Thursday, 26 March 2009

Is the Recession Affecting Blacks the Most in USA?

Though the current financial crisis, recession or The Great Recession as some people also call it, is worldwide, it seems to be affecting the USA the most and in many unforeseen ways. Barack Obama’s election to the presidency has generated immense goodwill for USA and hope in the world. 

The debate about what race means in America today has even brought forth views that USA is becoming a ‘postracial’ society. However, the grim facet of reality in this recession reveals fault lines thought to have disappeared.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

While President Barack Obama, who sees himself as Black is being seen as a
role model by Biethnic people, Blacks are losing jobs faster in USA then ever since World War II. 

  • 8% of Black men in the US have lost their jobs since November 2007, according to a report by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. 
  • In March 2009, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics paints a bleaker picture for Black Americans. 
  • 12.6 per cent of all Black Americans have lost their jobs since January 2008. Contrast that with 9.7 per cent of Hispanics and only 6.9 percent of white Americans.

Is Racial Diversity Under Threat in the USA?

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One of the areas the effect of the recession is visible is racial diversity in the workplace. The Pew Research Centre reveals that Blacks and Hispanics were twice as likely to have reported being laid off or even fired in the past year. 

  • A staggering 21% of Blacks and 19% of Hispanics compared to 11% among whites reported losing their job.
After the last US recession, the employment rate for Black teens in June 2004 was 40.2 percent, the lowest since the federal government began collecting such data in 1948. Of course, the figures of black American male unemployment should be seen in the larger context of historical development. Success for Black Boys reports the great strides made by young Black males only by overcoming immense hurdles of discrimination, lack of opportunities and burdens. 

  • Only 3% of Black male students are in Gifted/Talented programs, as compared to 7.6% of White, non-Hispanic male students (Schott Foundation 2008).

  •  Only 32.8% of African American male students complete college. This is the lowest rate among all racial/ethnic groups in higher education (Journal of Higher Education 2008)

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article at the Christian Science Monitor point out that 120 black-American women are employed for every 100 black-American men. When we contrast that with college attendance rate for Black women, which is almost double that of black men, the message is simple – better education, more jobs.

UK to Ensure Ethnic Minorities are NOT Left Behind

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Before the current recession, in the UK, eight years of economic growth lowered the white male unemployment to 6%, while the Black male unemployment remained at 27%.

Employment levels amongst ethnic minorities fell by ten percentage points in the 1990s recession, more than other groups. 

The UK Government fears that ethnic minorities will be hardest hit as the economy deteriorates and plan to give them extra help during the recession. Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell announced a controversial drive to ensure ethnic minority workers are not 'left behind'. Conservative MPs, warn that this might entrench division. Shipley MP Philip Davies said: 
'This is simply outrageous. The Government should be targeting support at all who need it.

How is the recession affecting ethnic minorities in other countries?

Monday, 16 March 2009

Holi in India - Unique Festival of Colours across Social Divisions

Millions of Indians celebrate Holi all over India and wherever Indians are. Brightly coloured powders are the mainstay of Holi, during which men, women, and children carry powders and liquid colours to throw and smear on the clothes and faces of neighbours and relatives.

Photo source: Matthieu-Aubry

Special Character of Holi Among Festivals

Holi is a unique festival among all the cultures of mankind as it involves physical touching among all people across all kinds of social divides. 

Contrary to ancient Roman festivals like Saturnalia, which involved a reversal of social roles in which slaves and masters ostensibly switched places during the rituals, Holi does not have any sexual connotations.

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Indian culture, beliefs, and way of life typically express the myriad facets of a timeless motif in bright colours. All the colours of the rainbow are visible during Holi. The mesmerizing hues of reds, magentas, yellows, greens, violets, blues, ochre, gold, silver etc is yet another orgiastic paean of the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, hope over despair and most significantly the victory of togetherness over divisions. 

You can read more details about Holi at Flowergirl’s wonderful site.

Spring Festivals Similar to Holi

There is only one contemporary cultural festival somewhat similar to Holi, where all participants can physically touch each other. 
It is La Tomatina, a food fight festival held on the last Wednesday of August each year in the town of Buñol in the Valencia region of Spain. Thousands of participants from all over the world come to fight in a battle throwing over one hundred metric tons of over-ripe tomatoes at each other. 
La Tomatina is not an ancient ritual but was started in 1952 to honour the town’s patron saints St. Louis Bertrand (San Luis Bertràn) and Mare de Déu dels Desemparats (Mother of God of the Defenseless). One of the most popular theories of its origin is that dissatisfied citizens attacked city councillors with tomatoes during a town celebration. 

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Spring Festivals in Other Cultures Around the World

There are many spring festivals in diverse cultures all over the world. Though the Christian
Easter and Jewish Passover are technically celebrated in remembrance of historical events, in essence they are spring festivals as they coincide with the onset of spring.
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  • The Brazilian carnival has been around since the 1640s when Parisian style balls copying Mardi Gras started. Mardi Gras is believed to have roots in the pagan spring festival which Romans called Saturnalia. Over time, adapted to Christianity, this became a farewell to pleasures of the flesh to practice repentance and prepare for Jesus Christ's death and resurrection. 
  • Rio Carnaval has become world-famous through the Samba Parade, a show, extravagant display and fierce competition of the Rio samba schools. 
  • In England Mardi-Gras is known as Shrove Tuesday and it is celebrated by the traditional making of pancakes. In many towns and villages people take part in pancake races, where they race carrying a frying pan tossing their pre-cooked pancake in the air. 

Chinese New Year is the beginning of spring. According to legends, a mythical beast called the Nian or "Year" in Chinese, came on the first day of New Year to devour livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. Once the people learnt that the Nian was scared away by a little child wearing red. Since then people hang red lanterns and red spring scrolls on windows and doors and used firecrackers to frighten away the Nian.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Kanamara Matsuri or the Festival of the Steel Phallus is an annual Shinto fertililty festival in Kawasaki, Japan. 

Originally prostitutes prayed for protection against sexually transmitted diseases at this shrine by venerating a gigantic penis. Nowadays the festival raises money for HIV research. The origin of this festival is in a legend of a sharp-toothed demon that hid inside the vagina of a young girl and castrated two young men on their wedding nights with the young girl before a blacksmith fashioned an iron phallus to break the demon's teeth, leading to the enshrinement of the item.

Photo source: Wikimedia commons

Las Fallas, which means "the fires" in Valencian is one of the crazy festivals in Spain. Ninots (“puppets” or “dolls”), which are huge cardboard, wood, paper-machè and plaster statues are created and then destroyed. The extremely lifelike ninots usually depict bawdy, satirical scenes poking fun at corrupt politicians and Spanish celebrities.

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Losar is celebrated by Tibetans in spring for greetings, togetherness and abundant festivities, and prayers as well.

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Nowrūz is the Iranian new year and beginning of spring. People jump over bonfires while singing the traditional song Zardî-ye man az (ane) to, sorkhî-ye to az (ane) man meaning "My yellowness is yours, your redness is mine," with the symbolic message "My paleness (pain, sickness) for you (the fire), your strength (health) for me." 

According to tradition, the living are visited by the spirit of their ancestors on the last days of the year, and many children wrap themselves in shrouds, symbolically re-enacting the spirit visits. The children also run through the streets banging on pots and pans with spoons and knocking on doors to ask for treats. The ritual called qashogh-zany (spoon beating) symbolizes the beating out of the last unlucky Wednesday of the year.

Navroze, which means the New Day, is the most celebrated festival of the Parsis in India every year on March 21, the vernal equinox of the sun. Though only one sect of Parsis, the Faslis consider it the Parsi New Year, all Parsis join in the festivities to celebrate, greet each other and attend the thanks-giving ceremonies at Fire Temples.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Rangoli Bihu is the festival of the people of the Assam region in India to celebrate spring and fertility. 

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Setsubun (節分) or Risshun (立春) the Spring Festival (春祭 haru matsuri) in Japan. Japanese have a special ritual called mamemaki (豆撒き, meaning bean scattering) to cleanse away all the evil of the past year and keep disease-bringing evil spirits for the year ahead away.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Humour in The Ancient World

The urge to laugh is a primal urge, present from the dawn of human history. Even apes appreciate humour.

In the early 20th century, anthropologists Schulze and Chewings, got caught in a terrifying thunderstorm they thought would scare the Australian aboriginals, who had been genetically and culturally isolated from the rest of the world for at least 35,000 years. Rather than being afraid they burst out laughing at an unusually loud or peculiar clap of thunder.

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One of the Oldest Jokes in the World

Comes from Sumer in Modern Iraq. 

"Something, which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap."

Ancient Egyptian Humour

Physician jokes can be found already in ancient Egypt.
The ancient Egyptians were very new media savvy with catchy symbols and their jokes are often cartoons. Political satire, scatological humor, sex jokes, slapstick, and animal-based parodies; we should say – laugh like an Egyptian!

Erotic Turin Papyrus from the Ramesside period (1292-1075 B.C.E.)

The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor the sailor tells his story: Then he (i.e. the snake god of the island) laughed at me for the things I had said, which seemed foolish to him.

Ankhsheshonq in the 4th century BCE quotes a much older saying
“Before the god the strong and the weak are a joke.” (Lichtheim 2006)

Ancient Greek Humour

The "
Philogelos" or "Laughter-Lover" (manuscript dating to the 10th century but with older jokes probably from 250 CE) is an anthology of 265 jokes.

  • "Wishing to teach his donkey not to eat, a pedant did not offer him any food. When the donkey died of hunger, he said "I've had a great loss. Just when he had learned not to eat, he died." 
  • “An intellectual who had had an operation on his uvula (vital for speech) was ordered by his doctor not to talk for a while. Then he said to each caller, ‘Please don’t be offended that my slave greeted you instead of me; I’m under doctor’s orders not to talk’”. 
  • “An intellectual was on a sea voyage when a big storm blew up, causing his slaves to weep in terror. ‘Don’t cry,’ he consoled them, ‘I have freed you all in my will’” .

There is also great wisdom in ancient Greece about the therapeutic value of humour. Hippocrates (460-370 BC) advices physicians to bring laughter to the patient rather than dour faces. This is something many modern physicians seem to have forgotten.

Ancient Roman Humour

Romans were rather funny and definitely not serious and pompous statues as later history would have them. The ruins of places like Pompei are full of rather naughty graffiti and lewd jokes. Here're two sarcastic and macho ones from ancient Rome.

A misogynist is taking care of his departed wife's burial. Someone asks him "Who is it that rests in peace here?" The man answers: "Me, now that I'm rid of her!"
A man tell another man: "I had your wife, without paying a penny". The man replied: "It's my duty as a husband to couple with such a monstrosity. What made you do it?"
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Humour in The Hebrew Bible

Hershey Friedman, Professor at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York has written about how humour brings man closer to God in the Bible.

First, there is the idea that God has a sense of humour.

  • In Psalms (2:4), "He who sits in heaven will laugh, the Lord will mock them."
  • In Psalms (37:13): "My Lord laughs at him for He sees that his day is coming."
  • In Psalms (59:9): "But as for You, God, You laugh at them; You mock all nations."
Then there is sarcasm: (Exodus 14:11): "Was there a lack of graves in Egypt, that you took us away to die in the wilderness?"

There is much humorous imagery:

  • "As a gold ring in a swine’s snout, so is a beautiful woman from whom sense has departed" (Proverbs 11:22).
  • "It is better to live in a desert than with a contentious and angry woman" (Proverbs 21:19).

The First Christian Joke Books

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Monks continued the tradition of using humour and riddles as a teaching tool in the Ioca Monachorum, a text that dates to 700 A.D.
  • Who was not born but died? (Adam).
  • What man can kill another man without being punished? (A doctor).

Japanese Jokes

Heiyo Nagashima, Japan Society for Laughter and Humor Studies, writes how the Japanese kobanashi or joke books started having Chinese jokes in the 18th century and American jokes in the 19th century. He claims that the Japanese do not tell each other Japanese jokes but foreign jokes.

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Chinese Jokes

Ancient China was full of delightful humour with life insights, which have not dated over the centuries. We have delightful jokes from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

On his birthday, an official's subordinates chipped in to give him a life-sized solid gold rat, since he was born in the year of the rat (each year of a twelve year cycle has a different animal). The official thanked them and then asked, "Did you know that my wife's birthday is coming up? She was born in the year of the ox."
A heavily laden woodcutter stumbled into the local doctor on a narrow path. When the doctor drew back his fist to hit him, the woodcutter dropped to his knees and begged, “Please kick me instead.” 
A bystander asked, “Why would you rather him kick you?” 
The terrified woodcutter replied, “Treatment by his hands would be much deadlier than with his feet!”

Indian Humour

Ancient India abounds with wit and humour. Even the world’s greatest epic, The Mahabharata says of itself

“What is found herein may also be found in other sources, What is not found herein does not matter.”

Ancient India has an extensive tradition of moral tales.
A greengrocer and a potter jointly hired a camel and each filled one side of the pannier with his goods. The camel as he went along the road took a mouthful every now and then, as he had a chance, from the greengrocer's bag of vegetables. This provoked a laugh from the potter, who thought he had the best of the bargain. But the time came for the camel to sit, and he naturally sat on the heavier side, bearing down on the pots, and also to have his mouth free to eat from the bag of greens. The pots in the bag all broke, and then the greengrocer had the last laugh.

Historical figures like Birbal, the minister of Emperor Akbar and Tenali Rama, the jester in the court of Krishnadevaraya (1509 AD - 1530 AD), ruler of the medieval Vijaynagar empire in southern India are sources of great wit.

Once when Tenali Rama was sentenced to death for some trick or the other, he was given the right to choose the form of his execution. After giving due consideration to the matter, he says "Your Majesty! I would like to die of old age!" The emperor couldn’t bear being without his wit and promptly pardoned him.

  • Miriam Lichtheim (1914-2004). Ancient Egyptian Literature. Volume II: The New Kingdom. The Regents of the University of California, 1976, 2006. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Greek Humour from Source: Philip Harland