Epistemic Justice in Japan

by Marie Yamamoto, October 14, 2021

While it is considered relatively safe for gay and bisexual individuals to live in compared to other East Asian countries, Japan still does not protect LGBTQ+ individuals from hate crimes on the national level, allow for same-sex marriages, recognize same-sex marriages performed abroad, or allow same-sex partners to adopt children or undergo IVF, among other refusals to recognize their human rights (“Japan”). Recently, there was an attempt to pass national legislation that would have at least granted LGBTQ+ people protection against discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender. However, the legislation was watered down to instead “promote understanding” towards this group.  The legislation was ultimately tabled in the summer of 2021 (Holmes). 

Those who are in favor of maintaining this status quo insist that homosexuality is a Western ideal imported into Asia as a result of globalization (Wong). Those within the largely conservative National Diet have also allegedly argued that protecting gay and transgender individuals is too radical of a change and would hinder the country’s growth (Holmes). However, exploring the historical stances Japan has taken towards sexual fluidity reveals how deeply-entrenched colonialist ideas are within the Diet’s outward lack of compassion towards LGBTQ+ individuals. Homophobia within Japan is a result of epistemic injustice that arose as Japan faced pressure to conform to the West during the Meiji Era, and leaders within Japan should take steps to mend it from an epistemological perspective.

Colonization can have deep, long-lasting implications for the culture being colonized due to its ability to impose outside knowledge while undermining local knowledge. After all, colonization not only involves the exploitation of the resources and labor of the colonized but also involves the destruction and warping of the colonized culture to the point that it becomes “inferiorized, marginalized, and anonymized” so that the colonizer’s treatment is viewed as “beneficial and fair” (Collste). Often, this involves the addition of foreign epistemic frameworks into the colonized culture, which can destabilize old knowledge that has worked effectively in the past. In “Cultural Pluralism and Epistemic Injustice,” Goran Collste defines an epistemic framework as a means by which one within a given culture may “interpret, understand, and categorize [one’s] impressions and experiences so that they are manageable and possible to communicate and assess” (Collste). Quoting Rajeev Bhargava, he also emphasizes that any given epistemic framework relies on “‘historically generated, collectively sustained” lenses that inform both one’s individual identity and the culture’s collective identity (Collste).

From a religious standpoint, the introduction of the Judeo-Christian concept of shame surrounding sex—and homosexuality in general—fueled the suppression of the open expression of same-sex relationships. Neither Shintoism nor Japanese Buddhism—the two major religions in Japan up until the present day—decried homosexuality. In the Kojiki, the first written compilation of mythos considered sacred in Shinto practices, homosexuality is not decried; in fact, it is not even mentioned (Koichi). While male-female sexual activity is considered more corrupting to the soul, overall, Shintoism does not engrain ideas of shame into sex (Koichi). Likewise, among Buddhist monks sworn to celibacy, male-female sexual activity has been seen as innately defiling, whereas homosexual activity is not offensive enough to be considered punishable (Koichi). Shintoism and Buddhism’s more sex-positive ideas allowed Japan to found its ideologies regarding sex as separated from morality. Because their fundamental ideals regarding these topics contrasted so starkly, encroaching Western powers looked upon this aspect of Japanese culture with surprise and disgust. Outward expressions of sexuality and male-male relationships were decried in newspapers overseas, which ultimately led to Japan’s ruling elite deeming it as something meant to be left in the past (Koichi). In this sense, Japan’s swiftly-changing moral attitudes were not a result of Japan’s free will, rather they were a result of the constant, looming threat of a loss of respect from more powerful countries. The sudden change arose as Japan was “disrespected and considered as inferior” by Western powers, which instilled in them an “enduring sense of inferiority among the adherents of the old culture.” Homophobia followed (Collste). Shame towards these aspects of Japanese culture stemmed in part from how incompatible these local and imported epistemic frameworks were. With the looming fear of colonization, sexual freedom and fluidity were increasingly pushed out of Japan’s mainstream epistemic framework in order to harmonize with its oppressors (Collste).

Likewise, the medicalization of homosexuality is one such example of the addition of an epistemic framework that warped Japan’s local knowledge and led to the “othering” of gay individuals. In practice, same-sex relationships were normalized up until the beginning of the Meiji Era in the late 19th century. Sexuality was regarded as both fluid and something that was done as opposed to something that was an innate part of oneself. Men of all classes were able to engage in nanshoku and wakashudo culture, forms of love between men, and this did not prevent them from engaging in joshoku, or love between men and women (McLelland). Wim Lunsing further indicates that it was believed that “anybody could ‘slip’ (ochiiru) into pseudo-homosexuality for a variety of reasons” (Lunsing). The concept of a fixed sexual identity, therefore, did not exist within Japan’s epistemic framework regarding sexuality. Rather, it was perceived to be a result of one’s environment or a desire to experiment in one’s youth, or simply just love (Lunsing). 

Into the early 1900s, Japanese scholars studied in the West. They took with them both the concept of homosexuality as a fixed identifier, as evinced by the creation of the words dōseiai and iseiai to embody the concept of homosexuality and heterosexuality respectively within the binary sexuality spectrum (McLelland). After World War II, they adopted the Western belief that homosexuality was a mental illness and therefore an abnormality to be studied (McLelland). Despite Japan’s long-standing cultural perspective and practices, the insertion of pseudoscientific ideals framed by Western empirical thinking into Japan’s concept of sexuality resulted in the deeming of homosexuality as inferior compared to heterosexuality (McLelland). It is more difficult to compare with cultural practices without such evidence, even though said evidence may be heavily influenced by the biases of the scholars (Mao). Since Western empiricism positions itself as absolute based on its emphasis on the need for scientific evidence, Japan’s historical lens regarding sexuality was largely discarded and replaced with one that was less suited to capture its nuances and normalcy.

As a result of the adoption of these Western ideals, gay people in Japan have a more difficult time being accepted by society, and their experiences are distorted and obscured. There lacks an adequate epistemic framework for them to make sense of their sexuality largely within the context of their own history, and there still exists a subtle prejudice against gay individuals in their lack of serious representation in mainstream media and the pressure to conform to traditional, heteronormative standards (Wong). 

It must be said that it is entirely possible to slowly mend this epistemic injustice. Especially within its cities, the Japanese public is largely supportive of LGBTQ+ rights, and there have been ongoing efforts by advocacy groups towards more legislation to protect LGBTQ+ people and addressing misconceptions regarding homosexuality (Holmes). Queer Japanese people should not only be given the opportunity and resources to reconnect with their rich culture on their own terms, but also the opportunity to productively voice their own needs and concerns. In “Reflective Encounters: Illustrating Comparative Rhetoric,” LuMing Mao suggests that groups with opposing viewpoints or cultures listen to each other with an open mind with the purpose of self-reflection and understanding. If conversations like these occur within this context, those with biases against gay people—especially those within the government—can differently understand their viewpoints regarding homosexuality with the intent of social progress. The means by which homophobic biases manifest in the everyday lives of gay people must be restricted in order for healing to occur.

It is inherently wrong to call homosexuality a Western concept; the truth is that Japan’s fear of occupation by the Western imperial powers applied immense pressure to conform to Western ideals, which included shame associated with gay relationships and sex in general. This distancing from Japan’s rich queer culture and customs has resulted in homosexuality being seen as a result of globalization as sexuality began to be defined by Western terminology. Moving forward, the Japanese public should be educated on Japanese queer history and more rights must be afforded to queer individuals. It is entirely possible for the public to reconnect with these roots in their history with an open mind and work towards justice for gay individuals.


Works Cited

Collste, Göran. “Cultural Pluralism and Epistemic Injustice.” Journal of Nationalism, Memory & Language Politics, vol.13, no.2, 2019, pp.152–163. ResearchGate, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335431712_Cultural_Pluralism_and_Epistemic_Injustice.

Holmes, Juwan J. “Japanese Politicians Refuse to Pass LGBTQ Rights Bill as Olympics Approach.” LGBTQ Nation, 25 May 2021, http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2021/05/japanese-politicians-refuse-pass-lgbtq-rights-bill-olympics-approach/.

“Japan.” Out Leadership, 21 Mar. 2019, outleadership.com/countries/japan/.

Koichi. “The Gay of the Samurai.” Tofugu, 30 Sept. 2015, http://www.tofugu.com/japan/gay-samurai/. 

Lunsing, Wim. “Discourses and Practices of Homosexuality in Japan: Recent Contributions to the Literature.” Social Science Japan Journal, vol. 4, no. 2, 2001, pp. 269–73. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30209329.

Mao, LuMing. “Reflective Encounters: Illustrating Comparative Rhetoric.” Style, vol. 37, no. 4, Penn State University Press, 2003, pp. 401–24. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/style.37.4.401.

McLelland, Mark J. “Japan’s Queer Cultures.” The Routledge Handbook of Japanese Culture and Society, edited by Theodore and Victoria Bestor, Routledge, 2011, p. 140–149. University of Wollongong Australia Digital Commons, ro.uow.edu.au/artspapers/265.

Wong, Brian. “Column: Homophobia Is Not an Asian Value.” Time, 17 Dec. 2020,  time.com/5918808/homophobia-homosexuality-lgbt-asian-values/.

The Mental Conundrum

by Ali Ahmad, October 8, 2021

We all have faced a feeling of regret at some point in our lives. Regret is a human condition that I am sure all of us have faced at least once in our lifetime. The feelings of hopelessness and regret positively reinforce each other as we look back on the past and fixate on the problems we have faced. The more we begin to fixate on these problems, the more we begin to deviate from taking action and instead begin to imagine hypotheticals in our mind. These replays of alternate scenarios in our heads induce  feelings of accomplishment and triumph where there is none to begin with. This fantasy is our mind methodology of expunging negative emotions and mutating it into something bright and positive. This at first does not sound like a problem at first, given that we normally associate feelings of positivity with fulfillment. However, I believe that the motivation that drives us to excel and learn is stifled by feelings of positive emotions that overshadow negative feelings. 

I was once at a house party and a friend of mine from high school was in attendance. They had just accepted an offer of admission from Dartmouth College, a prestigious ivy league university. I was just a junior in High School studying for a retake of the SAT exam hoping to get into a good school. Naturally, I felt that I had fallen behind in my studying and went to bed at night dreaming that I had attained a perfect score through hours of desiccated study. I instantly felt better afterwards and unfortunately I never put in the hours of studying I had initially envisioned myself doing. If I had set up initial negative feelings of having fallen behind or of feeling inferior, I might have had the push I needed to put in the hours of studying and to make a meaningful change in my life.

In a study conducted on cocaine addiction treatment success, the emotional processing of addicts was measured to see if there is any correlation between motivation and goal directed behaviors. The study found that brain areas activated in early treatment for cocaine addiction were also active during  emotional activation. These brain regions included the amygdala, accumbens, and fusiform gyrus (Contreras-Rodriguez et al.). This might sound surprising at first, considering that we all strive to cultivate positive emotions. On the contrary, we all purposefully have a built in “negativity bias,” that we actively use to create adverse scenarios to contrast against to better digest information. This bias is an evolutionary feature unique to humans. In fact the early origin of these negative emotions can be clearly observed in infants, where infants “look at angry faces for a shorter duration due a recognition of aversive stimulus,” (Vasih et al.) All of this suggests that our brains are hardwired from the beginning to attend to negative or threatening stimulus in the environment more so than happy or positive stimulus.

So what are the practical takeaways from this finding? We can first begin by redirecting our negative cognitive energy to moving forward. By grounding ourselves in the present moment we can begin to break through this mental trap and begin to take small steps towards a slightly more positive future.


Works Cited

Contreras-Rodriguez, Oren, et al. “The neural interface between negative emotion regulation and motivation for change in cocaine dependent individuals under treatment.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, vol. 208, 2020. doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.107854

Vaish, Amrisha, et al. “Not all emotions are created equal: The negativity bias in social-emotional development.” Psychological Bulletin, vol. 134, no. 3, 2013, pp. 383–403. doi.org/10.1037%2F0033-2909.134.3.383

The Bees, the Queens, and the Wealth of Wall Street: A Sociological Analysis of WallStreetBets’ GameStop Phenomenon in January 2021

by Sophia Garbarino, August 30, 2021

Introduction

They swarmed, racing towards the deepest abyss of the hive. At the heart lay the queen, helplessly defenseless and stuck in the combs of her own making. Her workers, revolting against the monarchy with newfound passion and invigorating spirit, pushed past her and into the forbidden fortress of honey. There, they proudly paraded in hexagonal patterns, vicious and victorious, herding their hard-earned profits into the deepest chambers of their hearts: the wealth of Wall Street. A decade in the making, the reddit revolution quickly accelerated into its final stage within months. At the beginning of 2021, young and hungry reddit traders forced the queen brokers and hedge funds into submission, inflating the failing GameStop’s net worth into the double-digit billions. GameStop, a video game retailer primarily based on brick-and-mortar stores, had lost a significant number of sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was well on its way to bankruptcy before the rapid inflation. The long-term results remain to be seen. In this essay, I will explain this reddit-Gamestop phenomenon and analyze it using two key sociological theories by Karl Marx and Max Weber. Further, I will discuss the limitations of these theories using intersectionality theory.

The reddit GameStop phenomenon explained

According to The New York Times, GameStop stocks started rising in value after a new investment in mid-2020 (Phillips and Lorenz, 2021). For reference, a stock is an investment that represents partial ownership of a company, and its price fluctuates with that company’s overall value (U.S. S.E.C., “Stocks”). If the company is “public,” that means anyone in the general population can buy partial ownership if they have enough money (U.S. S.E.C., “Going Public”). GameStop is one such public company, and in January 2021, GameStop’s total market value went from $2 billion to over $24 billion in just a few days, meaning its stock prices also skyrocketed (Phillips and Lorenz, 2021). This sharp increase was primarily caused by amateur traders, or people who buy and sell stocks, in the subreddit social media community called WallStreetBets (hereafter referred to as “WSB”). WSB’s amateur traders, also known as retail investors, started a trading frenzy and forced seasoned professionals to participate in order to minimize financial losses. In turn, the increase in trading drove the stock price up (Phillips and Lorenz, 2021). While this obsession with GameStop seemed random and spanned only a few weeks, it was actually a profound reflection of the accumulating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2008 Recession.

The 2008 Recession, COVID-19, and financial ruin

The majority of the WSB day traders are Millennials and Generation Z. These groups were children and teenagers during the 2008 Recession, when thousands of Americans lost millions of dollars due to the U.S. real estate catastrophe, which began a decade earlier in 2001. At that time, because banks and mortgage firms were issuing loans with low interest rates to borrowers who didn’t qualify, demand for houses rose. Years later, when interest rates started to increase again, home prices plummeted by a third (Duignan). As a result, the Recession saw the S&P 500 index1 drop by half, while the unemployment rate rose to 10 percent by the end of 2009 (Rich, 2013). This triad of financial ruin was an enormous blow to the national economy, and children watched helplessly as their parents lost their life savings to corporate greed. Many still blame Wall Street for this and saw the GameStop situation as an opportunity for revenge for the Recession, wanting to “punish” the ones responsible for their “pain” (Sarlin, 2021).

GameStop’s stock inflation may have been near instantaneous, but the animosity between the public and Wall Street’s finance magnates is nothing new. America’s wealth gap has increased every year since the Recession, leaving its people sharply divided into two distinct economic classes: the wealthy and the not-wealthy (Horowitz et al., 2020). Over a decade later, COVID-19 further increased the wealth gap as many people struggled to choose between paying their rents and feeding their families. On the other hand, the world’s wealthiest men, like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, actually increased their wealth by more than five hundred billion dollars, collectively (“Wealth Increase,” 2021). In essence, wealth flowed from the poor to the rich. In recent years, however, investing has become more accessible than ever thanks to apps like Robinhood (Morrow, 2021). Now, the honey-sweet wealth of Wall Street is within reach of more people, and Millennials and Gen Z are breaking into the stock market at earlier ages (Dimock, 2019). With many WSB traders using these apps, the reddit-GameStop phenomenon is a powerful demonstration of the people’s ability to manipulate the market.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Class divides and social change

Despite the increasing accessibility of stocks, sharp social and economic divides remain in American capitalism. In The Communist Manifesto (1848), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels categorize all of society into two economic-based groups: the bourgeoisie (rich bosses) and the proletarians (poor laborers). In other words, the bourgeoisie is the queen bee, and the proletarians are the worker bees. Unlike bees, though, human laborers are not biologically bound to their bosses; as such, according to Marx and Engels, these groups are in constant conflict with each other because the bourgeoisie use the wage-labor system to profit from and oppress the proletarians, whose values are based on how much their labor increases these capital benefits (Marx and Engels, 1848). This conflict always leads to social change as explained by Marx’s materialist theory of dialectical social change, which consists of three main parts: 1) “species being,” meaning humans are unique for their creativity and productive labor; 2) dialectical change, meaning change is caused by the synthesis/resolution of contradicting ideas, known as the theses and antitheses; and 3) historical materialism, meaning material things shape people’s ideas and cultures (Marx and Engels, 1848).

We can use Marx’s theory to explain the reddit-GameStop phenomenon. First, the non-wealthy were involved in a class struggle with the wealthy as a result of the Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer. This prevented the non-wealthy from achieving their “species being” purpose, meaning they were forced into wage-labor because they could not afford to be creatively productive on their own. Historically, this conflict between the thesis—proletarians—and the antithesis—bourgeoisie—has always been ongoing, but the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated it to the point of change. The dire need for basic resources, like food and shelter, all acquired using money, created a new environment that required elimination of the previous system, in which the wealthy had increasing control of  financial resources. The synthesis of this conflict, or the resolution, was the reddit-GameStop phenomenon: redistributing Wall Street’s wealth to the people. They had the means—apps like Robinhood—so all they needed was a personal reason.

Max Weber: instrumental rational action and value-rational action

According to German sociologist Max Weber, people’s reasons for doing things, or rationality, can be divided into two types: instrumental rational action and value-rational action. Instrumental rational action is when an individual person or a group strategizes and uses the most efficient means to achieve a goal, often of financial nature. On the other hand, value-rational action is when a person or a group prioritizes a value rather than a goal, often incurring additional costs that would not be considered most efficient by the instrumental rational action (Weber, “The Protestant Ethic,” 1905).

The motivations behind the mass, organized action of the GameStop inflation can be divided according to these two types of action. For those who were purely motivated by financial gain, the stock market was the most efficient method of achieving their goal: more wealth. For those who prioritized their anger and vengeance for the Recession, the stock market made the most sense given the prioritized values. Regardless of motivation, both behaviors necessarily involved a certain level of risk that comes with investing, but for those utilizing instrumental rational action, the benefits outweighed the costs—GameStop’s stock prices increased over 1,700 percent, enabling some traders to pay off student loan debt or become millionaires (Morrow, 2021; Sarlin, 2021). For those utilizing value-rational action, the stock market’s volatile nature and susceptibility to manipulation allowed them to beat Wall Street at its own game, regardless of risk of financial loss. For others, it was a mix of both.

Limitations of Marx and Engels’ theory and intersectional race hierarchies

As with any theory, both Marx and Weber’s ideas have limitations. The most significant fault in their theories is the lack of intersectionality. Coined in 1989 by Black law scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality explores how people’s experiences, including oppression and privilege, are a result of several social factors interacting with each other (Crenshaw, 1989). For example, a common intersectional analysis involving race and gender argues that Black women experience racism differently than Black men because of its connections to sexism. Intersectionality largely coincides with feminist Patricia Hill Collins’ standpoint theory, which views knowledge as subjective and socially constructed (Collins, 1990). Every person’s experiences are unique but can be similar based on belonging in certain groups. 

With this in mind, we cannot homogenize the WSB traders the way Marx and Engels would. Modern America is not composed of identical, black and yellow fuzzy bees; it is increasingly diverse. Financial consequences of the Recession varied depending on social factors such as race, gender, age, education, and geographic location, among others. The same is true of the COVID-19 pandemic over a decade later, in which BIPOC are disproportionately affected by both unemployment and COVID-related death rates (“Tracking the COVID-19 Recession’s Effects,” 2021; APM Research Lab Staff, 2021). This is largely due to systemic racism, which puts BIPOC at an economic disadvantage by default. Analyzed through a racial lens, Wall Street and WSB can be subdivided into their own bourgeois and proletariat groups: Whites and BIPOC, respectively. While many middle to upper-middle class White Americans discovered were unaffected by COVID-19 and even gained wealth, hundreds of thousands of BIPOCs lost their jobs and steady income.

Furthermore, financial education is highly determined by access to resources, which is notoriously lower in communities predominantly of color and/or lower income. Whites are overrepresented in the upper class, giving them a predetermined advantage in achieving financial success (Reeves and Joo, 2017). So when COVID-19 drove stock prices down at incredible rates and millions of new brokerage accounts were opened, race/ethnicity, class, and education were crucial factors in determining who opened those accounts and who profited from them (Fitzgerald, 2020; Zarroli, 2020). Therefore, the reddit traders were privileged themselves in that a) they had to have ready access to technology in order to place the trades; b) they had to have some sort of basic financial education, whether it was self-taught or learned from others; and c) they had money with which to trade, whether it was borrowed, essential income, saved retirement funds, or extra cash. As such, this proletariat group has an internal, sociological hierarchy within itself.

Finally, we must also consider the professional traders. The division between the WSB and Wall Street investors is not as clear as one may initially think. While WSB certainly has intersectional differences, so does Wall Street, which is what Marx would consider the privileged bourgeois group. Wall Street firms severely lack racial and ethnic diversity, with over seventy-five percent of senior managers being White in 2018 (Hoffman and Pulliam, 2020). Additionally, the ratio of male to female fund managers is nine to one despite women’s performance being equal to men’s (Sargis and Wing, 2018). So who was really making all the money during the Recession and COVID-19? White men. Even within the privileged bourgeois there’s hierarchies of privilege, just like the proletariat group. Therefore, they cannot be so easily and clearly divided the way Marx and Engels imagined.

Limitations of Weber’s theory and intersectional age privilege

Within the WSB divisions of class, gender, race/ethnicity, etc., there are also complex, intersectional components of rationality. Weber’s two types of action, instrumental rational action and value-rational action, are also oversimplified, much like Marx and Engels’ economic groups. Socioeconomic status (SES), which Weber categorized into the “property” class and “lack of property” class, contributed to how severely the Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic affected people (Weber, “The Distribution of Power” 311, 1921). Investors with less money to begin with lost more, meaning different levels of wealth privilege impacted risk tolerance, or how much money the reddit traders were willing and/or able to risk losing on the market (U.S. S.E.C., “Assessing Your Risk Tolerance”). Furthermore, younger traders may have prioritized repaying student loan debt and had more long-term risk tolerance, while older traders may have prioritized increasing their retirement funds and had less risk tolerance. Therefore, while the means to achieve the goal of financial gain were the same (stock trading), the values differed according to SES and/or age. After all, worker bees have different priorities within the hive depending on their age (Farrar, 1968).

However, age can also affect political views, particularly those regarding fiscal conservatism. According to the Pew Research Center, conservatism grows with age (Desilver, 2014). This may explain why young people, including most of WSB’s traders, have consistently been accused by older generations of having a “lax work ethic” and masquerading lazy entitlement as socialism (Shapira, 2010; Ingram and Bayly, 2021). In fact, socialism has become quite popular among young voters during the past decade (Saad, 2019). It is important to recognize, though, that supporting socialism and engaging in wage-labor are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps young people are embracing the classic “work smarter, not harder” mantra and finding non-traditional ways to make money, like starting side hustles and capitalizing on social media. Generation Z faces record-high student debt, rising tuition costs, and an increasingly difficult job market, particularly during COVID-19. Therefore, age is an important intersectional factor in rational action which Weber’s original theory failed to account for, and traders’ differing levels of GameStop profits are indicative of age and wealth privilege.

Conclusion

The GameStop situation occurring during the pandemic is no coincidence. The COVID-19 climate created stay-at-home free time, an investment goldmine, an outlet for post-Recession anger, and increased support for socialist policies. The reddit retail investors were simply exploiting pandemic conditions for revolutionary purposes, similar to a Marxist proletariat group revolting against the bourgeoisie. However, the diversity within the proletarians is critical, too, since they were not all trading for the same reason, nor were they all affected the same way. As such, instrumental rational and value-rational action are also necessary to explore. Though the stock market seemed to be the most efficient and effective method for everyone, the motivations differed. Some wanted revenge for the Recession while others wanted quick and easy money. For many, it was a mix of both; therefore, we must consider both Marx and Engels’ and Weber’s theories to achieve a full, robust understanding of the GameStop sociological phenomenon. The honey-sweet wealth of Wall Street was now in the hands of the worker bees, who had previously served the queen hedge funds while receiving minimal benefits. The WSB traders shamelessly demonstrated the power of the people en masse. Ultimately, though, their billion-dollar victory was short-lived. After a few days of halted trades, GameStop shares returned to the market as its price dropped back into the low triple-digits (Reuters Staff, 2021). As Marx and Engels’ wrote, “Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time” (Marx and Engels 162, 1848).

1 The S&P 500 measures the stock performance of the 500 largest publicly-traded companies in the United States (Kenton, 2020).


Works Cited

APM Research Lab Staff. “The Color of Coronavirus: COVID-19 Deaths by Race and Ethnicity in the U.S.” APM Research Lab, 5 Mar. 2021, www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race. Accessed 16 Apr. 2021.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist theory and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum, vol. 1989, no. 1, 1989, pp. 139–167.

Desilver, Drew. “The politics of American generations: How age affects attitudes and voting behavior.” Pew Research Center, 9 July 2014, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/09/the-politics-of-american-generations-how-age-affects-attitudes-and-voting-behavior/.

Dimock, Michael. “Defining generations: Where Millennials end and Generation Z begins.” Pew Research Center, 12 Jan. 2019, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/17/where-millennials-end-and-generation-z-begins/. 

Farrar, Clayton Leon. The Life of the Honey Bee: Its Biology and Behavior with an Introduction to Managing the Honey-Bee Colony. University of Wisconsin-Extension, 1968.

Fitzgerald, Maggie. “Young investors pile into stocks, seeing ‘generational-buying moment’ instead of risk.” CNBC, 12 May 2020, http://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/12/young-investors-pile-into-stocks-seeing-generational-buying-moment-instead-of-risk.html.

Hoffman, Liz, and Susan Pulliam. “Wall Street Knows It’s Too White. Fixing It Will Be Hard.” The Wall Street Journal, 2 July 2020, http://www.wsj.com/articles/wall-street-knows-its-too-white-fixing-it-will-be-hard-11593687600.

Horowitz, Juliana Menasce, et al. “Trends in income and health inequality.” Pew Research Center, 9 Jan. 2020, http://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/01/09/trends-in-income-and-wealth-inequality/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2021.

Ingram, David, and Lucy Bayly. “GameStop? Reddit? Explaining what’s happening in the stock market.” NBC News, 27 Jan. 2021, http://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/gamestop-reddit-explainer-what-s-happening-stock-market-n1255922.

Kenton, Will. “S&P 500 Index – Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.” Investopedia, 22 Dec. 2020, http://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/sp500.asp.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” 1848. Classical Sociological Theory, edited by Craig Calhoun et al., John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2012, pp. 156–171.

Morrow, Allison. “Everything you need to know about how a Reddit group blew up GameStop’s stock.” CNN, 28 Jan. 2021, http://www.cnn.com/2021/01/27/investing/gamestop-reddit-stock/index.html.

Phillips, Matt, and Taylor Lorenz. “‘Dumb Money’ Is on GameStop, and It’s Beating Wall Street at Its Own Game.” The New York Times, 27 Jan. 2021, http://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/27/business/gamestop-wall-street-bets.html.

Reeves, Richard V., and Nathan Joo. “White, still: The American upper middle class.” Brookings, 4 Oct. 2017, http://www.brookings.edu/blog/social-mobility-memos/2017/10/04/white-still-the-american-upper-middle-class/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2021.

Reuters Staff. “GameStop trading resumes after brief halt as shares tumble.” Reuters, 29 Jan. 2021, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-retail-trading-gamestop/gamestop-trading-resumes-after-brief-halt-as-shares-tumble-idUSKBN2A21YD. Accessed 16 Apr. 2021.

Rich, Robert. “The Great Recession.” Federal Reserve History, 22 Nov. 2013, http://www.federalreservehistory.org/essays/great-recession-of-200709.

Saad, Lydia. “Socialism as Popular as Capitalism Among Young Adults in U.S.” Gallup, 25 Nov. 2019, news.gallup.com/poll/268766/socialism-popular-capitalism-among-young-adults.aspx.

Sargis, Madison, and Kathryn Wing. “Fund Managers by Gender: Through the Performance Lens.” Morningstar, 8 Mar. 2018, http://www.morningstar.com/content/dam/marketing/shared/pdfs/Research/FundManagerByGenderPerformanceLens.pdf.

Sarlin, Jon. “Inside the Reddit army that’s crushing Wall Street.” CNN, 30 Jan. 2021, http://www.cnn.com/2021/01/29/investing/wallstreetbets-reddit-culture/index.html.

Shapira, Ian. “Millennials accused of lax work ethic say it’s not all about 9-to-5.” Washington Post, 3 Apr. 2010, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/02/AR2010040201452.html?hpid=topnews.

“Tracking the COVID-19 Recession’s Effects on Food, Housing, and Employment Hardships.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 22 Apr. 2021, http://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/tracking-the-covid-19-recessions-effects-on-food-housing-and.

U.S S.E.C. “Assessing Your Risk Tolerance.” Investor.gov, https://www.investor.gov/introduction-investing/getting-started/assessing-your-risk-tolerance. Accessed 9 Apr. 2021.wilkinson

U.S. S.E.C. “Going Public.” SEC.gov, https://www.sec.gov/smallbusiness/goingpublic. Accessed 16 Apr. 2021.

U.S. S.E.C. “Stocks.” Investor.gov, https://www.investor.gov/introduction-investing/investing-basics/investment-products/stocks. Accessed 16 Apr. 2021.

“Wealth increase of 10 men during pandemic could buy vaccines for all.” BBC News, 21 Jan. 2021, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-55793575#:~:text=As%20of%20June%20last%20year,his%20%243.9bn%20net%20worth..

Weber, Max. “The Distribution of Power within the Political Community: Class, Status, Party,” 1921. Classical Sociological Theory, 3rd ed., edited by Craig Calhoun et al., John Wiley & Sons, 2012, 291–309.

Weber, Max. “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” 1905. Classical Sociological Theory, 3rd ed., edited by Craig Calhoun et al., John Wiley & Sons, 2012, 291–309.

Zarroli, Jim. “Millions Turn To Stock Trading During Pandemic, But Some See Trouble For The Young.” NPR, 11 Aug. 2020, http://www.npr.org/2020/08/11/895054084/millions-turn-to-stock-trading-during-pandemic-but-some-see-trouble-for-the-youn.

You’re Never Truly Yours: How Love and Ownership Are Synonymous

by Marcela Muricy, May 30, 2021

“There is beauty in the idea of freedom, but it is an illusion. Every human heart is chained by love.”

Cassandra Clare

When we are born, we are all empty rooms — white, blank, utterly devoid of all life and personality. Our parents, then, are the only ones who may enter freely: they paint the walls, play their favorite hits on a record player, and maybe hang a cross over the door. They make a storage space of us, piling cardboard boxes in the corner and labeling each as “mannerisms,” “habits,” “beliefs,” or “obsession with the JFK assassination.” From the very beginning of our lives, we belong to them, absorbing their traits and letting them shape and define us. They are the primary decorators of our “room” until we inevitably age, maturing and reclaiming agency of ourselves and our identity, refurbishing this space to our own liking. Yet, as we rearrange it with age, do we truly have as much autonomy in the matter as we would like to believe?

When we are born, our rooms are quite put together, with most interests hand-picked and presented as essential, our parents projecting onto us what they’d always dreamed for themselves. Ballet classes at age 2, ice skating at 4, Catholic school at 5 — all the beauties of the New World, supposedly. When we grow, however, things begin to change. We wear mismatched outfits to school because I like it, even if Mom says we’ll get bullied. We rearrange and redecorate our “room” as we reach the age of puberty and change our sense of self. Our perception of the world becomes completely transformed, that “room” finally opens for us to edit — the space seemingly infinite. 

We can change our clothes, betray our schedules, or shed a religion that once meant everything. We can adopt new hobbies and become part of fictional worlds we wished were within reach, allowing the smell of the worn pages to sink into our memory forever. We can find our true passion, begin reciting knowledge of biology like a prayer, and become intrinsically entangled with the beauty and complexity of it all. We can begin to reconcile with the fact that our parents are flawed humans woven from the same cloth, struggling to grapple with lifelong dilemmas. We can shift our mentalities from theirs, tune our radios to a different station, and make that same inherited room completely unrecognizable.

Yet, while some things we may edit, others are inherently permanent, at least in part. As we age and mature, we can modify the way our parents have previously made us think or act, but some things will always remain regardless of our efforts. We can detach the cross from the wall, yet the mark it made would still remain. We can consciously coat the walls in a new shade, but the other will still shine brightly underneath. If we listen closely, our ears pressed gently against the walls, we will still hear the echo of our parents in the things we say. We will still listen to music that we’re well aware is a result of our dads’ incessant playing of the ’70s hits. We will think with realism and logic, yet still find hints of our mother’s act like a lady perspective in our mind. We still belong to our parents in these small, significant ways because of the remnant traits and interests they’ve left in us. Now, though, we’re also made up of everything else, all the other experiences we’ve had up until this point, and all the people and interests that have affected us during this time — everything else we belong to.

So, then, as we age, do we truly begin to experience sole belonging? In a world of supposed free will, we could say we belong to ourselves, but this declared autonomy doesn’t negate the reality in which we act based on others. These may no longer be our parents, but we mold our lives around new ideas, interests, significant others, friends, etc. — anything and everything we love. This raises the question of whether we truly gain ownership of ourselves, or if we simply pass it onto the hands of someone — or something — else. When we’re younger, our parents hold the master key to our “rooms,” and later on, we simply make copies and hand them out to everything we hold dear. Our friends can tiptoe inside and slip an idea or two while we barely bat an eye. Our occupations can be even more invasive, expanding in the space and barricading the door so that they have unilateral control. Our significant others can have the same effect, moving and rearranging furniture of their own accord, creating a more comfortable space or punching a hole through the wall. We grant ownership to those we love because we want them in our lives, and so we allow them to influence us in this way. Because of our parents, we can be raised as God’s, our school’s, our responsibilities’ — until we become more our music’s, our friends’, books’, intellectual interests’, hobbies’, and everything else we spend our time and thoughts on. Ultimately, we all decide what is best to give pieces of ourselves to, and — as this list inevitably grows over time — the key is to embrace it and balance the effect we let it have on us. The room is ours, after all; it is ours to care for, or be careless with. We must recognize the lack of choice in love, however, and only hope to love what’s best for us — and that the key to it not fall prey to vicious hands.


Works Cited

Clare, Cassandra. Lady Midnight. Simon & Schuster, 2016.

Following Our Digital Footsteps

by Ean Tam, May 19, 2021

On January 21st, 2020, the United States reported its first case of COVID-19 in Washington state. Over the course of a year, offices emptied, schools closed, and normal life disappeared. By April 2021, over 553,000 Americans had passed away due to the pandemic. Now, as vaccine shots continue to make their way into people’s arms, the hope of defeating the pandemic appears more attainable. The vaccine is our shot back to the workplace, the classroom, and, some would say, back to normal life.

While suppressing this respiratory disease itself may be possible, many people struggle to take a deep breath and relax. For more than a year, across the country Americans have been sheltering in their homes, taking in the world through screens and behind masks. They have been waiting to return to work, hoping to regain jobs they lost at no fault of their own. It will take time for people to regain a sense of control over their lives and examine the mental health effects of the pandemic.

Perhaps we can comprehend how the pandemic played into the worst sides of ourselves. How did transitioning to a life online affect us? What will be our ‘new normal’ post-pandemic? How do we want to discuss mental health? To answer these questions, we should examine the research into our social and online behavior, including new techniques in studying social media activity.

A Life Online

When isolation orders began, we observed the panic: not as frenzy crowds going berserk in the streets, but in the simplest of manners: lining up at the supermarket. Under the threat of prolonged lockdown, citizens translated their insecurities through their wallet. In the United States, where consumerism is a part of our culture, our spending behavior can exemplify our human instincts: “Cash, and the fantastic appeal of what money can buy… provide a way for humans to distance themselves from the disturbing realization that they are animals destined to die” (Arndt et al., 2004). Certainly, not everyone assumed COVID-19 was going to be the ultimate scourge of the human race, but the mindset was there. As a reflection of that mindset—that we as humans can have some control over our lives—we decided to wipe out the supermarket shelves before COVID could wipe us out.

Of course, the online world to which we were regulated put us face-to-face with another nuisance we had already been trying to grapple with: misinformation. Unfortunately for us, online misinformation has only become worse. In beginning of the pandemic, so little was known about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Once a rumor, half-truth, or plain lie made its way online, there was no way of knowing how far it could travel. But it is clear that unreliable sources induce panic and anxiety, stoking our fears of the current situation, encouraging us to prepare more (Usher et al., 2020; Johal, 2009).

When ventures outside of our homes are limited to stocking up on groceries, the possibilities for personal connections are lost. Small talk is hard to come by, especially when you are six feet apart, wearing a mask, and staring through the glare of plexiglass. Physical interaction has become impersonal. Even the relationships established before the pandemic have been hurt. The online connection has been unable to keep up with the loneliness. While we can turn on our cameras to see each other’s faces on screen, the interaction is not a proper substitute for in-person contact (Lippke et al., 2021). In a study of 212 Swiss undergraduate students, researchers found that the students, because of the pandemic, were increasingly working alone and not engaging in networking with their peers. Students’ depressive and anxiety symptoms also increased. The concerns about the students’ minds ranged from the “fears of missing out on social life to worries about health, family, friends, and their future” (Elmer et al., 2020). For mourners who require “restorative activities (e.g., travel, spending social time with friends),” those options vanished (Lee and Neimeyer, 2020). The emotional connections that would have helped no longer do, and the strength of the friendship has diminished. This faltering sense of belonging and attachments to others can manifest itself in our physical and mental health (Baumeister and Leary, 1995).

It is no secret that internet use and mental health are intertwined. More time spent on the internet affects our social interactions and increases the chances of cyberbullying. It appears the relationship between internet use and social interactions can go either way: problematic internet use (PIU) can be both the cause and the result of diminished social interactions. When internet use is the cause, social interactions suffer because of depression, neglect of offline obligations, and obsessive behaviors, all of which are linked to PIU. When PIU is the result of diminished social interactions, the internet is seen as a coping mechanism—a world to which people can escape (El Asam et al., 2019).

However, the world people enter is not always so agreeable. Excessive internet use has a profound impact on adolescents because they are not only victims of cyberbully, but also encouraged to take part in it. Online communities offer opportunities for validation. At times, participating in cyberbullying is a way for some adolescents to ‘fit in’ with their online counterparts. Moreover, an adolescent who engages in such internet behavior can be expected to develop PIU (Chao et al., 2020). It appears that most of the time, victims of cyberbully do not allow the abuse to end with them. They will have “a desire to respond, which may encourage others to join the fray leading to a potentially long and drawn-out series of increasingly abusive and antagonistic communications” (Chao et al., 2020).

Before lockdown, excessive users of the internet had the ability to separate themselves from their devices. However, once life went online, that opportunity disappeared. We all, in a way, became problematic internet users. A life online, while necessary for the past year, has shown to be harmful to our mental well-being.

Back to Normal?

When we eventually emerge from this pandemic, the cloud of lockdown will still hang over us. One of the lingering concerns will be the home as the petri dish. Throughout this pandemic, citizens have created their own fortresses, hoping to keep the COVID invader at bay. Every trip outside of the home was a potential for letting an intruder in. That is why we wiped down all our groceries and bathed ourselves in hand sanitizer after every door handle. The pressure to keep the home decontaminated has been especially hard on those living with vulnerable groups like the elderly.

Retreating to our homes for the past year has proven to us that some things are simply no longer worth going out: movies, restaurants, shopping. However, “even people who do not become housebound may become fastidious germaphobes, striving to avoid touching ‘contaminated’ surfaces or hugging people or shaking hands” (Taylor and Asmundson, 2020). Pandemic sanitation standards will persist, similar to how some American families maintained their parsimonious, self-sufficient lifestyles after the Great Depression (Taylor and Asmundson, 2020).

The stress of yourself being a carrier and potential hazard to those around you can be exacerbated when living conditions are tight. When living conditions are limited, tensions can flare. Unfortunately, some people find themselves trapped at home with COVID outside and an abuser inside, making their situation a possible source of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Taylor and Asmundson, 2020).

For those who have contracted COVID-19, some have had to deal with guilt for possibly infecting others, embarrassment for having contracted the disease while others did not, and shame for not protecting oneself enough. Not even our healthcare workers have been exempted. In Italy, Daniela Trezzi, a 34-year-old nurse, took her own life in March of 2020 after she had tested positive for COVID-19. Trezzi’s colleagues reported that her suicide may have been the result of her concerns of having infected other people (Giuffrida and Tondo, 2020). As COVID-19 surged in New York City last April, Dr. Lorna Breen, an ER doctor at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, committed suicide. The virus had taken the lives of many of Dr. Breen’s patients. Despite the overachieving and dedicated passion to her job, Dr. Breen’s family believed she “was devastated by the notion that her professional history was permanently marred and mortified to have cried for help” (Knoll et al., 2020).

Plenty of people will be able to return to normal life post-pandemic, to go back on the street as if nothing has changed. But for many members of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, this is an impossibility. A wildfire of misinformation spreads (and continues to spread) across the internet, pinning a substantial number of American citizens as walking embodiments of SARS-CoV-2. Therefore, for AAPIs, returning to a normal life post-pandemic does not mean traveling down the street as if nothing has changed. As the United States begins to open, we are already seeing increases in racist attacks against AAPIs. We have seen this before. In 2014, Ebola was blamed on Africans because it was deemed an “African problem” (Usher et al., 2020). The ease of scapegoating specific demographics is an example of maladaptive coping “where coping is emotion-focused rather than problem-focused” (Cho et al., 2021).

We would like to think there is a chance for a return to normal. However, for many people, this is an unlikely future. Quarantine and the pandemic experience have affected the mental health of citizens across the globe. The pandemic has left us lonely, guilty, and fearful. It has forced some people to channel their insecurities into counterproductive behaviors. Behaviors that prevent us from regaining a sense of camaraderie and interconnectedness—some things we all lost this past year in quarantine.

Putting Our Online Activity to Good Use

Although living our lives on the internet has strained everyone, there may be something to gain from our past year online. In recent years, mental health researchers have turned their eyes to social media. With every post, like, or share, there may be a hidden meaning waiting to be deciphered. A variety of social media websites have been utilized for possible insights into specific mental health issues. Twitter is a popular site for study. It has been used for learning about detecting signs of depression and suicide (De Choudhury et al., 2013; Tsugawa et al., 2015; Coppersmith et al., 2016). Instagram, Reddit, and Tumblr have been used to study depression, suicide, and anorexia, respectfully (Reece and Danforth, 2017; Shing et al., 2018; Chancellor et al., 2016).

Taking advantage of machine-learning to comb over patients’ extensive social media activity, researchers have found indicators of mental health illnesses. For example, researchers classified tweets of suicidal individuals by their expressed emotions, emoji usage, and frequency of tweets. They found that tweets usually expressed sadness then anger after a suicide attempt, and that frequency of emotional tweets increases while emoji prevalence decreases (Coppersmith et al., 2016). The machine-learning systems allow for detecting these indicators with accuracy as high as 80 to 90 percent. This technique of combining computing power with psychiatric evaluation has led to the term “digital psychiatry” (Chancellor and De Choudhury, 2020). The focus on social media is particularly helpful in studying younger generations. Regardless of race or medical history, a younger age has been “the only significant predictor of blogging and social networking site participation” (Chou et al., 2009).

Northwell Health, New York state’s largest healthcare provider, has realized the importance of using social media for the purpose of engaging with patients as soon as possible. Since 2013, Northwell’s Early Treatment Program (ETP) has specialized in treating adolescents and young adults suffering from psychotic symptoms. Dr. Michael Birnbaum, Director and founding member of the ETP, studies the application of social media as an indicator for psychosis. I spoke with Dr. Birnbaum to learn more about his research with social media and its implications.

“This line of research was happening in the world of computer science, but not so much in psychiatry,” Dr. Birnbaum explained. “The idea sort of organically arose through reading the exciting literature on machine-learning and social media. Thinking about some of the major challenges and obstacles to delivering effective care, we came up with this solution.”

To perform his studies, Dr. Birnbaum and his colleagues retrieved social media archives donated by participants. These databases were downloaded straight from social media websites and then inputted into machine-learning systems provided by computer scientists from institutions like IBM, Cornell Tech, and Georgia Tech. The magnitude of data for these studies were immense. For instance, in one study, from just 223 research participants, Dr. Birnbaum and his team had collected 3,404,959 Facebook messages and 142,390 images. With this Facebook data alone, they found that the machine-learning system could identify research participants who had schizophrenia spectrum disorders (SSD) and mood disorders (MD). In terms of posts and messages, those with SSD were more likely to use words of sensory perception, those with MD were more likely to make references to the body, and SSD and MD groups were both more likely to use curse words. When it came to Facebook photos—a more abstract source of analysis—Dr. Birnbaum and his research team found that those with SSD and MD were more likely to post smaller photos by dimension, and the hues of photos from MD participants were more blue and less yellow (Birnbaum et al., 2020).

Now, while the volume of information is essential to the experiment, the social media archives are not limited to just the research participants. Within these archives, you can find private messages sent by the research participant and messages sent from second parties whom the participant was communicating with.

“One of the other ethical issues is the fact that there are a ton of secondary subjects: all of the friends and connections to other users who don’t necessarily agree to have their data donated and analyzed, and so that’s something that, as a team, will need to sort of grapple with,” Dr. Birnbaum explained. To handle this ethical issue, Dr. Birnbaum’s studies had to eliminate the data from these secondary parties. So, while these secondary subjects may not have their private messages inputted into a machine-learning system, there is no denying that those messages are being stored somewhere at some point. It will be up to the patient to inform his or her friends that their conversations may eventually find their way into a stored database. Consent, conservation, and confidentiality of social media information are only some of the big hurdles of digital psychiatry (Wongkoblap et al., 2017). However, Dr. Birnbaum believes that with the correct system in place and an understanding from the public, the application of machine-learning can find success in psychiatry.

“This shouldn’t be about surveillance or taking the power away from the patient. It’s just the opposite. In my mind it’s creating a way for the patient to be able to learn more about themselves and also share it with their clinician. Just like when you go to see your doctor who orders a blood test or an X-ray, you donate your blood to inform because it’s going to improve your care. Though most people don’t like taking their blood, similarly, I imagine a situation where the benefits would be clear and patients would be willing and interested in donating their digital data to inform their care in a meaningful way.”

Furthermore, Dr. Birnbaum highlighted a key issue in psychiatry: the reliance on self-reported information. It has been shown that self-reported data can be unreliable and underestimate health issues (Wallihan et al., 1999; Newell et al., 1999). Dr. Birnbaum elaborated, “We just are notoriously bad at this—all of us—at describing our own behaviors. Most of us can’t remember what we ate for dinner a few days ago, and so I think that these things can be immortalized in digital data, and so we can accept it more readily and use it.”

And in terms of the depth and perception from which we can learn, social media information may be the closest thing psychiatrists can have to 24/7 observation of their patients. Retrospective analysis of a patient after they have been admitted into the hospital is not the best solution. Social media information may hold the key.

“A patient sees the doctor periodically, and they meet for a certain amount of time and then that’s it,” Dr. Birnbaum said. “You don’t really know what’s happening in between meetings beyond patient self-report. The [social media information] provides information about what was going on between sessions. So, you can learn a lot more about, or rather from a different source and a more objective source, about what people are doing, thinking, and feeling.”
Of course, social media information is no substitute for in-person meetings. For Dr. Birnbaum, “I imagine a situation where someone donates their digital data a day or two before they come to meet me in my office, and then we can discuss the findings and determine whether or not we need to change the treatment plan.”

Although Dr. Birnbaum explained earlier that routine treatment involves monthly meetings with patients, the timing of when a patient should donate their social media archives is not exactly clear: “That is something that has yet to be empirically explored. Maybe it’s once a month when they come see me, maybe not. I could imagine a situation where it is done at the beginning of care and maybe perhaps periodically after that. I think it depends on what information we’re after, what we’re looking for, and how each individual uses social media.”

In the end, social media activity would just be one component of digital psychiatry. The way Dr. Birnbaum sees it, “Social media is a piece of the puzzle. They’re also people looking at speech, facial movements, wearables, cell phone data. All of this stuff paints a picture. A more comprehensive picture.”

What’s the Point?

On April 9th, The Wall Street Journal published an article titled, “Loneliness, Anxiety and Loss: the Covid Pandemic’s Terrible Toll on Kids.” In it, the author, Andrea Peterson, details the faltering grades, confidence, and motivation of young students. One 13-year-old stated, “[I]t’s been a lot harder to make friends and talk to new people… I feel like a lot of us drifted apart… It has set in that I’m alone” (Peterson, 2021).

With vaccines getting administered around the world, our public health appears to be on the right track. For many of the students who spoke with Peterson, transitioning back to in-person social activities will be difficult, but nonetheless, they will finally be in-person. Hopefully, for all of us, returning to in-person work or school will be the remedy we need. But the final obstacle we will face is the way we confront mental health as a society.

When The Wall Street Journal shared Peterson’s article on its Twitter profile, many of the comments were supportive—a lot of teachers and students voicing their approval with the awareness raised by the article. Then, of course, there were comments like these:

https://twitter.com/HRHSherlock/status/1380646040714375170

https://twitter.com/eagles2sixers/status/1380923582268764164

It would be quick and easy to say kids these days are just soft. It would be quick and easy to say there are more pressing matters than this. But the people who choose these quick and easy solutions seem to forget that we are all wired differently. We process things differently. Just as physical abilities differ from person to person, our ways of handling strains of our mental health differs. And to those who say the deaths from COVID-19 are more important: yes, preventing deaths is the number one priority, but the pandemic will be over. Can we talk about mental health effects then? Or would we have forgotten about it already?

It is unfortunate to think that these attitudes can exist within families, preventing people from getting the help they need. Whether it be depression or psychotic disorders, stigma exists everywhere. The family unit is not always equipped to understand the needs of someone suffering from a mental illness.

“For the most part, it’s impossible to tease apart providing good care to a patient without involving their family,” Dr. Birnbaum told me while explaining the role of family at the ETP. “So, it’s critical that the family understands what’s happening and has a connection to the treatment team, is involved in the treatment decisions in some capacity, and knows how to be most helpful and supportive for their child.”

It is no secret that there is a clash of how we discuss mental illness. Some people, due to culture or age, like to keep it under the rug, while younger generations tend to be more open about mental health. Those who like to keep a tight lip about it find themselves being blamed for being a part of the problem. Well, to put it simply, they are. I would hope people do not see that as a political opinion. It is informed medical advice.

When asked about breaking the stigma surrounding mental health and culture, Dr. Birnbaum explained, “I think that’s part of the work and that’s part of the advocacy. And part of the excitement of early intervention is sort of getting the message out that there are resources and tools and help available. The more we talk about it, the better.” He added, “Hopefully that’s something that we can do by changing society.”

Changing society will be no easy task. It will take time, just like waiting for this pandemic to be finally over. The ‘new normal’ waiting for us will ultimately be defined by us. If we decide to keep things the status quo, then that is what we should expect. As difficult as the past year has been, we ought to make the most of it. With the new advancements in machine-learning, we can learn from the online activity we amassed in quarantine. Work like Dr. Birnbaum’s shows that studying our online presence can improve the way we comprehend mental health. We can learn more about ourselves, mental health, and possibilities for early treatment for young people. When it comes to pandemic, the light at the end of the tunnel seems to be getting brighter. While we cannot say the same for mental health, our digital footprints can help lead the way.


Work Cited

@CortezGeovanny. “Kids are getting softer and softer with each generation.” Twitter, 9 Apr 2021, 9:20 p.m., twitter.com/CortezGeovanny/status/1380692134659940352.

@eagles2sixer. “I’m sorry the kids had to stay home on their phones for a year but please. Did the kids that worked in dangerous factories or lived during the blitzkrieg or black in the south in the early 1900s or during the depression or a million others not have it 1000X worse?” Twitter, 10 Apr 2021, 12:40 p.m., twitter.com/eagles2sixers/status/1380923582268764164.

@HRHSherlock. “Yes, this is all very sad, but over 560,000 Americans are dead.” Twitter, 9 April 2021, 6:17 p.m., twitter.com/HRHSherlock/status/1380646040714375170.

Ardnt, Jamie, Sheldon Solomon, Tim Kasser, and Kennon M. Sheldon. “The Urge to Splurge: A Terror Management Account of Materialism and Consumer Behavior.” Journal of Consumer Psychology, vol. 14, no. 3, 2008, pp. 198-212. Wiley Online Library, doi.org/10.1207/s15327663jcp1403_2.

Baumeister, Roy F., and Mark R. Leary. “The Need to Belong: Desire for Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human Motivation.” Psychological Bulletin, vol. 117, no. 3, 1995, pp. 497-529. APA PsycNet, doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.117.3.497.

Birnbaum, Michael L., Raquel Norel, Anna Van Meter, Asra F. Ali, Elizabeth Arenare, Elif Eyigoz, Carla Agurto, Nicole Germano, John M. Kane, and Guillermo A. Cecchi. “Identifying Signals Associated with Psychiatric Illness Utilizing Language and Images Posted to Facebook.” npj Schizophrenia, vol. 6, no. 38, 2020, pp. 1-10. PubMed, doi.org/10.1038/s41537-020-00125-0.

Chancellor, Stevie, and Munmun De Choudhury. “Methods in Predictive Techniques for Mental Health Status on Social Media: A Critical Review.” npj Digital Medicine, vol. 3, no. 43, 2020, pp. 1-11. Google Scholar, doi.org/10.1038/s41746-020-0233-7.

Chancellor, Stevie, Tanushree Mitra, and Munmun De Choudhury. “Recovery Amid Pro-Anorexia: Analysis of Recovery in Social Media.” Proceedings of The Sigchi Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2016, pp. 2111-2123. ACL Digital Library, doi.org/10.1145/2858036.2858246.

Chao, Cheng-Min, Kai-Yun Kao, and Tai-Kuei Yu. “Reactions to Problematic Internet Use Among Adolescents: Inappropriate Physical and Mental Health Perspectives.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 11, art. 1782, 2020, pp. 1-12. PubMed, doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01782.

Cho, Hyunyi, Wenbo Li, Julie Cannon, Rachel Lopez, and Chi Song. “Testing Three Explanations for Stigmatization of People of Asian Descent During Covid-19: Maladaptive Coping, Biased Media Use, or Racial Prejudice?” Ethnicity & Health, vol. 26, no. 1, 2021, pp. 94-109. Taylor & Francis Online, doi.org/10.1080/13557858.2020.1830035.

Chou, Wen-Ying S., Yvonne M. Hunt, Ellen B. Beckjord, Richard P. Moser, and Bradford W. Hesse. “Social Media Use in the United States: Implications for Health Communication.” Journal of Medical Internet Research, vol. 11, no. 4, 2009, pp. 1-12. Google Scholar, doi.org/10.2196/jmir.1249.

Coppersmith, Glen, Kim Ngo, Ryan Leary, and Anthony Wood. “Exploratory Analysis of Social Media Prior to a Suicide Attempt.” Proceedings of the 3rd Workshop on Computational Linguistics and Clinical Psychology: From Linguistic Signal to Clinical Reality, 2016, pp. 106-117. ACL Anthology, doi.org/10.18653/v1/W16-0311.

De Choudhury, Munmun, Michael Gamon, Scott Counts, and Eric Horvitz. “Predicting Depression via Social Media.” Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, vol. 1, no. 1, 2013, pp. 1-10. Microsoft Academic, http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/publication/predicting-depression-via-social-media/.

El Asam, Aiman, Muthanna Samara, and Philip Terry. “Problematic Internet Use and Mental Health Among British Children and Adolescents.” Addictive Behaviors, vol. 90, 2019, pp. 428-436. ScienceDirect, doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.09.007.

Elmer, Timon, Kieran Mepham, and Christoph Staftfeld. “Students Under Lockdown: Comparisons of Students’ Social Networks and Mental Health Before and During The Covid-19 Crisis in Switzerland.” PLoS ONE, vol. 15, no. 7, 2020, pp. 1-22. Google Scholar, doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0236337.

Giuffrida, Angela, and Lorenzo Tondo. “‘As if a storm hit’: More Than 40 Italian Health Workers Have Died Since Crisis Began.” The Guardian, 26 Mar. 2020, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/26/as-if-a-storm-hit-33-italian-health-workers-have-died-since-crisis-began. Accessed 18 April 2021.

Johal, Sarbjit S. “Psychosocial Impacts of Quarantine During Disease Outbreaks and Interventions That May Help to Relieve Strain.” The New Zealand Medical Journal, vol. 122, no. 1296, 2009, pp. 47-52. PubMed, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19652680/.

Knoll, Corina, Ali Watkins, and Michael Rothfeld. “‘I Couldn’t Do Anything’: The Virus and an E.R. Doctor’s Suicide.” The New York Times, 11 July 2020, http://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/11/nyregion/lorna-breen-suicide-coronavirus.html.

Lee, Sherman A., and Robert A. Neimeyer. “Pandemic Grief Scale: A Screening Tool for Dysfunctional Grief Due to a Covid-19 Loss.” Death Studies, 2020. Taylor & Francis Online, doi.org/10.1080/07481187.2020.1853885.

Lippke, Sonia, Marie Annika Fischer, and Tiara Ratz. “Physical Activity, Loneliness, and Meaning of Friendship in Young Individuals – A Mixed-Methods Investigation Prior to and During the COVID-19 Pandemic With Three Cross-Sectional Studies.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 12, art. 617267, 2021, pp. 1-13. PubMed, doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.617267.

Newell, Sallie A., Afaf Girgis, Rob W. Sanson-Fisher, and Nina J. Savolainen. “The Accuracy of Self-Reported Health Behaviors and Risk Factors Relating to Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease in the General Population: A Critical Review.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 17, no. 3, 1999, pp. 211-229. ScienceDirect, doi.org/10.1016/S0749-3797(99)00069-0.

Peterson, Andrea. “Loneliness, Anxiety and Loss: the Covid Pandemic’s Terrible Toll on Kids.” The Wall Street Journal, 9 Apr 2021, http://www.wsj.com/articles/pandemic-toll-children-mental-health-covid-school-11617969003?reflink=desktopwebshare_permalink.

Reece, Andrew G., and Christopher M. Danforth. “Instagram Photos Reveal Predictive Markers of Depression.” EPJ Data Science, vol. 6, no. 15, 2017, pp. 1-12. SpringerOpen, doi.org/10.1140/epjds/s13688-017-0110-z.

Shing, Han-Chin, Suraj Nair, Ayah Zirikly, Meir Friedenberg, Hal Daumé III, and Philip Resnik. “Expert, Crowdsourced, and Machine Assessment of Suicide Risk via Online Postings.” Proceedings of the Fifth Workshop on Computational Linguistics and Clinical Psychology: From Keyboard to Clinic, 2018, pp. 25-36. ACL Anthology, doi.org/10.18653/v1/W18-0603.

Taylor, Steven, and Gordon JG. Asmundson. “Life in a Post-Pandemic World: What to Expect of Anxiety-Related Conditions and Their Treatment.” Journal of Anxiety of Disorders, vol. 72, art. 102231, 2020, pp. 1-2. ScienceDirect, doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102231.

Tsugawa, Sho, Yusuke Kikuchi, Fumio Kishino, Kosuke Nakajima, Yuichi Itoh, and Hiroyuki Ohsaki. “Recognizing Depression from Twitter Activity.” CHI ’15: Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2015, pp. 3187-3196. ACM Digital Library, doi.org/10.1145/2702123.2702280.

Usher, Kim, Joanne Durkin, and Navjot Bhullar. “The COVID‐19 Pandemic and Mental Health Impacts.” International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, vol. 29, no. 3, 2020, pp. 315-318. Wiley Online Library, doi.org/10.1111/inm.12726.

Wallihan, Daniel B., Timothy E. Stump, and Christopher M. Callahan. “Accuracy of Self-Reported Health Services Use and Patterns of Care among Urban Older Adults.” Medical Care, vol. 37, no. 7, 1999, pp. 662-670. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3767088.

Wongkoblap, Akkapon, Miguel A. Vadillo, and Vasa Curcin. “Researching Mental Health Disorders in the Era of Social Media: Systematic Review.” Journal of Medical Internet Research, vol. 19, no. 6, 2017. Google Scholar, doi.org/10.2196/jmir.7215.

You Can Sit With Us, But You Shouldn’t Have To: The Hidden Benefits of Social Cliques

by Vineeta Abraham, May 9, 2021

Many adults with yearbooks filled with high school “horror stories” will claim they  originated from the rigid, harsh social structure they had to adhere to, complete with bullies,  queen bees, and their select array of victims. This myth is the reason behind many administrative efforts to integrate students in middle schools and high schools across the country as an attempt to attack the issue of social circles or “cliques” from multiple angles. When doing this, they often think that tackling the main problem involves eliminating the social hierarchies that exist in the halls of almost every high school. While this seems to be in the students’ best interests, it may be doing more harm than help. What teachers and administrators often fail to recognize is that when students are socially structured, they are able to create identities for themselves and thrive in the niches that the school environment creates for them. While most people assume this means that a sense of privilege will linger among several of these social standings, it should be noted that allowing students to stay comfortably within their social groups might be a better alternative than forcing them to intermingle. Although people have misconceptions about the nature of so-called “cliques,” and are therefore enforcing programs to dismember them, allowing these social circles to thrive, while taking care to encourage healthy cooperation between them, can help students develop psychologically in group settings and avoid the negative effects of not having a social group to call their own.

Much of the skepticism surrounding the existence of social circles in schools comes from  stereotypical assumptions about them. These are often fueled and exaggerated by the media,  through means such as books, television series, and teen-drama movies. The entirety of the  infamous 2004 comedy Mean Girls revolves around a typical new girl trying to outmaneuver the  social ladder that exists at her new school, including the “A-list girl clique” described in the  summary provided on the internet movie database, IMDb. In this movie, many types of cliques  and social circles are represented, as well as a clearly defined ladder that is topped by the so called “mean girls.” The movie highlights the entitled, harmful personalities of those who top these social hierarchies and proposes that cliques tend to remain vicious towards each other and cannot coexist peacefully (IMDb). Media such as this promote a general sense of wariness in the minds of their audiences, which include families, educators, and administrators, through their use of pure exaggeration. One may argue that some schools do in fact have a strong presence of social hierarchies and social ladders, but it must also be noted that this is not very different from how society is structured in a world outside of the school building. Status is not a foreign concept for our communities, and treating it as such in school doesn’t prepare students for what they will face long after graduating from their microcosms of the real world. However, it is possible to attract attention towards eliminating the toxic potentials of social hierarchies while still encouraging the social groups. 

Social circles have existed in schools for generations, and although the way they’re structured has varied through generations, their general formulas remain fairly consistent. Cliques are nothing new, as shown by Jerry Adler, a former senior editor of Newsweek who has written for magazines such as The New Yorker, The Smithsonian, and Scientific American. In a 1999 Newsweek article, he explains that these groups include “athletes and preppies and wanna-be gangsters; pot-smoking skaters and sullen punks; gays and nerds and, yes, morbid, chalk-faced Goths,” and remain “surprisingly similar from coast to coast” (Adler). This consistency further supports the idea that these social structures are not only normal, but even instinctive, especially for adolescents. Shayla Ahamed, a blogger from Penn State University, writes that most people are simply “inclined to become friends with people that are similar to them and share their interests,” claiming that while negative side effects seem to be the focus in the media, forming groups are for the students’ own benefit (Ahamed). Additionally, Daniel A. McFarland, a sociology professor at Stanford University, uses his 2014 study for the American Sociological Review to discuss details of social structures, calling them “supportive and protective” and claiming that this is what leads students to tend to create them more often than not (McFarland). Perhaps the universality in these adolescents’ instincts to self-segregate is an important reason why we should nurture, rather than destroy, this phenomenon that we term “cliques.”  

Although Adler describes that in some places, these hierarchies demand a certain  evaluation of “status” be added to the existing situations, this is not always the case (Adler).  McFarland discusses how “adolescent societies” form when students begin to create groups “with individuals who share similar attributes, behaviors, or attitudes,” continuously  emphasizing the term “homophily” to describe how students constantly look for a sense of  “familiarity” (McFarland). As students begin the extremely trying time in their lives  corresponding to their high school years, their need for connecting to others like them increases immensely, highlighting the importance of having a strong social system to guide them  (McFarland). Although one may believe that social divisions can lead to insensitivity or other  undesirable side effects like bullying, the truth is that proper lessons in respect can, together with  these groups, be advantageous to the student body.  

These avoidable consequences of cliques encourage educators and administrators to overcompensate and actually cause more harm. This anti-clique mentality is inspiration for programs such as “Mix It Up at Lunch,” a social campaign started by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Learning for Justice project. The “Mix It Up” program aims to encourage students to spend time at lunch with people who are not in their primary friend groups by eating with people outside of those social circles. Learning for Justice has also created multiple other activities to promote integration, including “Mix it Up Dialogue Groups” (“Mix it Up”). Another such example of programs created in an attempt to dismantle these social structures is Abigail N. Kirk’s teacher inquiry for Penn State University called “Kick the Cliques,” in which she promotes classroom activities to encourage girls to cooperate with each other while avoiding the creation of self-made groups (Kirk). These and other similar programs aim to teach students to adapt to other personalities and promote large group settings by straying away from creating smaller groups or self-segregating. While their intentions are pure, programs like these are usually a mix of ineffective and awkward for the students being forced into them, typically without having the choice to opt out. While one may argue that current discomfort will pay off later on, the chances of making most long-lasting friendships from continuously forced collaborations are slim. Furthermore, continuous efforts by the administration to intervene in students’ social decisions can be more harmful than beneficial. 

Rather than trying to eliminate these cliques, schools should embrace the idea of  encouraging kids to thrive within their own social circles. Physician Susan Biali Haas, M.D. argues in her 2013 Psychology Today article, “Stop Trying to Fit In, Aim to Belong Instead,” that people should stop “trying to be something [they’re] not in order to gain acceptance,” which is what integration promotes (Haas). This viewpoint emphasizes the idea that people should embrace their own characteristics and look for those with similarities in order to find their social circles rather than drastically changing their personalities to match those of a preexisting group. The alternative to having to change oneself for the benefit of fitting in would be to allow students to create groups that are naturally suited for their personality types and interests — in other words, allowing them to focus on belonging (Haas). The concept of belonging encourages self-acceptance and self-esteem, thereby providing students with more helpful guidelines for life and helping redirect the goals of administrators. For example, rather than focusing on rearranging students’ social groups, administrative intervention can include teaching students to avoid mean or hateful actions towards those who don’t necessarily fit into their own cliques. Furthermore, author Mark Rowh writes in an article for Current Health 2 that many students claim cliques can be “useful anchors in their social lives,” showing the true benefits they can have on the socioemotional health of students (Rowh). 

Being in small group settings can be psychologically beneficial, and studies of “social  psychology, for example, examine how emotion, cognition, and action are shaped by the social  environment” (McFarland). In an interview with psychologist Dr. Stacey Scott from Stony Brook  University, whose research specializes in emotions and stress in development throughout the lifespan, she described the importance of having “social support” throughout one’s life and  claims that adolescents require that strong support just like adults do (Scott). She explains further by saying that the social segregation that occurs during high school or one’s adolescence is representative of how “adults function in society,” even claiming that “adults aren’t necessarily  friends with everyone, so adolescents shouldn’t be expected to be either” (Scott). She also  suggested that other research has been conducted in the past to explain the normalcy of students  to “view their peers as being nominated under certain groups” and that this is not something we necessarily need to eliminate (Scott). It also encourages students to join small yet fundamental clubs and sports. These clubs and sports follow the same general guidelines that most cliques do — the only difference between most of these clubs and allowing students to create their own social circles is the absence of administrative involvement.  Furthermore, cliques and social groups help students develop and thrive within a self-made “niche in some section of [their] society,” as examined by psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett from the University of Maryland College Park in a 2000 article for the American Psychologist (Arnett). 

The fate is much worse for students who don’t belong to a clique at all. While students  may think that most of the so-called “shunning” comes from social classes of higher status  towards those of lower status, the ones who don’t belong to a specific group often get the worst  of the blow. Chris MacLeod, a registered social worker who founded the website Succeed Socially, claims that failing to socially integrate can lead to “slip[ping] through the cracks” of the community (MacLeod). This feeling of not being “right” for a certain group can lead to feelings of loneliness and exclusion. Although it’s true that those who don’t necessarily conform to a certain group may choose to be that way, either because they  “don’t have enough” of whatever that particular group demands of them or simply because they believe those groups are either “on a pedestal” or “below them,” MacLeod suggests that eliminating these mindsets and embracing the idea of joining a group would prove to be beneficial to one’s social state (MacLeod). MacLeod supports the idea that joining such groups even when apprehensive could help improve one’s social skills such as “making conversation, feeling more comfortable around others, [and] being able to open up to people” (MacLeod). Daniel A. McFarland further discusses the importance of this “peer network” in his research by stating that “cliquing increases” during adolescence because of the “attachment shift from parents and family to peers” (McFarland). Allowing these close-knit relationships to form between students would be a better alternative for educators instead of trying to break these social structures down. This, in turn, will eliminate many of the problems associated with adolescent loneliness, as described by researcher Ahmet Gurses in his 2011 article for Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences as he attempts to connect the problems of loneliness in high school to “academic  unsuccessfulness” (Gurses). Students without groups at all can find themselves falling into a spiral of adolescent loneliness and social awkwardness, as described by MacLeod. The simple alternative is to embrace the benefits cliques can have on the student population (MacLeod).  

Although the use of the words “clique” and “social circle” have negative connotations, it  should be noted that the majority of these assumptions about the implications of creating social  structures come from personal experience. Most phenomena in society have the potential for negative side effects, but it is wiser to eliminate the side effects rather than their causes. Allowing social structures to flourish in a high school setting can actually be beneficial to the students both socially and psychologically. Rather than implementing programs to negate and eliminate the instinct of high schoolers to self-segregate, schools and educators should work to promote healthy segregation. This would encourage students to embrace their differences and connect with others by developing their similarities. Therefore, programs originally intended to eliminate the prospect of social groups should be redirected in order to fuel the creation of healthy divisions among students while promoting sympathy and amiability between these divided groups. The main focus of administrators and  educators should be shifted from reworking preexisting divisions that students make instinctively to teaching students how these divisions can help them flourish as they enter adulthood and the outside society.


Works Cited

Adler, Jerry. “The Truth about High School.” Newsweek, 10 May 1999, www.newsweek.com/truth-about-high-school-166686. 

Ahamed, Shayla. “The Science of Cliques.” SiOWfa15: Science in Our World: Certainty and  Controversy, Penn State University , 8 Sept. 2015, sites.psu.edu/siowfa15/2015/09/08/the-science-of-cliques/. 

Arnett, Jeffrey Jensen. “Emerging Adulthood: a Theory of Development from the Late Teens  through the Twenties.” American Psychologist, vol. 55, no. 5, 2000, pp. 469–480. 

Gurses, Ahmet. “Psychology of Loneliness of High School Students.” Procedia Social and  Behavioral Sciences, vol. 15, 2011, pp. 2578–2581. 

Haas, Susan Biali. “Stop Trying to Fit In, Aim to Belong Instead.” Psychology Today, 17 Oct. 2013, http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/prescriptions-life/201310/stop-trying-fit in-aim-belong-instead.

Kirk, Abigail N. “Kick the Cliques: Activities to Promote Positive Relationships among Girls in the Classroom.” Penn State U, 26 Apr. 2006. Penn State University, www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/51491966/kick-the-cliques-activities-to-promote-positive-relationships-among-. Manuscript. 

MacLeod, Chris. “When You Feel like You Don’t Fully Fit into Any Social Group.” Succeed  Socially, http://www.succeedsocially.com/dontfitintoanygroup. Accessed 20 November 2019.

McFarland, Daniel A. “Network Ecology and Adolescent Social Structure.” American  Sociological Review, vol. 79, no. 6, 2014, pp. 1088–1121. 

“Mean Girls.” IMDb, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0377092/. Accessed 20 November 2019. 

“Mix it Up.” Learning for Justice, http://www.learningforjustice.org/mix-it-up. Accessed 5 May 2021. 

Rowh, Mark. “The In-Crowd: the Not so Shocking Truth about Cliques.” Current Health 2, a Weekly Reader Publication, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 11+.

Scott, Stacey B. Personal interview. Oct. 2019. 

The Insidious Rise of Automation

By Ali Ahmad, April 23, 2021

Next time you go to your favorite coffee shop or go the checkout aisle at Walmart, you won’t be met with the warm welcome of a person behind the counter. Instead, a computer will simply prompt you for payment. Automation is replacing jobs that were once held by people with cold efficient machines. This raises ethical issues of unemployment, wealth inequality, and how we interact with machines. Automation holds the potential to drastically upend the precious balance of labor that we have today.

Automation is the result of advancement made in artificial intelligence, robotics, and advanced computing systems. Customer service is especially vulnerable to automation takeover. Instead of a cashier behind a counter, customer check out is now equipped with automated touchscreen kiosks.  Businesses looking to improve customer satisfaction and reduce wait time in lines are resorting to these kiosks. Leading technology and business executives concluded during a Gartner Customer Service Summit that “nearly 85% of all customer transactions will be done with humans” by 2030 (Schneider, 2017).  Furthermore, people are turning to robots for brand information and outreach. Facebook, along with airline and tourism businesses, are employing thousands of chatbots to connect consumers with ads—in fact, messaging apps overtook social media since “individuals are increasingly using messaging apps to interact with brands” (Schneider, 2017).

Automation is also becoming increasingly involved in the kitchen.  In 2015, four MIT graduates founded Spyce, a fully robotic kitchen that “cooks food constantly by tumbling your food, thus providing a nice sear” (Andrews, 2019). These robotic culinary contraptions cook food in less time and reduce wait time. Businesses are eagerly turning to automation technology as operating costs and competition increase, but right now automation remains more of a “ helping hand” (Andrews, 2019).

Having automated machines in the workplace has generated heated ethical dilemmas in the workplace. With an increase in automation, there is a good chance that some jobs will be considered obsolete in a few years. Humans will no longer be “central and critical” to the workplace environment and productivity (Mayor, 2019). Advances in automation also highlight the growing wealth inequality in America and impact corporate greed has had on technological development. From 1987 to 2016, displacement due to automation was 16 percent but reinstatement was only 10 percent in factory positions (Dizikes, 2020). In other words, more people from lower paying jobs are being displaced than are being hired. Furthermore, by pushing low income groups out of the labor force and replacing them with automated machines, the need for skilled labor increases. This demand for scarce labor may push highly skilled income further above low skilled income, widening the already massive income gap (Dizikes, 2020).

Introducing automated machines into the workplace could also lead to heightened workplace anxiety. By having machines that do some of the tasks originally done by humans, workers might begin to fear losing their job. Since automated machines are quickly becoming more and more advanced, it is not unmanageable to foresee a future where machines perform work in an office environment, thus “causing panic and reducing morreale” (Gaskell, 2018). If automation is to have a much larger place within our society these pressing ethical dilemmas need to be addressed immediately.

Automation is here to stay, and we need to adapt to the ever-changing technological challenges that automation brings. As algorithms replace human workers, there is a chance of increased unemployment. In an automated society, many people will face the dilemma of “broken career ladders,” in which entry-level workers no longer have any opportunity to enter the workforce (Wong, 2015). Entry-level jobs in finance, banking, construction, and even waiting tables could become automated in the future. These jobs will greatly reduce career options for many young workers. The future of automation appears quite alarming.  Once a reservoir of creativity and hope, modern technological advancement is quickly becoming a nightmare with extensive ramifications for blue collar workers.


References

Andrews, R. (2019, August 28). How automation is changing the way restaurants do business. Eat. https://restaurant.eatapp.co/blog/automation-in-restaurant-industry

Dizikes, P. (2020, May 5). Study finds stronger links between automation and inequality. MIT News. https://news.mit.edu/2020/study-inks-automation-inequality-0506

Gaskell, A. (2018, April 18). Automation, ethics and accountability of AI systems. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2018/04/18/automation-ethics-and-accountability-of-ai-systems

Mayor, T. (2019, July 8). Ethics and automation: What to do when workers are displaced. MIT Sloan School of Management. https://mitsloan.mit.edu/ideas-made-to-matter/ethics-and-automation-what-to-do-when-workers-are-displaced

McNeal, M. (2015, August 7). Rise of the machines: The future has lots of robots, few jobs for humans. Wired. https://www.wired.com/brandlab/2015/04/rise-machines-future-lots-robots-jobs-humans/

Schneider, C. (2019, October 28). 10 reasons why AI-powered, automated customer service is the future. Watson Blog. https://www.ibm.com/blogs/watson/2017/10/10-reasons-ai-powered-automated-customer-service-future/

Wong, J.C. (2015, January 18). How will automation affect society? World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/01/how-will-automation-affect-society/

The Power of Presentation and Representation throughout History

by Nora Rivera-Larkin, April 20, 2021

History is often subjective, with the primary voice being given to the winners. Accounts of historical events are often biased, and while there is much they can tell us about the people who delivered them, such as the driving force behind their actions and what rhetorical strategies and methods were crucial to their success and failure, objective accounts of history should also be brought to the foreground of discussion and show other perspectives on history, giving voice to people of marginalized communities. Some writers utilize the power of media and genre to enhance their message and to give it the larger platform it needs, like Fredrick Douglass’ speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” and the Munsee petition to former President Zachary Taylor. More recent works, such as the 1619 Project, look back on historical events, giving voice to those who were previously silenced. Written and oral transcriptions of historical events serve the purpose of convincing the reader of an argument, and giving an objective look at the past of this country.

Fredrick Douglass’ speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” demonstrates the power of public forum and the emotional weight of spoken word. Douglass connects the experiences of the revolutionaries that led to the Fourth of July holiday the people celebrate now, to the struggles of the enslaved and oppressed black people. He says, “Feeling themselves harshly and unjustly treated by the home government, your fathers, like men of honesty, and men of spirit, earnestly sought redress,” (Douglass). Douglass intertwines pathos and logos within his speech, playing on the pride of the nation, the citizens who still believe so much in the revolution and their young country, and slowly unveils the similarities between their experiences and those of the oppressed. The very presence of his speech, his articulation, and his ability to stand in front of a crowd, humble but firm, only adds to the message he is trying to convey and only further supports the idea of equality by representing his intelligence.

In addition to the oppression of black people in America, the manipulation of information throughout history is also crucial to the Native Americans exploitation by the American government. This was demonstrated with the Munsee petition, which reminded the president, Zachary Taylor, and the government of the United States of America of the history between the founders of America and the Native American tribes. They wrote, “The Commissioner’s name was Capt. Bullen, who acted on the part of the government of the United States, in making the said important Covenant of peace. He told our people to commit to Memory in their feeble way of entering into Record, such important national matters,” (Williams). The writers of the petition call out the commissioner and the government of the United States, illustrating how they played on a Munsee tradition of Wampum Records which eventually held no value or pertinence to the government. It was a ploy used to manufacture a friendship that would then be abused by the United States government. This is an example of how information can be manipulated and twisted by one side to get their way. The government, encouraging a Wampum Record while knowing it would have no meaning to them in the future served as empty promises in the wake of potential growth and benefit that the government officials wanted at the time.

Though many accounts of history only provide the pieces of information that the winners wanted to emphasize, more recent works provide a more accurate and objective view of the history of this country. The 1619 Project allowed voices often suppressed to be heard, and for history to finally be shown through the lens of those it had oppressed. It identified the hypocrisy in this nation’s birth, saying, “The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie. Our Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776, proclaims that ‘all men are created equal’ and ‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.’ But the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst,” (Hannah-Jones). A nation built on the backs of those it enslaved and denied rights to for hundreds of years often ignores the voices of those who try to speak up about the truth of America’s founding. Projects and collections such as these challenge the pure idea of the American memory and call it into question. They are the ones who are providing a truly objective view of American history by allowing all sides of history to be properly voiced and considered.

Writing and transcription are very powerful forces in shaping history and shaping perspective. Both written accounts and oral accounts can serve as a complication to the objective view of events, but they can also hold power in analyzing history and in providing cohesive messages of change to societies. The purpose of all of these works is to convince the reader of the side presented, to justify their actions and their side of history, whether it be for colonization or change in society, but cultivating multiple perspectives of historical events is the only way to maintain true objectivity.


Works Cited

Douglass, Frederick. “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”.” Teaching American History, teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/what-to-the-slave-is-the-fourth-of-july

“Gideon Williams Letter to Zachary Taylor – Transcription.” Scalar: Login, dsp.domains.trincoll.edu/HL/hidden-literacies/gideon-williams-letter-to-zachary-taylor—transcription-uncorrected?path=andrew-newman.

“The 1619 Project.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Aug. 2019, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html?mtrref=blackboard.stonybrook.edu.

Defying Labels: The Afro-Latinidad Complex

by Haasitha Korlipara, April 19, 2021

Think back to Shakira and J-Lo’s memorable, high-energy performance during the 2020 Super Bowl halftime show. The singers embraced various elements of Latin American culture, an example being the incorporation of two Afro-Colombian dance forms, Champeta and Mapalé, into Shakira’s choreography. What appeared to be a showcase of Latino pride, however, I likely would have never stopped to consider a form of appropriation had I not been sitting in Professor Cristina Khan’s seminar course on Afro-Latinidad in the Americas last February. It is important to note that this tribute to Afro-Colombian culture featured the lighter-skinned Shakira front and center, accompanied by Afro-Latina backup dancers. The performance offers a symbolic representation of the marginalization of Afro-Latinos, both within Latin America and upon migration to the United States. It is a result of this marginalization that Afro-Latinos must learn to navigate the complexities associated with their ambiguous identity.

Racism in a “Post-Racial” Region

Anti-Blackness is prevalent throughout Latin America. Yet ironically, nations in the region often deny the existence of racism. One popular argument used to support this denial focuses on mestizaje. As described by scholar Ariel Dulitsky in her essay featured in the 2005 book Neither Enemies nor Friends: Latinos, Blacks, Afro-Latinos, “mestizo” translates to the idea that “we all have some indigenous or black blood in us” (Dulitsky). The concept, however, can be used to downplay racism through the perspective that “if we are all mestizos, then there are no racial distinctions and mere discussion of the racial issue is therefore viewed by many as a foreign or non-regional issue” (Dulitsky). The problem with embracing mestizaje is that it is rooted in a history of racist ideals. After all, it was “by encouraging miscegenation or marriage between non-whites and whites to make the population whiter” that ultimately gave rise to mixed race (Dulitsky).

Another form of denial is based on the idea that lack of official racist legislation translates to absence of racism in the region. Some claim that “since the segregationist laws and practices of the country to the north [United States] have not been applied in Latin America, there is no need to look at other forms of racial exclusion and alienation” (Dulitsky). While there may not have been bodies of laws sanctioning discrimination towards Blacks, the fact is that racism continues to penetrate various aspects of society in Latin America. Alexander Gonzalez and Jessica Bakeman, in a 2018 article for WLRN News, discuss an example of racism in the Cuban entertainment industry (Gonzalez). In Little Havana, the showing of the famous Spanish-language play “Tres Viudas en un Crucero” features a Blackface character who, during a particular scene, “would jump on stage, pounding her chest and opening her legs wide open, and say that ‘we’re going to drink, dance, and have fun like three gorillas’ ”(Gonzalez). The inclusion of this type of Blackface character is considered normal in many Cuban theater productions for comedic effect, although the clearly derogatory portrayal reinforces the stereotype of Black people as savage and animalistic. Racism can even be perpetuated within the family. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, in his personal narrative featured in the 2010 book The Afro-Latin Reader: History and Culture in the United States, relates his experiences as a Black Puerto Rican. He recounts his childhood years, describing how “[He] heard all sorts of racist statements about Blacks from some of [his] aunts and even [his] own mother” (Bonilla-Silva). While the racial categories in Latin America may not be as distinct—or as Black and White—as in the United States, there is evidently a preference for lighter-skin over darker skin due to the prominence of colorism. The myth of a “racial democracy” in Latin America fails to account for the relegation of Blacks to a collective identity that falls outside the norm, more specifically defined as the category of the Other.

Migration to the United States: The Afro-Latinx Experience

Individuals of African descent, upon migration from Latin America to the United States, experience a more blatant variant of racial discrimination as Afro-Latinos. Within the Black-White binary racial system, Afro-Latinos receive the official designation of “Black” and therefore become victims to the oppression that accompanies the label. They must learn that they will likely get pulled aside by the police or denied a job offer solely based on the color of their skin. Of course, it is important to simultaneously recognize the ethnic discrimination that all Latinos, regardless of skin color, will face upon migration to the United States. These Spanish-speaking “foreigners” are often victims of injustice within the workplace and housing market, giving rise to Latinx movements. However, as Cristina Beltrán puts it in her 2010 book The Trouble with Unity: Latino Politics and the Creation of Identity, the problem with the concept of Latinidad lies in the presumption that “Latinos as a group share a common collective consciousness” (Beltran, 5). This unifying term proves limiting in that it serves to mask the regional, ethnic, and most importantly, racial differences amongst them. Latinos don a variety of skin colors. Yet it is singer Jennifer Lopez who is deemed to represent the Latinx community while rapper Kid Cudi is assumed to be African American, his Latino background left unrecognized. Journalist Miguel Salazar, in a 2019 article for The Nation, highlights the Afro-Latino struggle with “what they see as an exclusionary identity fabricated by—and for the benefit of—white and mestizo elites…” (Salazar). As members of the Latinx community, Afro-Latinos must yield to the lighter-skinned Latinos holding power and further attempt to work alongside these individuals, who face an entirely different form of racial discrimination, towards a cause that does not necessarily correlate with their own. The root of the problem with the term Latinidad lies in its assumption of a shared experience for Latinos of all skin types, while in reality, there is a stark contrast between the way lighter-skinned Latinos and darker-skinned Latinos experience discrimination. In this sense, Afro-Latinos effectively become an Other within the Other. 

So how do Afro-Latinos approach their status as the Other? Oftentimes, Blacks in Latin America fail to recognize themselves as targets of Othering based on race. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva characterizes his own father as a victim of such ignorance. Upon recalling racial incidents, an example being when “a clerk in a shoe store treated him like dirt because he was Black,” Eduardo’s father would argue that these episodes were based on classism or individual prejudice rather than racism (Bonilla-Silva). This is largely owing to the persistent denial of racism throughout Latin America, as detailed earlier. Yet it is upon migration to the United States that Blacks from the Americas begin to develop a deeper racial awareness. The day-to-day discrimination they face based solely on skin color drives them to consider past experiences in their native land through a racial lens. It is within the biracial context of the United States that Afro-Latinos fully accept their Blackness. As a result, Afro-Latinos are unable to assimilate into the lighter-skin dominated Latinx community. Yet at the same time, they are rarely offered a space within the African-American community, which views them as “lesser Blacks” (Bonilla-Silva). And so Afro-Latinos take on a triple consciousness, navigating through life as a Black, a Latino, and an American, never fully belonging to one community. 

Conclusion

Afro-Latinos face the issue of marginalization, and that too, within two separate regional contexts. But new efforts are being made by Afro-descendants in Latin America as well as Afro-Latinos in the United States to combat racial discrimination. A 2018 World Bank report details how the Latin American region has gradually shifted from denying the existence of racism to acknowledging it, with countries such as Brazil and Colombia embracing affirmative action policies (Freire). This has further encouraged the rise of cohesive Afro-descendant movements, which focus largely on awareness-raising campaigns (Freire). Similarly, Blacks in the United States with Latin American origin have increasingly begun to reject the concept of Latinidad for their unique Afro-Latinx identity. Yet the discussion becomes more complex as we consider which individuals get to claim it. Are lighter-skinned Latinxs who identify as Afro-Latinx overstepping the boundaries of the term? Conversely, in setting these boundaries, do we risk imposing blackness as a monolithic ideal? Embracing Afro-Latinidad means navigating these important questions. But one thing is certain: Those who adopt the label must carefully tread the fine line between embracing their roots and commodifying a racial identity. 


References

Beltrán Cristina. “Introduction: Sleeping Giants and Demographic Floods: Latinos and the Politics of Emergence.” The Trouble with Unity: Latino Politics and the Creation of Identity, by Beltrán Cristina, Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 3–19.

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. “Reflections about Race by a Negrito Acomplejao.” The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States, edited by Román Miriam Jiménez and Juan Flores, Duke University Press, 2010.

Dulitsky, Ariel E. “A Region in Denial: Racial Discrimination and Racism in Latin America.” Neither Enemies Nor Friends: Latinos, Blacks, Afro-Latinos, edited by Suzanne Oboler and Anani Dzidzienyo, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Freire, German, et al. “Afro-Descendants in Latin America: Toward a Framework of Inclusion.” Economic and Sector Work Studies, 2018. Open Knowledge Repository, World Bank Group.

Gonzalez, Alexander, and Jessica Bakeman. “How Racism Persists in Latin American Communities.” WLRN News, WLRN, 1 June 2018.

Salazar, Miguel. “The Problem with Latinidad.” The Nation, The Nation, 16 Sept. 2019.