Category Archives: Social Issues

On Fredericksburg Removing the Slave Auction Block

After the killing of George Floyd, the city of Fredericksburg, Virginia removed the historical slave auction block from the sidewalk on the corner of William St. and Princess Anne St. outside of Hyperion Espresso.

The slave auction block on a street corner in Fredericksburg, VA
By Sarah Stierch – originally posted to Flickr as Slave Auction Block, Fredericksburg, VA, CC BY-SA 2.0,

At first, I was surprised by the decision. When I visited Fredericksburg, I saw the auction block and it reminded me of atrocious events in American History and how we overcame them. The blocks placement in the middle of a highly-trafficked sidewalk strengthens the point: Hundreds (maybe even thousands) of slaves were stripped of their humanity and traded hands at this very spot. This was part of everyday life in pre Civil War Fredericksburg. Why would th ecity choose to remove such a good reminder of the past and the great progress we’ve since made?

White Fragility and Tears We Cannot Stop gave me insight: Have we made as much progress as I previously thought? When I first appreciated the auction block, was I viewing the events of history through my white-privilege-tinted glasses? What does the auction block mean for a black person in America today? I imagine their life – struggling everyday with systemic racism and discrimination. Every time they walk by this auction block, they are reminded that only 200 years ago black folk were auctioned off to whites in this very neighborhood. That’s the reason they are treated poorly today. That’s the reason 1 in 3 black folks are sent to jail in their lifetime. That’s the reason that innocent blacks are shot down by police.

Black Americans are forced to remember this every time they walk this street or sit down to drink a cup of coffee. Meanwhile, white folk look at the block and remind themselves of how great things are today.

I didn’t understand the burden that the auction block might impose on Black Americans. I now believe that the city’s choice to remove the block was a good one. The block did not represent great progress or achievement. Instead, it only reminded us of why there is such great racism in American today. Removing it from the streets gives black folk the opportunity to walk around this particular corner without being reminded of the immense historical baggage and systemic racism that black folk face every day in America.

That said, the auction block surely still belongs in a museum where people can see it and be reminded while they are in the right mindset and surrounded by historical context.

We Are All Humans

As a citizen of the United States, it is no secret that my privacy has been in
constant violation for the entirety of my life. Despite claims of
All-American freedom, the only freedom I seem to have regarding my privacy is
the freedom to have no say into whether my privacy is breached.

The privacy issue began to be brought into the common light when Edward Snowden
revealed the ongoings of the NSA and its gratuitous spying on the American
public. This was a few years ago. Recently, however, it was revealed that AT&T
and the NSA share an agreement wherein AT&T will voluntarily aid the NSA in the
collection of data. Indeed, in several court cases against AT&T regarding their
data sharing, the United States provided AT&T with immunity, leaving them
unpunishable for their sharing of customer information.

It is easy to quickly agree that all AT&T customers should simply switch service
providers, taking their money to companies who do not have agreements with the
NSA, and thereby solving the problem. However, it isn’t that simple. If AT&T has
an agreement with the NSA that supposedly grants them immunity in court, not
many other companies would refuse such a good deal.

This raises a very big question: What gives AT&T the power to share other
peoples’ information with the government. What’s more: What gives the NSA
the right to demand this information?

What is privacy?

A longwithstanding fact is that people need some sort of privacy. Whether it
be their rooms, the bathroom, or simply privacy of mind, humans need some
place to be able to think and ponder without being watched.

Most Americans believe that they have a certain amount of privacy. For instance,
after work most Americans return to their private homes, where only a select few
individuals are allowed access. Even then, humans tend to wish for “private
time”, wherein they sit alone and contemplate things far beyond their own
personal experience.

Not only this, however. Many Americans yearn for a privacy of record. That is,
there are some things that simply need to be unexposed to everyone else. Phone
call transcripts, chat history, internet history, medical records, letters,
photos, and passwords are all examples of this. This is something that most
Americans believe they have as well. For instance, it is often considered too
Orwellian to admit that every word you say is being watched. This consideration
is testament to how much privacy Americans think that they have.

This, of course, is all understood. When it comes to the question of sharing
this privacy, many Americans will respond with something along the line of
“I have nothing to hide”! These same people, however, are reluctant in sharing
all of their personal information, passwords, and private chat transcripts
with random individuals on the street. I thought you had nothing to hide!

Governments are People

It has long been said that the United States is a nation run “by the people,
for the people”. In its literal sense, this statement simply means that the
government, the body that supposedly runs the entire country, is made up of
people. Of course, the statement was meant to be more of a democratic ideal,
showing that the same people that must follow laws have the power to change

Looking at the literal interpretation makes sense, though. After all, the
government is just a large collection of people who do various things. In
addition, the government is a small subset of the entire human population. Thus,
the government is simply a collection of humans. Just like the group it governs.

I’m not saying that the concept of a government is wrong, however. It should be
fairly obvious that without a central source of rule, things go haywire. There
is no standardization of units, no agreed upon rules, and no way to make sure
that the gullible are not abused by the persuading. This governmental group
of humans, however, are not special in any way. They, as humans, do not have
any advantages over the people they govern. They were not blessed by a god,
they are not more intelligent, they are not more knowledgeable, and they are
not more important. With seven billion people on the planet, how is it possible
that one human is more important than another? It isn’t.

With that being said, why would a certain group of humans be allowed to violate
the privacy of another group of humans? The answer is simple: They shouldn’t.
After all, privacy is something that all humans need, and for one group of
humans to deny this from another group of humans simply isn’t right.

The Current Situation

Currently, it is the case that this exact situation is occurring. A group of
humans, the United States Government, is violating the privacy of the humans
that it governs. It is not doing so in the simplistic sense that it is listening
for certain keywords to prevent terrorist attacks, but rather it is doing so in
the sense that it is storing everything. With its NSA program, the government is
storing your location of every moment of the day (via cellphone GPS), your
calls, your texts, every photo you take, every minute you spend using water,
every thing you purchase, and every person you interact with. With this, it
is creating a searchable profile for you, wherein any government official can
search for you, by name, and find out everything about you, including the things
you do in “private”.

Of course, the humans that are being governed don’t have much of a choice. By
simply living in the United States, they signed an invisible contract saying
that another group of humans, the government, had the right to invade every
aspect of their private lives.

This, of course, should not be happening. Following the ideals of all men
being created equal, one group of humans should not be able to invade the
privacy and the lives of another group of humans.

We are all humans. We are all the same. No one should have privilege over others
in the magnitude that the United States government has privilege over its

People are Selfish

If you have even remotely been following my blog, which I admit you probably shouldn’t be doing, you’d know that I am kind of obsessed with Dan Ariely’s The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty [1]. Well, this book has a way of making me think for myself. Every passage, every word, every letter [2] I find myself analyzing the author’s words and thinking about possible flaws or counterarguments. While doing this, I am able to understand the material better. It is really magnificent.

Of course, this is no text book, but rather a summary of fantastic research findings. Nonetheless, having never taken a psychology course, I find this book to be both very interesting and very informative.

One of the final arguments that Ariely makes is one that struck me as a little off, however. He claims that people cheat in excess whenever they know that their cheating behavior will be completely altruistic – It only helps others [3]. Here is a direct excerpt:

I think that when both we and another person stand to benefit from our dishonesty, we operate out of a mix of selfish and altruistic motives. In contrast, when other people, and only other people, stand to benefit from our cheating, we find it far easier to rationalize our bad behavior in truly altruistic ways and subsequently we further relax our moral inhibitions.

To be clear, I do not disagree with the argument that Ariely makes. I very much believe that altruistic actions are more susceptible to cheating than most other actions. I have, for instance, seen many students throughout my education career blatantly cheat and give others answers, but feel no guilt because it is only benefiting someone else. I disagree, however, with how Ariely came to that conclusion.

Basically, the experiment was set up in a way where two people had to each complete a task wherein they would be rewarded for their reported performance. How is this performance calculated? The other person in the “group” would report your score. What Ariely found was that people overstated the performance of their group members by a large amount, thus indicating that they were willing to cheat for altruistic reasons.

Although this may seem correct on the surface, I believe that there is a different motive behind this course of action. Since after member A reports member B’s performance, member B reports member A’s performance in much the same way, there may be a selfish incentive for member A to overstate the performance of member B. This is mainly playing off of guilt.

You know that feeling when you get a large birthday gift from someone you don’t really know? Great. Now you have to buy them a large birthday gift in return. It’s the same principle. Member A knows that by blatantly overstating member B’s score, member B will, in turn, overstate member A’s score. Thus, it may be that one member is acting altruistically. However, I believe that it is even more likely that the member is acting in their own personal interest — guaranteeing that they will have a higher performance by acting in an altruistic manner.

In order to better test whether or not people act altruistically, the performance reporting section of the task may be arranged in such a way that neither member of the group gets to see how the other member reported performance. In this way, there will be no guarantee that by reporting “altruistically” is also beneficial to the reporter. [4]

Again, I’m not pointing out that Ariely’s argument is incorrect, but rather that there is more than one way to interpret the results of this particular experiment. Interpreting the results in this way may lead one to believe that people are not altruistic cheaters, but rather selfish cheaters.

1 Ariely, Dan. The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. New York: Harper Perennial, 2012. Print.
2 okay maybe not so much every letter
3 Ariely, 232
4 Of course, it may be true that this is indeed the way that Ariely implemented the experiment. He did not mention much of the specifics of the experiment in the text, which leaves room for skepticism.

The Importance of Jewelry in Relationships

While growing up, I never thought much about jewelry. Mainly, I thought it was a way to look “cool” and express yourself. I used to wear necklaces, earrings1, rings, and watches just to make myself look a little older and look a little “cooler”. Girls, I thought, did the same. They wore jewelry just to look a little more elegant and a little more pretty. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But I’m not here to discuss the semantics of beauty and jewelry.

In relationships, I always saw jewelry as a huge marketing scheme. After all, the idea of a diamond ring as something mandatory for a proposal was the result of one company’s ad campaign2. As we go about our day, we are constantly barraged with slogans like “Every kiss begins with Kay”3 and “Your personal jeweler, Ben Bridge” trying to lure us into the world of expensive, pricey jewelry.

There’s more to it than just marketing, most people would agree. Wearing jewelry is an expression that you are wearing something dear to you that was given to you by someone you love. A diamond ring, a heart necklace, a silver earring – all to show others that you’re proudly taken and proudly in love. It works well, too. Walking around, it is not difficult at all to spot men or women in dedicated relationships by the ring that they wear on their ring-finger.

There is more to just following trends, looking good, and showing others that you’re taken, however. Jewelry serves the purpose of reminding the wearer that they are indeed in a relationship. Why would someone in a relationship need to remind themselves of this? The following anecdote sums things up perfectly4:

One day, Peter locked himself out of his house, so he called around to find a locksmith. It took him a while to find one who was certified by the city to unlock doors. The locksmith finally pulled up in his truck and picked the lock in about a minute.

“I was amazed at how quickly and easily this guy was able to open the door” … In response to Peter’s amazement, the locksmith told Peter that locks are on doors only to keep honest people honest. “One percent of people will always be honest and never steal,” the locksmith said. “Another one percent will always be dishonest and always try to pick your lock and steal your television. And the rest will be honest as long as the conditions are right – but if they are tempted enough, they’ll be dishonest too. Locks won’t protect you from the thieves, who can get in your house if they really want to. They will only protect you from the mostly honest people who might be tempted to try your door if it had no lock.”

After reflecting on these observations, I came away thinking that the locksmith was probably right. It’s not that 98 percent of people are immoral or will cheat any time the opportunity arises; it’s more likely that most of us need little reminders to keep ourselves on the right path.

Now before you begin to disagree with me because there is no way that relationships are relatable to locked doors and locksmiths, consider the possibility. In relationships, there are probably around one-percent of people who will be faithful to their significant other no matter the circumstance. They will stay true to them in life and in death. Conversely, there are probably another one-percent of people who are purposefully looking to cheat on their significant other – to feel the rush of breaking the rules. Thus, this leaves the remaining ninety-eight percent who will remain true to their significant other “as long as the conditions are right”.

What kind of conditions am I talking about? Well, if a relationship is healthy and happy, there is probably no reason to change anything – the conditions are right; however, say that there is a little bit of trouble – one person has a little too much alcohol – anything can happen! This kind of disloyalty in a relationship is the disloyalty that happens on a daily basis. People seemingly “accidentally” cheat on their significant others quite often, and almost always because the conditions were a little bit off.

In The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, Dan Ariely discusses this phenomenon at length, saying that it does not only apply to locked doors, but also to tests, tax returns, and most other situations where a bit of honesty is required. Through several experiments, Ariely shows that there is a way to prevent this dishonest behavior – to have a reminder that keeps us on the right path. This reminder can be in any form, Ariely claims. According to his studies, swearing on a bible prevents lying, signing a “I will not cheat” statement prevents cheating, and signing a “I verify that these taxes are correct” prevents tax return fudging.5

The catch with Ariely’s claims, however, is that the reminder has to take place before the opportunity to be dishonest arises. For instance, when doing taxes, the signed verification at the end of tax submission would be much more effective if it was placed at the beginning, reminding people to fill out the forms honestly. The same goes for relationships – the reminder to remain loyal to your significant other would have to take place before the opportunity for disloyalty arises.

This is where jewelry plays a major role. Since jewelry is something that is worn all day and something that is visible, it serves as a constant reminder to the wearer that they are indeed in a relationship and that they should not do anything to jeopardize this. Following the logic of the above anecdote and Ariely’s well-argued claims, if one were to constantly be reminded of their relationship by the ring on their finger, they would be far less likely to be dishonest.

By making this claim that jewelry in a relationship reduces dishonestly, I’m not saying that every relationship is in jeopardy of having some sort of cheating occur – I’m mainly pointing to the possibility and saying that jewelry may reduce even the slightest chance by simply reminding the wearer that they should not be dishonest to their significant other. If you are currently wearing jewelry given to you by your significant other, you should not be offended that they think you may cheat, but you should be happy because they are trying to mitigate even the slightest possibility. Jewelry is a constant reminder and a constant warning and may prevent instances of heartbreak due to this.



1. For the record, I do not have my ears pierced. I used to wear magnetic earrings.

2. For more information about this, see New York Time’s fantastic article about De Beers, Frances Gerety, and the way that they influenced the American jewelry market.

3. Stern Advertising has done a fantastic job raising the public’s awareness of Kay Jewelers. View the official Stern page here:

4. Anecdote is from Dan Ariely’s The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. Full citation:
Ariely, Dan. The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012. Print.
Specific anecdote, “Lessons from Locksmiths” is on page 38.

5. These experiments and conclusions are mainly discussed in Chapter 2: “Fun with the Fudge Factor”.

Humanity is Good.

There are many, many events that make me doubt the goodness and the heart of humanity as a whole. Of course, this is definitely an over-generalization and there are definitely occurrences that make me realize that there are a lot of good people in the world.

I want to describe one of those occurrences.

If you do not know, I am currently employed at a Dining Hall here on campus. Although I have no interest in working in the food service industry, I thought that it would be a good experience getting to know the ins and outs of the businesses that so happily serve us food almost every day of our lives. So far, it has been a very rewarding experience, and I definitely recommend an employment in the food service industry to everyone who frequents restaurants.

Now, back to the story. I was working the cash register as usual. Everyone was diligently paying for their food and getting water cups. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then, a woman with sunglasses and a skateboard approached the cash register. Once again, nothing out of the ordinary. Then, she kindly offered to pay for the four customers after her in line, of whom she informed me she did not know. I’ve never experienced someone offering to pay for strangers before, so this was a transaction that I was extremely glad to make. I thanked the woman, told her how kind she was, and sent her on her way with her food.

The expressions of the people who had their food paid for were priceless. First, a look of awe and embarrassment. A poor man was under the impression that the woman had attempted to pay for his food as some sort of sign that she was interested in him. However, when he learned that the next person was also being paid for, he become less embarrassed and more appreciative of the gesture that this stranger had made. The next individual in line curiously waited to see if the person behind him was also being paid for, and when he realized that they were, he left. Whether this was because they knew eachother or that he was simply concerned that the person behind him would get the short end of the stick, I’ll never know.

The third person to be paid for did as expected: They take their prepaid food and left. The fourth person, however, did something that has inspired me to be a better person everyday. He asked me about the person behind him. “Is the person behind me’s meal paid for as well?”. Of course, I responded with a “No.” To this, the customer gladly stated that he would pay for the person behind him. Not only did this customer get a free meal, but he also cared enough about the people around him to make sure that he wasn’t the only one getting something for free.

This trend surprisingly continued for the next 10-or so people. Each one, after learning about their free meal, was immediately concerned with the status of the person behind them. After learning they hadn’t been paid for, they quickly offered to pay. Of course, there was bound to be someone who did not take the time to check on the person next in line, but the fact remains that a single act of gratitude, paying for the next four people in line, sparked a huge chain of people who were looking out for one another and taking care of each other’s meals.

This event made me extremely excited, and I immediately told my roommates about the event when I returned home. Inspired by it, my roommate actually decided to surprise me and pay for my laundry that night. In order to give back the good feeling, I decided to pay for someone elses’ laundry, to which they were very receptive, and we have become good friends.

This event has taught me that people, no matter how ignorant, arrogant, or self-centered they may seem, have a lot of good in them, and are very capable of accomplishing astonishing things. Because of this event, I am now inspired to look out for anyone else who may need help and immediately offer my assistance. On top of this, I think it’s a good idea to surprise people once in a while. I want to show those around me that I care about them.

Now I challenge you, reader, to go out and do the same. Pay for a stranger’s meal. Help a stranger carry something. Offer your aid wherever you think it could be useful. It could make someone’s day, start a chain reaction, and maybe change the world.