The “silent crisis”: Rep. Ilhan Omar sounds the alarm on food insecurity
30 million children are at risk of losing access to free school meals. Plus: New research on underrepresentation in videos watched by kids and the politics of President Biden’s Middle East trip.
Many of the problems we currently face are due to a confluence of three challenges: The pandemic, Russia’s war in Ukraine, climate change and the federal government’s inability to expand and sustain an inclusive social safety.
Few issues encapsulate this reality more than the “silent” domestic and global food crisis, an emergency Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota will lend her voice to this afternoon in a press conference outside the US Capitol.
Hunger and food insecurity hit close to home for Rep. Omar, a former refugee and nutrition educator, as dozens of hunger relief organizations in the Gopher State are warning of the “hungriest summer” on record if the state doesn’t convene a special session to combat hunger.
According to Rep. Omar’s office, 49 million people around the world now face famine. Across the nation, food prices are expected to increase eight percent this year — a strain on already-tight family budgets. And before the pandemic, 13 million children faced hunger in the US with three out of every four teachers saying they see students regularly come to school hungry. The majority of these educators, who make as little as $34,000 according to the Education Department, regularly buy food for students out of their own pockets.
In 2020, Congress passed a bill Rep. Omar introduced that directly authorized school meal waivers that protected 30 million students’ access to school meal benefits during the coronavirus pandemic but they’re scheduled to expire at the end of the month. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate are in discussions to extend the program.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Monday said that addressing food insecurity is a priority for President Joe Biden. (Rep. Omar is expected to thank him for the hundreds of millions of dollars in global food aid his administration has prioritized for this issue.) And the administration announced a seven-step action plan the US along with Argentina, Brazil, Canada and Mexico will take to build more resilient, safe, and sustainable global food systems for the future. This September, the White House will also convene a conference on food, nutrition and health to accelerate progress on the administration’s goal of ending hunger and increasing healthy eating and physical activity in the US by 2030.
In the immediate term, establishing food security likely will be harder, as high inflation increases the cost of foods like meats, fresh produce, and dairy and heightens trade-offs families make between food and other rising costs, according to the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization that provides data and evidence to help advance upward mobility and equity.
“I know what it was like to be hungry. Surviving a refugee camp, I remember not having running water, not having a reliable food source, and going to sleep with an empty stomach,” Rep. Omar said in March after the White House announced its hunger conference. “ I have made it a mission to end the hunger crisis.”
YouTube faces claims of underrepresentation in videos watched by kids
I spent the morning flipping through a new report from Common Sense Media and the University of Michigan that explores the lack of diversity in the YouTube videos kids and teens consume perpetuate racial, ethnic and gender stereotypes.
Among the report’s findings is the intersection between gender and race and their role in society. Case in point: 55 percent of videos watched by tweens and teens that had ethnic-racial stereotypes significantly also contained gender stereotypes. And on average, one in 10 videos included the use of inappropriate accents, the N-word or jokes with ethnic-racial themes — so if a teen or tween watched 10 videos every day for a year, they might see 300 videos depicting stereotypes of characters of color.
“Young children and teens are like sponges, soaking up every image and message they consume,” Déjà Rollins, a doctoral student studying race and media effects who co-authored the report, said. “And because they lack the media literacy skills we often develop in adulthood, the hours of stereotypical and racially disproportionate YouTube content they consume can play a critical role in their overall identity formation and understanding of the world they live in.”
The report is a follow-up to Common Sense Media's 2021 "Inclusion Imperative” and marks the first time researchers have examined hundreds of hours of YouTube content through the lens of kids' ethnic-racial development.
Common Sense and the University of Michigan analyzed over 1,200 videos watched by more than 100 young children aged 0 to 8 for a month in 2020 and another 140 teens and tweens aged nine to 18 for a month in 2021. (Parents or children provided a list of the last videos they had watched on the main YouTube site, which were coded for ethnic-racial representation.
62 percent of the videos watched by kids eight and under featured no characters of color and another 10 percent included only shallow or stereotyped portrayals. When these characters were prominently featured, the researchers discovered the videos were significantly more likely to include interpersonal violence (27 percent compared to 16 percent of videos with prominent white characters), bad language (32 percent versus 13 percent), and marginally higher drinking, drugs and smoking (seven percent vs. two percent).
It’s worth noting that I didn’t find any research that proves Black people, for example, curse more than white people. Additionally, despite higher instances of alcohol-related illnesses, alcohol consumption among Black people is lower than among white people. And despite Black people experiencing higher rates of intimate partner violence, factors like economic insecurity, combined with isolation, racism, and discrimination contribute to whether or not they’re able to access the support needed to escape the violence.
In theory, social apps offer limitless learning possibilities. But in practice, according to the research, teaching about race and ethnicity was extremely rare: Of the videos watched by children in the study, only two discussed race and ethnicity. And videos featuring prominent characters of color had lower overall educational quality compared to those with white characters.
It’s also troubling when you consider that the YouTube videos viewed by children poorly reflect the ethnic diversity of the country. (For children aged 0–8, the greatest discrepancies between the US Census and YouTube representation occurred among Black, Latino, and multiracial groups. For children 9–18, the greatest discrepancies between the US Census and YouTube representation occurred among Latino and multiracial groups.)
The data is critical because for young children time spent on video-sharing sites like YouTube now exceeds time spent watching TV, according to Common Sense. And YouTube is the site tweens and teens say they wouldn’t want to live without if forced to choose.
“While YouTube has taken some steps to include more diverse voices on its platform, it's clear that kids are still watching content that features negative racial and ethnic stereotypes,” Michael Robb, PhD, who co-authored the report, said. “YouTube certainly has the power to be the platform that gets it right on diverse representation, but right now it is still missing that opportunity, particularly with respect to content viewed by kids.”
According to YouTube, its Originals content slate prioritizes children’s holistic learning and development with a focus on diversity and representation.
It has worked with both emerging and established Black creators — actress and social media personality Tabitha Brown, Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o and the Onyx Family, a brood of six with over 3.5 million subscribers — to launch 22 new Kids and family shows in 2022.
300 creators over the past two years and counting have received support from YouTube’s Black Voices Fund, an initiative created with the intention of amplifying the global voices, perspectives and stories of Black people.
The company pointed me to the quality principles it announced last year for Made for Kids content, which includes the principle of “diversity, equity and inclusion.” YouTube also referred me to an article Common Sense published earlier this month that focuses on meaningful, positive content on YouTube Kids featuring diverse characters and creators.
“While we are glad to see YouTube taking positive steps to provide more diverse content on their YouTube Kids platform, our research highlights the challenges that currently exist on its central platform, which is much more popular with kids and teens,” Jason Maymon, a spokesperson for Common Sense, said in a statement to Supercreator. “Our curated lists profile some of the best of what’s available and we hope that YouTube does more to highlight and promote these videos and similar positive content.”
YouTube said there’s more it can do but the company is proud of the progress it’s made to celebrate a diverse set of voices and support programming that amplify diverse creators on YouTube Kids and highlights equality, racial justice, and activism for kids of different ages.
The report recommends YouTube consider screenings and/or implicit bias training and workshops to better establish the standards of content that will promote a more inclusive environment. It also suggests the company update its flagging systems and platform rules to treat offensive stereotypes and racist and biased content as official policy violations.
Expanding support for Black YouTubers and investing in creators of color who feature positive ethnic-racial portrayals are also among the proposed improvements.
And the adoption of human review to identify where questionable or biased portrayals are spreading fast is an idea the report surfaced and is endorsed by other equity advocates.
“Having more sets of eyes examining content before it gets posted on YouTube could really make a difference in the ways that inclusivity is reflected on media platforms,” Enrica Bridgewater, a doctoral student studying media and identity development and one of the report’s co-authors, said. “As one of the most influential media platforms, YouTube could help kids along their own personal journeys to figuring out what their various identities mean to them and that’s a big deal.”
EDITOR’S NOTE (June 15, 2022, 8:38 AM): This post was updated to include a statement from Common Sense Media.
The politics of Biden’s Middle East trip
The White House finally confirmed what reporters have been broadcasting for weeks: President Biden will travel to the Middle East next month.
From July 13 to 16, he’ll visit Israel, the West Bank, and Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most controversial stop due to the country’s role in the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist for The Washington Post who was assassinated in 2018 by agents of the Saudi government allegedly on orders from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The trip will focus on advancing US security, economic, and diplomatic interests and builds on the months of statesmanship President Biden has engaged in with foreign leaders at the White House, during his travel to South Korea and Japan and most recently the Summit of Americas last week in Los Angeles.
A senior administration official on Monday said the trip has been in the works for months now. But when he was asked about it on his way to Philadelphia to speak about the economy to a group of union workers, Biden bristled at the inquiry.
“All you just got sent to your email addresses everything I’m doing in the Middle East,” he said. “It lays it all out. I’m focused on labor. You cover the labor speech and I’ll tell you more about what I’m doing.”
Saudi Arabia is also a chief oil producer in the world so there’s been speculation the trip is a cover for Biden to broker a deal with MBS to produce more oil to lower energy prices at home and abroad. The White House rejects that characterization and says the trip is an opportunity to promote peace in the Middle East and reestablish American leadership in the region after a four-year isolationist streak from former President Donald Trump.
“You know, to view engagement with Saudi Arabia and energy security as asking for oil is simply wrong and a misunderstanding of both the complexity of that issue and our multifaceted discussions with the Saudis,” Jean-Pierre said on Monday. “That said, Saudi Arabia is the chair, as you know, of [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] Plus and its largest exporter. Of course, we discuss energy with the Saudi government, as we do with oil producers around the world. And we welcome its leadership in achieving a consensus amongst the group members last week.”
During a question-and-answer session on Air Force One en route to Philly, the press secretary was less forthcoming on whether President Biden will meet one-on-one with MBS (the Saudi announcement of the trip says the two will do so).
As for accountability for Khashoggi’s murder, Jean-Pierre said that human rights is always a part of the conversation in the administration’s foreign engagements regardless of with whom the president is meeting — and this trip will be no different.
“We’re not overlooking any conduct that happened before the President took office,” she added. “So it’s important to also emphasize that while we [recalibrate] relationships, we are not looking to rupture relationships as well.”
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Derek Thompson on the end of the millennial lifestyle subsidy:
For the past decade, people like me—youngish, urbanish, professionalish—got a sweetheart deal from Uber, the Uber-for-X clones, and that whole mosaic of urban amenities in travel, delivery, food, and retail that vaguely pretended to be tech companies. Almost each time you or I ordered a pizza or hailed a taxi, the company behind that app lost money. In effect, these start-ups, backed by venture capital, were paying us, the consumers, to buy their products.
It was as if Silicon Valley had made a secret pact to subsidize the lifestyles of urban Millennials. As I pointed out three years ago, if you woke up on a Casper mattress, worked out with a Peloton, Ubered to a WeWork, ordered on DoorDash for lunch, took a Lyft home, and ordered dinner through Postmates only to realize your partner had already started on a Blue Apron meal, your household had, in one day, interacted with eight unprofitable companies that collectively lost about $15 billion in one year.
These start-ups weren’t nonprofits, charities, or state-run socialist enterprises. Eventually, they had to do a capitalism and turn a profit. But for years, it made a strange kind of sense for them to not be profitable. With interest rates near zero, many investors were eager to put their money into long-shot bets. If they could get in on the ground floor of the next Amazon, it would be the one-in-a-million bet that covered every other loss. So they encouraged start-up founders to expand aggressively, even if that meant losing a ton of money on new consumers to grow their total user base.
Now the subsidy is ending. Rising interest rates turned off the spigot for money-losing start-ups, which, combined with energy inflation and rising wages for low-income workers, has forced Uber, Lyft, and all the rest to make their services more expensive. Meanwhile, global supply chains haven’t been able to keep up with domestic consumer demand, which means delivery times for major items like furniture and kitchen equipment have bloomed from “three to five days” to “sometime between this fall and the heat death of the universe.” That means higher prices, higher margins, fewer discounts, and longer wait times for a microgeneration of yuppies used to low prices and instant deliveries. The golden age of bougie on-demand urban-tech discounting has come to a close.
Erica L. Green on why students are choosing Historically Black Colleges and Universities:
They belong to a generation whose adolescence was shaped not only by the election of the first Black president but also by political and social strife that threatened the lives and liberties of Black Americans. For many families, the embrace of historically Black colleges has been influenced by concerns about racial hostility, students’ feelings of isolation in predominantly white schools and shifting views on what constitutes the pinnacle of higher education.
Christian Paz on if blaming corporate greed for inflation can save Democrats:
Starting with local demonstrations and continuing to organize throughout this year, an array of progressive groups are trying to shift the national conversation on inflation toward corporate giants — and some think that national Democrats should do more to cast “corporate greed” and price gouging by big businesses and Republican politicians as bigger culprits for still sky-high prices. They also argue that beyond turning the tide on Biden’s approval rating, focusing on a populist economic message can win back working-class voters in competitive House districts.
Kevin T. Dugan on why cryptocurrency deserves to crash:
These probably aren’t the last days of crypto, even if they are the last of this go-go era. As recently as early 2019, bitcoin was 85 percent off its highs, and ethereum was down more like 95 percent. The billions of dollars that Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia, and the rest of the Sand Hill Road set have sunk into crypto have a lot to do with the fact that the markets aren’t really regulated, giving them a window to make huge profits before the government steps in. But it’s also hard to imagine that game — in which crypto is the wild new frontier of the financial and tech industries and players of all sorts figure out how to profit there — is over and done with.
That said, something feels different now: The fear is pervasive, the uncertainty is obvious, and the doubt is smart. And while there are plenty of threats from outsiders — like regulators threatening to rein in fraud, and countries like China shutting down the markets — the problems driving the recent declines appear to be largely self-inflicted. A lot of big players (Celsius and Saylor being just two, in addition to the recently imploded Luna project) seem to have put themselves in a dangerous position and made commitments they may not be able to keep. In aggregate, it amounts to a recipe for a classic financial panic, the kind of thing that led to the crash of Lehman Brothers in 2008.
The case for crypto has always been partially about its economic might, something obvious to anyone who watched as bitcoin notched new highs — getting up to $69,000 — in 2021 and saw cities like Miami become big pots of money, minting millionaires and billionaires daily. But now? With everything crashing and the uncertainty (or danger) far from over, it looks more and more like a lot of that money was imaginary to begin with.
On the aggregate, it’s clear a feminism maxed out at Lean In politics could not move the needle toward a more gender-equal world, in the face of a pandemic that thrust caregivers and working families on the front lines to make it all work, as they mourned a million dead and had an expanded social safety net pulled out from under them after the first signs of inflation. During the pandemic, this has meant women struggling to show up for and keep their jobs, as schools have closed and stable child care has become a luxury for the elite. Who can possibly muster the energy to lean in under these conditions? That leaning in has become a lifeline for some women does not change that it is also a feminism of technocrats poised to advise us not on how to achieve greater economic security, but on how to achieve power, without the barest of human infrastructures to back us or to hold us accountable for our actions.
One imagines that if somehow none of any of this had happened in the 14 years since Sandberg took the helm at Facebook, we might really, truly like her — for the role she played in seeding public conversation about persistent gender inequality, for her simple rubric for changing culture and thus, some economic outcomes, for the loyal, if narrow, subset of women she helped, and for the way she evolved and grew bolder on the ideas she first put her name to as a corporate leader helping other corporate women.
In the end, it isn’t her success that history will judge most harshly but the particular nature of her accomplishments. And after all, as one of Sandberg’s peers put it in the Financial Times: “Facebook would not be Facebook, without Sheryl.”
Sheelah Kolhatkar on the fight to hold PornHub accountable:
The Internet made it possible for tube sites to make money off videos created by others while bearing almost no responsibility for what was in them. Today, MindGeek relies on the same legal statute that Mark Zuckerberg cites when defending Facebook from charges that it allows the proliferation of disinformation: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which states that an “interactive computer service” cannot be treated as a publisher of information provided by a third party. The provision was conceived in order to allow the Internet to grow without being buried in lawsuits. But it also means that, when tube sites are confronted with complaints about videos depicting rape, sexual images of children, revenge porn, and other content uploaded without consent, they can claim that they are not liable. Experts at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, a nonprofit organization that tracks child-sexual-abuse material, told me that this has allowed the online porn industry to grow with little accountability. “The liability is low, the money is high,” Staca Shehan, the vice-president of the organization’s analytical-services division, said. “That’s a business model that people are going to get into.”
Mi Cocina: Recipes and Rapture from My Kitchen in Mexico: A Cookbook by Rick Martinez ($33): I really enjoyed the Food52 companion YouTube series for this book, which feels like an excursion through the best parts of Mexico led by someone with such a deep appreciation for the country’s heritage and the culinary chops to showcase its tasty cuisine.
Ripit “The Squiggle” Grip in Teal ($25): With Father’s Day this weekend, this grip — which also comes as part of a set of eight — is the perfect last-minute gift for any of you who have golfing dads.
COS Relaxed-Fit Wide-Leg Shorts ($79): It may be the summer of “hoochie daddy shorts” (been there, done that, will probably do it again…), but I’m pining for a more loose-fitting silhouette to get me through what’s sure to be a blazing next few months.