I'm not sure why, but at some point in a man's life he starts listening to talk radio. I flip through the music stations sometimes, but 90% of the time I'm listening to Jim Rome or NPR.
On my way home from my Environmental law final I was dutifully listening to NPR. They were talking about the lamentable problem of type II diabetes in African American children. They had a guy on who was an activist dealing with this problem - mainly through faith-based initiatives trying to educate the people about healthy lifestyles - a sort of "what would Jesus eat" campaign.
Then they asked the guy what it was that made African American children particularly susceptible to overeating to the point of contracting type II diabetes. You would think that this would precipitate an anti-McDonald's diatribe linking poverty to forcing people to eat cheap, fast food and that those chains that offer that food offer exclusively fatty, unhealthy diets. You'd be wrong.
Instead, this guy said that the reason African American kids are fat is because of a cultural phenomenon that links weight to prosperity. This is possibly the dumbest thing I've ever heard.
This is America. Oprah and Al Roker notwithstanding, we do not view fat people as particularly desirable or successful. If anything we overvalue the absence of fat as a signal of prosperity. Seventeen Magazine does not put fat people on the cover because their audience does not want to be, or read about, fat people.
I also don't think there is some huge culture gap between African American kids and these common American cultural traits. I'll admit that I am not the world's foremost expert on African American culture, but does this guy really think that if you put two pictures in front of African American kids, one of a skinny guy and one of a fat guy and asked which one was wealthier, or better off, or more admirable, that those kids would pick the fat guy? Seriously? Black culture is often criticized for ostentatious displays of wealth, but when's the last time you saw a rapper or something pointing to his gut while making it rain in a music video? Fitty ain't got no belly and Jay-Z says he's "big pimpin' spendin' cheese." - I'm not sure what that means, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't mean "big pimpin' poundin' cheese fries."
It ended up totally changing my mental picture of the speaker. At first I some him as a middle aged black man - a black preacher type. When he said that all black kids in America just want to get fat to show how well off they are, I immediately switched him to an old white guy. You have to be stupid, racist, out of touch or all three to really believe that fat kids are strutting around showing off their pudgy opulence.
I was most disappointed that the show's host didn't call him on it, but played right along, at one point asking if maybe some black folks resented that after years of struggle they are now being told that they shouldn't show off their new prosperity. Come on NPR - you're better than that.