Gone with the Wind and Xica: Two Myths of Slavery

Seventy-five years ago, Gone with the Wind was released, a movie that romanticized slavery with stereotyped images of African-Americans that remain familiar to this day. Slavery in Brazil was more widespread and lasted longer than in the U.S. The Brazilian movie Xica is also about slavery, but its stereotypes of Afro-Brazilians are very different from the American ones.

A University Is Not Walmart

In the modern university, run as a business, students are getting good grades and piling up debt but aren’t learning that much. The professors feel powerless and alienated, but the administration looks at the bottom line, smiles, and says all is well.

Should the Media Show the Charlie Hebdo Cartoons?

Following the murders in Paris of cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, there has been a debate over whether the media should publish the humor magazine’s cartoons lampooning Muhammad and Islam. The debate so far has been between freedom of expression and cultural sensitivity; but I believe the matter is more complex.

Psychologists and Torture

The Senate report on the CIA torture program revealed that psychologists played a key role in its design and execution. What role did the American Psychological Association play, and how will it respond to these revelations?

Surprising Lessons From Marijuana Legalization Votes

Marijuana legalization victories in Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia follow in the footsteps of previous ones in Colorado and Washington. Already we are learning unexpected lessons as the new policies are implemented; and the issues we are encountering are quite different from the ones many had feared.

Psychology’s Scientism and Anthropology’s Anti-Science

Over the past few decades, the scientific study of culture has become marginalized, in very different ways, in both psychology and anthropology. Social phenomena exist at a social level of organization; but scientistic and anti-science trends impede progress in understanding them.

The War on Drugs and College Student Debt

A lot has been written about the War on Drugs and about college student debt, but rarely are the two issues connected. I would argue, however, that the transfer of funds from higher education to the War on Drugs is one of the main causes of the dramatic rise in higher education student debt.

Visiting Brazil: “We’re Not In Kansas Anymore”

The World Cup created a lot of interest in Brazil, where I used to live. I went back this past winter, and–as always happens–within a few days something occurred that couldn’t possibly happen here in the States. Such events always cause a smile of recognition that, as Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Edward Snowden, the War on Terrorism, and the War on Drugs

Much of the debate triggered by Edward Snowden’s leaks is about deciding on the proper level of electronic surveillance. While important, this discussion involves a static view of the problem. I would like to call attention to a dynamic aspect of the relationship among government surveillance, security crackdowns, and leaks.

How Millions of Americans Changed Their Race

A person’s race is supposedly a fixed biological fact, right? So how is it possible for millions of people to change their race? And what lessons do these changes teach us about society and culture?

Studying Marital Infidelity

Suppose you wanted to get an insider’s view of extramarital affairs. How would you go about doing it, and what ethical problems might you encounter?

What If Barack Obama’s Mother Had Had A Different Life?

Ever since I first read Dreams From My Father, I’ve been struck by similarities between my family and the one that Barack Obama grew up in. As I read about the too-short life of Ann Dunham, Obama’s mother, I couldn’t help wondering whether, if she had made a few different choices, she might have had a personal and family life that turned out more like my wife’s and mine.

What Does It Mean to Look Jewish? Part 3: Non-Jews

What is going on when non-Jews are assumed by others to be Jews, and are treated as such—either benignly or with overt anti-Semitism? What can we learn about race and ethnicity from such incidents?

Tolerance, Acceptance, Understanding

What is the difference between tolerance and acceptance, as applied to individuals and cultures? What role does understanding play?

What to Do About Adolescence?

When I was growing up, it was legal for 18 year olds to drink alcohol, but you had to be 21 to vote. Now, in a triumph of social engineering, it is legal for 18 year olds to vote, but you have to be 21 to drink. It took years of debate involving many layers of government to achieve these changes. Why was so much effort necessary to produce this result?

Marijuana Legalization Comes to Uruguay

Both chambers of the General Assembly of Uruguay have passed legislation legalizing marijuana, and the president is expected to sign the bill soon. This will make Uruguay the first country to make marijuana legal. What does this mean for drug policy in the United States and the rest of the world?

Telling Silences: A Doctor’s Tales of Denial

Telling Silences: A Doctor’s Tales of Denial by Hillel Halkin M.D. is a book of invitingly-written clinical stories of patients in denial. The stories describe people whose symptoms are dramatic, who don’t tell loved ones or physicians about them, and who “forget” serious diagnoses, sometimes repeatedly.

Is Stop-and-Frisk Racial Discrimination Against Latinos?

Judge Shira A. Scheindlin’s ruling that New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy is unconstitutional has been viewed as a blow against racial discrimination. Clearly, the targets of the policy are disproportionately African-Americans and Latinos. But are Latinos a race?

What Does It Mean to Look Jewish? Part 2—Sephardic Jews

After graduating from college decades ago, I took my meager savings and went off to Paris. I wandered all over the city, and happened on a Jewish district with a lot of ethnic restaurants. I looked over the menus and was surprised that, where I expected to see pastrami, I found couscous instead.

Problems with the Census’ Racial Categories

A former director of the United States Census Bureau has some strong criticism of the unscientific and archaic racial categories used in the census. And I have some additional ones.

What Race Is George Zimmerman?

George Zimmerman has been described as white, a white Hispanic, and mixed race—but what race is he really? Discussions of race in the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case have focused on issues of prejudice and stereotypes, but have generally ignored Americans’ confusion about the concept of race.

Thalidomide in Brazil—Again!

In the mid-1970s, while I was a visiting professor in Brazil, I supervised research studying the psychological development (cognitive, emotional, and motoric) of Thalidomide adolescents and preadolescents in the state of São Paulo. So you can imagine how upset I was to discover from the BBC News Magazine that the drug is once again causing birth defects in Brazil.

The Myth of Race, Again

The New York Times “Invitation to a Dialogue: The Myth of ‘Race’,” (coincidentally the title of my recent book) concerned the assertion that the human species has no biological races, and that the race concept has a long history of being used in the service of social injustice. Unfortunately, the published Dialogue ignored cultural differences in the race concept.

Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition

Whole, by the author of The China Study, discusses nutritional evidence for a whole food plant-based diet, holism versus reductionism as scientific strategies, and problems confronted by researchers who challenge dominant research paradigms.

Ways of Understanding Envy and Jealousy

People often use the words envy and jealousy interchangeably, but there are important differences between them. Attempts to understand these two emotions usually focus on the ways they are experienced; but there is another way of looking at them that leads to unexpected insights.

Marijuana Legalization: Is Oregon Next?

In the wake of marijuana legalization laws in Colorado and Washington, the University of Oregon School of Law recently hosted a drug policy symposium. Many legislators attended; and there was a feeling among the participants that Oregon could well be the next state to take similar action.

New York City’s Soft Drink Limit and Marijuana Legalization

The debate over New York City’s 16-ounce limit on sugary drinks has contrasted the need to combat the obesity epidemic with the need to protect individual rights. The regulation raises the same kinds of issues as the debate over legalizing marijuana and downsizing or ending the War on Drugs.

Sickle Cell Anemia Isn’t Evidence for the Existence of Races

Many people argue as follows, “How can you say that the human species has no biological races, when blacks get sickle cell anemia and whites don’t?” The mistaken reasoning goes as follows: skin color is inherited, and sickle cell disease is inherited, therefore sickle cell disease is caused by race. Therefore races exist.

Questioning Assumptions Underlying the War on Drugs

Rather than attacking drugs as the cause of crime, corruption, and disease, policy should be aimed at attacking the black market created by the War on Drugs, because it is the black market that causes crime, corruption, and disease.

Jefferson in Brazil

Not Thomas Jefferson. Me. Years ago, when I was living in Brazil, I was standing on line and the woman behind me said, “Shut up, Jefferson!” (“Cale a boca, Jeferson!”) It turned out that she was speaking to her three-year-old son.