Black and White Dolls – this is not the future you are looking for

I’ve got a full day, and this post wasn’t in the schedule, but then I got this twit from marshallk

In this video, a young film-maker decides to go and recreate a test once used to help justify desegregation. Young black children are asked which doll they prefer between two almost identical dolls; the white one, or the black one. They overwhelmingly go for the white one. The results are the same when asked which is the “good” doll and which is the “bad” doll. But the heart-wrenching part comes when, having just identified the black doll as the “bad” doll, a little girl is asked which doll looks more like her. She’s not happy with the choice she has to make.

I don’t want to leave you completely depressed though. So here’s another tale of dolls—white and black—that ends up somewhat better. Like the video above, it has a long history, and the better part takes a while to come. I wish I could find a complete version of the song on-line, but you ought to buy the album anyway, it’s all excellent. In the meantime, listen to an excerpt from “Number One in America” on “Coming up for Air” and read the full lyrics below.

Here are the lyrics, courtesy of AHistoricality.

Number One In America
© 1987 David Massengill
In Nineteen hundred and sixty-three
In my hometown, Bristol Tennessee
I was sitting on my mother’s knee
Watching “Amos ‘n’ Andy” on TVAmos was Santa Claus on Christmas Eve
A little girl was tugging at his sleeve
Saying, “Can I have a doll my own color please?”
He Said, “Honey, you can make believe…”Just then came a call on the telephone
It was the mayor, he asked if my daddy was home
This was for his ears alone
Mom and me listened on the second phone

Mayor said, “The freedom Riders are on their way
And they’ll be here by Christmas day
Our laws they vow to disobey
‘Cause our school is as white as the milky way

Well, now we’re really in a fix
We can’t let ’em show us up like country hicks
But once the races mix
It’s good-bye Jim Crow politics

First it’s forty acres and a mule
Then they want to swim in our swimming pool
Pretty soon they’ll be wanting to go to school
Where we were taught the golden rule”

Imagine them telling us how to live
Imagine them telling us how to live

Chorus:
We’re number one in America
Number one in America
Beat the drum for Uncle Sam
Overcome in Birmingham
Dynamite in a Baptist church
Four teenaged girls lost in the lurch
Fire hoses and the billy clubs
Police dogs and the racist thugs
Nightriders and the lynching mobs
Lawmen say they’re only doing their jobs
To stay number one in America.

Ax-handles vs. the right to vote
All white jury, that’s all she wrote
Back of the bus, don’t rock the boat
Separate but equal by the throat

That was twenty-odd years ago
Where’s the change in the status quo?
The freedom land is lying low
it’s shackled down on rotten row

The black skinned man still gets the snub
When he applies to the country club
But he still gets hired to trim the shrubs
Get down on the floor and scrub

There’s a businessman out on his yacht
He’s a rain or sunshine patriot
He says it’s all a commie plot
To be Number One in America…

[Chorus]
The Ku Klux Klan is still around
With a permit to march in my home town
But only on Virginia’s ground
The Tennesse side turned them down

The sheriff stood there with his deputies
Ostensibly to keep the peace
But he made us this guarantee
“By God, They’ll not march into Tennessee!”

The network cameras were triple tiered
We laughed and cried, we hooted and jeered
But mostly we stood there unfeared
‘Til the Ku Klux Klan dissappeared

In some far off distant dawn
When a Black is president and not a pawn
Will they burn crosses on the white house lawn
And talk of all the days bygone

Imagine them telling us how lo live
Imagine them telling us how to live

We’re number one in America…
[Chorus]

Last Christmas Eve at the K-Mart store
A white family there, they was dirt poor
Father said, “Kids, pick one toy – no more
Even though we can ill afford…”

I watched his son choose a basketball
The oldest girl a creole shawl
The littlest girl chose a black skinned doll
And she held it to her chest and all

I watched to see how they’d react
Since they were white and the doll was black
But the mom and dad were matter-of-fact
They checked to see if the doll was cracked

So may you make a rebel stand
Where black and white go hand in hand
Until they reach the freedom land
Where the lion lies down with the lamb

Chorus:
O Number one in America
Number one in America
Beat the drum for Uncle Sam
Overcome in Birmingham
Dynamite in a Baptist church
Four teenaged girls lost in the lurch
Firehoses and the billy clubs
Police dogs and the racist thugs
Turn back the clock to Little Rock
Bought and sold on the auction block
Nightriders and the lynching mobs
Lawmen say they’re only doing their job
To stay number one in America

We shall overcome someday

What is Twitter For? The Message is the Medium.

The other evening I added a few new people to the list of folks I was following on Twitter. It was one of those typical social networking things; checking your “friends” to see who they were tracking, and then adding the ones that looked interesting.

The result, oddly enough, was a late night conversation on the pros and cons of Welfare. It felt very much like those late night conversations I used to have in college; when everyone was full of ideas and eager to explore them. It was really quite enjoyable. And it certainly created a bump in my Twitter usage.

People who don’t use Twitter often ask just what it’s for. Why would you want to broadcast what you’re doing to the world. That’s partially the fault of the Twitter folks themselves, for that “What are you doing?” prompt. A better prompt might be “What do you want to do?” (although perhaps a bit too reminiscent of Babylon V :-). Adam Engst once called Twitter “iChat on shuffle,” and it certainly can feel that way when you’re carrying on several conversations at once. But Twitter isn’t so much a piece of software that does something, as a medium through which software can do things. When the Telegraph and Phone were introduced, people certainly wondered why you’d want one, but people found interesting things to do with them, many of which had never been anticipated by their inventors. That’s Twitter.

What’s interesting to me is the relative pluses and minuses of having this type of discussion in Twitter. Andy Ihnatko recently pointed out the rather obvious (sorry Andy) fact that trying to express complete thoughts to their conclusion in 140 characters is rather difficult. You can of course just post a second message to finish the thought, but the delays in Twitter make it less natural to do so than it might be in a chat program. The performance of Twitter reinforces that 140 character limit, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, because keeping points brief and concise may have the effect of equalizing the conversation. Nobody can dominate with a long exposition on a particular topic. Ratholes on side topics tend to be limited to pointers to URLs, not long conversations. You can use Twitter to espouse and justify an idea, but not to explain it in detail. But that’s fine. We have other media that are better suited to that. That’s not to say Twitter is perfect, separating incoming messages into categories (a New York Times news blast in the middle of a conversation is a bit distracting) and threading conversations (particularly when you aren’t following all the participants) would be big pluses. But those are things that Twitter clients can do, they aren’t necessarily drawbacks of Twitter itself.

Twitter’s limitations might make it seem superficial and trivial. But that’s like saying chatting around the water cooler is superficial. It can be, but it can also be a catalyst for new ideas that are followed up elsewhere. Andy’s Twitter posting was the catalyst for my writing this blog posting. The discussion on Welfare was the catalyst for making new connections on other networks. Social interaction takes place on many different levels, all of which are necessary. What we are seeing online is people taking new tools and adapting them, consciously or unconsciously, to fit the interactions they feel they need in a virtual world. The companies that are succeeding in the social networking sphere are those that either identify those needs, or more likely, have the flexibility to be molded by their users. Flickr, FaceBook, Twitter… none of those companies are necessarily doing what they started out to do, but they were able to adapt to the way people used them. In Social Networking, you achieve success when you stop being an application and become a transparent part of people’s interactions.

But enough of that. I need to go fix the Welfare System!

P.S. I’ve suddenly become very self-conscious about the fact that I seem to be very fond of semi-colons.