Lisa Bloom Isn’t Impressed by Your ’Swagger’
There’s a lot to be said for Lisa Bloom, the fiery civil rights attorney, television legal contributor, and best-selling author. A tireless advocate for those victimized, Bloom follows in the footsteps of her iconic mother Gloria Allred in taking on institutions that devalue life.
Her first book, "Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed Down World," was met with glowing reviews in 2011. Only one year later, Bloom has returned with the hard-hitting "Swagger: 10 Urgent Rules for Raising Boys in an Era of Failing Schools, Mass Joblessness, and Thug Culture."
She took time out of her intensely busy schedule to discuss the new book with EDGE and talk a bit about the challenges facing boys in the 21st century.
EDGE: Congratulations on "Swagger" becoming the top-selling parenting book in the country! What inspired you to write a book dedicated to boys?
LISA BLOOM: Thanks! Last year I wrote my first book, "Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World," all about how tabloid media, reality shows and the beauty industry have such a negative influence on women and girls, and what we can do to push back and reclaim our brains. I have spoken to groups all over the country about this. Afterwards, many parents would ask my thoughts about the problems facing boys.
My reaction was, ignorantly, "What problems?" So many people persisted in this question that I began to look into it. I decided to write an article about it. As I continued to research the latest social science - how boys are medicated, disciplined, suspended and expelled far more often than girls... That the majority of our Hispanic and African-American boys drop out of high school, that four times as many young men are incarcerated today than when I was a kid - I was appalled.
I spoke to parents, teachers, administrators, many boys and young men, and kept researching and writing about what I found. The article turned into the book, "Swagger." I wanted to alert parents about how harsh our country has become towards our boys who falter, and give concrete, practical steps any parent can use to raise smart, successful sons.
EDGE: How do you think the culture of "swagger" became so prevalent?
LISA BLOOM: I call the book "Swagger" because "swagger" is the most common song lyric of the last decade, across all genres: rap, hip hop, even the Jonas Brothers are singing about it! It’s also the #1 attitude modeled for boys in movies, TV and games they love. Every boy I spoke to knows all about swagger - but few parents do. Swagger is an attitude of overconfidence, often crossing the line into arrogance.
For example, American kids rank #25 out of 30 developed countries in math. But in one area they are #1: confidence. And the research is clear that overconfident kids do worse in school, have more emotional problems, and are more likely to take dangerous risks, drink and do illegal drugs. In the book, I advocate a return to the lost value of humility. The Bible says, "With humility comes wisdom." And the social science bears that out.
Calling out Justin Bieber
EDGE: You recently called out Justin Bieber for his careless remarks demeaning school and reading. What are some ways parents can make reading a joy for boys who think it isn’t "cool"?
LISA BLOOM: Parents must always model the behavior they want to see in their kids. "Do as I say, not as I do, kid," has never worked, and it still doesn’t. Reading is so critical to your kids’ future it can hardly be overestimated. Parents, you must read for pleasure in front of your kids. Model for them that reading is a pleasure. After dinner, turn off all those toxic screens: TV, computer, video games, "anything with an on/off switch" as they say on planes. Plop down on the sofa with your book, and invite your kid to grab his book and join you. Read the great parts out loud. Groan when you’re called away to do something else. Take family trips to the library or bookstore for author events.
I have a twelve page list of "Books Boys Love" at the end of "Swagger." Connect your boy with books in his area of interest. Your library is bursting with them.
EDGE: Minority males experience illiteracy at a much higher rate than their white counterparts due to socio-economic factors and struggling schools. The consequence are especially dire for African-American males. How can parents and the community help address this problem?
LISA BLOOM: "Dire" is right. In "Swagger" I talk about public school teachers in low income areas who go online to beg for books for their first graders. Shame on us for putting them in that position.
The answers for African-American parents are the same as for all of us: speak out loudly and often about your values; make your home a reading mecca; eliminate the competition (screens) as much as possible in your home; set college expectations early; and all the other rules in my book.
I visited schools in low income areas in New York and California where kids had phenomenal literacy skills. Parents and teachers worked closely together to set high expectations for their kids. It can be done, and is being done, when we make literacy, and numeracy - math literacy. a priority.
EDGE: You quote a disturbing fact most people probably don’t know: More African-American men are imprisoned now than were enslaved at the time of the Civil War. Why is this not talked about?
LISA BLOOM: Probably most people don’t know that, and so many other important facts about what’s going on today. In my research last year, I found that college students could name more Kardashians than wars we are in.
The mass incarceration of our own citizens is a hideous problem. We imprison more of our own people than any other country on earth, and more than any country in human history. Many can’t vote when they get out, so politicians have no reason to care about them. Our incarcerated citizens, 93% are male, come from poor communities who get little attention to begin with.
And we shame them and their families, even after they’re out and have "done their time," by making it next to impossible to get jobs, business licenses, student loans, even food stamps. That’s how punitive we are: not even food stamps. I heard from a young man whose dream of becoming a nurse was blocked by an old marijuana possession conviction. And now he’s unemployed, living on a friend’s couch, depressed and suicidal. Our drug laws are intensely cruel.