When it “getting worse” is a privilege

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Over the course of this election season, I’ve at times taken a Zen approach to it all and said to more than a few people, “Sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.” And there is definitely still a part of me that believes this may, in fact, be true—sometimes I don’t think anything will change some people’s minds about how our society needs to be run except them experiencing hardship themselves, though I also know that experiencing hardship in and of itself does not produce the same outcomes of belief in all people and can sometimes more deeply ingrain stereotypes and biases…

But aside from all the little spins I can put on the argument to make it seem like a good one, as I’ve thought more about this in the past few weeks, I’ve come to conclude it’s a dangerous outlook for me to have for one simple reason: I’m speaking from a point of privilege.

Over the past few months I’ve also talked to many about how I’m a straight, young, white male, and how that pretty much puts me at the top of the “Privilege Olympics”. So I continue to work toward equality and equity for all people. But continually recognizing and “checking” one’s privilege is a 24/7 job, and it’s easy to let your guard down.

Whenever I’ve said that maybe “it has to get worse”, I’ve subconsciously been confident that whatever “worse” means, it doesn’t mean worse for me:

  • If Roe v. Wade is reversed, I won’t be the one who has to suffer the consequences it would have for the control of my body and reproductive choice.
  • If salary inequality continues such that women are paid only 70-80% of what men are paid, or if that percentage decreases, I won’t be losing any money from it.
  • If voter ID laws that disproportionately affect the poor, elderly, and people of color continue to be rolled out and applied, I won’t have to worry about losing my ability to vote.
  • If the movement of equal rights of homosexuals is halted, and gains made in the past years reversed, I won’t experience the consequences of any of those changes.
  • If Obamacare is repealed or amended, I’ll still have health insurance or be able to afford coverage.
  • If the economy takes another downturn, I’ll probably still have a full-time job. And even if I should lose it, I have significant savings that could last me for a while and have everything working in my favor to help me get a new job faster than others in a similar position. And even if worst comes to worst, I have grandparents who own their homes outright that I could live with (in addition to parents with a partially paid off home).
  • If religious rights of non-Christians are curtailed, it won’t affect how and if I want to worship as I see fit.
  • If we continue to fight wars, allow drone attacks, and permit oppressive governments to bring about terrible lives for people around the world, it won’t be my life that’s affected.

So while it may not matter to me personally if “it has to get worse before it gets better”, it sure does matter for many others (well over half the country, actually). If I’m going to be fighting for the rights of ALL people, to be striving for equality for the oppressed and marginalized, then I need to be taking a stand toward creating a better country for us ALL to live in and recognizing that when changes for the worse happen, even if they don’t affect me directly, they still matter and aren’t just “collateral damage” for some eventual change that may happen some day.

So when you and I go to the ballot box and vote (and even those who choose not to vote), it’s important to remember that it’s not all about “me” but about all those we know and don’t know who will be affected by the very real consequences of decisions made by those we elect to positions in our government. Our choices matter and directly impact the lives of other around the country and around the world. It’s not to be taken lightly; I’m going to continue to try to remember that, and I hope you do, too.


globally, women anything but equal

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Sunday night, I posted about the wealth inequality for women of color here in the U.S.  Another report I was turned on to is from October 2009, and it tells the tale of women in general, in the U.S. and around the world.  The 2009 Global Gender Gap report of the World Economic Forum provides a ranking of countries around the world.  According to the report itself:

“The Index benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education- and health based criteria, and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income groups…

“There are three basic concepts underlying the Global Gender Gap Index. First, it focuses on measuring gaps rather than levels. Second, it captures gaps in outcome variables rather than gaps in means or input variables. Third, it ranks countries according to gender equality rather than women’s empowerment.”

Using their methodology, they created rankings for 134 countries around the globe.  The top five in their list were Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand.  Before you get to the U.S. at #31, you pass by South Africa (#6), Lesotho (#10), Sri Lanka (#16), Mongolia (#22), and Cuba (#29), to name a few.  (Remember — it measures gaps, not levels, so this doesn’t mean a woman’s life in Cuba is necessarily better than that of a woman in the U.S., but the gap is greater.)

According to the U.S. country profile, education and health are strong points, with equality more or less being established (ranking #1 overall for educational attainment). However, economic and political equality leave something to be desired (the U.S. ranked #61 in political empowerment, with 1 female for every 5 males in “parliament,” as they denote it).

So what does all this mean for us here in the States?  Well, for starters, it shows that while we may say men and women are equal, the end results don’t point that out.  We may educate women equally, and they may even live longer (on average) than men, but women here do not possess the same economic resources  and wealth as men and are not represented in government even close to equally.  We must again recognize the systematic structures in place creating these disparities and work to truly make women and men equal, in this country and around the world.

(As a side note, I found out about this report though an article that appeared in The Nation.  As readers wrote in response to that article, there are some areas for critique of that article and the report itself, but regardless of comparing the U.S. to other countries, the fact of continued inequality in certain areas of society here in the U.S. still needs to be noted and addressed.)

wealth disparity for women of color

Sunday 4 April 2010

A few weeks ago, I heard of a report that looked at the differences of wealth for white women and women of color.  The report is titled Lifting as we Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America’s Future and was conducted by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development.  It  contained some very troubling facts.  Here are just a few, pulled from the Executive Summary (it should be noted that wealth here excludes vehicles)
(also, remember median means “middle” — half the women/people are above that vale, and half are below it):

  • Single black and Hispanic women have a median wealth of $100 and $120 respectively, which is approximately 1 percent of the wealth of their same-race male counterparts.  It is only a fraction of one-percent of the wealth of single white women.
  • Nearly half of all single black and Hispanic women have zero, or negative wealth (negative wealth occurs when the value of debts is greater than the value of assets).
  • Never-married women of color have a median wealth of zero.  In comparison, never married white women have a median wealth of $2,600, never married men of color $4,020, and never-married white men $16,310.
  • Divorced women of color have a median wealth of $4,200, which is 26% of the wealth of divorced men of color ($16,100), 8% of the wealth of divorced white women ($52,120), and 5% of the wealth of divorced white men ($80,000).
  • Black and Hispanic mothers with children under age 18 have a median wealth of zero.  Black and Hispanic fathers have a median wealth of $10,960 and $2,400, respectively.  White mothers have a median wealth of $7,970 and white fathers have $56,100.
  • Prior to age 50, women of color have virtually no wealth at all.

This is what systemic racism looks like.  Obviously there is disparity here, and it might be easy enough to claim that women of color don’t work hard enough or that they do or don’t do certain things to bring such statistics on themselves.  However, there are much greater and more powerful structural components to this problem that create this issue and allow such racism to continue.  Again, the Executive Summary puts things in context:

“The earnings of women of color are not converted to wealth as quickly because they are not linked with the “wealth escalator” — fringe benefits, favorable tax codes, and valuable government benefits.”

I would add that the opportunities of education and work are not equally afforded to women of color.  The report notes these statistics:

  • Women of color are more likely to work in service occupations — 28% of black and 31% of Latina women compared to 19% of white women and only 12% of white men.  These jobs are the least likely to provide wealth-enriching benefits such as retirement plans, paid sick days, and health insurance.
  • Women of color benefit less from tax advantages such as the home mortgage interest deduction because they are less likely to own homes.  Due to residential segregation, their homes typically have less value and appreciate less quickly.
  • Women of color depend more on Social Security because they lack other sources of retirement income.  In fact, Social Security is the only sources of retirement income for more than 25% of black women.  But women of color receive lower Social Security benefits because of their lower earnings and because they are less likely to receive benefits as wives of high-income beneficiaries.
  • Women of color are less likely to meet eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance since part-time workers (primarily women) are often ineligible for benefits.
  • Women of color have been hard hit by predatory lending practices.  Of low- and moderate-income borrowers, Hispanic women were almost one and a half times more likely and black women more than twice as likely to receive high-cost home loans as white women.
  • Many women of color who received subprime home loans could have qualified for conventional lower-cost mortgages.  Subprime home loans cost a borrower between $50,000 and $100,000 more than a comparable prime loan over the life of the loan.

Aside from the startling statistics, I wanted to share this as an example of institutionalized racism.  The word “racism” has been thrown around a lot lately, especially in relation to the health care bill.  Often when people say it, they are referring to personal acts perpetrated by individuals.  However, we need to recognize that U.S. society is structured in many ways to benefit whites and oppress people of color,  and we all (but especially us whites whom the structure already benefits) must work toward changing the system to create equality for all people

The personal bigotry may always remain, but the structures that perpetuate oppression and racism must go.

(See here a 20-minute discussion on the topic from Democracy Now! with guests Mariko Lin Chang, the chief author of the report, and C. Nicole Mason, Executive Director of the Women of Color Policy Network.)