What We’re Reading: On Girl Doctors, Genealogy, and Genius

A quick look at the articles that caught the attention of BCRW Staff this week…

Disney Finds a Cure for the Common Stereotype With ‘Doc McStuffins’ by Brooks Barnes

Brooks Barnes reports for The New York Times on the newest Disney TV star, a six-year-old African American girl and aspiring doctor who opens a clinic for her stuffed animals. Slotted for a second season, the show is an unconventional but calculated move for Disney that seems to be paying off:

It’s considered an on-screen risk to make your main character a member of a minority, even in this post-“Dora the Explorer” age… But “Doc McStuffins” seems to have struck a cultural nerve, generating loud applause on parent blogs, Facebook and even in academia for its positive vocational message for African-American girls.

In a TV landscape usually inhospitable for girls and African America youth, Doc McStuffins represents a trend toward more diversified leading characters – role models that supporters claim can provide young viewers “an alternative to LeBron and Beyonce” and a way to combat the fact that black women make up less than 2% of doctors nation wide. Is TV programing like Doc McStuffins and productions like Brave (Pixar’s first female-starring film in 17 years) helping to create a new generation of feminists? Is it enough?

This article was picked out by Lulu, our Summer Research Assistant.

Obama is a Descendent of Nefertiti & Confucious Too by Alondra Nelson 

BCRW speaker and Columbia University Professor Alondra Nelson responded this week to the continuing interest in uncovering racial lineage, noting, “the primary reason these ancestry stories entrance us is because they bring us face-to-face with our national fascination with and anxieties about racial miscegenation.” Nelson argues that this focus on genetic ancestry is of questionable value:

As sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel contends, genealogy says more about our social values and priorities and than it does about our “real” families: “we manipulate genealogies to accommodate personal and collective agendas of inclusion and exclusion.”

Similarly, esteemed legal scholar Dorothy Roberts, who will give BCRW’s annual Helen Pond McIntyre Lecture in October, argues that the focus on discovering race at a molecular level reaffirms concepts of intrinsic racial difference that perpetuate racism. In this video, she talked to journalist Tavis Smiley about the “fatal invention” of race.

This article was picked out by Anne, our Program Manager.

Jonah Lehrer Throws It All Away by Roxane Gay

Writer Roxane Gay adds a new perspective to the fall of journalist and The New Yorker columnist Jonah Lehrer with her Salon.com article. Instead of joining the flummoxed public and musing on how Lehrer could stoop to such plagiaristic lows, Gay asks why our infatuation with this young journalist blinded us to truth:

Lehrer’s success and this current humiliation, how far he had to fall, is a symptom of a much bigger problem, one that is systemic, one that continues to consistently elevate certain kinds of men simply for being a certain kind of man. Jonah Lehrer fits the narrative we want about a boy genius.

Gay puts the male-dominated publishing industry on the spot, contextualizing Lehrer’s rise to fame within a societal media “system too big to fail” and too sure to ask hard questions of a young male hotshot.

This article was picked out by Janet, our Director.


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