Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

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This series explores the truth about America’s culture of dependency: that it is driven by the antiquated ideology behind an economic system that no longer works in the favor of the people.

The Story

I recently was having a conversation with a friend who was talking about moving to New York. I asked where he would want to live and he said Harlem. I laughed and he asked why. I told him that it was funny to me to here people say that because I grew up in NY and I remember when Harlem was not a place you wanted to live in NY. There were parts with music and arts that people might frequent but people didn’t aspire to call Harlem home. Now, Harlem is chic. We also talked about the similar pattern happening in Brooklyn and in the SouthEast area of Washington, D.C. These places normally relegated to majority Black and lower middle class residents is suddenly booming with expensive condos and studio apartments thanks to gentrification.

In many ways gentrification is perceived as something desirable and beneficial to a city. Conversely, to anyone who lives or has lived in a lower income community the word gentrification is like saying Raid to a roach. It carries the implication that the people who currently call these areas home will be physically exterminated from their homes and the community that once was will no longer exist.

Spike Lee commented on his thoughts about gentrification in a recent talk at Pratt Institute.

The Cost of Gentrification

Objectively speaking gentrification is about the influx of wealth into a previously low economic area of a city. This usually happens through government investment in the communities development through the renovation of buildings and homes which helps to draw people with higher household incomes. This creates a silent battle for those individuals who already live in the community.Those who already live in the community must choose between staying and allocating more of their household income to housing and cashing out to move on to neighborhoods that are more affordable. In this dilemma lies the sinister nature of gentrification.

Gentrification wears the mask of positivity in that it declares that a neighborhood will be better. The neighborhood will look better, there will be more and better police protection of the neighborhood, property values will rise, better stores and businesses will be attracted to the area, and the city will obliterate a sore spot. It is a fact gentrification does do this. But at what cost?

The cost of gentrification is a loss of the community and culture through disregard of people. These communities draw the attention of the city because they are decrepit sore spots of dilapidation. However, they draw the attention of people because despite whatever crime or violence may exist, these areas have a sense of community. These areas have a culture. For instance Harlem was a draw for wealthier individuals because of its history of artistic culture. Once the violent crime impassioned inhabitants were pushed out, no one had to speak about the dangerous aspect that once existed.

Gentrification implies that the people who live in these communities are the reason that the neighborhood could not and did not thrive. The truth is they the lack of income flowing into the neighborhood crested a people who found a way to survive in it (maybe through crimes and acts of violence). Gentrification implies that geography and buildings contain culture. But culture is appropriated and cultivated by people. The removal of the people who are rooted in the community will most certainly erase the culture.

One of the reasons gentrification is an insulting act for people who live in the communities being gentrified is because it is an extension of the city’s blatant disregard for them and their lives. The lack of economic power equals the lack of political voice. These people were left to carve out a life for themselves amid whatever deteriorating conditions. After years of survival the city suddenly pays the communities some attention and decide to invest in developing the community but with disregard for people there who clearly cannot afford the expensive new homes and no plan is put in place to allow them to. It, again, for these people is do or die: pay more or get out.

Gentrification Raid

The Unspoken Truth

So, why did it take this great influx of White people to get the schools better? Why’s there more police protection in Bed Stuy and Harlem now? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!

– Spike Lee

The most largely avoided aspect in the conversation about gentrification is race. I’m sure the mainstream argument would be that this isn’t about race it’s about economics. However, in this era in America and for the last few decades race has been racially coded with economic terminology. We don’t have to call them niggas if we call them ‘urban,”ghetto,”hood.’ We don’t have to call them predominantly Black/Latino neighborhoods if we call them ‘ghettos,”lower income,”projects.’ We don’t have to say their inferior if we quote lower college graduation rates, higher high school drop out rates, higher prison populations, and a greater presence in drug and violence related crimes.

In this current time there is no way to speak about American economics without a consideration to race. Certainly there are White people that are poor and love in these very same communities. For this reason I would never be so sensational as to use terms like ‘war on Black people.’ But I’m also not delusional enough to believe that simply because there are few White casualties in these acts of discrimination that the predominant race populating these communities is Black/Latino and those lives are the center of the disregard.

The Problem

The problem is that these communities – because they have no wealth- have no voice. They are disregarded. There is very little empathy for people who live in lower income neighborhoods. Public opinion in support of the American Dream – which is more of a delusion – insist that these people are in their station in life because they are stupid, lazy, or uneducated. Public opinion says that they should stop whining about living in poverty and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. I ask, how the hell can they afford the boots??

Higher income middle class persons who could and should stand beside and support these communities are conditioned to view them (despite only a few degrees of separation) the way the mainstream does: as unwanted sore spots filled with society’s leeches. The upper middle class buy into the hype about gentrification: that it is about community improvement and wealth creation in lower income areas. This justifies their indifference and makes them feel powerful and wealthy. There is nothing the upper middle class wants more than to be closer connected to the upper class with as much distance from the lower class in geography and ideology as possible. This dynamic effectively neutralizes the radical support that these communities need to survive.

The Point

If we continue to buy into the illusion of gentrification and do not protect and support these communities, we are in fact assisting in their destruction. When a community is destroyed so is it’s culture and it’s history that even those in the upper middle class probably have some connection to (a generation or two in their family history).

These communities do need and deserve some ‘revitalization’ but not at the cost of the culture and lives that already exist. They deserve to be made whole and left in tact. As long as gentrification, as it operates now, continues we will continue to see a disparity in economic life in cities because the wealth being created does not benefit or remain in the racial groups or social classes that it first affects. Those people get a one time lottery ticket that forces them to another area of the city that is just as problem ridden as the one they left. Only now they don’t have their history and sense of home that they spent years creating. In essence they begin the cycle of surviving at the poverty line all over again. And since the people are the community, the community is not helped by gentrification; they’re merely shoved under a rug until they become a problem worth noticing again.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

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This series explores the truth about America’s culture of dependency: that it is driven by the antiquated ideology about an economic system that no longer works in the favor of the people.

The Story

I was recently reflected on American history and how it was that this country has gone through so many catastrophes and calamities and still managed to rise to the top as a world power to be both feared and followed. It is in this history that I see where this notion of The American Dream became possible. Through the rise of men like Vanderbilt, Rockerfeller, J.P. Morgan, and others. These men who built empires from relatively humble beginnings and went on to contribute so much what this country became. However, it’s no secret that the America in which they were living was a much different place than what it is now. So the question emerges: is The American Dream now just a dream?

Whitepaper-Capitalism-and-American-DreamThe Backdrop of the Dream

Capitalism is the backdrop for the story of The American Dream. The principles and ideologies inherent in capitalist theory have saturated our mindsets and changed the way we interact with one another. The ruthless competition that it inspires for aggressive business is taken as a social model that we use to create socially acceptable identities.

How many times does one here a person identify themselves by what they do? How celebrated is it when an individual speaks of their aspirations for economic and/or business domination as opposed to say developing a charitable organization or performing civil service? In regards to the ideology of capitalism and its presumptions about people, there are 2 major issues.

Capitalism makes 2 major assertions regarding people: that people are mostly self-interested and those that accumulate material wealth are the most happy. While it is arguable whether these two assertions are accurate, the fact that America has adopted the capitalist economic model means that the economic structure of our society will create the truth of these 2 premises by default of forcing people to survive within a system that already presumes this to be true. The system exists and makes these assumptions, people will become these things in order to survive within the system. These 2 assertions combined with the fact that individuals are viewed as commodities and their only value is based on what they create brings those at the bottom of the economic structure to seek, above all else, material wealth.IT'S-CALLED-THE-AMERICAN-DREAM-BECAUSE-YOU-HAVE-IT-TO-BE-ASLEEP-TO-BELIEVE-IT

Shattered Dreams

Capitalism is the ideology often attributed with making The American Dream possible. I can see how one might make that assumption. it would appear free market enterprise, competition, and the drive for innovation would offer a smart, hard working American the opportunity to enter the market and make something out of nothing. But this is not wholly true. The truth is that those men like Vanderbilt, Rockerfeller, J.P. Morgan and others were not just smart, ambitious, hard working men who did great things. What made them successful was their ability to accumulate working capital to fund their ambitions. Capital that today, in light of the economic crash of Walls Street, the folding of the real estate industry, the collapse of the automobile industry, and the deterioration of the banking industry, is not easy to come by. This in turn makes The American Dream only possible for a small percentage of the country who have private means or the power and influence to secure capital.

Social mobility is as American as apple pie. It is what drives Americans. Our dreams, hopes, and fantasies of being one of those amazing rags-to-riches stories. But the truth about social mobility brings light to the dreams we conjure in the dark.

Pew Video: Economic Mobility and the American Dream

A study conducted by colleagues of Harvard and Berkeley discovered the determinants of social mobility in the United States.

The top 5 factors that influence social mobility

Family structure

Racial and economic segregation

School quality

Social capital

Income inequality

– Harvard Research Study, Where is the Land of Opportunity?

For some this may seem discouraging; however, there is nothing possibly tangible about a hope based on a lie. The study exposes the truth about upward social mobility in America. According  to the study to climb the social ladder in America, one cannot be self-interested and only concerned with accumulating material wealth. The greatest factors affecting social mobility have to do with an individuals connection to the people closest to them: their family and their community.

The study found that people who grow up in communities with a large amount of married parents tend to do better economically as well as people who grow up in racially segregated communities. This makes the obvious point that as much as we may want to buy into the model that everyone pulls himself up by his own bootstraps, apparently it takes a lot more than one pair of hands to do the pulling. It is not hard to see that the fact that the ability to amass capital has become much more regulated and less risk-taking, if one wants to be socially mobile in America today, they’d better have some help.DreamIsOver

The Problem

America has become the most blindly nostalgic countries in the world. We hold onto antiquated methodologies like a dog with a clean bone. We refuse to see that while we have been reveling in our own greatness, the world has been making advances and innovations to that which we created. That in turn has created an entirely different reality, which to accomplish greatness will require an entirely different model for dreaming.

Economists of today have stated that America is not a pure capitalist country (maybe it never was). The model under which we live is a mixed economy that falls somewhere between socialism and capitalism. Hence, the redundant battles between the right and left wings of politics who constantly argue about social welfare and private enterprise. I imagine America much more of a mixed economy now than it ever was. That being said, a purely capitalist view of navigating the system will fail to produce the results of years past.

Perhaps it is because these moguls who came to power during a past era, refuse to learn new tricks and instead want to hold the country hostage to ways better off discarded. Or maybe it is that we think that we can bring the dream back to life and restore the world to the way it was. Or maybe it is simply the loss of hope that comes from letting go of a dream that we cannot bear. Whatever the reason, the time to move forward and bring our mindsets in alignment with the present and give our imaginations over to a future that springs from the present is more than overdue.Redefining American Dream

The Point

As people trying to understand and navigate the system in hopes of achieving our American dream, we have to honest with ourselves about the system that we are dealing with. The capitalist moguls who made names for themselves in the early days following The Civil War, were dealing with a country with less regulation on the economy and trade market. Those men might have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, but they also had less scissors nipping at their strings. Things they did then to come to power will get you locked up now. They are no longer the success models to be followed.

We have to explore new models of economic prowess and success. We have to wake up and take a look around. Absorb the truth of the reality in which we live and then go on to dream of how this America can imagine a new dream. We need to dream a new plot line to The American Dream. Otherwise, the 1% of people controlling American wealth will remain at the top and us poor dreamers will be left at the bottom along with our pieces of our dreams.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

Resources

Marx, Karl. Capital.

National Bureau of Economic Research. Where is the Land of Opportunity? 2014.

Wilcox, W. Bradford. Family Matters. Slate.com. 2014.

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This series explores the truth about America’s culture of dependency: that it is driven by the antiquated ideology about an economic system that no longer works in the favor of the people.

The Story

More than any other individuals, wealthy black people have by words and deeds encouraged the black masses to worship at the throne of money.

– Bell Hooks, Salvation: Black People and Love

It has never ceased to amaze me how wealthy Black people perpetuate the ideology of the system against which they had to fight to get to where they are. Instead of using their position to dismantle the system (or at least shake it up), they wallow in their coveted new positions within the system’s structure. They insist that anyone can achieve what they have achieved by simply buying into the system. They fail to realize that they are one of the few that have been allowed to slip through the cracks of disenfranchisement in order to portray a stance of fairness and equality. They are the tokens that are held up to the rest of the community’s face to prove that nothing is wrong with the way things are. The truth is something entirely different.

America is a capitalist country. That is the economic model that we use. However, what should be an economic model has become our way of life. For the Black community, there are a number of dangers in using capitalism as a social model for success and happiness.

Capitalism as a Social Model

Capitalism is an economic system that focuses on the production of commodities and the exchange of these commodities. This is fairly easy to understand when talking about products and material goods; however, when speaking of labor and human performed service, things become more complex. Labor gains its value because of the part it plays in the production of material goods. For example, a sweater that is hand knitted may be more expensive in value than that of one produced by a machine because the human labor has to be considered and that human has to be paid on top of the materials that are purchased. This is how labor gains its value in capitalist theory. The products of human labor also include intangible goods such as services that are performed. These services, like the hand-made sweater, are products of labor. In the social aspect, products of labor give the perception of applying value to the actual laborer that does the producing. In short, the laborer becomes a commodity to be valued simply because the value of its products are connected to the human labor that produces it.

A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour.

– Karl Marx, Capital.

The production of labor influences the social character of the laborer because their products are viewed as external extensions of them. For example, fashion designers create tangible products that reflect their labor. The high fashion designer develops his/her prestige according to the value of the products that they produce. This gives the designer a measure of prestige because they are the creators of a highly valued product. This creates a blending of individual identity with the products of labor that they produce.

Often when an American is asked about their identity, at some point, we mention the work we do. We describe ourselves as being a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, etc. The products of our labor become merged with who we are. That is because in a capitalist country like America the products of our labor imply our social standing, our intelligence, our education, and our value in society. One would rather say, ‘I am a lawyer,’ than say ‘I am a nurse.’ One would rather say ‘I am an administrative assistant,’ than say ‘I am a janitor.’ This is because upon immediately hearing these descriptions, certain presumptions arise in the mind. When one hears that someone is a lawyer, it is thought that they make a substantial amount of money and can access power and influence in our society. When one hears that someone is a janitor, it is presumed that this person doesn’t have much education or isn’t that intelligent because if they did they would be a lawyer or something more prestigious. This connection merging of the value of the productions of our labor with who we are as laborers skewed our perception about identity and self-worth.

The Problem

The biggest problem with capitalism as a social model is that it only values the tangible. This concept forces an individual into a one dimensional box in which they can only identify themselves as what they are able to produce. These are the people that when you ask them where they will be in 5 years, their only answer is to be rich. These are the people who when you ask them about their dreams and desires, you never hear them mention love, friendship, or having a family. They can only identify with that which capitalism gives value to: material wealth.

For Black people this is especially problematic as we are, by our ancestral nature, communal people. We are inclined to connect and interact with one another, but this capitalist model doesn’t allow for that, because capitalism is driven by competition. Anyone who is going to attempt to be successful in a capitalist society must be obsessively driven towards its goal of material wealth and with the competition of everyone else, there is no time for that which does not lead towards material wealth. So, we place more value and spend more time worshiping money and pursuing the accumulation of material wealth than anything else.

The Point

What is most important about life is not in the things that we accumulate; those things are temporal. The essence of humanity is not tangible. What makes a person a person — what makes a person valuable — is not tangible. The greatest accomplishments we have made as Black people, was accomplished through collective efforts. There is nothing revolutionary about self-interest; there is nothing revolutionary about wealth; there is nothing revolutionary about capitalism. And revolution is what we need.

I do not seek to attack capitalism nor do I seek to suggest that it is the most horrible economic model the United States could ascribe to. What I am saying is that when sought by those for whom it was not built (in this case the Black community), it will never yield salvation. If upward social mobility, success, and happiness are what we are truly seeking we will have to face the facts that even while living in a capitalist society, we cannot live by capitalist ideology. If we are ever going to topple the gods that rule us, we will have to stop worshipping at their throne.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

References

Hooks, Bell. Salvation: Black People and Love.

Marx, Karl. Capital.

index

The Story

Since Republicans hostile take over of the United States government ended in futility, they have now decided to slander the Affordable Care Act to death.

There has been a massive media assault on the bill attributed to President Barack Obama and derogatorily called “Obamacare.” Part of the reason there has been such an assault on the new legislation is that America has been in need of healthcare reform for decades and while many have taken up the cause, President Obama has been the only one to make any substantial step towards achieving the goal. In short President Obama is creating a legacy beyond just being the first Black person elected to the highest office of America. The right wing may not be able to take his racial identification and the damn sure couldn’t take his second term so now they are attacking the man’s legacy (because far be it that the only Black man to be elected president might actually be qualified, able, and proven to have been worthy of the position. It would sit better for them to write him off in history as an affirmative action case — he got it because we were in need of diversity on the presidential roll call and he slipped in under lower standards).

However, party politics aside, this fight against the Affordable Care Act unveils a much bigger problem for the American public: ignorance. A problem the people have had for years and it has allowed politicians and policy makers to rule unchecked and has led to the collapse of our economy, a recession, gulf of disparity in class differences, and a resurgence of racial tensions.

Obamacare

“Once it’s working really well, I guarantee you they will not call it Obamacare”

– President Barack Obama

The term Obamacare was coined by the GOP to discredit the legislation and distance it from what it really is: healthcare reform (much needed reform at that). However, President Obama embraced the term in order to steal the sting of the punch the GOP was throwing. President Obama’s main concern was being able to relay to people how he intended to reform healthcare and if that meant using the term that the GOP created and the media was throwing around, then so be it. But the point to recognize in this is that the creation and acceptance of that term has allowed the right wing to do just what they wanted to do: distract the public from the intention of the bill. The bill is very appropriately called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The name is not creative but it gets the point across. This bill is meant to protect the American people from the healthcare institutions that have all but held them hostage for the past few decades. The bill is meant to empower the people and give them some leverage in deciding how to care from themselves. Instead of being beholden to some high price, scrutinizing, forever denying HMOs that specialize in finding reasons to not cover medical expenses to people who give money out of their hard earned paychecks, now the people would have choices and the power to say ‘if you don’t give me the care I need, I will go elsewhere.’

But the attention is placed on President Obama himself. Obamacare makes everyone believe that this is solely President Obama’s legislation (as if he could pass a bill without it going through the House and Senate). By calling it Obamacare, highlighting the flaws of the bill, manufacturing crisis, and using fear tactics to scare some of the American people into believing that this one bill could destroy the country, people are focusing on President Obama and their critique of his tenure as president instead of looking at the legislation and evaluating it on its own merit. I don’t imagine the bill is perfect. I’m certain it has its flaws and kinks to be worked out, but what I know is that we have been promised healthcare reform for a long time and now its finally here. We can definitely critique the bill and challenge it to be better but we can’t do that by refusing to accept it or by thinking that denying the bill is going to make some new and better legislation appear out of nowhere. We gotta start somewhere.

The Problem

One problem is that most people who oppose The Affordable Care Act do not even know the details of the bill.

As demonstrated by Jimmy Kimmell. Did you see the looks of disgust as they talked about how they hated “Obamacare” and they couldn’t even explain why. This is the kind of damage that is done by the propaganda that Republicans are perpetuating.

According to a poll conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, many Americans want the elements that are in the Affordable Care Act and are not aware of how many healthcare changes, that they favor, are included in this bill.

ACA8

Tax credits for small businesses to buy insurance: 88% in favor, but only 52% are aware that this is included.

Closing the Medicare drug benefit doughnut hole: 81% in favor, but only 46% are aware that this is included.

Extension of dependent coverage to offspring up to age 26: 76% in favor, 69% are aware that this is included.

Expanding Medicaid: 71% in favor, 59% are aware that this is included.

Ban on exclusions for preexisting conditions: 66% in favor, 53% are aware this is included.

Employer mandate: 57% in favor, 71% are aware this is included.

Extension to the age of 26 for children to be covered by parents’ insurance: 76% in favor, 69% are aware that this is included.

Subsidy assistance to individuals who cannot afford coverage: 76% in favor, 62% are aware that this is included.

Individual mandate penalty: 40% in favor, 74% are aware this is included.

What this data shows is that aside from the 2 or 3 elements that the right wing continues to use to vilify the Affordable Care Act, most Americans are unaware of what is included. And many of the things that we have wanted are included in this law. That is a problem in and of itself.

Fugitives of Justice

What a republicans are not saying in their slandering sound bites is that most of the faults they are finding with The Affordable Care Act are not flaws within the legislation but the egregious acts that are being taken by businesses to avoid complying with the demands of the law. These demands are made because for decades businesses have made no moves towards offering their employees affordable quality healthcare coverage. The law forces them to offer a myriad of options for employees to choose from. Instead these businesses have decided to punish employees by reducing their hours, canceling insurance plans and other measures to avoid adhering to the requirements.

There is a mandate within the legislation that requires a company with more than 50 employees to offer all employees who work at least 30 hours week health coverage.

Stores such as a Forever 21 have told employees that it planned to reduce hours and reclassify some full time workers as part time. Sea World has decided to cap part time hours at 28 hours a week instead of 32. Trader Joe’s and Home Depot have decided to stop offering part time employees medical coverage. A survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans published last month, found that 15% of large employers (50 or more employees) and 20% of smaller employers had plans to adjust hours so that fewer employees qualify for full-time medical insurance under the ACA.

Investors.com released a list of businesses by state that are reacting to the Affordable Care Act by attacking their employees. so while the right wing suggests that President Obama and the Affordable Care Act are responsible for the egregious reduction of fulltime workers in the employment market, the truth is the companies are responsible because they are refusing to be accountable and responsible employers and offer their employees much needed access to healthcare.

The Point

“A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved, it is in the region of ignorance that tyranny begins.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Americans have become so blissfully ignorant that we do not actually take the time to get the facts and draw our own conclusions before we start taking sides and throwing punches. That is why the controlling powers in this country have gotten to be so strong and threaten the very existence of this republic. If we would take the time to become more informed and not rely on the soundbites and talking heads of pundits who twist the facts to support their own political agenda, we could turn our anger onto the people who deserve it and at least offer our support where it is most needed. We cannot just see the Affordable Care Act as it is…why have to be able to envision what it could be with some tweaks and improvements.

quote-too-much-sanity-may-be-madness-and-the-maddest-of-all-to-see-life-as-it-is-and-not-as-it-should-be-miguel-de-cervantes-34132

I know we are all busy: we have lives and obligations. And I know that for many in this country day-to-day survival is like having a second full-time job. But this is not the time for ignorance. This is not the time to tire of seeking and acquiring information. The future of our country is in our hands and if we cannot find the time or the passion to give a damn about what’s really going on, well, then if we really want to see who’s responsible we need look no further than the nearest mirror. This is our country. We are all responsible for the way it is and the way it will be.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

20131028-113540.jpgIn a previous post I began discussing the “culture of dependency,” a term used by a CNN writer to discredit social programs and infer that people on these programs are addicted to poverty. This series explores the ignorance of that thought and exposes the truth about America’s culture of dependency: that it is not created because people access (or abuse) these programs, but by the fact that they most have no choice but to utilize these programs at some point in their lives.

In the post, Coding Poverty I discussed the ways in which we code the language that we use to describe poverty. By coding the language we diminish the significance and pervert the truth about poverty in America. We fashion poverty to be a consequence of poor people’s actions and their lack of ambition when, in fact, the economic principles of this country and the prevailing ideals of individualism are the problem and poverty is its consequence.

The Story

I recently had a conversation with a White friend of mine concerning a twenty year old Black boy that lives in his neighborhood. My friend took pity on this kid and allowing the kid to come over and perform odd jobs for extra cash. The connection developed to the point that when the boy began to have trouble at home with his mother he would seek my friend’s house for refuge before disappearing into the streets for weeks at a time.

I had the opportunity to meet the boy once. After the boy left my friend and I began to discuss our thoughts about the boy. My friend felt the boy was a “good kid” but that maybe he had some cognitive difficulties because, to him, the boy didn’t seem to get “it.” The boy had no aspirations for college and a career and the boy didn’t seem to desire to want to make anything of himself. My friend felt that a lot of the boy’s problem was his mother and the lack of a father figure in his household. What my friend could not see through the veil of his privilege was that this boy was living a completely different reality from him. One in which survival is the only aspiration and it taxes your every resource to the point that you don’t have the time or energy to dream of dormitories and campuses and what to be when you grow up.

The hardest thing I have ever done in my life was being poor. It’s exhausting. You put your head down press forward and one day you look up and years have passed you by. You don’t have the luxury of vacations, luxurious holidays, shopping sprees, eating out and partying. Life is about survival and that which does not help you survive each day, doesn’t get your attention.

The Psychology of Poverty

We might shrug at the idea that poverty has an effect on mental health because it seems like common sense. Surely the impoverished are under stress and can’t afford to eat well or get healthcare, but the problem is deeper than that. Sendhil Mullainathan at The Institute for Research on Poverty focused particularly on the effect of poverty on attention and self-control. Mullainathan discovered that cognitive resources such as attention and self-control are limited. These resources are drained by the amount of time that we spend using them. Because the lack of resources means less margin for error, these individuals have to spend more time and more energy on less significant choices as other people. For someone living under the poverty line the decision to buy a combo for seven or eight dollars at Burger King might make the difference in whether or not they have bus fare or gas money to get to work at the end of the week. Therefore, they exert more cognitive resources to make this decision and similar decisions. So we begin to deal with things such as whether or not to go to college and/or planning a career path, they may run out of cognitive resources and pay less attention or cannot cognitively process the details of such a decision. And because this decision has no significant influence over their immediate situation, it becomes an irrelevant thought for which they cannot spare the mental resources to think about. This is the reality of poverty. It is not an issue of intelligence, lack of ambition, laziness, or mental incapacity; it’s a matter of survival and the best use of resources.

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The Problem

The problem is that we disregard the truth about poverty. It is more comfortable to believe that people who are severely impoverished are some self-destructive anomaly because in order to relate to these individuals and empathize with them, we would have to admit that we could be them. There are many people in this country who are a paycheck away from living in poverty. There are many people in this country who are not homeless and have jobs that are living below the poverty line. Poverty does not look the way society would like us to believe. The media shows us little kids in so e third world country with protruding bellies and glossy eyes and we think that’s what poverty looks like. Or we see people walking up the street at stop lights with cardboard signs asking for money and we think that’s what poverty looks like. We see bundled heaps of people tucked into corners of the street and we think that’s what poverty looks like. No doubt, those people are impoverished, but the majority of impoverished people do not look much different from us. Poverty is sitting beside you on the bus, it’s sitting across from you in the staff meeting, it’s standing in front of you in the grocery store line.

We have to have the courage to accept the truth. We have to be willing to look poverty in the face and see what it looks like. Until then we are lying to ourselves about the security of our own station and denying an epidemic the attention required to remedy it.

The Point

No matter where we were born in terms of socioeconomic status or what social class we currently live in, we have to understand that our perception is our reality, but not everyone has the privilege of sharing the wealth or abundance that our perspective affords us. Their reality is built on their perspective on life and we have to respect that reality even if it is foreign to us.

Poverty is an epidemic that is plaguing our country. It affects more people than we could possibly know. That woman beside you on the subway may be dressed stylishly, the man at the desk beside you at work may wear a nice suit and tie, that person you pass on the street might be begging for money, that guy on the corner might be selling drugs. But how are we to know their reality? How are we to know what life is demanding of them? We can’t. But we must consider that there are elements of their lives over which they had no control that have brought them to that place just as there are elements of our lives over which we had no control that have afforded us the opportunity to be where we are in our lives.

Who dares judge the inexpressible expense another pays for his life?
– James Baldwin

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

20131028-113540.jpgIn a previous post I began discussing the “culture of dependency,” a term used by a CNN writer to discredit social programs and infer that people on these programs are addicted to poverty. This series explores the ignorance of that thought and exposes the truth about America’s culture of dependency: that it is not created because people access (or abuse) these programs, but by the fact that they most have no choice but to utilize these programs at some point in their lives.

Coded Language

We live in a society that prefers soundbites and third-hand information because we are too busy or too apathetic to closely investigate information. Often we settle for coin phrases and popular terms to describe things that are so complex that one word or a phrase cannot hardly express the depth and detail of the thing that it is supposed to be describing.

When the terms and phrases chosen for these things is propagandized to give a connotation that deliberately biases the description, well then, you have coded language. Coded language is prevalent in American society. The controlling forces have become adept at coding and using those codes to brainwash the public with a version of certain stories that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Coding Poverty

In America when we speak of poverty we hear terms such as poor and lower class. These words by themselves mean relatively little but once they are coded they take on the connotations such as unwanted, unusable, unable, less than, bad, and/or unworthy. These coded terms then become concepts unto themselves that when used inspire ideas and notions. For instance often when hear about people being poor and lower class we think of them through the connotations attached and we develop ideas such as the thought that those people to whom these terms may refer are in such a place because they are stupid, undeserving, uncivilized, and/or lazy.

Then we can go a little further and see how these terms are applied to specific groups of people new terms emerge that still hold the connotations as the former words but adds an element that allows one to know that it is being applied specifically. For example, when the concept of poor and lower class is applied to Black and Latino people we get terms like project, ghetto, hood, ratchet, and common. When they are applied to White people we get terms like redneck and hillbilly.

The fact that words become coded with connotations and then evolve into fullfledged concepts that fuel ideas and thoughts is neither a good or bad thing. In truth, that is how the human brain processes information and learns and remembers things: through associations and connections that can be made. However, coding is the perversion of this process. It takes what is natural and twists it unnaturally. That is the definition of social propaganda.

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Social Propaganda

Social propaganda is the way that public opinion is shaped and controlled. It is the way that people in society are shaped and controlled without shackles, chains, whips, and plantations.

A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push it.

– Ludwig Wittgenstein

By creating a concept of poverty as so undesirable that even impoverished people do not want to acknowledge it, any possible opposition is neutralized. In the Black community it is prevalent that no one wants to be labeled as poor or lower class. Most don’t want to be labeled as ghetto, project, or ratchet (however these terms have been given different connotations which lead them to sometimes be glorified). Combine the social unpopularity of these concepts with the promise that “anyone can make it out,” and you have generations of Black people living in poverty refusing to acknowledge it because they have more than the people that live next door; because they can buy the latest fashions and appear wealthy; because they can go on trips and eat out at expensive restaurants. They may very well be able to do those things, but at what detriment. And why is that when they do those things, the results are rarely the same as they are for the people who are actually wealthy enough to afford to do them?

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The Problem

The problem is that we are so hell-bent on not being uncomfortable. We are so determined to be happy and optimistic. We refuse to get depressed and/or angry. Our denial of these less than fun feelings are what lead us to deny our consciousness reality and cling to the lies.

Black America isn’t stupid nor are we unaware. What we are is afraid. We are afraid that we cannot change this country. We are afraid that we cannot change this society. We are afraid that we cannot change our lives or our station in life. We do not want to accept reality and experience the not fun feelings only to find out that we can do nothing about them. The truth is: there’s no possible chance to do anything about it until we accept and confront it.

The Point

When we, in the Black community, stop trying to reposition ourselves in a White Supremacist society and escape the uncomfortable reality of the world we live in, then we will get so angry and so passionate about change that we will actually begin to change things. As long as we keep hyping ourselves up on this notion that we can have everything anyone else can have if we work hard enough, or get enough education, or go to the right schools, or live in the right neighborhood, or shop at the right stores and realize that when you try to work hard, you are disproportionately compensated ; when you apply for education, you cannot afford it without going into severe debt; when you choose the right school, you don’t have the pedigree for acceptance; when you move to the right neighborhood, you’re alienated and ostracized because you don’t fit in; when you shop at the right stores, you are monitored for fear of theft and/or regarded as not being able to afford anything.

The fantasy America has sold us is too far a cry away from the reality that we live to continue to be blind. They can code it and propagandize it but they cannot make it be true. Our challenge is to allow ourselves to accept the reality but maintain our determination to change it.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

20130527-192327.jpgThe Worry

A term I borrowed and flipped to coin a phrase that describes the underlying tension being silently felt in the Black American community.

In the previous posts in this series I discussed the fact that there is an unspoken tension growing in the Black community. Author Lawrence Bobo has describe “The Worry” as a class issue. I agree that classism is a part of the issue but I submit to you that “The Worry” is multifaceted and more complex. In the last post, “The Worry”: Anti-Fragile, I explored the economic worries of Black Americans. This post I want to talk about the worry that Black Americans have about drinking the koolaid. Drinking the koolaid is a colloquialism I use to describe the pressure to assimilate.

In America we downplay assimilation as the way things are, it is what it is, or getting by. Instead of allowing ourselves to feel and articulate the violation, invalidation, and individual offense that it is for someone to demand that you to be anything other than what you are. So we play the game. The truth is, whether we speak about it or not, we know that there is something wrong with that. We feel it in the weight of our steps to work, our nervousness in majority white public spaces, we taste it when we wonder whether our child’s name will hinder their economic progress, we see it when little dark skinned children are made fun of, we know it when we are passed up for opportunities because of our hair or our clothes. No matter how deaf we pretend to be, the whisper is there asking us whether we will drink the koolaid: inviting us to choose death or destitution.

The Story

There have been waves of discussion, critique, and controversy surrounding recent musical releases from the Hip Hop community. Both Kanye West and Lauryn Hill have met media assault and public criticism regarding their latest offerings. The negative responses they have received are not founded in actual Hip Hop critique of the artists’ work, instead the comments are based on the controversial nature of the material and the artists’ step away from mainstream sound and production.

The Music

Lauryn Hill’s single Neurotic Society attacks a wide array of our society’s ills. Rap Genius, of course, has a very thorough decoding of most of the lyrics. Ms. Hill takes on America more comprehensively than anyone ever has in one song. The song is consuming, speeding, and every word is thought provoking. For the mindless mainstream this is both overwhelming and offensive. How dare a rap song make somebody think!

Kanye West, who is of course a fan of Ms. Hill, released New Slaves and, in standard Kanye fashion, performed the song with an intelligent, artistic, avant garde flair. Naturally the public knotted their brows — well the brows were probably knotted before he performed since it has become a pop culture expectation to dislike anything Kanye does or says. The content in New Slaves tackles the issues of The New Jim Crow (prison industry), capitalism, and censorship in the entertainment industry.

Both songs have a similar erratic production that seems to linger somewhere between electronics and Hip Hop. The passion (most use anger as the adjective) that both artists project reaches out and stands in the face of the listener demanding to be seen, heard, and felt. It should also be noted that the content in both songs (when studied) has all truthful and mostly factual references — just in case anyone still cares about honesty in Hip Hop.

The Movement

Even fans of Hill and West have expressed some discomfort with the songs. However, any true Hip Hop head (as these are both Hip Hop artists which are a bit different than rappers) can attest to the long standing tradition of innovation, introspection, and articulation of Hip Hop music. If anything Hill and West may be helping to return the Hip Hop community to its roots. When I hear the songs I think about the time when Rap music wasn’t assembly lined produced and drive thru distributed. There is a long list of artists who veered from the production trends of the time and changed the Rap game because of it: Kool Herc, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Outcast, Nelly, Nappy Roots, Cash Money, and the list goes on. It also must be stated that both Hill and West have previously done so in their respective careers (remember Lauryn’s Unplugged album and Kanye’s 808’s and Heartbreaks album) so it is not unusual or a surprise to see them at it again.

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I see these songs as a movement that we can expect to see growing in Rap music (and hopefully the rest of America). The movement isn’t new. it was just a few years ago when Nas caught heat for wanting to title his album “Nigger.” Nas was adamant about renaming the album simply because it made people uncomfortable. The album was released “Untitled.” Following that incident Hip Hop artists, Erykah Badu was criticized for her video for “Window Seat.” Despite the depth of the lyrics and the power of the statement being made by the video, the major public focus was on Badu’s use of nudity and the legal charges she faced for not gaining approval for the location where the video was shot. The movement is one that is a long time coming. As United States citizens struggle against the country’s history of Puritanism, it is reflected in a number of artists speaking out against and protesting through their art and celebrity. The problem is that America has always had a way of punishing/ostracizing anyone who refuses to drink the koolaid.

The Point

Artists, especially Hip Hop artists, have traditionally been forerunners with the foresight and platform to expose the elephant in America’s rooms. This sort of risky, outspoken protest is needed now more than ever. And not just in music. But since America has chosen to entertain its citizens to death, what better place for a call to arms than through a part of the entertainment industry: music (Rap music being one of the largest selling genres). What is needed from the public is a an unflinching support for these activists. Even if we don’t completely agree, we should support our activists. If we allow them to drink the koolaid and be silenced we will be allowing the governing powers to continue to go unquestioned and unchallenged; the last time I checked that would be called an oligarchy not a democracy. Let’s be like Voltaire who once said,

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”
– Voltaire

I’m not sayin’; I’m just sayin’,

An Angry Black Man