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Nov

16

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Despite Lester Holt’s deep, honey voice, it’s all about Nikole Hannah-Jones today.

On Thursday at the Columbia Journalism School, NBC’s Lester Holt spoke with The New York Times Magazine’s Nikole Hannah-Jones, a.k.a. Ida Bae Wells, who was recently honored with the 2018 John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism. Staff Writer Andrew Wang reflects on the event through Hannah-Jones’ groundbreaking investigative work on school segregation in New York City. “You probably have not read the story; it’s ten-thousand words, I understand,” she said.

In 1939, in the dark era of segregation, Kenneth and Mamie Phipps Clark began a sociological revolution. Giving black children in segregated schools black and white dolls— fully identical except in skin and hair color—the Clarks studied how the students perceived them. The qualitative data they produced would haunt American history forever: the white doll was good, the black doll ugly.

Years later, the Clark doll study became paramount to the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Chief Justice Warren, delivering the majority opinion, declared “separate but equal” unconstitutional on the grounds that it produced in African-American children “a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community.” Thus began the era of de-jure integration.

Nikole-Hannah Jones retells this story in her New York Times Magazine piece, Choosing a School for my Daughter in a Segregated City. But she also presents an unfamiliar argument: that the American education system remains deeply segregated.

“What we’re being told is not right,” Hannah-Jones said at the talk. “And I know it’s not right because I’m seeing this, and it doesn’t make sense.”

Indeed, some suggest that the battle against segregation is an anachronism. Didn’t we fix that when M.L.K. was on T.V. in black-and-white? Others argue that de-facto segregation was a southern phenomenon. Hannah-Jones disagrees. Her work centers on a place perhaps more familiar: New York City, whose public schools are among the most segregated in America. She is armed with facts. In New York, “85 percent of black students and 75 percent of Latino students attend schools that are less than 10 percent white,” she writes.

But Hannah-Jones is also a far cry from the cold statistician who has nothing but facts. “You can’t have objectivity in a nation that works to deny you your basic rights,” she told the audience. “When I write about school segregation, I’m not pretending I’m objective about the issue of school segregation. I think school segregation is harmful to children; therefore, it’s wrong.”

One can’t help but compare her words to those of the Warren court. And yet, while Chief Justice Warren rationalized integration on the basis of African-Americans’ self-internalized hate, Hannah-Jones has a different explanation: that the current logic of integration ultimately benefits white students and parents. Think of the school that has “some students of color, but not too many.” As she argues, “Integration that allows white parents to boast that their children’s public school looks like the United Nations comes at a steep cost for poor black and Latino children.”

In a city like New York, racially segregated schools do not meet this formula of curated diversity. So integrate, some suggest. But Hannah-Jones recognizes that integration strategies in currently segregated schools often create harmful outcomes. For example, school officials often present “rezoning plans” that effectively redraw lines so that white students enter segregated schools. There’s a general formula to this, and one of which Hannah-Jones is skeptical. First, parents and officials attain more resources for the school. Then, they vote to redraw school zones. Finally, middle-class white and Asian parents enroll their kids. Being wealthier, they raise more funds and get more say. They ask to separate their children from “them.” And then, after a brief moment of racial integration, black and Latino enrollment dwindles.

As Hannah-Jones poignantly argues at the end of the piece, “true integration, true equality, requires a surrendering of advantage.” Take it from her: she, despite being middle-class, sent her daughter Najya to a low-income, segregated school embroiled in New York’s modern integration debate. Today, Najya will keep learning at P.S. 307, and Hannah-Jones will keep fighting.

 

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Nov

11

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On Friday, bestselling author and Hahvahd professor Daniel Ziblatt came to Columbia to discuss his recent book How Democracies Die. Co-authored with Steven Levitsky, it asks whether American democracy is in danger (yes) and what we can do to save it. The New York Times calls it “an essential guide to what can happen in the United States.” Staff Writer Andrew Wang calls it a guide to what’s happening right now.

I know a Hahvahd political scientist when I see one.

The older and richer a democracy is, the less likely it is to crumble. At least, that’s what history tells us. But if that’s true, then America—who did it before it was cool—should be thriving. That argument is looking harder and harder to make.

“Democracies don’t die like they used to,” says Ziblatt. In the past, it was men with guns. Ziblatt estimates that during the Cold War, three quarters of democracies fell at the hands of military regimes. But the contemporary topology of death is much more subtle: it’s Presidents and Prime Ministers who undermine constitutions by way of referendum, elections, and parliamentary legislation. And that’s hard to notice. Take Venezuela for example. In 2011, Venezuela was already 11 years under Chávez, but the majority of the country believed they were living in a democracy.

What keeps democracies stable, Ziblatt says, is its ability to keep extremists away. Parties do this through a rigorous candidate selection process where authoritarians are kept far from office. In the U.S., this gatekeeping has been effective at times; in the 1930s it stopped Huey Long and Charles Coughlin, and later, Joseph McCarthy, the antisemite Henry Ford, and the segregationist George Wallace. These authoritarians of old were not personae non gratae; Gallup poll data from the 1930s revealed 35-40% approval ratings.

Keep reading to complete the major in Political Science

Oct

27

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Off-Broadway, but just as good.

Bwogger Andrew Wang is sick of Alexander Hamilton getting all the credit for immigrants who changed the course of American history. Here are the stories of two immigrant heroes, told through their statues in Riverside Park. 

Bad historians like me think of late modern American history in four dates: 1776, 1787, 1863, and 1865. The American Revolution began, the Constitution was written, the Emancipation Proclamation was proclamated [sic], and the Civil War ended (in a stalemate, as my Texas curriculum taught me). These moments are immortalized not only by their distinctiveness—precedence—but because of how modernity remembers them: power.

Often times these stories are preserved within the statues we erect of their actors. America has a statue fetish, and as my history teacher once remarked, “all statues are phallic,” to which my English teacher replied, “everything is phallic.” There are statues everywhere: of “Americans who did bad stuff”—like slavery—and “Americans who did good stuff,” like complain about a king thousands of miles away. And then, outside Hamilton Hall, there is that one of the guy who starred in that Broadway show.

The Upper West Side intellectuals of Columbia and Morningside Heights should consider adding another date to their cocktail party repertoire: 1848. Falling awkwardly between two big wars that transformed American civilization, 1848 appears to be a sort of middle child, one that fails to excel while still avoiding total disappointment. And yet, two statues in Riverside Park tell a different story.

More, in this episode of Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell

Oct

18

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Hong Fincher and Lu defy Big Brother.

 On Wednesday, the Weatherhead East Asian Institute invited author Leta Hong Fincher along with feminist activist and journalist Lü Pin to speak on China’s feminist movement. The story is of two worlds: a radical activism operating between the progressive #MeToo movement and an Orwellian Big Brother society. Andrew Wang, who has only ever known big brother as an older sibling, watched.

“Protect my rights, don’t keep me down; Why must I lose my freedom? Let’s break free from our heavy shackles, and reclaim our power as women!” sings Wei Ting Ting.

It is 2015, and Wei Ting Ting is detained underground, held by the Beijing police in a freezing room. She can barely see—the police had taken her glasses—and so she uses her voice, singing the anthem of China’s feminist movement. She and others had been handing out stickers on public transportation to raise awareness about sexual harassment in China. In response, the police conducted sweeping arrests across the country. They eventually focused their efforts on five women—later dubbed the Feminist Five—who were all brought to Beijing to be incarcerated. They were held for 37 days after immense international pressure.

Months later, above ground, China’s President, Xi Jin Ping—nicknamed Xi Da Da, or Xi Daddy—hosted a United Nations summit on gender equality.

Leta Hong Fincher told us this story as she read an excerpt from her book, Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China. From the get-go, we learned that China’s story of feminism is both like and unlike the western story. More from Leta Hong Fincher and Lu Pin

Oct

2

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Look at Aristotle’s blank stare. He has no idea what he’s up against.

On Monday, Dr. Urvashi Sahni, Founder and CEO of Study Hall Educational Foundation, came to Columbia to talk about her innovative educational work in India. Besides establishing schools that educate girls against all odds, Dr. Sahni recognizes that young boys must also be engaged in the work of gender justice. As you will see, she’s also super quotable; Staff Writer Andrew Wang relied on her abundance of quotations to complete this article and share her work with you.

In Aristotle’s Politics, you remember—if you did the reading—that he famously proclaims, “The relation of male to female is that of natural superior to natural inferior.”

If you thought Aristotle’s world was rough for women, wait until you hear about Uttar Pradesh. It’s a state in northern India with a population of 199 million and high rates of domestic and state violence. Its gender ratio is incredibly unbalanced at 908 females for every 1000 males due to female feticide. The literacy rate across gender is 42% and 69%, respectively.

But there’s something else going on in Uttar Pradesh. A revolution, so to speak, and its name is Prerna: Hindi for “inspiration.” The Prerna School, established by the Study Hall Educational Foundation, is an experiment in gender justice in the unlikeliest of places; here, 1004 girls and 150 boys engage in a curriculum centered around feminist thought. As Dr. Sahni notes, this isn’t about educating women to make a fiscal argument. It’s about a girl’s right to be educated and a boy’s responsibility to unpack patriarchy. Girls are taught using a “critical feminist pedagogy”; boys are taught that they have a part to play.

“Patriarchy is a social construct. It was made and it can be unmade,” says Sahni.

How to unmake the patriarchy after the jump.

Sep

28

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Robert Paul Wolff is an old and wise philosopher who taught at Columbia until 1971. He’s sort of back this year, commuting 500 miles from North Carolina every Tuesday to teach SOCI GU4600, Mystifications of Social Reality. Staff Writer Andrew Wang went to office hours to get smarter.

If Ethics is fiction, it therefore follows that all of CC is.

Do you remember 1968? Robert Paul Wolff remembers.

Back then, the Core Curriculum was younger than Lee C. Bollinger, Columbia cost $1900 to attend—$100 less than Harvard—and Buy/Sell was a farmer’s market.

More people did the reading back then, and Robert Paul Wolff was one of them. A professor of philosophy at Columbia, his life had been arguably more interesting prior to his hiring. Wolff began at Harvard at age 16, and by age 20, as a freshly-minted graduate in mathematics, he found himself in the fabled English manor of Bertrand Russell for tea. Russell had wanted information from the logic wunderkind from Harvard. Things went south, however, when Wolff replied, “Actually, I’ve been reading Kant’s Ethics lately,” to which Russell snapped back, “So you enjoy reading fiction, do you?” Office hours were do or die, and our dear Mr. Wolff did not do.

what about 1968?

Sep

18

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Tom Wright and Bradley Hope discussing a tale of salacious intrigue.

This Monday, Columbia Journalism School hosted WSJ reporters and Pulitzer finalists Tom Wright and Bradley Hope to discuss their new book, “Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World.” Released today, it’s the story of mega-financier and networking genius Jho Low and how they discovered his orchestration of the greatest heist in financial history. New Bwogger Andrew Wang got in on the drama, and what he learned will either blow your mind, make you filthy rich, or land you in jail.

The wildest party in Vegas. The Wolf of Wall Street. Miranda Kerr’s diamonds. Paris Hilton. The rise and fall of Malaysia’s ruling party. Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Manhattan apartment. Goldman Sachs. Leonardo DiCaprio’s WhatsApp. A Saudi Arabian prince. Billions of dollars stolen.

Jho Low and Busta Rhymes in 2013. Low is 27, and by this point has already stolen 4.5 billion dollars. It is unclear whether or not Busta Rhymes’ seatbelt is on.

What if I told you that the one thing they all had in common was this man driving Busta Rhymes around in a rickshaw? Buckle up, folks. You can’t make this shit up.

It’s 2009. Low has won the favor of the soon-to-be first lady of Malaysia, Rosmah Mansor, in an effort to bring Middle Eastern investments to the country. With Prime Minister Najib Razak elected soon after, Low’s relationship with Mansor gets him his own sovereign wealth fund containing $17 billion in assets. Targeting Saudi Arabia’s sovereign oil wealth, Low siphons a billion dollars out of the Malaysian slush fund 1MDB in a deal with a Saudi Arabian prince. He gets away with $700 million overnight.

Buckle up! More after the jump.

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