This week’s Extra! Extra! returns with some LGBTQ+ news from both sides of the Atlantic; an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, the havoc it’s wreaking in so many areas of life and the vaccine arms race; and rapidly deteriorating situations the world over.
Natalie: So, as a queer person living in the South, I want to be optimistic about its future…I want to believe that the end of the HB2 era represents an opportunity for our communities to grow…but the thing about this particular date that you should know…and the thing that makes me more cynical than the activists in this story: it could’ve happened 3.5 years ago.
As the article notes: HB142 was an attempt to “repeal” the bathroom bill that’d brought withering political and economic blowback to the state. It passed with a provision that prohibited local governments from passing their own nondiscrimination ordinances for a period of four years. What the article doesn’t mention is that before that repeal, there had been another compromise put forward: this one with just a six month sunset period. How or why Republicans and Democrats in North Carolina felt justified in passing a four year “cooling off period,” after rejecting a six month one, is anyone’s guess but it’s enough to make a person feel a lot more cynical about the South’s LGBT future.
Rachel: This is so heartbreaking and scary to read, and sobering to process during the same week of Elliot Page’s coming out. Even as trans identity becomes more visible and legible in the national conversation, we have to remain aware of the fact that visibility on its own isn’t a solution; and that in fact visibility can compound danger and harm, especially for Black folks.
Rachel: In a heartbreaking decision that marks the latest development in an extremely concerning trend of anti-trans ideology both culturally and in policy, the U.K. has issued a ruling that requires youth to get a court order if they wish to access puberty blockers, a medically appropriate option trans kids had previously been able to access to prevent unwanted secondary sex changes related to puberty before starting medical transition. The reasons given for this ruling — that puberty blockers are “experimental” with “long-term consequences” that kids can’t consent to — are inaccurate and fearmongering, inconsistent with well-documented science: that the number one factor in trans kids’ health and wellness in the longterm is affirmation and support for their identity, including socially and medically. The decision will be appealed, meaning this issue could land in the Supreme Court, a high-stakes possibility in the midst of a deeply transantagonistic milieu in the U.K.
Himani: An utterly heart-breaking read from a doctor in Italy about the second wave. The despair, bitterness and grief is just palpable: “In all this effort and despair, if there is one thing that pisses me off, it is the deniers. Until a few days ago, I was smiling at their bullshit. … Today I no longer laugh. A dull anger rises. Come on, denier, come and see how you die from COVID. Take reporters into hospitals to see patients who can’t breathe, the dead, or our dripping sweat.”
Himani: So there are a few issues with this. First, it’s entirely premised on the belief that testing is actually an accurate measure of student learning which any teacher will tell you is simply not true. But, it’s the quantifiable metric we have so we use it because numbers make us feel safe.
Second and more troublingly, this article leads with comparisons saying that there was a modest drop in math learning and then follows up with a caveat that the most vulnerable students are actually missing from the data entirely. About half way down we learn that actually a quarter of students are missing from the data. A quarter! And who exactly were those missing students? As the NPR article reports: “these children are ‘more likely to be black and brown, more likely to be from high-poverty schools and more likely to have lower performance in the first place.'”
With such glaring holes in the data, how was the previous comparison worthwhile in the least? They’re basically comparing as much of the entire school population you would ever get to students coming from more resourced families to make the claim that “the pandemic-driven jump to online learning has had little impact on children’s reading growth and has only somewhat slowed gains in math.” That statement is only true for the students who were in the data, i.e. students who are in under-resourced schools, a greater proportion of whom are Black and brown.
So what is the real story here? What this article should’ve said is this: The latest testing data confirms what many have been suspecting all along. The pandemic appears to have the greatest impact on students from high poverty schools who are more likely to be Black and brown because many of them did not even take assessment tests in fall 2020 when their peers did. We don’t know how these students are faring academically or what kind of education they have or have not received since March. Among the students we do have data on (again, who are more likely to be white and from better resourced schools), reading growth has remained the same as previous years and math has dipped modestly.
[As a side note, to actually get at what I’m saying in the last sentence requires another analysis that isn’t reported on by the NPR article, and I don’t know if the testing nonprofit that did this analysis looked at that but just didn’t talk about it. In any case, now I’m getting way too far into the weeds.]
Framing is everything, y’all. How you say this has policy implications.
Natalie: The caveat of this study — “Many of the nation’s most vulnerable students are missing from the data” — is I think the most important part of this article examining NWEA’s research. It’s hard to square the rosy data with other reports I’ve seen during the pandemic like about 25% of secondary students in one of North Carolina’s largest school districts having at least one F. In Maryland’s largest school district, the situation is even worse. The same goes for Texas and California.
The kids are not alright and the most unfortunate thing? I don’t think that anyone has a good plan for how to make the situation better.
Himani: I feel like every article I read where Mitch McConnell’s name shows up in the headline (or where he’s mentioned in passing in the text) just makes me hate him more and more and more. The upcoming Georgia Senate races are our last hope of wresting power from the claws of this truly horrible human being. Phone bank, text bank, knock on doors, donate — do whatever you can because this matters so, so much for everything we care about.
Natalie: A few weeks ago, in this very column, we highlighted a story about a lawsuit against Tyson Foods for their capricious and malicious response to COVID-19 at their meat packing facilities. That article reported that managers were cavalierly betting on which of their employees would get COVID. There’s new reporting out that Tyson managers lied to interpreters about COVID-19 risks.
I mention all this to say: this is who Mitch McConnell is protecting. This is the hold up on the second stimulus that American families need so desperately to be able to eat and keep a roof over their heads. McConnell wants immunity for companies like Tyson Foods (or Publix) that forced their employees to work in unsafe conditions. He’s protecting the people who bet on their employees.
Like Himani said, those Georgia Senate races are crucial if we want to put an end to McConnell’s tyranny.
Why are you voting in Georgia’s January 5 runoff elections? I’m voting for my nieces and nephews who want to see bold action on climate change; my parents who depend on reliable healthcare; and my brother who, like many others, deserves true criminal justice reform. pic.twitter.com/uT82cjj9wA
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) December 3, 2020
Natalie: I will say, as someone who’s not that familiar with Canadian politics…and whose knowledge about Justin Trudeau comes from folks fawning over him over social media, this was illuminating.
The Vaccine Arms Race Ramps Up
Himani: The U.K. was the first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine (the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which we shared some reporting on a few weeks ago), meaning the vaccine could start being given to people as soon as next week. Hours later, Putin ordered the start of mass immunization in Russia using the Sputnik V vaccine.
Neither vaccine has actually completed clinical trials (which, as we have covered previously can sometimes lead to devastating consequences). Also, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine hasn’t actually demonstrated that it doesn’t prevent transmission of the disease… I’m going to stop here before I start catastrophizing this situation because it’s just that kind of day, but… I can’t be the only person reading this and shaking my head in dismay, right?
Natalie: I’m trying to remain optimistic about the vaccine but, as we start moving into thinking about distribution — which may include paying people to get vaccinated — I’m starting to worry about how we avoid replicating existing systems and their deficiencies. Are the countries with the most money going to get prioritized? What does distribution to marginalized communities look like? How do we prioritize the incarcerated?
The Growing Threat of Terrorism
Rachel: I’m not always a huge fan of discourse that compares harmful large-scale power structures to abusive interpersonal relationships, but at the same time there are I think some kernels of parallel truism there about patterns of power and control in general. One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot since election night (lol, election week and a half) is how abusers become most dangerous to their targets when their target has a chance of freedom from them; statistically, most violence to IPV survivors is enacted when those survivors were trying to leave their abuser. I think we’re entering a really dangerous period, and I’m concerned that there may be less attention paid and therefore pressure applied around the issue of far right domestic terrorism because some folks hope that a Biden presidency means they can stop having to think about this stuff all the time — a scenario where we have increased violence against people of color and immigrants, and white folks with political and social currency largely don’t respond to it because it doesn’t feel like it directly affects them.
Natalie: I’m scared about this too but more so because I actually don’t think the Trump family is going anywhere and, without the office as a constraint (such that it ever was), I think there’s an interest in continuing to sow chaos. Already, there are rumors of another run for Trump in 2024, his son running to head the most powerful lobby in Washington, the National Rifle Association and his daughter-in-law mounting a bid for the Senate in 2022. They are determined to keep their place on the national stage because they believe it inoculates them from facing the consequences of their illegal actions.
“Making Peace with Nature Is the Defining Task of the 21st Century.”
Himani: These pictures were incredibly devastating. That was a giant, ancient tree reduced to a stump in a matter of what… hours? How many decades or possibly even centuries had that tree born witness to? How many catastrophes had it survived to be felled by humans for what? A few sheets of paper or maybe a table — both of which will rot some day in a landfill, unable to decompose and complete the cycle of death and rebirth? The world was in uproar over the fires in the Amazon rainforest last year but a first world country is doing essentially the same thing and it largely flies under the radar — is this really all that different?
Escalating Situations Around the World
Himani: I was hesitant to include this article in today’s round up because (1) I have linked a lot of Vox articles today, (2) we’ve talked about the crisis in Ethiopia a few times recently and (3) the interview is with a white European aid worker. However, I am including it in because Jan Egeland makes this incredibly important point while noting just how many refugees have fled Ethiopia for Sudan in response to the violence in Tigray:
People come every day, but fewer now than a couple weeks back, when there were more people coming to Sudan than a European country would get in a year. Sudan received more people in three weeks from Tigray than the United States is willing to take as its quota of refugees in a year.
It just goes to show that, in our time and age, nearly all refugees come from one poor country to another poor country. It’s the poor countries that give protection, give safe havens to refugees in our time and age.
Immigration and asylum are increasingly the catalyst for white supremacy to gain political power in Europe and the U.S. And yet while immigrants and asylum-seekers are villainized across the Western world, the Western world isn’t even doing its part to actually offer refuge to people.
And speaking of refugees….
Himani: This latest relocation of the Rohingya Muslims is horrifying. But in the context of Egeland’s observation above, it feels a little rich for Western aid organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and the U.N. to tell Bangladesh it has to stop when these organizations and the powerful Western countries that rule them have done little to support the Rohingya Muslims or offer Bangladesh some kind of assistance in supporting them over the last three years. There’s about a million Rohingya Muslim refugees living in Bangladesh. Even during Obama’s presidency, the U.S. was accepting less than 100,000 asylum seekers in any single year. And obviously, asylum was completely gutted under Trump, but even raising admissions to the pre-Trump levels would not nearly address the scope of the problem.
Himani: It’s incredible to me how Australia’s Brereton report has also largely flown under the radar in the U.S. (and I’m guessing Western, more broadly) news cycle.
Himani: This is truly horrendous. Unfortunately, I think a lot of us who have been following the deteriorating situation in Hong Kong for the last year and more saw this coming.