Jason Webb is a sociology doctoral student residing in Toronto. This is his notebook on homelessness, inequality, citizenship, and urbanism.
Many people ask me how we can make this a better world. I study social inequality, so surely I have some concrete solutions. Granted, there are some economic policies that could make our lives a little easier, like increasing capital gains tax, leveling wealth redistribution, and enacting living wages. All these policies have the potential to make practical changes for people struggling with poverty. Although I wouldn’t dismiss these approaches, I think we neglect to address the underlying problem that perpetuates social suffering, even in wealthy nations such as Canada.
Yes, we need an equitable political economy, but we what we really need is a loving, empathetic society.
Humans wither in the absence of love. On Bathurst and Bloor, I observed an elderly woman in a wheelchair asking for spare change. Her hair matted and tangled, she looked to each passerby with pale, watery eyes. People just walked past her. They chattered on their smartphones, clutching shopping bags in their hands. I don’t blame them - everyone deserves the life they choose. Did this woman choose to be on the street? Did she choose to be a ghost, forever haunting this street corner, unseen by the living? Love alone won’t lift her out of poverty; love launches us to include and care for those who are marginalized. To exercise our empathy, to understand within our very selves what it means to be discarded and forgotten, builds a foundation for healing others. This woman on the corner deserves the same unconditional love as everyone else.
I helped a friend and his partner move into a new apartment recently. When we finished, we relaxed in their living room with pizza and beer. I got up to go into the kitchen to fetch another drink. My friend’s partner, who is a nurse, came into the kitchen and commented, rather jokingly, on my dark sense of humour. In that moment, I decided to allow myself to be vulnerable. I don’t know why. Perhaps I needed to finally say it. I told her my sense of humour concealed my true nature. She put her hand on my back and replied, “yes, you have a gentle soul.” Since then, I reflected on that moment and concluded that I was ashamed of my soul. I hide it from others. After a little work on myself I chose to no longer to be ashamed of it. This is who I am.
I’m telling this story because, in some way, we all struggle with being open, loving people. We are taught to look out for ourselves, to put ourselves first. I’m not saying we should completely neglect our own happiness; achieving happiness means sharing it with others. However, as sociologists have been telling us for years, we live in constant interdependence with each other. We are connected, not just spiritually, but socially as well. The world we inhabit could not exist without people working in concert to build and maintain the means to exist. Did you make your own clothes? Did you build your house? Grow your own food? Who do you turn to in times of distress? Why do we feel such sorrow when someone you love rejects you? Humans are social by nature, and that connectivity we depend on to has the capacity to heal us.
To embrace love and to love others are positive steps in creating an empathetic society. I know this will take time, but sometimes all that’s we really have in the end.
"Symbolic interactionists see social realities as dependent upon a shared definition of the situation. In this sense, both deviance and stigma are social products that emerge from social encounters and negotiations. In other words, no one is inherently “normal” or “deviant”; such characteristics do not lie objectively within a person; instead what is considered normal or abnormal is culturally variable and dependent on human reactions. When characteristics central to one’s core concept of self, such as sex/gender, race, age, or overall physical appearance, become stigmatized, it is difficult to de-emphasize the importance of these characteristics. In these cases, damage to one’s self concept may be dramatic, leaving a mark of stigma associated with a predominant characteristic upon which the self-concept is based. Here, the stigmatized characteristic becomes so central to one’s overall identity that a concept of self will be developed around it, leading to pervasive self-stigmatization that is generalized and associated with other, seemingly unrelated, aspects of oneself. In this sense, the stigmatized characteristic may become a dominating aspect of self from which (all) other concepts of self take their meaning."
Sharon E. Preves, Ph.D, “Intersex Narratives: Gender, Medicine and Identity”
"The major finding of our experiments is still shocking. When whites were presented with an argument against the death penalty or three strikes that emphasized the racial bias of the policy, they became more (not less) supportive of capital punishment and three strikes laws."
Jon Hurwitz and Mark Peffley, political scientists and authors of Justice in America: The Separate Realities of Blacks and Whites, in a recent interview with the Washington Post’s Wonkblog about their academic studies documenting the “separate realities” and perceptions about the US criminal justice system based on race.
The whole interview is worth reading, but I wanted to emphasize this particular passage because it offers a stark and sobering window into white racism: when white people are presented with the notion that the criminal justice system is racist, they become more supportive of the death penalty and mandatory minimums.
To put it even more simply: most white people like the racist imprisonment and execution of Black folks. That’s literally the world that a majority of white people want to live in — a violently racist world — because they believe racist violence makes the world a better place for whites. Most whites support institutional racism, which is why they built it and continue to defend it and maintain it.
"The question, then, becomes whether this relationship between economic inequality and health applies equally to America’s glaring racial disparities? Race also produces huge gaps in advantage and disadvantage that parallel the relative health of people in different racial groups. A new field of scientific research shows that racial inequality, like income inequality, causes health disparities—and provides the missing factor that many scientists are substituting with genetic explanations. Understanding this impact requires changing the way we thing about the relationship between race and biology. Thomas LaViest, a leading public health expert at Johns Hopkins, surveyed the use of race in epidemiological studies in the 1990s. He found that most of the articles on the U.S.-based populations did use race, but the most common use was a control variable—to filter out the impact of race. So while geneticists were homing in on the biological impact of race, epidemiologists were ignoring it. “What is needed is not simply more research on race,” LaViest concluded, “but better research on race.”
Thinking on this issue tends to fall into two camps; either race is a social category that has nothing to do with the biological causes of disease, or race is a biological category that causes differences in disease. Both approaches fail to grasp the way in which race as a social grouping can affect health—because of different life experiences based on race, not because of race-based genetic difference. In this sense, race is biological. This is where many people get confused. So let me be clear: race is not a biological category that naturally produces health disparities because of genetic differences. Race is a political category that has staggering biological consequences because of the impact of social inequality on people’s health. Understanding race as a political category does not erase its impact on biology; instead, it redirects attention from the genetic explanations to social ones. This new conceptual model disrupts the dichotomy between biological and environmental causes of health inequities by suggesting complex biological interactions between racism, socioeconomic disadvantage, and poor health. According to sociologist Troy Duster, “The task is to determine how the social meanig of race can affect biological outcomes.” How does race inequality get under the skin? How is racism embodied?"
Dorothy Roberts, Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Cetury (via eshusplayground)
Detroit filed bankruptcy, which may force creditors to settle with less than they are owed in order to resolve $18 billion in city debt.
Detroit was once synonymous with U.S. manufacturing prowess. The auto industry switched to making planes, tanks and munitions during World War Two, earning the city the nickname of the “Arsenal of Democracy.”
Now a third of Detroit’s 700,000 residents live in poverty and about a fifth are unemployed.
"Maybe bankruptcy will help. I don’t know," said lifelong Detroiter Damien Collins, 68, outside his east-side house surrounded by abandoned homes. The retired autoworker said he had given up hope anything would bring back Detroit. “Nothing else has worked, so why not try it?" he asked.
The murder rate is the highest in nearly 40 years, only a third of its ambulances were in service in the first quarter of 2013 and nearly 78,000 abandoned buildings create “additional public safety problems,” Michigan’s governor Rick Snyder wrote.
Forty percent of street lights were non-functional in the first three months of this year, while the police took an average of 58 minutes to respond to emergency calls, more than five times the national average. The city government has been plagued by mismanagement and corruption.