Soda Tax Debate Overlooks Sugar’s Sinister History

[Flickr/Photo by Victor]

The world has been a slave to sugar for so long that Cook County residents who are sour on a new penny-an-ounce sugar tax have missed the social justice implications of the measure.

While folks aren’t buying the health argument for taxing the ubiquitous substance directly linked to poor health, almost no one has made the connection to the role of sugar in creating systems of oppression that cause us to debate whether black lives (also) matter.

Sugar drove the slave trade. Everything from income inequality to unequal education outcomes are linked to how we handled things — or didn’t — after slavery ended, leaving white supremacy a part of everyday life.

“There’s definitely a relationship between sugar and slavery,” Josef Ben Levi, who teaches classical African civilization at Northeastern Illinois University, said of West Indies sugar cultivation. “The very foundation of France and its control of what became Haiti had to do with sugar. When Europeans got hold of sugar, they just freaked out.”

Now the Cook County Board of Commissioners has been cowed into considering repealing the sugar tax in October because folks can’t fathom freeing themselves from their unhealthy sugar fix. This controversy has also brought out an ugly provincialism among critics of New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s pro-sugar tax ad campaign, and has the characteristically unperturbed County Board President Toni Preckwinkle seemingly running scared for her political future.

Most of us are familiar with the role of cotton and slavery in making America rich. And whether we want to admit it or not, black bodies were the investment that enriched Southern states so much that they betrayed their country and fought a war to protect their investment in free labor. This ethos lives on in white supremacist violence and rhetoric, as debates over things like removing Confederate monuments keep these issues alive, with life-or-death implications for people on the losing end of racism, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism.

The Napoleonic Wars brought sugar into the picture, paving the way for Thomas Jefferson’s negotiation of the Louisiana Purchase and manifesting a destiny of sugar cultivation in rich Louisiana soil. Slaves better not sneak a piece of cane because that was “eating up somebody’s money,” Ben Levi said.

British author Jim Walvin explores the link between sugar, the slave trade and modern-day health in his upcoming “Sugar: The World Corrupted, From Slavery to Obesity”: “There is a link between the history of African slavery and modern-day racism,” Walvin said. “For three centuries and more, the West treated Africans as things — bought and sold them as items of trade — objects and commodities. That image and attitude embedded itself in Western society. Viewing people as things formed the foundations of a deep-seated racist view, which survived.”

Walvin says slavery made possible the mass production and consumption of sugar, which early on was revealed to be bad for health, especially dental health.

“Yet at the same time it provided energy for low-income laboring people,” according to Walvin. ‘Sweet tea and coffee and jams helped them do their work, while rotting their teeth. Obesity came much later with modern industrialized drinks and foods.”

Cook County residents facing sticker shock when they go to buy a case of soda, or who now add a grocery stop when they go to Indiana to fill up on cheap gas, are so focused on their fix they cannot see their role in a historic and economic through-line—or their power to stop the scourge of sugar and what we’ve been always been willing to do to get it, beverage industry be damned.

It would behoove Cook County taxpayers to consider the devastating effects of high fructose corn syrup and other forms of sugar, according to Dr. Terry Mason, CEO of Cook County Department of Public Health. Among processed sugar’s harmful effects is the human body’s inability to metabolize it, creating scar tissue in the lining of blood vessels that can lead to strokes and heart attacks. When the liver can’t break down sugar, it turns it into fat.

Maybe folks are so high on sugar, they can’t remember when cigarette smoke wafted everywhere until public health policies seriously curbed smoking and where the nasty habit could occur.

“We know what the health issues involved with tobacco are,” Mason says. “We are at the same point with food.”

The fact that Can the Tax is dueling the Bloomberg ad for hearts, souls and ‘sweet tooths’ shows Mason is right. We’re living in a toxic food environment, and just because something is available on a store shelf doesn’t mean it should be consumed. The food and beverage industry is primed to spend big money convincing us otherwise. Businesses that profit from our poor health, like kidney dialysis centers, count on certain communities to get sicker than most so they can build more.

“Besides the fact the industry is throwing smoke over people,” Ben Levi said, “not only obesity but diabetes is waiting to happen—basically, death. Our community doesn’t realize the danger that’s involved in high-fructose corn syrup. It’s not even real.”

The truth is, we get upset at tragedies we can see in real-time, like carnage from storms and street violence. It’s the slow death that lulls us into complacency on pushing smart social policy. With the obvious health and historical implications of sugar consumption, one wonders why more taxpayers aren’t using their agency to embrace a tax with the underlying value that life matters.

Journalists and educators, it’s time to get to know each other

2103025046_14476ddc8c_z

There may be no better time than now to help more working journalists and working educators get to know each other.

I came to this conclusion after moderating a panel at the National Association of Media Literacy Educators (NAMLE) conference in Chicago in June. NAMLE is a 20-year old international organization of about 4,000 members from across the globe — mostly researchers and educators. Even though I’ve worked in local media for many years, and spent the past year researching Chicago’s local media ecosystem with my colleague Andrea Hart, this organized group of educators was new to me. I’m sure I’m not the only journalist this would be true of.

“By the time the conference was over, I felt as if I’d just discovered a new army of advocates for the work of rebuilding local news.”

A lot of those advocates are right in my own backyard (and probably yours, too).

The educators spoke about wanting to arm students and parents with knowledge of the standards of quality journalism. Teachers said a lot of their students don’t believe anything they read or hear in the media. And over and over again, these educators said they don’t know how to engage local journalists in their efforts to empower students.

In our research of Chicago’s news ecosystem, we continue to come across innovators, youth-based organizations and new content providers. The rise of these innovative organizations is a huge opportunity for educators and journalists to work together to strengthen local news

For example, I moderated a plenary panel called “View From The Ground: Narratives From Within Chicago” with panelists who included a neighborhood organizer, two high school students, a reporter from a Spanish-language newspaper and the editorial director of a civic journalism lab. The conversation highlighted how so many people who’ve given up on the so-called “mainstream media” haven’t given up on being informed. Instead, they’re using new ways to get the information they need. What would it look like if these organizations collaborated with the media literacy educators in the room that are empowering students to learn fact from fake?

Across Chicago, as we have been hosting workshops and interviews in our research for Democracy Fund, Andrea and I continue to see people creating new content sources. Even neighborhood organizations have embraced their new roles as alternative content providers for their constituents. Other unique content providers from Chicago’s media ecosystem were seen and heard throughout the conference, including representatives from the Illinois Arts Council, local youth media groups, an internationally recognized award-winning film company, and even a 10th-grader from Elmhurst, IL who is a webmaster for Global Student Square, an international student journalism network.

Understanding the role of non-traditional media makers like these is a key part of understanding of how local news is created and consumed today, in Chicago and beyond.

But one sector was not as present. I did not see many local “traditional” media covering the conference. What a(nother) missed opportunity for journalists to understand the urgency to educate students and citizens about media. What a missed opportunity to identify potential collaborations.

Imagine the potential for newsrooms when NAMLE members are creating and testing so many models through their classrooms to help youth grow into engaged citizens. Many of these educators already have strong track records, and others want to learn what they can do.

In Chicago, and no doubt around the country, there are more opportunities to collaborate with these media educators, experiment and rethink community engagement and a stronger local media, together.

(Lead photo via CC/Justine Warrington


sheilaSheila Solomon is an award-winning former newspaper reporter and editor and has worked for the Hampton Monitor, Daily Press, Newsday, The Charlotte Observer and Chicago Tribune. Currently she’s a senior consultant in Chicago for Democracy Fund, and the manager of recruiting and internships at Rivet Radio in Chicago. Among her honors is being inducted into the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications Hall of Fame at Hampton University (Hampton, Va.) and the Ida B. Wells award, given by Medill and the National Association of Black Journalists. She just completed her fifth year as a judge for the National Headliner Awards, has been a lecturer and adjunct professor and serves on numerous journalism-related boards and advisory committees.

NABJCC 2017 Annual Meeting

Dometi Pongo is on the move.

He’s just been hired as weekend news anchor at Tribune Broadcasting news/talk WGN AM 720. Todd Manley, vice president of content and programming at WGN, called him “one of the brightest young stars on the radio.” Pongo will continue as weekday morning news anchor on Midway Broadcasting urban news/talk WVON AM 1690, where he’s worked since 2013. The Chicago native is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. At WGN he succeeds Veronica Carter, who’s rejoining CBS Radio all-news WBBM AM 780/WCFS FM 105.9 — this time as traffic reporter.

Goodman Theatre Hosts NABJCC – April 28, 2017

(April 28, 2017) Chicago, IL — NABJ-Chicago Chapter enjoyed our recent #NightAtTheTheatre, for the world premiere production of Goodman Theatre’s #ObjectsInTheMirror, a new play that opened this week, shining light on the global #refugeecrisis. It’s based on the life of #African refugee #ShedrickYarkpai, who fled his war-torn #Liberian homeland on a walking trek through three countries and #hellish refugee camps in #CoteDIvoire and #Guinea, before finally emigrating to #Australia. The play is the newest work of lauded Playwright #CharlesSmith and equally lauded #Goodman Resident Director #ChuckSmith. The playwright, a #SouthSide native, created this powerful work exploring identity, survival and sacrifices of assimilation after meeting #Yarkpai, an actor, in 2009.
Running thru June 4th, it’s a must-see, says #CHICAGOSUNTIMES Theatre Critic #HedyWeiss: http://chicago.suntimes.com/…/paying-the-price-for-surviva…/
If you haven’t renewed your #NABJCC membership, you’ll want to do it now, so that you don’t miss events like this #NABJ first look!

Spring Fling Mixer 2017

(April 4, 2017) Chicago, IL — Area journalists joined at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company for a night of networking and conversation.

Fireside Chat w/ Kim Foxx, Cook County State’s Attorney

March 16, 2017

Hosted at CBS 2 Chicago, WBBM-TV & Moderated by Derrick Blakley, CBS 2 Chicago – Political Reporter

The NABJ-Chicago Chapter March meeting featured an amazing fireside chat with State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, first African American woman chief prosecutor in #CookCounty history.
Foxx, who became a national name when a grassroots movement helped her boot a two-term incumbent. During the meeting Foxx opened up about her first 100 days. Aside from the challenges and politics of her prominent position, #NABJCC got a deep dive into the personal story of this attorney who grew up in the Cabrini Green public housing and being homeless and living in shelters.

Veteran radio producer leaves the Windy City for D.C.

Sherman “Sherm” Murdock, former producer of WGCI’s “The Tony Sculfield and the Morning Riot,” leaves Chicago to produce one of Washington, D.C. top radio shows, “The Fam in the Morning” on WKYS.

He’s had a long career with Clear Channel Radio and was recently an instructor for the Journalism/Music Studio for Teens of West Englewood.

Murdock starts at the Radio One-owned station Feb. 21.

Follow him on Twitter: @SHERMradio.

 

 

NABJ Mourns the Loss of Longtime Journalist Ronald Wade

WASHINGTON (Jan . 27, 2017) – The National Association of Black Journalists mourns the loss of longtime journalist Ronald Wade, who died Wednesday after a brief illness. Mr. Wade was 62.

Mr. Wade was news editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he arrived in 2006. Journalists from across the country are remembering and celebrating a colleague known for his knowledge and kind spirit.

“I came to know Ron from his days at the Philadelphia Inquirer,” said NABJ President Sarah Glover. “He was a warm person and admirable journalist. He is remembered fondly across U.S. newsrooms for his friendship, kindness, precision to detail and strong journalism skills. He encouraged many young journalists along their career paths, and warmly kept in touch via Facebook. He will be truly missed.”

“I can’t put into words what Ron Wade meant to me,” said Marlon A. Walker, NABJ’s vice president of print. Walker was a reporter at the Post-Dispatch from 2010 until 2013. “He always made himself available to me, either as a journalist, a source of endless information or someone who had seen so much of this country and knew all the best places to eat!”

At the Post-Dispatch, colleagues remembered a dedicated journalist with strong intellect and news judgment, said Post-Dispatch Editor Gilbert Bailon.

“Our top editors trusted his decision-making and ability to respond to big news stories from the many nights of protest in Ferguson to major election nights. He was a backbone involved in coordinating coverage among the various desks and also overseeing the website in the evening,” he said. “But even more important, Ron was beloved because of class, grace and great sense of humor. He had a lot of authority to make important decisions. He did so with clarity of thought, strong reasoning and it was always done with great respect for the people involved. Ron never shied away from tough calls, but he did it with aplomb. Respect for him and his friendship with him spanned the entire newsroom. . . The personal and professional loss in our newsroom is huge. All of the Post-Dispatch journalists were blessed to have worked with Ron. And we all miss him dearly.”

His career began in the Chicago Tribune newsroom as a copy editor, and he worked in newsrooms in Louisville, Ky., Long Island and Buffalo, N.Y., Springfield, Va., Minneapolis and Philadelphia.

“This has literally been his entire life,” daughter Tasha Wade said by phone.

Mr. Wade received a bachelor of arts degree in East Asian Studies from Harvard University.

In addition to Tasha, Mr. Wade is survived by his wife, Mollie, and six other children: Lisa, Sharon, Shawn, Aaron, Jaden and Deiontae.

Funeral services for Mr. Wade will be held in his native Chicago on Feb. 3 at 11 a.m. at Sacred Memories Funeral Home, 2024 E. 75th St.