How the Vietnam War pushed MLK to embrace global justice, not only civil rights at home

President Lyndon B. Johnson, right, talks with Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders in his White House office in Washington, D.C., Jan. 18, 1964. AP Photo

On July 2, 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. stood behind President Lyndon Baines Johnson as the Texan signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Although not the first civil rights bill passed by Congress, it was the most comprehensive.

King called the law’s passage “a great moment … something like the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln.” Johnson recognized King’s contributions to the law by gifting him a pen used to sign the historic legislation.

A year later, as Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law, King again joined the president for the occasion.

But by the start of 1967, the two most famous men in America were no longer on speaking terms. In fact, they would not meet again before King fell to an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968.

King was foremost a minister who pastored to a local church throughout his career, even while he was doing national civil rights work. And he became concerned that his political ally Johnson was making a grave moral mistake in Vietnam. Johnson quickly escalated American troop presence in Vietnam from 75,000 to 125,000 in 1965. And by 1968, more than a half a million troops were stationed in the Southeast Asian nation.

As I write in my 2021 book “Nonviolence Before King,” the Baptist preacher had been on a “pilgrimage to nonviolence” for years. And by 1967, he was a radical apostle of Christian nonviolence.

King called on the United States to “be born again” and undergo a “radical revolution of values.” King believed that Jim Crow segregation and the war in Vietnam were rooted in the same unjust ethic of race-based domination, and he called on the nation to change its ways.

Speaking against the Vietnam War

King preached nonviolent direct action for years, and his team organized massive protest movements in the cities of Albany, New York, and Selma and Birmingham in Alabama. But by 1967, King’s religious vision for nonviolence went beyond nonviolent street protest to include abolishing what he called the “triple evils” crippling American society. King defined the triple evils as racism, poverty and militarism, and he believed these forces were contrary to God’s will for all people.

He came to believe, as he said in 1967, that racism, economic exploitation and war were crippling America’s ability to create a “beloved community” defined by love and nonviolence. And on April 4, 1967, he publicly rebuked the president’s war policy in Vietnam at Riverside Presbyterian Church in New York City in a speech titled “Beyond Vietnam.”

“I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam,” he told those gathered in the majestic cathedral. “I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam.”

King was initially optimistic that Johnson’s Great Society program, which aimed to make historic investments in job growth, job training and economic development, would tackle domestic poverty. But by 1967 the Great Society appeared to be a casualty of the mounting costs of the war in Vietnam. “I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such,” King said in his speech.

King saw the grinding poverty facing Black people at home as inseparable from the war overseas. As he noted, “If our nation can spend 35 billion dollars a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and 20 billion dollars to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet right here on earth.”

King could no longer ignore that military force ran contrary to the nonviolence he espoused. As urban revolts in Watts and Newark in the late 1960s rocked the nation, he pleaded with people to remain nonviolent.

“But they ask – and rightly so – what about Vietnam?” King said in the same 1967 speech. “They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.”

Martin Luther King Jr. leads the march against the Vietnam conflict in a parade on State Street in Chicago on March 25, 1967.
AP Photo

King’s vision

By 1967, King’s vision of justice was one of flourishing for all people, not only civil rights for African Americans. King was criticized for expanding his vision beyond civil rights for Black Americans. Some worried that aligning with the peace movement would weaken the civil rights movement. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People even issued a statement clearly opposing what it saw as a merging of the civil rights and peace movements.

But in his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech, King called “for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation … an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind.” Such unconditional love is “the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality,” and he noted that this unifying principle was present in Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism.

King was always first a religious leader. He never sought nor gained elected office, because he wanted to maintain a moral voice and be free to challenge policies he believed to be unjust.

But the cost for King’s speaking out was high: By the time of his assassination, King’s national approval rating was at an all-time low.

He was not a morally perfect man. Declassified files show how the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover tried to target King over his extramarital affairs. Hoover used a wiretap to tape King having sex with other women and sent those to his wife, Coretta Scott King, with a letter indicating King should kill himself because of his moral transgressions.

Honoring King

For those seeking to honor King’s legacy today, his religious nonviolence is demanding. It asks that people go beyond acts of service and charity – as important as those are – to both speak and act against violence and racism as well as to organize to end those pernicious forces.

It is a radical concept of love that demands we embrace those we know and those we don’t, to acknowledge, as King said, “that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.”

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the challenge may be to decipher the meaning of this idea in action for our own lives. The future of what King called the beloved community depends on it – a world at peace because justice is present.

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Anthony Siracusa does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Inflation jumps 7 percent, the biggest increase since 1982, as Americans increase spending

Prices paid by U.S. consumer jumped 7% in December from a year earlier, the highest inflation rate since 1982 and the latest evidence that rising costs for food, gas, rent and other necessities are heightening the financial pressures on America’s households.

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Drew Barrymore opens up about fears, excitement over returning to dating as single mom

Drew Barrymore is opening up about her nerves and fears over returning to the dating scene as a single mom. The host and executive producer of “The Drew Barrymore Show” joins “CBS Mornings” to talk about her special show, her return to dating and the best dating advice she’s received.

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Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on sending 10 million additional COVID tests to schools each month

Only on “CBS Mornings,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona discusses the Biden administration’s plan to increase access to testing in schools. The administration will send 10 million more COVID-19 tests to public schools nationwide every month.

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Widow of Theranos’ former chief scientist speaks out following Elizabeth Holmes’ conviction

Rochelle Gibbons is the widow of former Theranos chief scientist Ian Gibbons, who committed suicide in 2013. Gibbons is now speaking out in her first broadcast TV interview, following the conviction of Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes on fraud and conspiracy charges. Anna Werner reports.

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Radicalization pipelines: How targeted advertising on social media drives people to extremes

Many people are led to conspiracy theories and extremist views from less extreme positions. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Have you had the experience of looking at some product online and then seeing ads for it all over your social media feed? Far from coincidence, these instances of eerily accurate advertising provide glimpses into the behind-the-scenes mechanisms that feed an item you search for on Google, “like” on social media or come across while browsing into custom advertising on social media.

Those mechanisms are increasingly being used for more nefarious purposes than aggressive advertising. The threat is in how this targeted advertising interacts with today’s extremely divisive political landscape. As a social media researcher, I see how people seeking to radicalize others use targeted advertising to readily move people to extreme views.

Advertising to an audience of one

Advertising is clearly powerful. The right ad campaign can help shape or create demand for a new product or rehabilitate the image of an older product or even of an entire company or brand. Political campaigns use similar strategies to push candidates and ideas, and historically countries have used them to wage propaganda wars.

Advertising in mass media is powerful, but mass media has a built-in moderating force. When trying to move many people in one direction, mass media can only move them as fast as the middle will tolerate. If it moves too far or too fast, people in the middle may be alienated.

The detailed profiles the social media companies build for each of their users make advertising even more powerful by enabling advertisers to tailor their messages to individuals. These profiles often include the size and value of your home, what year you bought your car, whether you’re expecting a child, and whether you buy a lot of beer.

Consequently, social media has a greater ability to expose people to ideas as fast as they individually will accept them. The same mechanisms that can recommend a niche consumer product to just the right person or suggest an addictive substance just when someone is most vulnerable can also suggest an extreme conspiracy theory just when a person is ready to consider it.

It is increasingly common for friends and family to find themselves on opposite sides of highly polarized debates about important issues. Many people recognize social media as part of the problem, but how are these powerful customized advertising techniques contributing to the divisive political landscape?

Breadcrumbs to the extreme

One important part of the answer is that people associated with foreign governments, without admitting who they are, take extreme positions in social media posts with the deliberate goal of sparking division and conflict. These extreme posts take advantage of the social media algorithms, which are designed to heighten engagement, meaning they reward content that provokes a response.

Another important part of the answer is that people seeking to radicalize others lay out trails of breadcrumbs to more and more extreme positions.

Many people feel that they have ‘figured out’ conspiracy theories for themselves, but in many cases they’ve been deliberately led to them.
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

These social media radicalization pipelines work much the same way whether recruiting jihadists or Jan. 6 insurrectionists.

You may feel like you’re “doing your own research,” moving from source to source, but you are really following a deliberate radicalization pipeline that’s designed to move you toward more and more extreme content at whatever pace you will tolerate. For example, after analyzing over 72 million user comments on over 330,000 videos posted on 349 YouTube channels, researchers found that users consistently migrated from milder to more extreme content.

The result of these radicalization pipelines is apparent. Rather than most people having moderate views with fewer people holding extreme views, fewer and fewer people are in the middle.

How to protect yourself

What can you do? First, I recommend a huge dose of skepticism about social media recommendations. Most people have gone to social media looking for something in particular and then found themselves looking up from their phones an hour or more later having little idea how or why they read or watched what they just did. It is designed to be addictive.

I’ve been trying to chart a more deliberate path to the information I want and actively trying to avoid just clicking on whatever is recommended to me. If I do read or watch what is suggested, I ask myself “How might this information be in someone else’s best interest, not mine?”

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Second, consider supporting efforts to require social media platforms to offer users a choice of algorithms for recommendations and feed curation, including ones based on simple-to-explain rules.

Third, and most important, I recommend investing more time in interacting with friends and family off of social media. If I find myself needing to forward a link to make a point, I treat that as a warning bell that I do not actually understand the issue well enough myself. If so, perhaps I have found myself following a constructed trail toward extreme content rather than consuming materials that are actually helping me better understand the world.

Jeanna Matthews is affiliated with and holds leadership roles within the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

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Ethical US consumers struggled to pressure the sugar industry to abandon slavery with less success than their British counterparts

The enslaved people who produced sugar before the Civil War did dangerous and grueling work. The Print Collector/Getty Images

Twenty-two-year-old Sam Watts saw the Virginia coastline vanish while he was aboard a domestic slave ship in the fall of 1831. Andrew Jackson was president, and slave traders had bought Watts for US$450 (about $14,500 in 2022 dollars). They were ripping him from multiple generations of his loved ones for a voyage of no return.

After the ship docked at New Orleans three weeks later, Edmond J. Forstall, a banker and entrepreneur, purchased Watts for $950. His new owner put Watts to work making barrels in the new Louisiana Sugar Refinery – the world’s largest operation of its kind at the time.

Watts labored under an overseer’s lash, but he may have felt less unfortunate than Louisiana’s 36,000 enslaved people forced to work on plantations producing the sugar that went into his barrels. Growing, cutting and processing domestic sugar cane took an even deadlier toll than producing cotton or tobacco.

Watts’ unpaid work fed a supply chain with tragic human costs. Most Americans today would surely like to think that consumers who knew their sugar was grown and processed by enslaved people living in the United States would refuse to buy it. But the historical record points to a greater opposing force: the rise of American capitalism, which before the Civil War was fueled by unpaid labor.

Government support for sugar started early on

Louisiana growers started producing molasses in the 18th century and granulated sugar by 1795. Output increased after the U.S. bought Louisiana from France in 1803. The federal government was already protecting domestic sugar with a tariff on imported sugar.

By the 1830s, strong demand and creative financing from international investors were also bolstering Louisiana’s sugar sector. The same year Sam Watts was bought and sold, Sen. Henry Clay wrote that “a repeal of the duty would compel the Louisiana planter to abandon the cultivation of the sugar cane.”

Sugar had by then been transformed from a luxury into a wildly popular ingredient that was integral to the American diet.

Molasses and cane sugar were as American as apple pie. They flavored everything from Boston baked beans to syllabub – a dessert of sweetened whipped cream mixed with cider or wine.

Unfortunately, the historical record indicates that most Americans who bought a quart of molasses or pound of refined sugar crystals either didn’t know or didn’t care very much about the struggles of Sam Watts and tens of thousands of other African Americans like him. Sugar was a prestige item, signaling wealth and refinement.

Many Americans consume sugar and perhaps molasses – a byproduct from refining the sweet stuff – when they eat beans.
Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

British abolitionists offered a model

Starting in the 1780s, British abolitionists had urged and organized consumer boycotts to end the transatlantic slave trade. Sugar was its engine, and activists like the poet Robert Southey condemned those who “sip the blood-sweeten’d beverage” with a clear conscience.

They published pamphlets and circulated petitions urging consumers, particularly women, to stop buying sugar made by enslaved people. Children got involved, too.

In 1791 in Manchester, England, some 300,000 people promised to boycott sugar sourced from the Caribbean. Sales dropped dramatically. Abolitionists flooded Parliament with petitions to end the transatlantic slave trade.

Britain made its subjects’ involvement in the trade illegal in 1807. Yet sugar producers in the Caribbean, including in Jamaica and Cuba, continued to force hundreds of thousands of enslaved people to make sugar.

Elizabeth Heyrick, a Birmingham philanthropist, led an even more successful English boycott of West Indian sugar in the 1820s.

British boycotts made at least a symbolic difference, because abolitionists got consumers to empathize with enslaved workers at a time when national interests were turning away from the sugar industry because of shifting international alliances.

The limits of consumer pressure

Although the U.S. banned the landing of foreign captives destined for enslavement in 1808, it let the domestic slave trade flourish for another five decades.

U.S. growers were competing mainly with the Cuban sugar producers who could still import African captives. Newly enslaved people often arrived on American-owned vessels.

Free African American and white Quaker abolitionists sought to underscore the connection between unrequited toil and the abundance it produced. Before supply chain management existed as a systematic process, those who worked to abolish slavery pointed out that the dollars spent on sugar fed the forced labor and degradation of Black people who made and processed sugar and other commodities.

To that end, Quakers formed the Free Produce Society of Pennsylvania in 1827 to combat slavery in supply chains furnishing consumer goods.

In 1830, African American abolitionists established their own similar organization, the Colored Free Produce Society of Pennsylvania. Its 500 members used their collective power to demand cotton, sugar and tobacco be made by free workers. Judith James and Laetitia Rowley, two Black Philadelphians, co-founded another group, the Colored Female Free Produce Society soon after.

That organization’s members were connected with Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia’s hub of abolitionist and community organizing. It urged consumers to use their buying power to free enslaved people.

In 1834, Philadelphia’s most successful Black businessperson, William Whipper, opened a free labor store next to Mother Bethel church. In New York, African American abolitionist David Ruggles sold only free sugar and encouraged others to follow suit.

By 1838, the Free Produce Movement, as it was called, had coalesced as the American Free Produce Society.

But those scattered individual acts of conscience failed to force the sugar industry to stop relying on forced Black labor. U.S. abolitionists’ efforts to inform the public and organize boycotts also failed to stop growing demand, because sugar prices fell until the Civil War disrupted the popular commodity’s production.

So sweet, but at what cost to human rights?
Victor De Schwanberg/Science Photo Library via Getty Images

Sugar demand climbed

Rather than cut back, Americans consumed more and more sugar.

When Watts went to work in the Louisiana Sugar Refinery, the average U.S. resident ate 13 pounds of it per year. By 1850 the total had surged to 30 pounds.

In many places, emancipation didn’t stop coercive labor practices. The relationship between emancipated workers and the sugar barons and other planters who employed them still approximated slavery.

Sugar workers in Thibodaux, Louisiana, for instance, lived in many of the same quarters as they had before the Civil War. When they unionized and tried to strike for better wages in 1887, white townspeople massacred the farmworkers and their relatives, killing 60.

In Texas, sugar plantation owners used convict laborers to grow and process their sugar cane. Many prisoners forced to make sugar were teens convicted of minor offenses, often by Jim Crow courts.

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The 2019 discovery of 95 grave sites of African American sugar workers buried on a prison farm in Texas offered a glimpse of the toll sugar work took on Black workers, many of them children.

The Free Produce Movement may have failed to curb the human rights atrocities occurring in the 19th-century sugar supply chain. But many activists are still drawn to the connection U.S. and British slavery abolitionists made between consumer purchasing power and the possibility of improving labor conditions.

This article is part of a series examining sugar’s effects on human health and culture. To see all articles on this series, click here.

Calvin Schermerhorn tidak bekerja, menjadi konsultan, memiliki saham, atau menerima dana dari perusahaan atau organisasi mana pun yang akan mengambil untung dari artikel ini, dan telah mengungkapkan bahwa ia tidak memiliki afiliasi selain yang telah disebut di atas.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired new health habits for these 4 scholars – here’s what they put into practice and why

Health and well-being come in many forms, including finding solitude and connection with nature. Pheelings Media/iStock via Getty Images Plus

For some people, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about change – some welcome and some not so welcome – to their routines or to what they prioritize. We asked four scholars to reflect on a health habit that they have adopted during the tumultuous months and years since COVID-19 turned people’s lives upside down.

Walking as a source of solitude and connection

Libby Richards, Associate Professor of Nursing, Purdue University

As a busy working mom of two active boys, I embrace solitude whenever I can; I even take solace in grocery shopping. But when the pandemic hit, my errands became risky activities. Instead, with schools closed and the family at home, I embraced my time with them and got creative entertaining the kids.

But it was harder to find time for myself. “Alone time” went out the window. If I wanted to keep my sanity, I knew I needed to find some space. That’s when I put on my walking shoes and went outside.

At first, the walk was simply an escape. But as my routine became more consistent, I began to recognize and experience its benefits. As a nurse and physical activity researcher, I already understood the importance of an active lifestyle. But before the pandemic, I focused only on the physical aspects, like keeping my muscles toned and weight stable.

I discovered that I had overlooked a crucial benefit of physical activity: mental health. Instead of focusing my walks on physical fitness, I started walking for stress and tension relief. And it worked. My sleep improved, I had fewer headaches and I could concentrate better.

Although my family is easing back into a new routine, I continue to walk, even during phone meetings and when it’s cold out. Sometimes I walk to do errands instead of driving. I feel more connected with nature, and I have a greater appreciation for fresh air. I’ve been able to disconnect from daily stressors, my mood and outlook are better and my overall sense of well-being has improved.

Making weightlifting a strong habit

Alison Phillips, Associate Professor of Psychology, Iowa State University

Consistency is key to forming habits, and you have to cultivate the habits that get you closer to your goals.

I decided to lift weights during the pandemic to build strength and to reduce stress. As a health psychologist who studies how to build health-related habits, I already knew what I needed to do: repeat the behavior in the same time or place and make sure a reward was tied to the behavior. No problem, I thought.

When it comes to cardio activity, I already had a solid habit, starting years before the pandemic. Every day, before dinner, I would do something that counts as cardio. During the pandemic, this has included getting on the home elliptical, jogging outside or doing a step video. I knew that one way to form a new habit is to piggyback on an existing habit, so I planned to lift weights after my cardio sessions. Four times a week, I would alternate resistance training of arms and legs.

But lifting weights wasn’t fun, it didn’t feel good at first, and I couldn’t tell if I was improving. I kept track of my weights workout on a calendar, and for most of 2020, that was the only reward I felt – a sense of accomplishment and a check mark on a piece of paper. I still had to persuade myself to do it, and only guilt or anticipated regret would drive me.

That didn’t work so well. Three days or more would pass with no weightlifting, until I would finally force myself to do it. Eventually, after months and months of semiregular lifting, I came to see it as something I valued.

What was my reward? I became more toned and fit, sure. And that was part of my identity and something I could be proud of during the mess of the pandemic. But what finally turned weightlifting into a habit was the good physical sensations I came to appreciate during and after a muscle-building exercise. If I didn’t lift weights after doing cardio, my body felt unused.

All habits, good or bad, require a similar process to become habitual. Typically, this involves repetition in a familiar context, paired with a reward for the behavior. The “context” for the habit might be a consistent location, timing and/or a sequence of activities.

It took me a full year to develop what I would call a habit of lifting weights. Now, even when my context changes – like returning to the gym after getting vaccinated or traveling for work or holidays – my body expects and needs the muscle work, and I find a way to do some kind of resistance training.

Small indulgences, in moderation

Katherine Basbaum, Clinical Dietitian, University of Virginia

As a registered dietitian, I’ve always promoted and followed the “all foods fit” mentality. This means that, as long as the majority of your meals and snacks are prepared with nutritious foods, then small indulgences are fine.

For as long as I can remember, chocolate has been one of the tiny indulgences I allowed myself. Pre-pandemic, my chocolate habit consisted of one small piece in the morning with coffee, none during the day since I was running around a hospital from 9 to 5, and then another after dinner.

But when the pandemic began and I began working at home a few days per week, my routines changed in a big way, including what and when I ate. I still had three mostly balanced meals on the days I worked from home. But a new habit emerged too. My chocolate consumption, once a morning and evening indulgence, sometimes tripled. That’s because the chocolate was always right there, easily accessible all day long.

When I realized my once-harmless habit was out of control, I stopped buying the large bags of chocolate. Instead, I downsized to a single-serving package once per week. Because I wasn’t going to stores much, I was forced to stretch it out.

Ultimately I got back to my two-a-day routine. And even though I’m back to working in person at the hospital, I haven’t gone back to the big bags of chocolate. Those single-serving packages still suit me just fine.

Clearing the mind through meditation

Jessica Bane Robert, Writing and Mindfulness Instructor, Clark University

A growing body of research shows that meditation can sharpen the mind.

I’ve taught a course called Mindful Choices at Clark University for eight years, so one might think I would have had a consistent meditation practice before now.

Yet not until the pandemic did I find the time and mental space to commit to daily meditation. Since March 2020, at least once daily, I have reserved 10 minutes to calm my mind by focusing on the breath or by using guided visualizations to picture beautiful supportive places or positive future outcomes. Depending on the day, I performed my “sits,” as they are called by meditation practitioners, by the pond in front of my home, upon waking or at bedtime.

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Since then, my blood pressure has dropped – but even more importantly, I have experienced greater peace. I have less attachment to negative thoughts and emotions while being able to really dwell and linger on the positive. Further, meditation has improved my focus and “working memory.” Research suggests that benefits can be achieved with as little as 10 minutes a day spent meditating.

Taking time to meditate may feel selfish to some, but research shows it can reduce prejudice and bias toward others as well as lessen one’s own tendency to find the negative in situations, called negativity bias. To foster gentleness toward oneself and compassion for others, my students and I practice loving kindness – a type of meditation practice popularized by author Sharon Salzberg.

Many apps are available to guide you while cuing you to meditate and provide community – two things that make a new habit stick. Insight Timer – my favorite – has a free version, but you may want to try Headspace, Waking Up, Ten Percent Happier and Calm, all apps that offer free trials. If you learn a new practice better by reading, dive into Salzberg’s “Real Happiness” or Jon Kabat-Zinn’s classic “Wherever You Go, There You Are.”

What I love about my new habit is that meditation can be done anytime, anywhere. All you need is your breath and, with it, you can change the quality of your thoughts and your day.

L. Alison Phillips has received funding to conduct habit-related research from Les Mills.

Jessica Bane Robert, Katherine Basbaum, and Libby Richards do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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‘Southern hospitality’ doesn’t always apply to Blacks, as revealed in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery

Wanda Cooper-Jones, mother of Ahmaud Arbery, listens as attorneys speak outside the Glynn County Courthouse on July 17, 2020, in Brunswick, Georgia. Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

The idea of community and who belongs and who does not was a common theme in the Jan. 7, 2022, sentencing hearing of three white men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery.

“They chose to target my son because they didn’t want him in their community,” said Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, during the hearing. “When they couldn’t sufficiently scare him or intimidate him, they killed him.”

Arbery was the 25-year-old unarmed Black man who was shot to death on Feb. 23, 2020, while jogging through a predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia. Race went largely unspoken throughout the trial, but the idea of belonging was clearly drawn in black and white.

As a professor of sociology and criminal justice at Clark and Atlanta University, I have witnessed and studied perfunctory Southern ways that are often referred to as Southern “gentility” and Southern “hospitality.” These “Southern” ways of knowing and being get presented as niceties, but they often serve to maintain the racial order of the past.

On their face, these common rituals – like waving to neighbors and strangers – brand the Southerner as gentler and kinder than others, closer to God, and perhaps even more patriotic. As practice, the actions tie people not only to the land, but to a culture.

That culture seems innocuous, innocent and friendly – but it is not. And the death of Ahmaud Arbery is a powerful example of how that gentility can camouflage deadly discrimination.

Racial reckoning

In a nation still reeling from the murder of George Floyd and other violent attacks on people of color, many breathed a momentary sigh of relief after Greg McMichael and his son Travis were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for Arbery’s murder.

McMichaels’ neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan was given life in prison with the chance of parole. He had filmed the cellphone video as Arbery fell dead in the street. A jury convicted the three in November of last year.

Before sentencing, Judge Timothy Walmsley paused for a minute of silence, which he later explained represented a fraction of the five minutes Arbery spent running from the three white men who chased him in pickup trucks on that Sunday afternoon.

“At a minimum,” Walmsley said, “Ahmaud Arbery’s death should force us to consider expanding our definition of what a neighbor may be and how we treat them. I argue that maybe a neighbor is more than the people who just own property around your house. …”

Judge Timothy Walmsley looks on during the trial last November of three white men convicted of murdering 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.
Photo by Octavio Jones-Pool/Getty Images

In a sense, Walmsley was asking those assembled in the courtroom and watching on television to put themselves in Arbery’s running shoes and imagine the sheer shock of discovering that Southern hospitality had a violent reality.

Terms commonly used among Southerners can likewise mean the opposite of how they sound.

Consider the “bless your heart” that is meant as anything but a blessing, and, in fact, is used as a heavy dose of sarcasm. Or the respectful and deferential, “Yes, ma’am,” “No, sir,” or other courtesy titles customarily given to whites and withheld from Blacks, irrespective of their age. W.E.B. Du Bois referred to this last practice as “the public and psychological wage of whiteness.” Du Bois was suggesting that even among low-wage white earners, the racial identity of whiteness paid dividends that people of color could not collect.

Simple Southern practices like waving to strangers are steeped with double meanings that work to preserve a de facto segregation.

Consider: There is an expected action-interaction order present in the deed of speaking or otherwise gesturing to strangers. The salutation itself is a performance of belonging in the space. A specific response is expected. It may be a nod of the head, tip of the hat, raised hand or a simple hello. The routine says, “I know the rules of engagement here, and I accept them. You want me to make you feel comfortable with my presence here, and I am willing to do that.”

Arbery did not engage the men or play the game of deference.

Race and public space

In “How Ingrained Racism Became Invisible,” I explain how place and where people belong and with whom is part of an often unspoken broader U.S. racial structure that positions whites on top and Blacks on the bottom.

In my larger body of research
I argue that despite advances by racial and ethnic minorities and other disadvantaged groups, vestiges of this American Jim Crow belief system still operate in society. This racial ideology may be more pronounced in some parts of the nation, like the U.S. South, but my research shows that this racial order is present above, below and across the Mason-Dixon Line.

Kara Cebulko, a sociology and global studies scholar, explains how racial privilege allows whites and those who pass as white to “navigate public space without being stopped, questioned, arrested, detained and/or deported.”

That clearly was not the case with Arbery, who was Black and couldn’t claim that privilege.

A woman holds portraits of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd during an event in remembrance of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 23, 2021.
Photo by Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images

Protecting the racial status quo

At sentencing, defense counsel continued to stress that the defendants had good intentions and simply wanted to support their community. In this telling of the story, the defendants were represented as good neighbors – hardworking individuals just looking out for one another. It was painted as the Southern way, and they were simply engaged in Southern hospitality.

But in the journal Study the South, Betsie Garner writes that Southern hospitality uses language and practices whose real purpose is “to exclude minorities and maintain their marginalized status in the community.”

“The politics of belonging in southern communities continues to be determined in large part by the practice of southern hospitality,” Garner says.

If the McMichaels’ and Bryan’s actions that day were to help their community, that community did not include Arbery.

Before his son, Travis, fired the shots that killed Arbery, defendant Greg McMichael told 911 dispatch the reason for his call: “I’m out here at Satilla Shores. There’s a Black male running down the street.”

During cross-examination by the prosecutor at their trial, defendant Travis McMichael explained, “I wouldn’t say [I] ordered [Arbery to stop running], I was asking him … [in order to] keep the situation calm.” But shortly after the murder, the senior McMichael told police, “We had him trapped like a rat.”

Travis McMichael argued he felt threatened by Arbery and feared for his own life until he pulled out his shotgun and shot him.

Ahmaud Arbery’s sister didn’t mince words when she said she believed race – not self-defense – played a role in her brother’s shooting.

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“Ahmaud had dark skin that glistened in the sunlight like gold. He had thick, coily hair and he would often like to twist it,” Jasmine Arbery said at the sentencing hearing. “He was tall, with an athletic build. These are the qualities that made these men assume that Ahmaud was a dangerous criminal.”

By all accounts, Arbery was not a dangerous criminal. But in the eyes of three white vigilantes, Arbery was clearly not their neighbor.

Barbara Harris Combs has received funding from UNCF/Mellon and the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference at Emory University.

Continue reading “‘Southern hospitality’ doesn’t always apply to Blacks, as revealed in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery”

A 21st-century reinvention of the electric grid is crucial for solving the climate change crisis

Integrating solar panels with farming can provide partial shade for plants. Werner Slocum/NREL

In the summer of 1988, scientist James Hansen testified to Congress that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels was dangerously warming the planet. Scientific meetings were held, voluminous reports were written, and national pledges were made, but because fossil fuels were comparatively cheap, little concrete action was taken to reduce carbon emissions.

Then, beginning around 2009, first wind turbines and then solar photovoltaic panels decreased enough in cost to become competitive in electricity markets. More installations resulted in more “learning curve” cost reductions – the decrease in cost with every doubling of deployment. Since 2009, the prices of wind and solar power have decreased by an astonishing 72% and 90%, respectively, and they are now the cheapest electricity sources – although some challenges still exist.

With the planet facing increasingly intense heat waves, drought, wildfires and storms, a path to tackle the climate crisis became clear: Transition the electric grid to carbon-free wind and solar and convert most other fossil fuel users in transportation, buildings and industry to electricity.

The U.S. is headed in that direction. Early projections suggest the world just wrapped up a record year of renewable electricity growth in 2021, following a record 33,500 megawatts of solar and wind electricity installed in the U.S. in 2020, according to BloombergNEF data. Even faster growth is expected ahead, especially given the Biden administration’s plans to tap high-value offshore wind resources. But will it be fast enough?

The Biden administration’s goal is to have a carbon emissions-free grid by 2035. One recent study found that the U.S. will need to nearly triple its 2020 growth rate for the grid to be 80% powered by clean energy by 2030. (As difficult as that may sound, China reportedly installed 120,000 megawatts of wind and solar in 2020.)

The foundation of this transition is a dramatic change in the electric grid itself.

3 ways to bring wind and solar into the grid

Hailed as the greatest invention of the 20th century, our now-aging grid was based on fundamental concepts that made sense at the time it was developed. The original foundation was a combination of “base load” coal plants that operated 24 hours a day and large-scale hydropower.

Beginning in 1958, these were augmented by nuclear power plants, which have operated nearly continuously to pay off their large capital investments. Unlike coal and nuclear, solar and wind are variable; they provide power only when the sun and wind are available.

Converting to a 21st-century grid that is increasingly based on variable resources requires a completely new way of thinking. New sources of flexibility – the ability to keep supply and demand in balance over all time scales – are essential to enable this transition.

Pine Tree Wind Farm near Tehachapi, California, provides renewable power to Los Angeles.
Dennis Schroeder/NREL

There are basically three ways to accommodate the variability of wind and solar energy: use storage, deploy generation in a coordinated fashion across a wide area of the country along with more transmission, and manage electricity demand to better match the supply. These are all sources of flexibility.

Storage is now largely being provided by lithium-ion batteries. Their costs have plummeted, and new storage technologies are being developed.

Expanded transmission is especially valuable. When the Northeast is experiencing peak electric demand in the early evening, there is still sun in the West. And, with more transmission, the large wind resources in the center of the country can send electricity toward both coasts. Transmission studies have shown that stronger interconnections among the country’s three power grids are highly beneficial.

Making buildings more efficient and controlling their demand can also play a big role in cleaning up the grid. Buildings use 74% of U.S. electricity. Interconnected devices and equipment with smart meters can reduce and reshape a building’s power use.

Innovations that make 100% clean power possible

Many analysts believe the U.S. can cost-effectively and reliably operate a power grid with 80% to 90% clean electricity, but decarbonizing the last 10% to 20% will be notably more challenging. While short-duration storage, lasting four hours or less, is becoming ubiquitous, we will likely need to provide power during some periods when wind and solar resources are at low levels (what the Germans call dunkelflaute, or “dark doldrums”). An expanded national transmission network will help, but some amount of long-duration storage will likely be needed.

Numerous options are being explored, including alternative battery technologies and green hydrogen.

Flow batteries are among the promising approaches that we are working on at the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute at the University of Colorado. In a typical design, liquid electrolyte flows between two storage tanks separated by a membrane. The tanks can be scaled up in size corresponding to the desired storage duration.

Green hydrogen is a potential storage option for very long durations. It is produced by splitting water molecules with an electrolyzer powered by renewable electricity. The hydrogen can be stored underground (or in above-ground tanks) and either burned in combustion turbines or converted back to electricity in fuel cells. Green hydrogen is currently very expensive but is expected to become more affordable as the cost of electrolyzers decreases.

In addition, new business, market design and grid operator models are emerging. Community solar gardens, for example, allow homeowners to purchase locally produced solar electricity even if their own roofs are not suitable for solar panels. Microgrids are another business model becoming common on campuses and complexes that produce electricity locally and can continue to operate if the grid goes down. Clean microgrids are powered by renewable energy and batteries.

Bishop Richard Howell stands near some of the 630 solar panels on the roof of his Minneapolis church. The community solar project provides clean energy to the community.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

Innovative market designs include time-of-use rates that encourage electricity use, such as for charging electric vehicles, when renewable electricity is plentiful. Expanded balancing area coordination draws on variable solar and wind resources from a wide region to provide a smoother overall supply. Improved grid operations include advanced forecasting of wind and solar to minimize wasted power and reduce the need for costly standby reserves. Dynamic line rating allows grid operators to transmit more electricity through existing lines when favorable weather conditions permit.

Across the economy, greater attention to energy efficiency can enable power sector transformation, minimizing costs and improving reliability.

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Nuclear power is also essentially carbon-free, and keeping existing nuclear plants running can make the transition to renewables easier. However, new nuclear plants in the U.S. are very expensive to build, have long construction times and may prove too costly to operate in a manner that would help firm variable solar and wind.

In our view, the urgency of climate change demands an all-out effort to address it. Having a 2035 emissions goal is important, but the emissions reduction path the U.S. takes to reach that goal is critical. The No. 1 need is to minimize adding carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The world already has the tools to get the grid 80% to 90% carbon-free, and technical experts are exploring a wide range of promising options for achieving that last 10% to 20%.

Charles F. Kutscher has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond his academic appointment.

Jeffrey S. Logan also works at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Continue reading “A 21st-century reinvention of the electric grid is crucial for solving the climate change crisis”

What is wishcycling? Two waste experts explain

When in doubt, throw it out – but not in the recycling bin. Basak Gurbuz Derman/Moment via Getty Images

Wishcycling is putting something in the recycling bin and hoping it will be recycled, even if there is little evidence to confirm this assumption.

Hope is central to wishcycling. People may not be sure the system works, but they choose to believe that if they recycle an object, it will become a new product rather than being buried in a landfill, burned or dumped.

The U.S. recycling industry was launched in the 1970s in response to public concern over litter and waste. The growth of recycling and collection programs changed consumers’ view of waste: It didn’t seem entirely bad if it could lead to the creation of new products via recycling.

Pro-recycling messaging from governments, corporations and environmentalists promoted and reinforced recycling behavior. This was especially true for plastics that had resin identification codes inside a triangle of “chasing arrows,” indicating that the item was recyclable – even though that was usually far from the truth. In fact, only resins #1 (polyethylene terephthalate, or PET) and #2 (high-density polyethylene, or HDPE) are relatively easy to recycle and have viable markets. The others are hard to recycle, so some jurisdictions don’t even collect them.

The plastics industry developed codes in 1988 to identify categories of plastic resins that products were made from. Surrounding them with ‘chasing arrows’ wrongly suggested that they all were recyclable, when in fact many communities only processed the more common types. In 2013, the graphic was changed to a solid triangle.
iStock via Getty Images

Wishcycling entered public consciousness in 2018 when China launched Operation National Sword, a sweeping set of restrictions on imports of most waste materials from abroad. Over the preceding 20 years, China had purchased millions of tons of scrap metal, paper and plastic from wealthy nations for recycling, giving those countries an easy and cheap option for managing waste materials.

The China scrap restrictions created enormous waste backups in the U.S., where governments had under-invested in recycling systems. Consumers saw that recycling was not as reliable or environmentally friendly as previously believed.

An unlikely coalition of actors in the recycling sector coined the term “wishcycling” in an effort to educate the public about effective recycling. As they emphasize, wishcycling can be harmful.

Contaminating the waste stream with material that is not actually recyclable makes the sorting process more costly because it requires extra labor. Wishcycling also damages sorting systems and equipment and depresses an already fragile trading market.

Many communities are trying to educate consumers about what not to recycle.
City of Asheville, N.C.

Huge waste management companies and small cities and towns have launched educational campaigns on this issue. Their mantra is “When in doubt, throw it out.” In other words, only place material that truly can be recycled in your bin. This message is hard for many environmentalists to hear, but it cuts costs for recyclers and local governments.

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We also believe it’s important to understand that the global waste crisis wasn’t created by consumers who failed to wash mayonnaise jars or separate out plastic bags. The biggest drivers are global. They include capitalistic reliance on consumption, strong international waste trade incentives, a lack of standardized recycling policies and the devaluation of used resources. To make further progress, governments and businesses will have to think more about designing products with disposal and reuse in mind, reducing consumption of single-use products and making massive investments in recycling infrastructure.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Continue reading “What is wishcycling? Two waste experts explain”