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Sociology professor on racism, inequality: ‘We get better’


The recent shootings of African-American men by police in Louisiana and in Minnesota, followed by the shootings of five police officers in Dallas, have once again sparked protests across the country and debate over racial bias and disparities in the criminal justice system.

Tressie McMillan Cottom, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University and a faculty associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, has been a prominent voice nationally in the debate.

She recently spoke with VCU News about Black Lives Matter, the roles of implicit and explicit bias, and why she has hope for better things ahead.

In the wake of the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the shootings of five police officers in Dallas, and protests across the country, do you feel that we’re at a pivotal moment for race relations in the U.S.? Do you foresee positive changes ahead? What are the keys to making real progress?

I am not sure if this is a pivotal moment for race relations. It is shaping up to be a pivotal moment for social movements in the U.S. and abroad. The banner of Black Lives Matter has become a global phenomena. Sociologists aren’t good at predicting the future—there are just too many variables in the social world.

I don’t know that I foresee positive changes but I am very encouraged by young people finding their political voice, groups forming coalitions across race, class, gender and identity, and the impact this has had on the election season. I am hopeful because those are the keys to making real progress—political organizing, multigenerational social movements, coalition building and political change.

You and many others have discussed how implicit bias plays a crucial role in police interactions with African-Americans. How can that bias be successfully addressed?

First, let me be clear that implicit bias is part of a larger apparatus of explicit bias, state-sanctioned bias, and accumulated systemic disadvantage. Each of these must be addressed for any one of them to be addressed.

The first step is acknowledging that good intent does not necessarily make for good actions or good politics. It is hard to accept our inherent biases and unearned privileges. But, if we are committed to justice, each of us must do this personal work of accepting that we do not always live up to our ideal selves. I know many of my colleagues accept the challenge of education as critical to this process. For example, many of us use the implicit bias association test from Harvard University to explore these issues in the classroom. That’s part of addressing bias: acknowledging it, labeling it and becoming conversant in its history and context.

More broadly, as citizens we can demand that our public services also do this hard work so that we are better stewards of the public’s faith in our police, emergency services, political bodies and civic institutions.

As a sociologist who studies issues of race and class, what have been your big takeaways from the last couple weeks? Has the discussion been missing anything important that you’d want to highlight?

My takeaway is that sociology is still very much necessary. There is a reason that we see more sociologists in the news and in the public sphere. We are trained to think about how history and the circumstances of our biography shape and are shaped by each other. We are trained to understand complex social processes like the macro conditions that produce racially segregated neighborhoods where micro processes like interpersonal discrimination and implicit bias result in violence and broken public trust.

Often, when I teach my undergraduate sociology of race and ethnicity course, the students say they’re so discouraged by the historical trajectory of race and racism, class and inequality. I tell them the other big lesson from sociology: We get better. We really do. We long have. Our social organisms get healthier. Our humanness becomes more expansive. We make a difference and we change things for the better.

And that’s my takeaway over a few weeks that have been part of a brutal few years in a history of dark moments: We get better. It is hard to see it in the short term but it is true in the long term if we work towards it.

So, I am cheered when young people want to organize, when older people share their wisdom with a new generation of scholars and activists, and when we keep showing up to practice democracy in difficult, dangerous conditions. If anything is missing from the national conversation it is that practicing democracy is messy—and that is what we’re seeing, democracy in action—and that, if history proves right, those who are practicing that democracy right now do so for the benefit of us all.


By          :               Brian Mcneill

Date       :               July 15, 2016

Source    :               Phys.org


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Poverty and inequality after reforms


Creating productive employment and providing quality education are two of the most important measures

India embarked on big-bang economic reforms 25 years back in 1991. It is well-known that GDP growth has been much higher in the post-reform period. However, GDP is only one metric. Ultimately, the success of reforms depends on whether the well-being of people, particularly that of poor, increased over time. In this context, let’s examine the impact of economic reforms on poverty and inequality.

There are two conclusions on trends in poverty. The first one, shown in a World Bank study by Gaurav Datt and others, is that poverty declined by 1.36 percentage points per annum after 1991, compared to that of 0.44 percentage points per annum prior to 1991. Their study shows that among other things, urban growth is the most important contributor to the rapid reduction in poverty even though rural areas showed growth in the post-reform period.

The second conclusion is that in the post-reform period, poverty declined faster in the 2000s than in the 1990s. The official estimates based on Tendulkar committee’s poverty lines shows that poverty declined only 0.74 percentage points per annum during 1993-94 to 2004-05. But poverty declined by 2.2 percentage points per annum during 2004-05 to 2011-12. Around 138 million people were lifted above the poverty line during this period. This indicates the success of reforms in reducing poverty. The poverty of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes also declined faster in the 2000s. The Rangarajan committee report also showed faster reduction in poverty during 2009-10 to 2011-12. Higher economic growth, agriculture growth, rural non-farm employment, increase in real wages for rural labourers, employment in construction and programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) contributed to higher poverty reduction in the 2000s compared to the 1990s.

Another issue discussed all over the world, whether it is the Arab Spring or Brexit, is rising inequality. According to a Credit Suisse report, the richest 1% owns half of all the wealth in the world. What happened to inequality in post-reform period India? The evidence shows that inequality increased in this period. The Gini coefficient measured in terms of consumption for rural India increased marginally from 0.29 in 1993-94 to 0.31 in 2011-12. There was a significant rise in the Gini coefficient for urban areas from 0.34 to 0.39 during the same period. However, consumption-based Gini underestimates inequality. If we use income data from the National Council of Applied Economic Research’s India Human Development Survey, the Gini coefficient in income (rural+urban) was 0.52 in 2004-05 and increased to 0.55 in 2011-12. In other words, inequality is much higher in India if we use income rather than consumption. If we consider non-income indicators like health and education, inequalities between the poor and rich are much higher.

What is the way forward? The conclusion is that poverty declined faster but inequality increased in the post-reform period. However, India still has 300 million people below the poverty line. What should be done to reduce poverty and inequality?

Policymakers must continue to follow the two-fold strategy of achieving high economic growth and direct measures through social protection programmes. The focus should also be on increase in urban growth and income as the share of urban poverty will rise with urbanization.

There can be several solutions, but let’s focus here on the two important measures: creating productive employment and providing quality education for reduction in poverty and inequality. There is a feeling that we should have some flagship programmes like MGNREGA to reduce poverty. No doubt these programmes are important for protecting the poor. But equitable growth is much broader than this and productive inclusion in terms of generating quality employment should be the focus of any inclusive approach. Employment focus is the major part of equity approach. Studies have shown that agricultural growth leads to reduction in poverty twice as that of non-agriculture. We need more diversified agriculture for raising the income of farmers. However, future employment has to be created in manufacturing and service. In this context, the Make in India initiative, focus on start-ups, Mudra, financial inclusion, etc., are steps in the right direction. Equally, service sector employment has to be promoted. Over time, the share of the organized sector has to be raised while simultaneously improving productivity in the unorganized sector. Youth unemployment is high. This is one reason for unrest and social tensions. The need for skill development and productive jobs to reap the demographic dividend is obvious.

For reducing inequality, some advocate measures such as redistribution of assets and wealth in favour of the poor via higher taxes for the rich. However, these may not be pragmatic solutions. The tax/GDP ratio has to be raised with a wider tax base. Fiscal instruments like public investment in physical and social infrastructure can be used to reduce inequality. The new generation wants equality of opportunity rather than redistributive measures. Everyone irrespective of caste, class and gender should have equal opportunities in education, health, employment and entrepreneurship. Economic and employment opportunities improve with education and skills. The new generation wants better quality in schools and higher education.

Finally, economic reforms should focus more on efficient delivery systems of public services. Many reckon that poor governance is the biggest constraint in achieving the aspirations of a new generation and reduction in poverty and inequality. A major institutional challenge is the accountability of service providers, particularly the public sector. Recent literature also focused on eradication of corruption for reduction in inequalities. Issues like electoral reforms, crony capitalism, election funding and corruption should be part of the reform agenda to reduce inequalities.


S. Mahendra Dev is director and vice-chancellor, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai.


By           :               S. Mahendra Dev

Date       :               July 26, 2016

Source    :               http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/Mr2DS2Qv4ika8zEuScxN1L/Poverty-and-inequality-after-reforms.html

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Book Review: Kicked Out in America!


Book Title        :           Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Author             :           Matthew Desmond

Publisher         :           The Crown Publishing Group

Date                :           March 2016


Seeking distraction one winter afternoon, a Milwaukee boy takes to some old-fashioned mischief and hurls snowballs at passing cars. A driver gives chase and kicks in the door of the house where the boy lives with his mother and younger brother. The landlord puts the family out. Thus begins an odyssey that in Matthew Desmond’s gripping and important book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, exposes the harrowing world of the ten million or so low-income households that pay half or more of their income for rent and utilities, a long-overlooked population whose numbers have recently soared.

The mother, Arleen, finds a house she likes, and it consumes only 84 percent of her cash income. But the city condemns it. So she moves the teen, Jori, and his brother, Jafiris, to a place she calls “Crack Head City” and then to a duplex where the rent, $550 a month, requires 88 percent of her income. She falls behind and gets evicted two days before Christmas, but the new tenant lets her stay until she finds a place. Living with a stranger causes friction, and Arleen calls ninety landlords before finding a place, from which she is again evicted. The situation worsens. She and the boys double up with a neighbor who is turning tricks. They rent a place where they are robbed at gunpoint. When Arleen’s next apartment takes 96 percent of her welfare check, she can’t keep the lights on. Her worst fear comes to pass: child welfare takes the kids.

Evicted tells this and other disturbing stories in spellbinding detail in service of two main points. One is that growing numbers of low-income households pay crushing shares of their incomes for shelter—50 percent, 60 percent, 70 percent, and more—leaving inadequate sums for items as basic as medicine and food. Their numbers were rising for decades but soared to record levels during the Great Recession. The book’s second point is that the evictions aren’t just a consequence of poverty but also a cause. Evictions make kids change schools and cost adults their jobs. They undermine neighborhoods, force desperate families into worse housing, and leave lasting emotional scars. Yet they have been an afterthought, if that, in discussions of poverty.

Desmond, a Harvard sociologist, cites plenty of statistics but it’s his ethnographic gift that lends the work such force. He’s one of a rare academic breed: a poverty expert who engages with the poor. His portraits are vivid and unsettling. Crystal, who takes in Arleen, had parents on crack and got passed around to two dozen foster homes. She ends up homeless and prostituting herself, but never misses church. Pam has “a midwestern twang and a face cut from a high school yearbook photo.” But she is so desperate for housing that she tolerates a racist boyfriend who makes her biracial daughters chant “White power!” It’s not easy to show desperate people using drugs or selling sex and still convey their courage and dignity. Evicted pulls it off.

It is odd that the shortage of low-income housing gets little attention, even among experts on the left. Decent affordable shelter is a primal human need, and its disappearance is one of the most troubling results of growing inequality. Housing patterns shape more visible issues like schools, jobs, and crime. What’s more, the affordability crisis, though worst at the bottom, is creeping well into the lower middle class. Perhaps the democratizing of shelter poverty will broaden public concern.

A major point to keep in mind is that the US spends huge sums to subsidize housing for people who are well-off (through the mortgage interest deduction and other tax breaks) while most poor renters get nothing: only one of four low-income households that qualify for assistance gets it. Desmond’s solution—give all eligible households a voucher, creating a right to housing—has little active support, even from liberals. But a major study released last summer showed that vouchers, under the right circumstances, can dramatically improve children’s prospects of breaking out of poverty. Evicted doesn’t cinch the case for a universal voucher; it does capture the perversity of the status quo and invite alternate proposals.


Desmond launched his research in 2008, as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, when he moved into a trailer park on Milwaukee’s south side, looking for people with eviction notices. The park was in the news because an alderman, incensed at crime and code violations, was threatening to have it closed. Raw sewage bubbled up beneath some of the trailers, and Desmond rarely had hot water despite identifying himself as a writer studying the park’s condition. The landlord, Tobin Charney, “a hard man with squinting eyes,” won a reprieve in part by having sympathetic tenants tell TVcrews that closing the park would leave them homeless. Then he evicted some of them.

Desmond, who is white, moved across the residentially segregated city to the black ghetto on the near north side. His landlord, Sherrena Tarver (all the names are pseudonyms), was a hard-charging woman who once taught fourth grade. She was eager to show him “what landlords had to go through” and complained about “these low-quality people.” Desmond tracked eight families from both sides of town, and conducted two surveys, of 1,100 Milwaukee tenants and 250 people summoned to housing court. With visits to landlord meetings and rides with eviction crews, the book captures what could be called the Eviction Industrial Complex.

Part of the message is that evictions are much more common than previously thought. Desmond’s survey found that more than one in eight Milwaukee renters faced a forced move in the course of three years. That includes all involuntary moves, such as those resulting from building condemnations, and is roughly three times the comparable estimate found in census data. Desmond says that the official data undercount the large volume of informal evictions that occur outside of court.

The numbers sound extraordinary but not in light of the shelter burdens that low-income households carry. The government says that rent and utilities are affordable if they consume no more than 30 percent of a household’s income. Analyzing census data, Desmond finds that the majority of poor households pay over 50 percent of their income for shelter and more than a quarter pay over 70 percent. Among the tenants in housing court, a third spend at least 80 percent. Evicted’s families double up with strangers, sell food stamps, and pirate electricity but inevitably fall behind.

Evictions are brutal. Desmond watches as an armed deputy knocks and a mother pleads vainly for time. The mover says she can pay to store her possessions or have them left on the street. She can’t afford storage. “Curbside service, baby!” the mover tells the crew. Three children watch their mother pace. “Her face had that look,” Desmond writes. “The movers and the deputies knew it well. It was the look of someone realizing that her family would be homeless in a matter of hours.” One woman from the trailer park spent $1,000 on the storage bills but fell behind and lost her belongings anyway. About 70 percent of evicted tenants who opt for storage do. A week earlier, a man asked the deputy for a private moment, then shot himself in the head.

Evictions destabilize neighborhoods. The more people come and go, the less chance there is for cohesion. A case in point is the Hinkston family—Doreen, four kids, and three grandkids—who were neighborhood fixtures on a block where they lived for seven years. Doreen was a porch sitter who knew everyone and kept her eyes on the street. When an eviction notice forced them to move in a hurry, they quickly settled for a run-down house on a block where they knew no one and kept inside. “With Doreen’s eviction, Thirty-Second Street lost a steadying presence,” Desmond writes, “but Wright Street didn’t gain one.” Evictions often generate two moves—a rush that often ends in a hellhole and an effort to climb out of it.

Worse, evictions destabilize people. Jori, the snowball thrower, went to five different schools in seventh and eighth grades, “when he went at all.” He once missed seventeen consecutive days. The disruptions cause workers to get fired. Letters sent to wrong addresses cause people to miss appointments and lose public aid. Evictions mar the tenants’ records, making it harder to get housing assistance or rent private apartments. The effects are enduring, as measured by incidents like hunger or lost utilities. “The year after eviction, families experience 20 percent higher levels of material hardships than similar families who were not evicted,” Desmond writes. He continues:

Then there is the toll eviction takes on a person’s spirit…. One in two recently evicted mothers reports multiple symptoms of clinical depression, double the rates of similar mothers who were not forced from their homes. Even after years pass, evicted mothers are less happy, energetic, and optimistic than their peers.

Eviction isn’t just another hardship, Desmond argues, but a detour onto a much harder path—“a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.”

The landlords in Evicted hold all the cards. Technically, they can’t retaliate against tenants who complain of stopped-up toilets or broken windows. But they can evict anyone who fails to pay the rent, regardless of the housing conditions. The result is a kind of devil’s pact. “Tenants who fell behind either had to accept unpleasant, degrading, and sometimes dangerous housing conditions or be evicted,” Desmond writes. When cases go to court, tenants rarely win. About 70 percent of them don’t even appear. They can’t miss work or find child care or stomach the humiliation. The sound of eviction court is the call of a name, “a pause, and three loud thumps of the stamp.”

When one of Sherrena Tarver’s houses catches fire, a baby dies. There were supposed to be smoke detectors in the bedroom, but the firemen didn’t hear them. Sherrena fears she’s at risk. “I thought we had put some smoke detectors up there,” she says. “I can’t remember right now.” The baby’s mother, Kamala, is one of her former students. When the fire inspector calls the next day and tells Sherrena she’s off the hook, she has one question: Does she have to return Kamala’s rent?

The answer is no. And she doesn’t.


The struggle to pay the rent may sound like a problem the poor have always faced. It’s not. Into the 1970s, low-income housing, though often squalid, generally didn’t squeeze budgets. The wind whipped through the tar-paper shacks, but the shacks were abundant and cheap. Demolition and gentrification claimed the cheap units, and sputtering incomes swelled the number of needy renters. In 1970, the US had nearly a million more affordable units than poor households, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Two decades later, the situation had reversed: there were five million more poor households than affordable units. Housing was better but cost a lot more.

The severe recession that began in December 2007 delivered a double whammy. Foreclosures turned millions of homeowners into renters, which kept rents rising even as incomes fell. Between 2001 and 2014, real rents rose 7 percent, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, while renters’ incomes fell 9 percent. As a result, the number of households paying more than 30 percent of their income for shelter rose to a record 21.3 million—about one in six nationwide. And the number paying more than half their income rose even faster, to 11.4 million, from 7.5 million. Among them, 30 percent had a full-time worker.

For the poorest families, the chances of finding affordable shelter are virtually nil. But the squeeze is on higher up. Even among households earning between $30,000 and $45,000 a year—clerks, cooks, or low-level medical technicians, for example—nearly half pay more than the 30 percent the government says they can afford. Of them, 10 percent devote at least half their income to shelter. This may seem like a problem mostly confined to big cities. But places with cheaper housing generally pay lower wages, which offsets the benefits. High-cost New York City and low-cost McAllen, Texas, are two places the Harvard center identifies as especially hard to afford. To pay for what the federal government says a modest two-bedroom apartment should cost in a mid-priced state like Florida, a full-time worker has to earn $19.47 an hour. As the National Low Income Housing Coalition notes, that’s more than twice the minimum wage.

Belts can tighten only so far. A household with an income of $15,000 that pays 70 percent for shelter has about $12.50 a day left over for everything else—food, health care, clothing, furniture, transportation, and the like. Even if you assume that poor people underreport their income, as they generally do, something’s got to give. Often it’s food, since unlike rent, meals can be skipped without the sheriff being summoned. The Harvard center found that low-income households with severe rent burdens spent 38 percent less on food than similar households with affordable shelter, 55 percent less on health care, and 60 percent less on transportation.

Why are rents so high? Desmond points to exploitative landlords and their ability to “charge as much as they want.” But owners don’t charge what they want. They charge what the market will bear. The big problem is that it costs more to build even modest housing than millions of households can pay, whether the builder is greedy or not. That’s partly because restrictive zoning and overzealous building codes drive up the price. But it’s mostly because of the inherent cost of the basics: land, interest, materials, utilities. As a rule of thumb nationwide, even an efficient nonprofit developer can’t build an apartment affordable to a household making less than about $32,000 a year. That leaves out nearly a third of American households.

Housing aid helps fill the gap. If tenants are lucky enough to receive it, they pay 30 percent of their income for shelter, and the government pays the rest up to a modest local cap. But only a quarter of the households that are poor enough to qualify get it. The rest face long waits and many never get help. Desmond would expand the program so that everyone who qualifies gets it—making housing aid an entitlement instead of a lottery.

Leave aside the question of what this would cost. A more interesting question is how much would the needy benefit and in what way: would affordable housing simply make life more humane or would it lead to more upward mobility? Desmond argues the latter. “A universal voucher program would change the face of poverty in this country,” he writes.

Evictions would plummet and become rare occurrences. Homelessness would almost disappear. Families would immediately feel the income gains and be able to buy enough food, invest in themselves and their children through schooling or job training, and start modest savings.

Unfortunately, there’s room for doubt about this mobility thesis, even in the stories Desmond tells. Rent burdens compound his characters’ problems, but the issues run much deeper. A number are addicted to drugs. Others are mentally or physically impaired. Many failed to finish high school. One got pregnant at fourteen. It’s reasonable to hope that helping adults get a place to stay will at least help their children advance, but the evidence is thin.

A study last year by Brian A. Jacob of the University of Michigan, Jens Ludwig of the University of Chicago, and Max Kapustin examined precisely that question. In 1997, the Chicago Housing Authority held a lottery; 18,000 households got vouchers and tens of thousands of virtually identical households did not. The study found that vouchers “had little if any impact on the education, crime, or health outcomes” of children. (Vouchers also reduced the amount their parents worked.) That still leaves a case for vouchers, but it’s a simpler case than promoting upward mobility: poor adults and their children should suffer less. There’s a floor beneath which no one should fall. A safety net that lets three quarters of the needy slip through simply isn’t a safety net.

At the same time, we may not yet know how much vouchers can achieve. Evictedseems to have been completed before a major study last August bolstered the case for improved mobility. It involved Moving to Opportunity, a famous housing experiment from the 1990s, which gave vouchers to several thousand families on the condition that they use them to move from high-poverty neighborhoods to areas less poor, presumably with more jobs and better schools. Hopes ran high, but for years the results were disappointing. The adults’ mental health and safety improved, but their earnings and employment didn’t, and their children fared no better in school. The teenage boys who moved had more delinquency problems than those who stayed behind.

The new study (by Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, and Lawrence F. Katz, all of Harvard) examined the long-term outcomes for younger kids, who had more time to benefit from the new neighborhood.1 On average, they were eight when they moved. By their twenties, they earned about a third more than those who stayed behind, and they were a third more likely to attend college. Over their lifetime, they stood to earn an additional $300,000. The girls’ chances of becoming single mothers fell by 26 percent.

These are huge gains by the standards of experimental programs—the social policy equivalent of a moonshot. The researchers don’t know why, especially since in the medium term the kids did no better in school. One theory for the gains generally is that better neighborhoods offer more second chances. But the crucial change was getting away from very poor neighborhoods.

If the results can be replicated, the issue becomes scale. It’s not clear how many poor people are willing to move to an unfamiliar place—about half of those offered the vouchers didn’t go—or how the new areas would react. In Baltimore, one of the five Moving to Opportunity sites, even a small-scale effort ignited a huge backlash. The potential for demagoguery is great, especially in a demagogic age. Then again, suburbs are more diverse now. Katz argues that the requisite amount of income-mixing would take America back to the patterns of the 1970s, a significant change but not wild-eyed social engineering. Even getting halfway there might dramatically improve millions of lives.


Poor people can be remarkably generous. The evicted in Evicted turn to half-strangers, and the strangers take them in. A neighbor houses Pam in the trailer park; Crystal shelters Arleen in the ghetto. When Crystal and a friend spy a boy eating table scraps at McDonald’s they pool coins to buy him a meal, even though they are homeless themselves.

In the 1970s, the anthropologist Carol Stack famously described the inner city as a giant favor bank. Poor women formed networks of real and fictive kin and dispensed aid—cigarettes, babysitting, a spare room—knowing they could later claim help in return. They formed their own safety net. Desmond argues that deepening destitution has made those networks harder to sustain. With family less willing or able to help, the destitute turn to strangers and a succession of “disposable ties.” They turn to each other and on each other.

When Arleen gets evicted before Christmas, she doesn’t even ask her siblings for help. They are too poor. An aunt could step in, but Arleen is saving that call for a worse emergency. So when the new tenant offers to let Arleen stay, Arleen hugs her and accepts before learning her name. Crystal has motives for keeping Arleen around. She needs furniture, and having just aged out of foster care she wants a mother figure.

Instant intimacy yields to screaming matches. During their first fight—after Arleen’s son Jori calls Crystal a “bitch”—Crystal, who speaks in tongues, says that the Holy Ghost has told her to relent and not put the family out. During the second fight Arleen comes unglued and resists Crystal’s efforts to calm her.

“You don’t know what it’s like to have your father molest you and your mother not care about it!” Arleen screams.

“Yes I do!” Crystal says. “I know exactly what that’s like ’cause my stepfather molested me when I was just a little girl, and that’s why they sent me to the foster care…. You’ve been molested? I’ve been molested too.”

The exchange ends with another hug, which becomes a prelude to another fight. When Arleen finally leaves, she tells Jori to grab the cheap adapter she bought for the gas line. This would disable the stove. Crystal becomes furious, and they go from confidantes to combatants with startling ferocity. “Stankin’ ass bitch!” Arleen screams. Crystal throws their stuff all over the yard, Jori smashes Crystal’s TV, and his little brother hits her with a shower rod. Crystal takes up with other strangers and the pattern repeats: “Make a friend, use a friend, lose a friend,” often violently.

Evicted doesn’t dwell on it, but the talk of molestation is revealing. No fewer than four characters disclose that they were victims of childhood sexual abuse. The issue doesn’t get much attention in discussions of chronic poverty. But in my own interviews with women on welfare, I’ve found that they mention it with dismaying frequency.2Women who were raped or molested as children are more likely to suffer from depression, drug addiction, or domestic violence—all of which interfere with education and employment and drive up poverty rates. It is to Desmond’s credit that he highlights the trauma; it also shows that the problems he’s conveying go well beyond housing costs.

The children in Evicted have hellish lives. “Tell us about the time that Dad hit you with a bottle and blood was coming out of your head,” a six-year-old girl asks her mother. Even at four, one of the chronically homeless boys seems “finished with childhood.” He refuses to hold his mother’s hand or sing in preschool. When she faces possible jail time for committing armed robbery, she brings him to court with orders to be stoic “if they give Momma the punishment.” The mother cries over her fifteen-month sentence, but the boy “stared back stone-faced, strong, just like his momma had taught him.”

Desmond notes only in passing that Milwaukee, the city he concentrates on, has been widely celebrated for “ending welfare”—slashing the rolls with time limits and work requirements—a strategy that some officials would apply to the rest of the safety net. That he finds so much misery suggests the verdict of success needs revisiting.

One especially haunting moment involves Jori, Arleen’s fourteen-year-old, who is less a child than his mother’s would-be protector. “If Arleen needed to smile, Jori would steal for her,” Desmond writes. “If she was disrespected, he would fight for her.” But he can’t protect her, and she can’t protect him, which leaves them bottled up with anger. The one source of innocence in Jori’s life is a kitten, named Little, who pounces on shoelaces and slurps ramen noodles and makes him laugh. When Jori is evicted, he entrusts the kitten to a neighbor and returns to find him crushed by a car. There happens to be a mannequin lying around, and Jori kneels over it. “He hit the face with a closed fist. He kept hitting it. Soon he was grunting, and his punches flew faster and harder and louder.” Arlene, shaken, screams at him to stop.

In an afterword, Desmond explains that his own family lost his childhood home to foreclosure about the time he left for college. He says that researching the book “left me depressed for years.” But Evicted isn’t a depressing book. It is also a stirring reminder that the US accepts as ordinary a depth of poverty that is extraordinary and cruel. At its heart is a simple message: “No moral code or ethical principle, no piece of scripture or holy teaching, can be summoned to defend what we have allowed our country to become.”


By           :               Jason De Parle

Source    :               The New York Review of Books


Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

After Attacks on Muslims, Many Ask: Where Is the Outpouring?


PARIS — In recent days, jihadists killed 41 people at Istanbul’s bustling, shiny airport; 22 at a cafe in Bangladesh; and at least 250 celebrating the final days of Ramadan in Baghdad. Then the Islamic State attacked, again, with bombings in three cities in Saudi Arabia.

By Tuesday, Michel Kilo, a Syrian dissident, was leaning wearily over his coffee at a Left Bank cafe, wondering: Where was the global outrage? Where was the outpouring that came after the same terrorist groups unleashed horror in Brussels and here in Paris? In a supposedly globalized world, do nonwhites, non-Christians and non-Westerners count as fully human?

“All this crazy violence has a goal,” Mr. Kilo, who is Christian, said: to create a backlash against Muslims, divide societies and “make Sunnis feel that no matter what happens, they don’t have any other option.”

This is not the first time that the West seems to have shrugged off massacres in predominantly Muslim countries. But the relative indifference after so many deaths caused by the very groups that have plagued the West is more than a matter of hurt feelings.

One of the primary goals of the Islamic State and other radical Islamist groups is to drive a wedge between Sunni Muslims and the wider world, to fuel alienation as a recruiting tool. And when that world appears to show less empathy for the victims of attacks in Muslim nations, who have borne the brunt of the Islamic State’s massacres and predatory rule, it seems to prove their point.

“Why isn’t #PrayForIraq trending?” Razan Hasan of Baghdad posted on Twitter. “Oh yeah no one cares about us.”

Hira Saeed of Ottawa asked on Twitter why Facebook had not activated itsSafety Check feature after recent attacks as it did for Brussels, Paris andOrlando, Fla., and why social media had not been similarly filled with the flags of Turkey, Bangladesh and Iraq. “The hypocrisy is the western world is strong,” she wrote.

The global mood increasingly feels like one of atavism, of retreat into narrower identities of nation, politics or sect, with Britain voting to leave the European Union and many Americans supporting the nativist presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.

The violence feeds a growing impulse among many in the West to fear Muslims and Arabs, which has already prompted a political crisis over immigration that, in turn, has buttressed extremists’ goals. Europe is convulsing over a movement to reject refugees from Syria and Iraq, who are themselves fleeing violence by jihadists and their own governments.

It is in Syria and Iraq that the Islamic State has established its so-called caliphate, ruling overwhelmingly Muslim populations with the threat of gruesome violence. The group has killed Muslims in those countries by the thousands, by far the largest share of its victims.

When Islamic State militants mowed down cafegoers in Paris in November, people across the world adorned public landmarks and their private Facebook pages with the French flag — not just in Europe and the United States, but also, with an empathy born of experience, in Syria and Iraq.

But over the past week, Facebook activated its Safety Check feature, which allows people in the vicinity of a disaster to mark themselves safe, only after the attack on the Istanbul airport.

The flags of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Bangladesh have not been widely projected on landmarks or adopted as profile pictures. (Photographs on social media showed that in Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of Europe’s two majority-Muslim countries, the Turkish flag was beamed onto a bridge in Mostar, the scene of sectarian killings in the 1990s.) Some wonder if part of the reason is that three of those flags bear Islamic symbols or slogans.

“More deaths in Iraq in the last week than Paris and Orlando combined but nobody is changing their profile pics, building colours, etc.,” Kareem Rahaman wrote on Twitter.

There are some understandable reasons for the differing reactions. People typically identify more closely with places and cultures that are familiar to them. With Iraq, there is also a degree of fatigue, and a feeling that a bombing there is less surprising than one in Europe.

Deadly attacks have been a constant in Iraq after years of American occupation, followed by a sectarian war in which Sunni and Shiite militias slaughtered civilians of the opposite sect. Still, while terrorist attacks in Europe may feel more surprising to the West — though they have become all too common there, too — that does not explain the relative indifference to attacks in Istanbul, Saudi Arabia or Bangladesh.

“That’s what happens in Iraq,” Sajad Jiyad, a researcher in Iraq who rushed to the scene of the Baghdad bombing and found that one of his friends had died there, wrote on his own blog. “Deaths become just statistics, and the frequency of attacks means the shock doesn’t register as it would elsewhere, or that you have enough time to feel sad or grieve.”

In the Muslim world, the partly sectarian nature of some conflicts shades people’s reactions, producing a kind of internal sympathy gap. People from one sect or political group often discount or excuse casualties from another.

In Iraq, the Islamic State took root within an insurgency against the country’s Shiite-led government, and Shiite militias fighting it have been accused of brutality as well. In Syria, it is just one menace; many more Syrians have been killed by the government’s attacks on areas held by Sunni insurgents, including rebel groups opposed to the Islamic State.

Mr. Jiyad added that the Islamic State was “hoping to incite a reaction and a spiral into endless violence,” and that Iraqis played into that when they mourned more for their own sect than for others.

In the West, though, there is a tendency in certain quarters, legitimized by some politicians, to conflate extremist Islamist militants with the Muslim societies that are often their primary victims, or to dismiss Muslim countries as inherently violent.

“Either Iraqi blood is too cheap or murder is normalized,” Sayed Saleh Qazwini, an Islamic educator in Michigan, wrote on Twitter.

In Paris, a rainbow flag hangs on the Hotel de Ville, memorializing the 49 people gunned down at a gay nightclub in Orlando last month. But in a corner shop on Monday, the woman who served me had no such sympathy for the Middle East.

When she asked where I lived, and I told her Beirut, Lebanon, she exclaimed about the violence in the region. Struggling to explain that there is a lot more than just violence happening there, I said: “Yes, there are a lot of problems. What can one do?”

“Exterminer les islamistes,” she said grimly. Exterminate: a strong word. Islamists: a broad category of people.

Mr. Kilo, who spent years in the prisons of the Syrian government and opposes both it and the Islamic State, said his life in Paris had changed since November. Speaking Arabic is now suspect. He sees fear in French people’s eyes when they see Syrians.

“I’m afraid, too,” he said. “Someone could blow himself up anytime.”

He has written an article that will be published in the newspaper Al Araby Al Jadeed, titled “The Curse of Syria.”

The failure of empathy is broader than the Islamic State, he said; it extends to the international community’s unwillingness or inability to stop the slaughter of the Syrian civil war, which began with protests for political change.

“If we lose all humanity,” Mr. Kilo said, “if you allow the slaughter of a nation for five and a half years, after all the leaders of the international community declared the right of these people to revolt against their government, then expect Islamic State — and many other Islamic States in other forms and shapes.”


By            :               Anne Barnard

Date         :               July 5, 2016

Source     :               The New York Times



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The worst ISIS attack in days is the one the world probably cares least about


First, they came for Istanbul. On Tuesday night, three suspected Islamic State militants launched a brazen assault on Turkey’s main airport, exploding their suicide vests after gunning down numerous passengers and airport staff. At least 45 people were killed. The world panicked; Istanbul Ataturk Airport isone of the busiest hubs in Europe and the Middle East, and it is among the most fortified. Are our airports safe, wondered American TV anchors. Could this happen here on the Fourth of July?

Next, they came for Dhaka. Gunmen whom many have linked to the Islamic State raided a popular cafe in an upscale neighborhood in Bangladesh’s teeming capital. After a 10-hour standoff, authorities stormed the establishment; at least 20 hostages, mostly Italian and Japanese nationals, died at the militants’ hands. U.S. college students also were among the dead. The Islamic State’s reach is growing far from the Middle East, security experts fretted. Foreigners are at risk all over the Muslim world.

Then, they attacked Baghdad. In the early hours of Sunday morning, as hundreds of Iraqis gathered during the holy month of Ramadan, a car bombexploded in the crowded Karrada shopping district. The blast killed a staggering number of people — the latest death toll is at least 187 — including many children. The area is predominantly Shiite, making it a choice target for the Sunni extremist group.

It’s unlikely that this attack, just the latest in an unending stream of tragedy to envelop the Iraqi capital, will generate the same panic in the West as the earlier two incidents. For years now, we have become almost numb to the violence in Baghdad: Deadly car bombings there conjure up no hashtags, no Facebook profile pictures with the Iraqi flag, and no Western newspaper front pages of the victims’ names and life stories, and they attract only muted global sympathy.

The BBC has a timeline of the recent attacks linked to the Islamic State in the city and elsewhere in Iraq, including a hideous week of bombings in Baghdad in mid-May:

 9 June 2016: At least 30 people killed in and around Baghdad in two suicide attacks claimed by IS

17 May 2016: Four bomb blasts kill 69 people in Baghdad; three of the targets were Shia areas

11 May 2016: Car bombs in Baghdad kill 93 people, including 64 in market in Shia district of Sadr City

1 May 2016: Two car bombs kill at least 33 people in southern city of Samawa

26 March 2016: Suicide attack targets football match in central city of Iskandariya, killing at least 32

6 March 2016: Fuel tanker blown up at checkpoint near central city of Hilla, killing 47

28 February 2016: Twin suicide bomb attacks hit market in Sadr City, killing 70

And all of this is only from this year. Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and the bungled occupation that followed, Baghdad has been the site of numerous rounds of sectarian bloodletting, al-Qaeda attacks and now the ravages of the Islamic State. Despite suffering significant defeats at the hands of the Iraqi army, including the loss of the city of Fallujah, the militant group has shown its willingness and capacity to brutalize the country’s population.

Public anger in the Iraqi capital, as my colleague Loveday Morris reports, is not being directed at foreign conspirators or even — first and foremost — at the militants, but at a much-maligned government that is failing to keep the country safe.

“The street was full of life last night,” one Karrada resident told The Washington Post, “and now the smell of death is all over the place.”


By            :               Ishaan Tharoor

Date         :               July 4, 2016

Source     :               The Washington Post


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Dramatic inequality among world’s poorest, richest children


The number of children who do not attend school is rising, child marriage has not dropped in decades and millions of young children will die mostly preventable deaths by 2030 if global poverty is not addressed, UNICEF said in a bleak report issued on Tuesday.

Poor children are twice as likely as rich children to die before age 5, and poor girls are more than twice as likely to become child brides in signs of troubling inequality, said the annual report by the United Nations’ children’s agency.

Noting some progress in halving global mortality rates for children under 5 since 1990 and boys and girls attending primary school in equal numbers in 129 countries, the report said such developments have been neither even nor fair, with repercussions for global turmoil.

“Some of the big challenges that we now face, like refugees and migrants, are connected with inequality and poverty,” Justin Forsyth, Undine’s deputy executive director, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Narrowing that inequity “is good for those children, but it’s also good to stop future crises,” he said.

The report called for stronger efforts to educate the world’s children, noting that on average each additional year of education a child receives increases her or his adult earnings by about 10 percent.

Also it said for each additional year of schooling completed on average by young adults, a nation’s poverty rate drops 9 percent.

About 124 million children do not go to primary and lower-secondary school, a number that has increased about 2 million since 2011, it said.

Children born to educated mothers are almost 3 times less likely to die and more likely to go to school, delay marriage and postpone child bearing, said the report, entitled “State of the World’s Children.”

The rate of child marriages among the world’s poorest girls has remained unchanged since about 1990, and 15 million girls are married as children every year, it said.

If nothing is done, it said 69 million children will die before age 5 from mostly preventable causes by 2030, and nearly of half of them will be from sub-Saharan Africa.

Nine out of ten children in the same region will be living in extreme poverty, which means living on less than $1.90 US per day, it said.

Battling such poverty and equality and promoting education for children, particularly girls, were among the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 goals adopted last fall to tackle an array of global woes by 2030.

Educating children is particularly critical given the global conflicts fueled by decimalization, Forsyth added.

“There is a direct link between children for many, many years missing out on education and then the ability of more extremist elements to organize,” he said.


Date         :               June 28, 2016

Source     :               http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/features/2016/06/28/Revealed-Dramatic-inequality-among-world-s-poorest-richest-children-.html

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Inequality not personalities drove Britain to Brexit


Angst, alienation and resentment fueled the vote to leave the EU.

LONDON — Brexit delivered a political earthquake, the tremors of which will be felt for generations. Within only a matter of days Britain voted to end its membership of the European Union, saw its currency slump to a 31-year low, watched the prime minister resign, revived an old constitutional crisis in Scotland and triggered a new one in Northern Ireland, and looked on as the main opposition Labour Party spiraled into a full-blown crisis.

As one journalist quipped the day after the referendum: “It’s been a rather strange day. The prime minister has resigned and it’s only our third most important story.”

How could Euroskeptics — who had been consistently underestimated — defeat the Remain camp by nearly 4 percentage points or 1.3 million votes? The difference between the two sides was even more pronounced in England where Leave won by nearly 7 points.

It would be a mistake to view this as primarily a judgment on Britain’s relationship with Europe or a simplistic verdict on the preceding referendum campaign. Instead voting patterns give full expression to deeper divides that have been bubbling away under the surface of British politics for decades, and which are also visible in other Western democracies. The Remain campaign’s miscalculation was to fail to grasp them.

The town that gave the strongest support for Brexit was the small, East Midlands port of Boston where 76 percent voted to leave the EU. Boston — which also delivered the highest support for UKIP in the 2014 European Parliament elections — offers insight into Brexit heartlands.

The town, which has experienced significant migration from Central and Eastern Europe, is also noticeable for economic deprivation. The median income in Boston is less than £17,000 and one in three people have no formal qualifications at all.

Filled with disadvantaged, working-class Britons who do not feel as though they have been winning from European integration, immigration, and globalization, life in Boston contrasts sharply with that in the area that returned the strongest vote for Remain, the London borough of Lambeth. Here, where 79 percent voted to remain in the EU, life is remarkably different. Compared to Boston, there are more than twice as many professionals, nearly twice as many 18-30-year-olds and fewer than half as many working-class voters, pensioners and people with no qualifications. The average voter in Lambeth earns nearly £10,000 more each year than the average voter in Boston.

Voting patterns in other heartlands for Remain and Leave paint a picture of a country sharply divided along three dimensions: social class, generation, and geography.

On average, for example, across the 20 authorities where support for remaining in the EU was strongest, 45 percent of voters have a university degree, 42 percent are professionals, 26 percent describe themselves as “non-white,” only 11 percent are pensioners and the median income is £27,000. But across the 20 authorities where support for leaving the EU was strongest, only 16 percent of voters have a degree, only 23 percent are professional, less than 5 percent are non-white, nearly 20 percent are pensioners and the median income is £18,000.

My academic research suggested that the Remain camp would be best placed making a positive case for Britain’s EU membership. Instead, it spent almost all of the campaign focusing on the negatives of Brexit, robotically claiming leaving the EU would jeopardize Britain’s economic future. The problem was that most economically disaffected voters who were tempted by Brexit were already resigned to believing that their future would be worse than the past. And they were clear about who was to blame.

Brexit drew most of its strength from voters who have felt left behind by the rapid economic transformation of Britain, or more accurately of London and south-east England. They hold a more socially conservative outlook on Europe, immigration, and national identity that in recent years have become just as important as old disputes between labor and capital.

Such voters have also felt increasingly cut adrift from established parties who have spent much of the past two decades pitching to the middle-classes. Tony Blair and David Cameron both gambled in their own ways that as they battled to win over the middle-classes the more working-class sections of their electorates would stay loyal. But then along came the issues of Europe and immigration that cut directly across the old left-right divide and were instead rooted in a divide between liberals and authoritarians.

This presented blue-collar workers on the left and social conservatives on the right with a unique opportunity to rebel against socially liberal and middle-class elites who promote values that they abhor. Last week they seized this opportunity.

By voting for Brexit these voters imposed a different set of values on the political landscape than those that unite the London-centric media and political classes. As my co-author Robert Ford noted after the result: “Feeling upset by wrenching social change that has been imposed on you by people whose values you don’t share or understand? Now you know how UKIP voters have felt.”

Brexit, therefore, owed less to the personal charisma of Boris Johnson, the failings of David Cameron or the ambivalence of Jeremy Corbyn than to a much deeper sense of angst, alienation and resentment among more financially disadvantaged, less well-educated and older Britons who are often only one financial crisis away from disaster. They are the voters of former industrial strongholds, like the northern towns of Barnsley, Mansfield, Stoke and Doncaster, Welsh towns like Merthyr Tydfil that once fueled the industrial revolution, fading coastal towns such as Blackpool, Great Yarmouth and Castle Point, or blue-collar but aspirational places like Basildon, Havering and Thurrock.

It is certainly true that Brexit also found support in more leafy, affluent Conservative areas such as Aylesbury, Chichester, South Bucks and West Dorset where previously loyal Tories rejected Cameron’s increasingly desperate pleas to remain. By doing so they have ensured that Cameron becomes the third prime minister in post-war Britain who will principally be remembered for just one thing; after Anthony Eden and the Suez Crisis, and then Tony Blair and Iraq, future generations of students will write about Cameron as the man who took Britain out of the EU and also, given the now high probability of a second independence referendum in Scotland, caused the break-up of the entire United Kingdom. For this reason, he may be remembered as one of the most unsuccessful leaders in Britain’s modern political history.

But it remains the case that support for Brexit was unquestionably strongest in a more economically marginal and left-behind Britain.

This is why Nigel Farage and UKIP are an unpopular but important part of the story of how Brexit came to life, having cultivated this political discontent throughout the early years of the 21st century. Brexit built on UKIP’s foundations. Farage and his party already averaged 39 percent of the vote across the 50 areas that would go on to give the strongest support to Brexit but only 13 percent in areas that gave the strongest support to Remain.

Farage failed to lead a UKIP charge into the House of Commons — the party has just one MP — but his decision to fuse Europe with immigration enabled him to politicize these grievances and achieve something far greater: to transform Euroskepticism from a fringe interest into a mainstream concern that would eventually deliver his lifelong ambition of Brexit.

Remainers have unsurprisingly criticized the result and demanded a re-run of the vote, though such an outcome will not be forthcoming. It is worth noting that of the 50 areas that recorded the lowest levels of turnout no fewer than half of them were in London and Scotland, two areas that were supposed to be hotbeds of Remain fervor.

But in the end, the campaign failed to enthuse who it needed to enthuse. Prior to the result, the Remain camp talked enthusiastically about targeting large, young, diverse cities but when the dust cleared these were the places — Manchester, Nottingham, Dundee, Birmingham and Liverpool — where voters turned out in lower numbers.

Most academics, including myself, would reject the claim that higher turnout in such areas would have altered the final result but it is worth noting that areas where objections are loudest are often those where the turnout was lowest. For instance, while the London districts of Hackney and Camden are among the top five areas in terms of the number of people wanting a second referendum, these same areas were also among the bottom 10 percent for turnout, a fact that Remainers might like to reflect on.

It is difficult to see how the underlying divides that gave birth to Brexit can be resolved. If anything they may sharpen further as those who are now responsible for negotiating with the EU begin to backtrack on earlier promises about reducing immigration, which was by far the dominant concern for Brexit voters.

Should a post-Brexit government fail to respond quickly and clearly on this issue then it would be the equivalent of pouring a gasoline all over the fire of populist, anti-establishment sentiment. Britain’s left-behind have already demonstrated their willingness to punch the political elite in the face. I wouldn’t test them again.


Matthew Goodwin is professor of politics and international relations at the University of Kent and a senior fellow at Chatham House.


By            :               Matthew Goodwin

Date         :               June 28, 2016

Source     :               http://www.politico.eu/article/inequality-not-personalities-drove-britain-to-brexit/

Posted in Inequalities & Social Justice, Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

The Graduation Speech Harvard Is Calling ‘The Most Powerful’ You’ll Ever Hear


It’s the speech Harvard University is calling “the most powerful, heartfelt” speech “you will ever hear.”

Donovan Livingston, a master’s graduate at the university, was chosen by a committee of faculty, staff and students to speak at the School of Education’s convocation, a rep for Harvard told ABC News.

Instead of a traditional speech, Livingston used spoken word to perform his poem, “Lift Off.”

Livingston told ABC News that the “true inspiration behind the piece” was the fact that he couldn’t perform a poem when he gave his commencement remarks during his senior year of high school.

“The teacher who was in charge…threatened to take me offstage or cut my microphone when she caught wind that I wanted to incorporate a poem,” he recalled. “She wanted it to be traditional. So I complied, but I really wanted to address my class in my most authentic voice, which is what I said onstage Wednesday.”

The poem spoke about racial inequalities in the educational system, what it means to be black at Harvard and inspired the class of 2016 to use their roles as future educators to help others realize their full potential.

Livingston told his fellow classmates in part:

“I’ve been a black hole in the classroom for far too long;
Absorbing everything, without allowing my light to escape.
But those days are done. I belong among the stars.
And so do you. And so do they.
Together, we can inspire galaxies of greatness
For generations to come.
So no, sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning.
Lift off.”

The speech has been seen by more than 5 million people and was even shared by Justin Timberlake and Hillary Clinton.

Livingston — who hopes to become a faculty member or an administrator at a university one day — said he did not expect to get a standing ovation, nor did he expect the speech to go viral.

“My wife kind of did,” he admitted. “But I didn’t know it would be so well received. Whenever you put yourself out there especially with poetry, you’re making yourself vulnerable. However it was received, I would’ve felt great at the end of the day because I was being myself, but the fact that it blew up the way it did is a humbling experience.”

Livingston now plans to support his wife Lauren as she enters her second year of medical school at Wake Forest University and start his PhD program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro this fall.

It makes sense for the son of two educators: His father is a retired principal and his mother is a speech pathologist, working with special needs students.

“I’ve always been around education, but I didn’t know it was something I was really passionate about until I got to college and looked around and saw … that everything I did catered to college access [and] college success. It felt natural,” the Winston-Salem, North Carolina, resident said. “I’m just really happy to carry on the legacy of my mother and father and I’m just grateful to walk in their footsteps.”


By            :               Joi-Marie McKenzie

Date         :               May 27, 2016

Source     :               ABC News



Below is Livingston’s Commencement Speech entitled “Lift Off”


The remarks of Donovan Livingston, Ed.M.’16, student speaker at HGSE’s 2016 Convocation exercises.


“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin,

Is a great equalizer of the conditions of men.” – Horace Mann, 1848.
At the time of his remarks I couldn’t read — couldn’t write.
Any attempt to do so, punishable by death.
For generations we have known of knowledge’s infinite power.
Yet somehow, we’ve never questioned the keeper of the keys —
The guardians of information.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen more dividing and conquering
In this order of operations — a heinous miscalculation of reality.
For some, the only difference between a classroom and a plantation is time.
How many times must we be made to feel like quotas —
Like tokens in coined phrases? —
“Diversity. Inclusion”
There are days I feel like one, like only —
A lonely blossom in a briar patch of broken promises.
But I’ve always been a thorn in the side of injustice.

Disruptive. Talkative. A distraction.
With a passion that transcends the confines of my consciousness —
Beyond your curriculum, beyond your standards.
I stand here, a manifestation of love and pain,
With veins pumping revolution.
I am the strange fruit that grew too ripe for the poplar tree.
I am a DREAM Act, Dream Deferred incarnate.
I am a movement – an amalgam of memories America would care to forget
My past, alone won’t allow me to sit still.
So my body, like the mind
Cannot be contained.

As educators, rather than raising your voices
Over the rustling of our chains,
Take them off. Un-cuff us.
Unencumbered by the lumbering weight
Of poverty and privilege,
Policy and ignorance.

I was in the 7th grade, when Ms. Parker told me,
“Donovan, we can put your excess energy to good use!”
And she introduced me to the sound of my own voice.
She gave me a stage. A platform.
She told me that our stories are ladders
That make it easier for us to touch the stars.
So climb and grab them.
Keep climbing. Grab them.
Spill your emotions in the big dipper and pour out your soul.
Light up the world with your luminous allure.

To educate requires Galileo-like patience.
Today, when I look my students in the eyes, all I see are constellations.
If you take the time to connect the dots,
You can plot the true shape of their genius —
Shining in their darkest hour.

I look each of my students in the eyes,
And see the same light that aligned Orion’s Belt
And the pyramids of Giza.
I see the same twinkle
That guided Harriet to freedom.
I see them. Beneath their masks and mischief,
Exists an authentic frustration;
An enslavement to your standardized assessments.

At the core, none of us were meant to be common.
We were born to be comets,
Darting across space and time —
Leaving our mark as we crash into everything.
A crater is a reminder that something amazing happened here —
An indelible impact that shook up the world.
Are we not astronomers — looking for the next shooting star?
I teach in hopes of turning content, into rocket ships —
Tribulations into telescopes,
So a child can see their potential from right where they stand.
An injustice is telling them they are stars
Without acknowledging night that surrounds them.
Injustice is telling them education is the key
While you continue to change the locks.

Education is no equalizer —
Rather, it is the sleep that precedes the American Dream.
So wake up — wake up! Lift your voices
Until you’ve patched every hole in a child’s broken sky.
Wake up every child so they know of their celestial potential.
I’ve been a Black hole in the classroom for far too long;
Absorbing everything, without allowing my light escape.
But those days are done. I belong among the stars.
And so do you. And so do they.
Together, we can inspire galaxies of greatness
For generations to come.
No, sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning.
Lift off.



Source     :    Harvard Graduate School of Education


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Jakarta is a Wounded City: Sociologist


Rebertus Robert, a sociologist from the Jakarta State University (UNJ) says that Jakarta cannot suitably be called a ‘city’.

According to Robert, city is not about demographic matters but also cultural and social aspects as well as memory that it has.

What happens to Jakarta, Robert said, is that it does not have ‘civility aspects’, meaning that the city has not given its residents a sense of humanity.

“Jakarta is a wounded city,” Robet said in Central Jakarta on Saturday (28/5).

He added since Jakarta was hit by a riot in 1998 until now, the city has not been ‘fully recovered’.

Robert cited the example of a mall in Klender, East Jakarta, where hundreds of people were burned alive when a riot broke out in 1998. He added that there should have been a monument or something that can serve as a reminder for the residents about the tragedy.

“But this city doesn’t provide that,” he added.

Jakarta, he added, now has more wounds in the form of eviction in places considered as slum areas.

According to him, eviction is not the way to build a city. He added that a city is not built only based on economic needs but must also be balanced with social development.

However, he said that the government has been negligent in the social development of the people and the government’s policies are oriented to economic development has created an increasingly wider social gap.

“For middle and high class people, slum areas are nothing but for those who live there, they are everything for them,” he said.

The government, Robert added, can relocate the residents but their memories and lives will never be able to be relocated.


By            :               Maya Ayu Puspitasari

Date         :               May 29, 2016

Source     :               Temp.co


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Cornell Scholars examine structures of inequalities


Inequality is one of the central challenges of our time, and with historic increases in income and wealth inequality in recent years, public and scholarly interest in the topic has skyrocketed. The College of Arts & Sciences is a leading center of scholarship on inequality, drawing strength from its many departments and collaborations across the university.

Inequality in the United States takes numerous forms, says Richard Miller, director of the Program on Ethics and Public Life(EPL): unequal political influence, unequal opportunity, the concentration of income and wealth at the top, the persistence of stark racial inequalities, and inequalities in education. These factors reinforce each other, challenging those who seek policies that help meet currently unmet needs and reduce burdens of poverty.

“The social scientific approach to studying inequality dovetails really nicely with the humanities,” says Kim Weeden, director of the Center for the Study of Inequality (CSI), Jan Rock Zubrow ’77 Professor in the Social Sciences, and chair of sociology. “Understanding the sources of inequality, how it affects different groups of people, our political institutions, our economy, is very much in line with Cornell’s value of doing research that matters. It ties in with the public engagement mission.”

Adds Weeden, “all human societies have been characterized by some sort of inequality. Even many hunter gatherers had nearly complete gender segregation and resource scarcity. Inequality has always been with us, as much a part of the human experience as love and death.”

Asking Why

Moral questions of what should be done about inequality are those that humanists are well equipped to illuminate, such as the moral importance of reducing inequality of political influence and the extent to which the best-off should be taxed to help others, says Miller, the Wyn and William Y. Hutchinson Professor in Philosophy

The facts have people alarmed, says Miller, such as the stagnation of median income and the dramatic increase in CEO salaries (from 30 times the wages of the average worker in the mid-1980’s to 300 times now).

“But why are these inequalities important? Reflection on why we should care helps people reach across political divides in discussing what should be done. We have a moral responsibility to seek shared moral convictions that yield yardsticks for judging proposals for change,” says Miller.

This semester the Ethics and Public Life program brought six leading inequality scholars to Cornell for the “Inequalities: How Deep? Why? What Should Be Done?” lecture series. Based in the Philosophy Department, EPL promotes interdisciplinary learning about morally central questions concerning public policies and social, political, and economic processes. As part of this interdisciplinarity, Miller worked with sociologists, political scientists and economists throughout Cornell in planning the series; he notes the special help of CSI in the series’ success. Faculty and graduate students from eleven departments took part in workshops and informal discussions with the speakers. The public lectures were attended by large audiences, sometimes over two hundred, and were discussed in a new set of small-group discussion courses, “Discussions of Justice.”

“Our work in EPL is a good example of how the humanities can provide context and depth for broader conversations,” says Miller. He is currently at work on a series of essays that will form a book, “Ethics of Social Democracy.”

“Some philosophers think government should meet a broad array of needs that include but go way beyond helping poor people,” says Miller. “What are the moral principles we can appeal to in order to justify use of a state which doesn’t’ always benefit everyone?  But if you base beliefs on moral principles alone you are a fanatic. And while politics is about forcing people to do things, there should always be a moral basis for that forcing.”

Crime, Poverty, and the Criminal Justice System

Under Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society in the 1960’s, the root causes of crime and poverty were seen as embedded in legacies of racial oppression and “blocked opportunities,” says Julilly Kohler-Hausmann, assistant professor of history. But in the 1970’s the notion that crime and poverty are the result of deviant, maladjusted individuals or a cultural pathology became ascendant. Punishment was the logical response to such a belief.

Kohler-Hausmann is a member of an interdisciplinary team at the Institute for Social Sciences working on the collaborative project, “The Causes, Consequence and Future of Mass Incarceration in the United States,” led by Peter Enns, associate professor of government. The team, which includes members from the College of Arts & Sciences and College of Human Ecology, is examining the factors leading to mass incarceration and the circumstances that shape the risk, severity and duration of one’s contact with the criminal justice system. The goal is to help inform the policy debate about whether and how to reform the U.S. criminal justice system.

The decline of the welfare state and its social programs and the rise of mass incarceration were connected, says Kohler-Hausmann. Research shows that there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of money spent on social welfare and that spent on the penal system.

In the U.S. the expansion of the penal system saw a dramatic retrenchment of particular social programs; while social insurance programs persisted throughout the last half century, programs targeting marginalized populations declined precipitously. The value of cash support to poor parents through Aid to Families with Dependent Children(AFDC) fell by half between the 1970s and 1990s, where Social Security benefits were indexed to inflation and maintained their value. Populations and communities most dramatically affected by the expansion of the penal system have also seen dramatic reductions in state support.

Kohler-Hausmann is examining the historical processes that produced these changes. “I view it as the result of broad-based struggles over the causes of social inequality,” she says. “During the 1970s, debates escalated over the causes of social marginality and the state’s capacity — or responsibility — to resolve them. My book is chronicling the ways that enacting punitive drug, crime, and welfare policy helped produce answers to these questions—answers that explained disorder and inequality as the work of incorrigible, racialized deviants, such as ‘drug pushers,’ ‘welfare queens,’ and criminals.”

How we understand race and ethnic identity affects how we understand social and economic inequality, says Kohler-Hausmann. “One of the vehicles for undermining social programs was fusing them with racist characterization of African Americans, who were actually often the minority of the people benefiting from these programs. Today, even as we see a movement to reform mass incarceration, there are still punitive laws being passed about welfare.”

Increasingly punitive social and criminal policy has had broad effects on our democracy. Research by Jamila Michener, assistant professor of government, shows how government policies have an effect on political engagement and depress voices in the greater polity. Recipients of social welfare programs also forgo rights; those receiving AFDC assistance can be drug tested , have their houses searched, or limitations placed on where they can spend money. Kohler-Hausmann explains that “Policies that degrade the civic standing of the poor make it harder for them to be heard in public dialogues over inequality.”

Anna Haskins, assistant professor of sociology, has shown that having a father who is incarcerated perpetuates inequality across generations by affecting how ready children are for school, emotionally and behaviorally. She finds that boys, in particular, who have imprisoned fathers are already behind when they arrive in kindergarten at age five, and are more likely to be placed in special education, held back a grade, or continue to experience socio-emotional problems by age nine.

Systemic Surveillance

Professor of History Edward Baptist sees a connection between the research he’s conducting on runaway American slaves and current issues with the criminal justice system. Did the efforts to catch runaway slaves influence attitudes and law enforcement in the U.S relating to blacks?

“Black people’s movements through and into spaces is something that is constantly noted in the 19th century as acceptable or not acceptable,” he explains. “They’re understood as a problem, especially someone whose name wasn’t known or who wasn’t acting in an expected way. That’s still an issue for us in our country today. Blacks constantly encounter the attitude of ‘you don’t belong here,’ such as when they’re followed in a store or stopped by police. Do black people belong in these spaces, or are they in effect fugitives? And how much of this is created by policy and how much by culture?”

Baptist’s latest project looks at the way surveillance – controlling space and activities – is a systemic part of our culture that has been carried forward from the institution of slavery. “The white population was actively involved in maintaining the slavery regime by policing Black movements through space, seeing them as suspicious, a problem that had to be investigated,” Baptist explains. “Black people’s movements through and into spaces were something that 19th-century white America constantly monitored, and saw as either acceptable or not acceptable. African Americans were surveilled, and constantly seen as potential threats–especially those whose names weren’t known, or who didn’t seem to be working like slaves to add to white wealth. Some very similar patterns seem to persist in our our country today. On a large scale it’s easy to see that. For example, police are much less likely to find contraband in a Black driver’s car, yet they far more frequently stop Black travelers’ cars–because they ‘look suspicious.’ How much is this policy, and how much is this culture – are Black people seen as belonging in these spaces, or are they effectively still seen as fugitives?”

Another example, says Baptist, is racialized law enforcement that makes a huge investment in policing areas perceived as “drug corners.” “This is very expensive policy, yet one publicized by the news media as if it is the essence of policing. But the policy is more about controlling black activity in space than it is about preventing crimes against black lives. In contrast, the investment in homicide detectives where most of the murders taking place in areas like South Los Angeles is very low.”

Capitalism and Inequality

The lower 40% of income earners in this country carry significant debt; if they own a home, it is often heavily mortgaged. Such debt creates intense pressure to find and keep a job. But being out of work is a frequent experience for people in a capitalist economy. The result is an inequity: the pressure to be hired doesn’t correspond to the pressure to hire. This raises a moral question, says Miller: should people who benefit from advantages in bargaining power be required to redistribute their wealth? Is it exploitation of workers, when the power of the exchange is all on one side?

One contribution of historic humanities is to stretch people’s viewpoints by showing how assumptions change over time, says Miller. One example is that of wage labor as an evil: Abraham Lincoln regarded wage labor as something to liberate yourself from: every man should have the means to be his own boss, with no one above him. “Some at the time even viewed workers as worse off than slaves, because if times were bad slaves were still fed and housed, whereas workers just got fired,” adds Miller.

“In my Black Radical Tradition class, I teach about that political tradition of thinkers and activists who always said that you cannot have racial justice without wholesale economic redistribution,” says Russell Rickford, assistant professor of history. “You don’t just racialize a group because you don’t like them. You racialize a group in order to expropriate their land, their resources, their wealth. That’s how the incredible opulence and wealth of this society was generated, with 500 years of uncompensated or super-exploited labor. Modern capitalism is an inherently racialized project. You cannot have any kind of racial reconciliation or racial justice without wholesale redistribution. South Africa had the end of apartheid and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but there was no redistribution, so it has the same kind of economic structure as before, with the same structural inequalities.”

Notes Weeden, “there are all sorts of institutions in any country or labor market that protects some types of workers or in some cases protect owners of capital. In the last 20 years, there have been numerous institutional changes that have protected workers at the top of the income distribution while eliminating protections to those on the bottom.”

Weeden’s research looks at the institutional sources of income inequality, as well as the gender gap in earnings, such as how the increase in hourly wages for long work hours has affected the motherhood wage penalty and the fatherhood wage premium.

One example Weeden points to are various bottlenecks in the educational system, some stemming from inadequate primary schools, which prevent the supply of college-educated workers from keeping up with demand. “Those who do get a college degree benefit, indirectly, because their wages are actually higher than what they would be if there were no bottlenecks in the educational system,” explains Weeden.

“The contradiction is that what accompanies capitalist expansion is often deepening inequality and declining freedom. For example, the expansion of the cotton economy resulted in a deepening of slavery and a stripping away of freedoms,” says Baptist, who is part of the History of Capitalism Initiative and author of “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” (Basic Books, 2014).

“When enslaved African Americans ran away they were trying to rewrite the story of capitalism and their relationship with this expanding capitalist system. They were making a decision that their relationship to capitalism was not going to be that of property, but that of a wage worker. This was the most effective resistance in the history of resistance to the deepening inequality in the U.S.,” says Baptist, because of the driving influence of those who escaped slavery on the abolitionist movement and the coming of the Civil War.

Residential Segregation

“Policymakers across the political spectrum seem to believe that, aside from random acts of racial discrimination, we more or less live in a world where residential segregation is a reflection of individual choice,” says Noliwe Rooks, associate professor of Africana studies, adding that “the racial divide is either not considered to be very bad, or is now taken for granted.”

But in fact this this attitude is wrong, says Rooks: studies show that metro areas with the highest levels of segregation have the largest health inequities, resulting in shorter life spans for black and Latino residents of these areas. And research has shown that two-thirds of the difference between test scores and grades for black and Latino students in the top 30 U.S. schools could be predicted based on the racial segregation of the students’ home neighborhoods.

“We know from 30 years of research that test scores and college-level success are far lower for students of color who attend racially segregated schools,” Rooks says. “And of course we know that schools today remain segregated because neighborhoods remain segregated.”

Rooks’ new seminar, Race and Social Entrepreneurship: Food Justice and Urban Reform,  examines the issue of food justice in Ithaca and surrounding areas, which is often related to residential segregation, and explores innovative approaches for bringing about social equity and justice in relation to food availability, access and sustainability for those on a fixed or low income. The course is both a University Course, and part of an Engaged Cornell Curriculum Grant awarded to Africana Studies. Students in the service learning course will work in collaboration with senior citizens who live at a local residential facility, McGraw House, and are on a fixed income in order to explore both barriers and workable solutions to food access, availability and affordability. In addition, students in the course will work with with local farmers, non-profits and community activists in order to learn about area organizations and experiments intervening in the issues of food justice.

“Our goal is understand how sustainable development can be achieved in the context of racism and social inequality, with a focus on contemporary and historical efforts to build lasting institutions or movements,” says Rooks.

Minoring in Inequality Studies

Cornell offers a minor in inequality studies, which is housed in CSI and the department of sociology. The minor gives students a firm grounding in the literature on inequality, through such large and popular courses as Social Inequality, which gives an overview of theoretical and empirical scholarship on inequality in the social sciences, and Controversies about Inequality, a University Course that focuses on contemporary social scientific and policy debates on inequality. The minor requires students to take courses from multiple social science disciplines as well as offers electives in the humanities, and it allows them to tailor their studies to focus on different aspects of inequality, such as a track on ethics and social justice.

The minor has been very successful and is growing in popularity as inequality has entered public discourse again, says Weeden. Since 2004, the minor has graduated more than 600 students, and 225 enrolled in AY 2015-16. About half of the minors are in Arts & Sciences.

“The Inequality Studies minor was the catalyst that fostered my passion towards social justice, for which I will always be grateful, says Allen Fung ’07. “After studying in-depth the various forms of inequality (racial, gender, socio-economic, etc.) present throughout American history, I knew that I wanted to be part of the effort in correcting these various inequalities.”

Winnie Tong ’14 echoes that sentiment: “as a woman of color from Brooklyn, I have gained so much through the Inequality Studies minor because it allowed me to learn more about the structural and systematic issues within our society. Although I might not have found all the solutions to the larger issues we discussed in class, the minor definitely played a significant part in steering me onto a path of social justice and working with communities of color.”


By:         Linda B. Glaser

Date:      May 10, 2016

Source:  The College of Arts and Sciences, Cornell University


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