Reasons to Support Belle Knox (Even if You Don’t Agree With Her)

For weeks, the media has been in an uproar over Belle Knox, the freshman at Duke University who works as a porn star to pay for tuition.

Well, maybe uproar is the wrong word. The media has been downright civil compared to the mudslinging from everyone else—people who have done everything from revealing her real name to threatening to throw garbage on her.

You don’t have to agree with Knox’s choices to side with her, though. We all have our demons, and Knox must bear the consequences of her actions like anyone else. Regardless of how others feel about her decision to work in porn, Knox’s approach to the scandal is still admirable for many reasons:

  • She exposed Duke’s rape culture, a phenomenon in which privileged students think they can get anything they want—including nonconsensual sex. Rape pervades college campuses around the country, so kudos to Knox for discussing how victims, particularly women, are subject to scrutiny and objectification from those who are in no position to judge.
  • She stood up for herself, and shows no signs of stopping. Knox wrote a response to the Duke Chronicle’s first article about her, interviewed with the Huffington Post (among others—she has an upcoming media tour as well), and has already posted multiple articles for xoJane. You have to respect Knox’s determination to stand by her beliefs—and she articulates them well for a college freshman.
  • She’s starting a conversation. Knox raises questions about how our culture should approach sexuality, and has brought further attention to the rising cost of college education. If a student feels driven to work in porn because she can’t afford tuition, what does the choice say about the value of a college degree?

Knox claims to feel empowered working as a porn star, but those feelings don’t apply to everyone in the industry. Too often, sex is used as a pawn to assign or remove power; consider the porn stars who feel powerless at work, or the plight of sex slaves who never had the freedom to choose and suffer constant degradation. People who judge Knox for her choices use their own sexual morality as a way to establish power over her—no different than people in these adult industries who corrupt human sexuality for personal gains.

Marginalizing people does not change their actions, though; it just reinforces Knox’s view that entitlement places stigmas on outsiders, even though everyone is broken in some way. It reduces righteousness to cruelty.

So let’s treat Knox like this: instead of writing murder and rape threats from behind the safety of our computer screens, let’s see her as a real person—a person with dignity who makes choices and has to live with them like the rest of us.

Do you feel like Knox has been treated unfairly? Leave us a comment.

-Amanda

Amanda Suazo, editor, joined BSB in 2010 as the writing guru for the organization’s website, official documents, and documentary before focusing a bit on philanthropy. Now a graduate of Gonzaga University, she is currently an MBA student and freelance writer. Between Zumba classes and downing espresso, you might catch her attempting to be a vegetarian. Find her on Twitter.

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Guinness and the Koch Brothers: How Money Buys Influence

It’s hard to think of St. Patrick’s Day without thinking about Guinness—which made things awkward for organizers of New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade this year.

Guinness decided not to join the parade because it barred gay and lesbian groups from participating. Days before, Heineken and Sam Adams brewer Boston Beer Co withdrew their sponsorships of parades in New York and Boston for similar reasons.

It’s a powerful statement coming from businesses whose products are typically associated with the holiday—especially when their financial backing allows the parades to happen in the first place. These events reinforce how having monetary power can garner attention and call others to action.

But those with wealth and high visibility have different ideas about what deserves attention. Guinness used its brand and money to reinforce its political stance at a parade; while the move is admirable, it only influences public opinion in the short run. People with more financial power, however, have a much farther reach—and how they spend their money can affect everyone.

Take David and Charles Koch, owners of the conglomerate Koch Industries: they believe in low taxes, minimal industry regulation, and reduced social services. While they have donated toward causes such as cancer research and the arts, their political involvement has leaders and citizens concerned.

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Figures such as Senator Harry Reid have rallied against the brothers for investing so much money in political causes they support. He has some substantial examples to work with:

  • Koch Industries is widely regarded as one of the largest air polluters in the country, yet the brothers convinced Congress members to sign a pledge saying they wouldn’t back climate change legislation.
  • Americans for Prosperity, a political action committee that heavily relies on the brothers for funding, rolled out a series of ads against the Affordable Care Act—which didn’t really stick to factual information.
  • They invested $490 million in the 2012 election cycle, including fundraising for the Republican candidacy.

Regardless of whether anyone sides with the Koch brothers’ or Guinness’s political philosophies, you can’t help but wonder if wealthy people and businesses should feel responsible for supporting a greater good. It’s one matter to influence public opinion by withholding money or not participating (as Guinness did)—but if you provide financial backing to political figures and legislature behind the scenes, how do we know who works for our best interests?

Sure, it’s a stretch to compare a brewery to two wealthy brothers. But both have money, so both have power—it’s just a matter of quantity.

Should Guinness or the Koch brothers practice business differently? Leave us a comment!

-Amanda

Amanda Suazo, editor, joined BSB in 2010 as the writing guru for the organization’s website, official documents, and documentary before focusing a bit on philanthropy. Now a graduate of Gonzaga University, she is currently an MBA student and freelance writer. Between Zumba classes and downing espresso, you might catch her attempting to be a vegetarian. Find her on Twitter.

Coke’s Super Bowl Commercial: Why All the Hype Over Speaking English?

The internet has exploded with commentary about Coke’s 2014 Super Bowl ad in the last few days. The minute-long spot depicts people from various ethnic backgrounds participating in relatively “American” activities—road trips, movie outings, roller skating—and drinking Coke, of course.

Those who wander the internet have probably seen the trending #boycottcoke hashtag (and the ensuing debate on Twitter), as well as the discomfort among conservatives about what the ad communicates. Did we mention yet that it plays “America the Beautiful” in different languages? Apparently that gets people hyped up.

CokeAd

People claim that the ad is un-American because its vocalists do not sing entirely in English. But I’m a little confused as to why singing another language is a problem in the United States. The thing is:

  • The United States has no official language at the federal level. As this government site mentions, some (but not all) states have designated their own official languages.
  • Did you also know that people don’t have to speak English to vote? As long as they’re American citizens, their input matters. And speaking of citizenship…
  • In some circumstances, people don’t need to know English to take a citizenship test.

In general, the United States government has established a number of outlets that allow non-English speakers to participate in what our country has to offer. Not knowing English in America is undoubtedly a disadvantage anyway, for practical and cultural reasons: people who never learn it don’t get an equal chance to immerse themselves in the freedoms it offers or overcome constant discrimination.

America was built on the backs of non-English speaking immigrants—the kinds of immigrants who still face judgment for the cultural norms that differentiate them and make them unique. The fact that the United States provides lingual accommodations—and the fact that a single Coke ad isn’t entirely in English—captures more truth about our country’s origins and claims more respect for disadvantaged minorities.

What do you think about Coke’s Super Bowl ad? Leave us a comment below!

-Amanda

 

Amanda Suazo, editor, joined BSB in 2010 as the writing guru for the organization’s website, official documents, and documentary before focusing a bit on philanthropy. Now a graduate of Gonzaga University, she is currently an MBA student and freelance writer. Between Zumba classes and downing espresso, you might catch her attempting to be a vegetarian. Find her on Twitter.

Why You Should Love Your Job Right Now (… if you weren’t furloughed)

I got a strange phone call a few weeks ago.

It was the supervisor at one of my two jobs. She said that due to a few unforeseen circumstances, I needed to stay home until things got straightened out.

I was not kept home because of mistakes on my part, at least—it was some kind of system error. But since this is one of two jobs I work, that phone call meant that I would have nothing to do for half the week.

This went on for two weeks. So if you’re the kind of person that hates their job and doesn’t care about money, you’re probably thinking That sounds awesome! I wish I could sit around and do nothing!

I don’t hate my job—and I do care a little about money—but the novelty of not having to go to work still hit me. Too bad that only lasted for a day, and then I went and got a nasty cold.

I’m the kind of person that feels the need to contribute something in order to feel meaningful in society. Heck, aren’t we all that kind of person? So sitting around feeling ill and not working made me feel meaningless. I wasn’t doing something or making something, and all I could do is read books and binge on Netflix. Not a terrible way to spend your days, but still.

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In light of the US government shutdown, I can’t help but think about the hundreds of thousands of federal employees that just got told they weren’t allowed to come to work either. I am not one of them, but I imagine those that were furloughed—including people like clinical researchers, FDA inspectors, NASA engineers, and many more—are being told that their work is not meaningful enough to sustain.

There are clearly many opinions about how well the United States Congress deals with funding government programs. Beyond any criticism, I’m thinking about the kids that be going hungry because their mothers’ WIC checks didn’t come, or the ones that may not even go to school because their case workers had to stay home. Or the families that depend on housing vouchers to keep roofs over their heads. Or just the realization that hundreds of thousands of people will simply not have paychecks as many agencies are operating on emergency procedures.

It’s beyond books and Netflix now—it’s a ripple effect that will reach all of us if these people cannot return to work. If you still do have a job at the moment, be grateful for it… even if it’s not your favorite thing to do every day.

What do you think about the government shutdown? Share your thoughts below.

-Amanda

 

Amanda Suazo, editor, joined BSB in 2010 as the writing guru for the organization’s website, official documents, and documentary before focusing a bit on philanthropy. Now a graduate of Gonzaga University, she is currently an MBA student and freelance writer. Between Zumba classes and downing espresso, you might catch her attempting to be a vegetarian. Find her on Twitter.

Tips from Across the Atlantic

I spent last month traveling around Europe, where I mostly frolicked around in art museums and cathedrals. Not a bad life. I also ate some pretty fantastic food, and each time the bill came, I automatically started doing my usual mental math: there’s the total, move the decimal point, multiply by two. Oh wait was that the amount before tax? Do we have more than six in our party? More than once, I was reminded that we were not expected to leave anywhere near the familiar 15-20% tip, and a service charge was sometimes already in place.

Here in the States, tipping has become standard in the service industry, especially in  restaurant culture. Eateries that offer alternatives to the tipping system are far and few. Studies have shown that Americans overwhelmingly prefer tipping to a service charge. Maybe we feel that a service charge deprives us of the power to stick it to bad waiters, but studies have shown that the correlation between tips and service is weak. Tips are based largely on the bill amount, and customers usually tip the same percentage regardless of service quality.

Tipping

The U.S. is also one of the only countries to establish a separate minimum wage for tipped employees. While the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, the minimum tipped wage is only $2.13. Minimum wage in the U.S. lags behind much of western Europe, but the situation is worse for tipped employees. While minimum wage was last raised in 2009, tipped minimum wage has remained stagnant for the last twenty-two years. To put that into perspective, twenty-two years ago, a loaf of bread cost an average of 70 cents.

It’s common to think of tips as a reward for good service or the lack of tips as punishment for bad, but as it currently stands, restaurant workers rely almost entirely on tips to make a living. As a result, many struggle to make ends meet. Are we too cynical for the argument that decently paid workers will deliver good service without the additional incentive? I hope not. Employers should not be able to pay their wait staff the same wages as they did in 1991, and I challenge anyone to find bread now for 70 cents. As the battle for higher pay wages on (pun a little bit intended), let’s extend the case to include the tipped workers, lest we make them eat cake.

-Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

5 Reasons Why Supporting Local Arts is Awesome

graffiti1. A vibrant art scene makes for a vibrant city.

Be honest: how many times have you complained to your friends that there was nothing to do where you live? Next time try attending a local concert or visiting a neighborhood art gallery. You’d be surprised how much fun you can have (usually for free)!

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Painting a butterfly2. You may find yourself a new interest or hobby.

Maybe a trip to the local repertory theater encourages you to try your hand at playwriting. Maybe attending an art show inspires you to take a painting class. Maybe you find that the arts are definitely not your thing and go on to discover that you’re an Einstein-level math genius. You never know.

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NHarts3. It’s a great way to get to know your community.

While you’re familiarizing yourself with the up-and-coming local artists, don’t be surprised if you also meet a ton of new people along the way. Getting more involved in your community inevitably leads to making friends with your fellow city dwellers and learning more about local organizations.

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promisekids4. The arts give back.

Studies have shown the potential benefits of an arts education, especially for at-risk youth.  Students with arts involvement tended to have better academic outcomes and higher career goals. Many nonprofit organizations capitalize on this potential by introducing and encouraging the presence of art in schools.

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NHarts5. It’s a chance to relish in the diversity of your own backyard.

I love dropping by New Haven’s annual International Festival of Arts & Ideas. There is always a performance to watch, from classical quartets to modern dance troupes. Better yet, there is never a shortage of people to talk to. Festivals like this attract crowds from all walks of life and provide a golden opportunity to interact with people of different backgrounds and cultures.

-Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

Standing Your Ground and Walking Free: On George Zimmerman

It’s been weeks since the jury decision on July 13th that allowed George Zimmerman to walk free. And while protests are dying down, although not completely, the topic still seems to come up frequently. Or maybe that’s just because I work in a coffeehouse with a large morning crowd of lawyers. And they talk and argue about it as I make their morning lattes.

It’s not about race,” claims one of them. To which another replies that it’s hard to imagine a white kid walking through a neighborhood with a pack of Skittles being stalked and labeled a suspicious character. There’s a sub-conscious stereotype in place that many people no longer even see as racist. It’s become so engrained that a stereotype can excuse racism.

"Justice For Trayvon" Rallies Held Across The Country

But with all the focus on race, there’s a second important issue that is being obscured. After the shootings at Sandy Hook in December of last year, gun violence and gun control became central issues. Six months later, the trial surrounding Trayvon Martin’s shooting called them to attention again. And now? We seem to have forgotten about them completely. Those protestors manifesting their displeasure at the Zimmerman verdict are voicing concerns over racial issues, and issues of civil rights thought resolved. But far fewer people are up in arms (no pun intended) over laws like “Stand Your Ground” that allowed the shooting to happen. Take the gun out of his hand, or don’t allow a man who clearly knew the law intimately to shoot a claimed assailant, and then call it self-defense.

I hope I’m wrong, but it does feel like a dangerous precedent is being set. Self-protection is one thing, and certainly valid, but to think that a gun owner has the right to use their weapon and, by claiming to feel threatened, be absolved of any blame is a worrying issue. Provoking someone into attacking you, a fight or flight response in this case, and then responding to that unarmed assailant with a bullet, point blank…

Race or not, there are some things very wrong with this picture.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

How to Organize a Global Protest

The pace of change is picking up.

Last week I wrote about the power of youth and social media in shaping protest and instigating change. It seems today as though the move to protest is gathering steam. In Brazil, Chile, and Bulgaria, long-running protests have continued (and in some instances escalated); and in Egypt these past weeks, mass protests eventually led to a military imposition and the removal of Mohamed Morsi from power.

In all cases, different events and different grievances led to the protests. The Brazilian demonstrations began as a protest against increased bus fares, in Bulgaria it was government corruption, and in Chile demands for improved education. What they all have in common is that the protests expand and become general calls to action, a grocery list of changes and demands for a better world.

Trouble is, nobody quite knows how to satiate those generalized demands. Occupy Wall Street died with a whimper at some point in the last year (do you remember exactly when?) because an undefined call for change was never followed up with an actual procedure for it. And in 2011, protestors in Egypt began the Arab Spring and called for the removal of Hosni Mubarak from power—two years later, an eerie scene of déjà-vu plays out on the streets of Cairo.

Protest

It’s easier than ever to organize mass rallies. I mean, the protests in Chile are being largely coordinated by teenagers! Thank Facebook and more than that, Twitter, the great faceless equalizer. We can be anybody we want to be in 140 characters or less. Wanna motivate the masses? Pick a hashtag, any hashtag. And simultaneously a wave of discontentment seems to be sweeping the world. We were promised great things but they have yet to arrive. Mid-twenties crises are tough.

This isn’t me condemning or praising these ongoing global protests—just musing on a continuing theme. What I do know, though, is that change is the one constant we can all cling to. And given the choice, I’ll take the better half of change: the positive one.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Revolving Door Admissions and the Future of Healthcare

Treating symptoms without addressing the root causes seems to be an affliction of modern society. Here, take another aspirin if you still have a headache. But why do we have a headache in the first place? Not enough caffeine in my case probably, but that’s not necessarily a universal issue.

One area where this avoidance of the real issue really stands out is healthcare for the homeless. Or indeed in America, healthcare for any uninsured. It’s been referred to as “revolving door admissions.” Patients coming into the hospital, often the ER if they’re unable to afford primary care, having their symptoms treated, and then being discharged, only to return to the same dire situation they were in before. With nothing resolved, eventually they end up right back in the hospital.

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What is needed is a support network to actually address their problems. If poor health is a result of homelessness and malnutrition, then those are the issues that should be addressed. There should be a way to transfer the bill footed by the public for emergency room visits by the uninsured, and instead transfer it to preventative care, keeping people out of the hospital in the first place.

In the United Kingdom, the government is giving £10 million, about $15 million, to charities that work with the homeless after their discharge from the hospital. The idea being to address their health and housing needs outside of the hospital, and so break them from the cycle of endless re-admission for the same maladies. In a way it’s empowerment: giving a person the means to take care of themselves, rather than simply patching them up and shuffling them along.

It will be interesting to see how much can be accomplished with the funding. But it is at least a positive to see the foresight, and to see organizations focused on solving the root causes of homelessness, rather than just temporarily alleviating the strain.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.