Saturday, November 2, 2013
Friday, November 1, 2013
The Logic of Stupid Poor People
By Tressie McMillan Cottom / October 29, 2013
We hates us some poor people. First, they insist on being poor when it is so easy to not be poor. They do things like buy expensive designer belts and $2500 luxury handbags.
To be fair, this isn’t about Eroll Louis. His is a belief held by many people, including lots of black people, poor people, formerly poor people, etc. It is, I suspect, an honest expression of incredulity. If you are poor, why do you spend money on useless status symbols like handbags and belts and clothes and shoes and televisions and cars?
One thing I’ve learned is that one person’s illogical belief is another person’s survival skill. And nothing is more logical than trying to survive.
My family is a classic black American migration family. We have rural Southern roots, moved north and almost all have returned. I grew up watching my great-grandmother, and later my grandmother and mother, use our minimal resources to help other people make ends meet. We were those good poors, the kind who live mostly within our means. We had a little luck when a male relative got extra military pay when they came home a paraplegic or used the VA to buy a Jim Walter house (pdf). If you were really blessed when a relative died with a paid up insurance policy you might be gifted a lump sum to buy the land that Jim Walters used as collateral to secure your home lease. That’s how generational wealth happens where I’m from: lose a leg, a part of your spine, die right and maybe you can lease-to-own a modular home.
We had a little of that kind of rural black wealth so we were often in a position to help folks less fortunate. But perhaps the greatest resource we had was a bit more education. We were big readers and we encouraged the girl children, especially, to go to some kind of college. Consequently, my grandmother and mother had a particular set of social resources that helped us navigate mostly white bureaucracies to our benefit. We could, as my grandfather would say, talk like white folks. We loaned that privilege out to folks a lot.
I remember my mother taking a next door neighbor down to the social service agency. The elderly woman had been denied benefits to care for the granddaughter she was raising. The woman had been denied in the genteel bureaucratic way — lots of waiting, forms, and deadlines she could not quite navigate. I watched my mother put on her best Diana Ross “Mahogany” outfit: a camel colored cape with matching slacks and knee high boots. I was miffed, as only an only child could be, about sharing my mother’s time with the neighbor girl. I must have said something about why we had to do this. Vivian fixed me with a stare as she was slipping on her pearl earrings and told me that people who can do, must do. It took half a day but something about my mother’s performance of respectable black person — her Queen’s English, her Mahogany outfit, her straight bob and pearl earrings — got done what the elderly lady next door had not been able to get done in over a year. I learned, watching my mother, that there was a price we had to pay to signal to gatekeepers that we were worthy of engaging. It meant dressing well and speaking well. It might not work. It likely wouldn't work but on the off chance that it would, you had to try. It was unfair but, as Vivian also always said, “life isn’t fair little girl.”
I internalized that lesson and I think it has worked out for me, if unevenly. A woman at Belk’s once refused to show me the Dooney and Burke purse I was interested in buying. Vivian once made a salesgirl cry after she ignored us in an empty store. I have walked away from many of hotly desired purchases, like the impractical off-white winter coat I desperately wanted, after some bigot at the counter insulted me and my mother. But, I have half a PhD and I support myself aping the white male privileged life of the mind. It’s a mixed bag. Of course, the trick is you can never know the counterfactual of your life. There is no evidence of access denied. Who knows what I was not granted for not enacting the right status behaviors or symbols at the right time for an agreeable authority? Respectability rewards are a crap-shoot but we do what we can within the limits of the constraints imposed by a complex set of structural and social interactions designed to limit access to status, wealth, and power.
I do not know how much my mother spent on her camel colored cape or knee-high boots but I know that whatever she paid it returned in hard-to-measure dividends. How do you put a price on the double-take of a clerk at the welfare office who decides you might not be like those other trifling women in the waiting room and provides an extra bit of information about completing a form that you would not have known to ask about? What is the retail value of a school principal who defers a bit more to your child because your mother’s presentation of self signals that she might unleash the bureaucratic savvy of middle class parents to advocate for her child? I don’t know the price of these critical engagements with organizations and gatekeepers relative to our poverty when I was growing up. But, I am living proof of its investment yield.
Why do poor people make stupid, illogical decisions to buy status symbols? For the same reason all but only the most wealthy buy status symbols, I suppose. We want to belong. And, not just for the psychic rewards, but belonging to one group at the right time can mean the difference between unemployment and employment, a good job as opposed to a bad job, housing or a shelter, and so on. Someone mentioned on twitter that poor people can be presentable with affordable options from Kmart. But the issue is not about being presentable. Presentable is the bare minimum of social civility. It means being clean, not smelling, wearing shirts and shoes for service and the like. Presentable as a sufficient condition for gainful, dignified work or successful social interactions is a privilege. It’s the aging white hippie who can cut the ponytail of his youthful rebellion and walk into senior management while aging black panthers can never completely outrun the effects of stigmatization against which they were courting a revolution. Presentable is relative and, like life, it ain’t fair.
In contrast, “acceptable” is about gaining access to a limited set of rewards granted upon group membership. I cannot know exactly how often my presentation of acceptable has helped me but I have enough feedback to know it is not inconsequential. One manager at the apartment complex where I worked while in college told me, repeatedly, that she knew I was “Okay” because my little Nissan was clean. That I had worn a Jones of New York suit to the interview really sealed the deal. She could call the suit by name because she asked me about the label in the interview. Another hiring manager at my first professional job looked me up and down in the waiting room, cataloging my outfit, and later told me that she had decided I was too classy to be on the call center floor. I was hired as a trainer instead. The difference meant no shift work, greater prestige, better pay and a baseline salary for all my future employment.
I have about a half dozen other stories like this. What is remarkable is not that this happened. There is empirical evidence that women and people of color are judged by appearances differently and more harshly than are white men. What is remarkable is that these gatekeepers told me the story. They wanted me to know how I had properly signaled that I was not a typical black or a typical woman, two identities that in combination are almost always conflated with being poor.
I sat in on an interview for a new administrative assistant once. My regional vice president was doing the hiring. A long line of mostly black and brown women applied because we were a cosmetology school. Trade schools at the margins of skilled labor in a gendered field are necessarily classed and raced. I found one candidate particularly charming. She was trying to get out of a salon because 10 hours on her feet cutting hair would average out to an hourly rate below minimum wage. A desk job with 40 set hours and medical benefits represented mobility for her. When she left my VP turned to me and said, “did you see that tank top she had on under her blouse?! OMG, you wear a silk shell, not a tank top!” Both of the women were black.
The VP had constructed her job as senior management. She drove a brand new BMW because she, “should treat herself” and liked to tell us that ours was an image business. A girl wearing a cotton tank top as a shell was incompatible with BMW-driving VPs in the image business. Gatekeeping is a complex job of managing boundaries that do not just define others but that also define ourselves. Status symbols — silk shells, designer shoes, luxury handbags — become keys to unlock these gates. If I need a job that will save my lower back and move my baby from medicaid to an HMO, how much should I spend signaling to people like my former VP that I will not compromise her status by opening the door to me? That candidate maybe could not afford a proper shell. I will never know. But I do know that had she gone hungry for two days to pay for it or missed wages for a trip to the store to buy it, she may have been rewarded a job that could have lifted her above minimum wage. Shells aren’t designer handbags, perhaps. But a cosmetology school in a strip mall isn’t a job at Bank of America, either.
At the heart of these incredulous statements about the poor decisions poor people make is a belief that we would never be like them. We would know better. We would know to save our money, eschew status symbols, cut coupons, practice puritanical sacrifice to amass a million dollars. There is a regular news story of a lunch lady who, unbeknownst to all who knew her, died rich and leaves it all to a cat or a charity or some such. Books about the modest lives of the rich like to tell us how they drive Buicks instead of BMWs. What we forget, if we ever know, is that what we know now about status and wealth creation and sacrifice are predicated on who we are, i.e. not poor. If you change the conditions of your not-poor status, you change everything you know as a result of being a not-poor. You have no idea what you would do if you were poor until you are poor. And not intermittently poor or formerly not-poor, but born poor, expected to be poor and treated by bureaucracies, gatekeepers and well-meaning respectability authorities as inherently poor. Then, and only then, will you understand the relative value of a ridiculous status symbol to someone who intuits that they cannot afford to not have it.
Source / tressiemc
Thanks to Alan Brodrick / Fluxed Up World
Friday, October 25, 2013
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Source / March Against Monsanto Facebook Page
Fluxed Up World
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Chemical Corporations Tremble at Kauai's Unwavering Determination
By Andrea Brower / October 12, 2013
Over forty people lined up at 10 pm on Monday evening to get a seat in Kauai's small council chambers the following day at 8:30 am. They stood, laid and danced in line, through dark tropical downpours, for over 10 hours just to witness one of many ongoing council meetings. This has become the state of our lives over the past months. Public hearings lasting past 1 am, historical mobilizations of thousands taking to the streets, nights where sleep has been replaced by research, writing and sign-making.
Little Kauai's struggle against the largest chemical-seed corporations in the world is inspiring much attention. Nearly every corn seed in the industrial food system touches Hawaii somewhere; the most isolated islands in the world have become a main hub of research and development for the multinational companies that dominate the agricultural input market. Six corporations control 70 percent of the global pesticide (including herbicide and insecticide) market and essentially the entire market for genetically modified seeds. Four of them -- Pioneer DuPont, Dow, Syngenta and BASF -- occupy 15,000 acres on Kauai. Kauai has a population of 64,000 mostly working-class residents. A true David versus Goliath story that is just beginning to fully unfold.
Some recent media commentators have asked "why now?" about Hawaii's growing movement against the agrochemical-GMO industry, suggesting the influence of a relatively paltry sum of non-local funding, a few friendly politicians, and Facebook. All things that perhaps have been tools in the movement, but surely not an explanation for its presence, popular resonance and firm determination.
To understand the "why" of our local struggle, it firstly needs to be situated in a larger global movement that is responding to a radically unjust, anti-democratic and ecologically destructive food and agricultural system. On Kauai, the movement is partly about the local manifestations of that food system -- the poisoning of land and people for the development of new technologies that the world does not want, and does not need. It is a response to resident grievances over breathing in pesticide-laden dust on a daily basis for the past 15 years; parent and teacher anger after dozens of students were poisoned a second and third time; local physician concerns that they are noticing higher rates of illnesses and rare birth defects; the frustration of Native Hawaiian taro farmers watching rivers go dry as chemical companies divert and dump water; beekeeper fears that they will be next to loose organic certification due to pesticide contamination, or experience hive die-off from the known bee-killers.
Some of the same commentators have mistakenly labeled our struggle an "anti-GMO" movement, reducing our activism to mere opposition to a technology. More accurately, on Kauai we are responding to the specific impacts of the agrochemical-GMO industry on our island -- clearly an issue of environmental justice. Within the global movement that we are a part of, there are people who do not believe we should be influencing life at the fundamental level that GMO technology does. There are also a lot of people in the movement who are not strictly opposed to the science of genetic engineering itself. In regards to GMOs, what is being opposed is the direction and control of that science, and the resulting social and ecological devastation of how it is being used.
We are beginning to expose what happens at "Ground Zero" of the chemical-GMO industry's R&D operations. Kauai may soon pass a bill that would give us the right to know what pesticides are being used in massive amounts right up next to schools, hospitals and residences. Kauai County Bill 2491 would also establish buffer-zones around these sensitive areas, mandate a health and environmental impact study, and if passed in its full form, put a temporary halt on expansion of the industry.
As Kauai's pesticide "Right to Know" bill moves forward, the chemical companies are revealing just how afraid they are of us gaining even the most basic information about their operations. Arrows to derail, distract, depress and divide us are being shot from every direction, and from some of the deepest pockets on the planet. Above all, the chem-seed corporations are attempting to exterminate our belief that we are capable of making change. They tell us that justice is illegal, that we must choose between jobs and health, that we will be inept at regulating them (wouldn't they like to think!), that we can't possibly feed ourselves from our best agricultural lands, and that without them the world will go hungry. They try to push us to retreat back to our individual lives, convinced that collective action for social change has become impossible, and that there simply is no alternative to the food system they are designing.
Too often we concede our imaginations to the status quo; the dominant logics of the day train us to do so. We talk as if all the deals have already been made. We say we tried in the 60's, but nothing ever changes. We decide that the best we can do is buy organic or fair-trade, crossing our fingers that our "dollar vote" will transform the entire food system. We attempt to just "opt-out" of the system, hoping that the billions of others will somehow find their way "out" too (even though we know ours is rife with contradictions). We sing "don't worry, just be happy," and pop a Prozac.
But what is happening on Kauai is inspiring the eyes of the world and terrifying the chemical companies because we have not, and will not, surrender our belief in the possibility of big, meaningful social change. When they tell us that "there is no alternative" to their malignant existence, we are calling their bluff.
We are on the verge of forcing insidiously powerful corporations to disclose what kinds of toxic experiments they are conducting on our land and people. And this is just the very tip of what is happening on Kauai, and what is increasingly happening around the world. As we build new solidarities, connect the dots of destruction in our food system, and situate these in the broader economic-political context, we are having new conversations and thinking in ways that push the boundaries of what is considered possible. We are beginning to talk seriously about our fundamental human rights to clean air, water and soil; about the colonial legacy of concentrated land ownership; about the privatization of the resources needed to grow food; about the injustices of an economic system where competitive profit accumulation is the only defining logic; and about the possibility of new ways, often based in old knowledge and wisdom.
Though the chemical companies may be devastating our lands and waters, they have not devastated our imaginations. Whether or not we pass a bill, we are growing the momentum, intelligence and creativity of a movement that will continue to take bigger and bolder steps. The food movement, locally and globally, is rising, and it isn't going away. And we will win, because the world we are fighting for is what the vast majority of people want, and we are simply reminding people how to believe that it is in fact possible to make that world.
[Andrea Brower is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Auckland. She has been very active in alternative food and global social justice movements, and spent several years co-directing the non-profit Malama Kauai in Hawaii, where she is originally from.]
Source / Huffington Post
Fluxed Up World
Sunday, September 1, 2013
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Yep, We’re Screwed: Top Ten Recent Climate Change Findings that should Scare You
By Juan Cole / August 15, 2013
1. A warmer planet will spur aggression and violence, according to UC Berkeley scientists.
2. Climate change is causing animals to migrate into new areas, spreading diseases across species: “Earth’s changing climate and the global spread of infectious diseases are threatening human health, agriculture and wildlife,” say the National Science Foundation’s Sam Scheinter of a new paper just published in Science.
3. The oceans are heating up, according to a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of data from 2012: “Global average ocean surface temperature was higher than the 1981–2010 average and has been for at least a decade . . .” “Heat content in the upper 2,300 feet of the ocean remained near record high values in 2012. Overall increases were also observed in the deep ocean below . . .” The increases in upper ocean temperatures explains why land surface temperature rise has stalled in recent years: the oceans are acting as a “sink.” Unfortunately when that effect ends, land surface temperature may shoot up.
4. The oceans are rising, threatening coasts and low-lying cities like Miami and New Orleans. Likewise, according to the same study, sea levels are rising like never before since human beings have been keeping records: “Average global sea level reached a record high in 2012. Total sea level has increased at an average rate of 3.2 mm per year since 1993.”
5. America burning up:
“With climate change, certain areas of the United States, like the great Plains and Upper Midwest, will be at a greater risk of burning by the end of the 21st-century. Areas like the Mountain West that are prone to burning now will see even more fires than they do today.NASA’s recent video explains.
6. Arctic sea ice, as it melts, fractures and forms pools on the surface, is becoming darker and less reflective. It is no longer reflecting as much sunlight back into outer space, allowing it onto earth and accelerating global warming.
7. The melting of tundra in the East Siberian Arctic shelf could cause a sudden release of massive amounts of methane, costing the world economy $60 trillion.
8. Climate has changed in past eons because of things like varying volcanic activity, meteor strikes, and so forth. But human beings in this century are putting so many billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually that they are causing climate change at a place orders of magnitude faster than anything in the archeological record. Species often went extinct even during the slower climate change eras of the distant past. The current change event will almost certainly kill off large numbers of species, including much of ocean life.
9. The ozone hole over the Antarctic, caused in part by human-produced chemicals, may be speeding up global warming.
10. Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” of subterranean natural gas has been hailed as making available a fuel that burns cleaner than coal. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has recently done flyovers of fracking sites in Utah and found disturbing evidence of substantial methane emissions. Methane is a very powerful and dangerous greenhouse gas that would more than cancel out the benefit of natural gas over coal.
Source / Informed Comment
Fluxed Up World