WealthDisparity

Income vs. Wealth: How Privilege Is Passed Down from Generation to Generation

Not too long ago, I got an angry e-mail from someone in the town where I grew up.

The author of the e-mail is someone who knows my parents pretty well, and he had somehow stumbled across something I had written about privilege.

“How disrespectful can you be!? It’s like your spitting in the face of everything your parents have worked for,” he wrote. “Writing about this White privilege makes it look like your father, one of the harder working men I know, just had everything handed to him. You know that’s not the case!”

I did my best to respond by explaining that privilege doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve had everything handed to you, and I know that my father has worked hard. To say that we have privilege doesn’t discredit any of his hard work. It simply puts that hard work in context.

I recently heard privilege described as a tailwind,” taking your effort and energy and propelling you further forward than those who must fly against the winds of our society’s constructs of power and privilege.

My father didn’t grow up with incredible wealth privilege. He is the son of a truck driver and stay-at-home mom who also worked at a local school cafeteria to earn extra cash. My grandfather grew up in the “holler” in West Virginia in an area well familiar with intergenerational poverty.

Part of what set our family apart, though, was our ownership of land.

Similarly, on my mom’s side of the family, go back a few generations and you’ll find some poor, hardworking farmers from Ireland and Belgium who settled on stolen indigenous land in South Dakota. Again, they were able to buy a plot of land upon which they could start to build their familial wealth legacy.

Fast forward a few generations, and I am the son of a doctor and a nurse.

Wealth and the Context of History

There are really a few ways to look at my family’s history.

Some might say that it’s the perfect example of “The American Dream,” as defined by the ability of a people to build something (read: wealth) for themselves that is passed down to ensure the next generation’s life is a little better than the last.

Others might note that my family’s story perfectly illustrates the trappings of privilege.

Sure, my family gave up most of our cultural identity to become White in the United States, but doing so gave us access to a system that privileged us in countless ways.

Simply put, we traded culture for a tailwind.

After all, one of the key markers of access to wealth in the United States for much of its history has been the ability to own land. There’s a reason that for a good, long while in this country, a man couldn’t vote unless he owned land, and you couldn’t own land unless you were White and Christian.

And land-ownership has been systematically denied to those not considered “White” (through the ever-changing construction of Whiteness) for most if not all of this country’s history.

From the Land Grant Acts to the Homesteading Acts to redlining policies toWhite flight, we see how owning land, but particularly land considered “desirable” or worthy (whether because of access to resources or proximity to jobs or simply status) allows for wealth mobility.

And this access to wealth mobility is relates directly to intersectional identity politics.

This does not mean that all White people are wealthy or that poor White folks somehow are failures for not better working the system that privileges us.

It simply means that the limited access to wealth that has always been a staple in this country has just been more limited for people of Color and women and disabled/differently-abled people and non-Christians and really anyone who isn’t part of the smaller, privileged few that are most granted access to wealth in this country.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

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#FitchTheHomeless – Hearing the Voices of Skid Row

#FitchTheHomeless

#FitchTheHomeless

In the last week, my piece on #FitchTheHomeless has gotten a lot of attention.  It inspired the second-most single-day hits that my blog has seen, and it was republished at The Good Men Project and on the Huffington Post.  With that kind of traffic, though, comes a lot of criticism.  Lots of people said things like, “So what you’re saying is that we should just never attempt to serve other people?  We should just sit on our asses?”

Others claimed that the ends justify the means, saying that it doesn’t matter if homeless people are being dehumanized because they’re being given something they need: clothes.

But absent from those criticisms is an understanding of the very voices that are inherently left out of most any conversation that takes place online: people experiencing homelessness.

In her brilliant response to #FitchTheHomeless published at Relevant Magazine, Rachel Karman, a social worker who works daily with the people who live in Skid Row, decided to do something that the creator of #FitchTheHomeless never thought to do: Talk to the people the campaign purports to help!

I cannot encourage you enough to read her entire article, but in case you don’t do so, at least read this excerpt:

And acknowledging how emotionally invested I am in this situation, I thought it might be best for me and for us all to hear and learn from the people whose opinion on this really matters. I decided to show some of the people I work with the video and write down—unfiltered—what was said. Here’s what I heard:

“Wow, that CEO guy is a bad dude.”

“Why the h*** would he pass out clothes to us that he said date rapists wear?”

“I’ve seen my nephew wear that brand of clothing and he’s not a date rapist.”

“It doesn’t look like he is explaining what he is doing to anyone he is giving clothes to. That’s not right.”

“Why isn’t he talking to people when he gives them the clothes? I hate it when people who think they are do-gooders act like that.”

“Why did he just give that large man those tiny pants? I thought he just said they don’t make those sizes? That doesn’t seem very helpful at all.”

“He’s not even asking if he can film them, does he think this is a zoo?”

“Why would we want our ‘own brand of clothing?’ Especially clothing he said ‘douche bags’ wear.”

“I’m not interested in being this guys billboard or social cause, unless it’s to get people homes.”

“We may be homeless, but that doesn’t mean we want to wear ‘douchey’ clothes to prove a point—what purpose would that serve, to dehumanize us even more than we already have been?”

“If someone walked up to me to take a picture of me to put on the Internet, I would be really pissed off.”

But the comment that I think sums up everything that needs to be said, was made by a woman who sat quietly through the whole video, before simply stating, “Well, that sort of hurt my feelings.

So before we go justifying our paternalistic “charity,” let’s at least take some time to listen to those who are being affected by campaigns like #FitchTheHomeless.

And for the opportunity to do so in this case, I am endlessly thankful to the powerful voices from Skid Row who spoke up and to Rachel Karman for sharing them.

CFW’s 2012 Year in Review

2012 was a big year of blogging for me.  I branched out in my publishing by partnering with a few amazing blogs, and my readership has grown tremendously.  In 2012, Change From Within had approximately 59,000 page views, and the blog had 59 new posts, some short and (hopefully) pithy, and some long and more complex.

There were a few posts from years past that continue to garner huge views on the blog.  In case you missed those, check them out!

Redskins, Sambos, and Whities: Racism in Sports Mascots
Speak American: Multilingualism and the English-Only Movement
It’s Not Just Rap – Misogyny in Music

As we head into 2013, though, it’s time to take stock of the 10 most widely-read pieces of 2012 in case you missed any the first time around.

love-is-a-verb-300x25910.  In October, I had the incredible pleasure of serving as the officiant of my close friend’s wedding.  After the wedding, I posted the message I shared at the wedding.  Coming in at number 10 is that message, Love: Endlessly Selfless and Powerfully Selfish.

alonzoashley9. Unfortunately, my former home of Denver, CO has a serious problem with police brutality.  In July, I attended a rally against police brutality that commemorated the death of Alonzo Ashley, a young Black man who was killed by police at the Denver Zoo.  The piece that came afterward encouraged White people to begin to consider the ways that our relationships with police (on the whole) are vastly different from the relationships of communities of Color.  Coming in at number 9 is Talking Privilege: Waking White People Up to Police Brutality.

FL Tray George Zimmerman smiling 2012 3-238. One of the more important stories of 2012 was the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman.  In my piece entitled I am George Zimmerman, I encouraged White folks to understand the ways that everyone who is socialized in our system of White Supremacy is taught to see Black men of any age as the dangerous other.  If we want to prevent future murders like that of Trayvon Martin (or Jordan Russell Davis), we have to understand the ways that each of us are trained to fear Black men, and then we must work to uproot that socialization.

Chick-fil-A-logo7. Sometimes I just have to rant a little, which is what the piece that comes in at number 7 felt like.  After their CEO spouted virulently anti-gay hate speech, activists targeted Chick-fil-a for boycotts and protests.  Those on the right claimed that such activists were attacking his freedom of speech.  In Chick-fil-a: Censorship or Freedom of Speech?, I lay out just how silly that argument actually is.

IMG_0046-203x3006. One of the best ways to share intimacy with your partner, whether this is a long-time partner or a short-term hook up, is to take steps to ensure that your sexual relationship is healthy and driven by sexy consent.  One way to do that is through a Yes, No, Maybe Chart.  My Valentines’s piece laid out just how to use one to ensure your sex is healthy, fun, and fulfilling.  Coming in at number 6 is, This Valentine’s Day Try a Yes, No, Maybe Chart.

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Cut Through the Defensiveness: 6 Suggestions for Conversations About Privilege

I once published a piece about White privilege, and my White friend’s dad lost it.  He read it and immediately called his son at work and asked him, “What are you doing right now?”

My friend replied, “Working, why?”  My friend worked as a carpet cleaner, backbreaking labor for sure.

“Well, Jamie says you’re privileged.  Do you feel privileged right now as you bust your ass to feed your family?”

“Are you kidding me?!?  Screw him! I’ve never had anything handed to me!”

And so the story goes.  How many times have you tried to discuss privilege with someone who is well-meaning but who has no sense of their own privilege and gotten a similar result?

What is “identity privilege?”
Any unearned benefit or advantage one receives in society by nature of their identity. Examples of aspects of identity that can afford privilege: Race, Religion, Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation, Class/Wealth, Ability, or Citizenship Status

After a while, my friend brought up the conversation he had with his dad, and we discussed it.  It didn’t go well.  He immediately got defensive, so did I, and the conversation ended in anger.  As I reflected upon our talk, I took stock of some of the tools I have been given over the years to make this conversation more accessible and less hostile.  I decided to try again, so I reached out to my friend.  The second conversation was tense at times, as any conversation about privilege can be, but this time it went really well, and I think it did because I worked hard to change the tone of the conversation.  Afterward, I couldn’t help but think, “I need to share these tools!!!”

Thus, whether you’re trying to talk Male privilege with your dad, White privilege with someone on the bus, or right-handed privilege with your golfing buddy, here are a few things to consider before jumping into the conversation:

1.  Start by appealing to the ways in which they don’t have privilege.  One of the fastest ways to disarm a person’s defensiveness about their own privilege is to take some time to listen to the ways in which they legitimately do not have privilege and validate those frustrations.

I once attended a workshop with Peggy McIntosh, the original author of “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”  The goal of the workshop was to give people tools for leading workshops of their own on privilege and oppression that get past the defensiveness.  One of her suggestions was to have people divide a paper in half.  Have every person start on the left side of the paper and write down all of the ways in which they do not have identity privilege.  They can include everything from being left handed and having to drag your hand through the ink to being a woman and having to deal with the gender wage gap.  Then folks would write on the opposite side all of the ways in which their identity does afford them privilege that they did not earn.

From there, folks pair up and do a listening exercise where they listen intently to the other person talk about both sides of their list.  Doing so allows people to air their frustrations at being denied privilege while also acknowledging that they do, indeed, have privilege.  From that place, it is a lot easier to help folks understand the power of privilege in creating a system of oppression and how eliminating that system is liberatory and transformative for everyone.

Now, to do this, you don’t need to turn it into a workshop.  Just try asking the other person to talk about the ways in which they don’t have identity privilege, and validate those hurts and frustrations.  Simply listening can go a long way!  Plus, it’s a starting point for helping them build empathy for those who do not have their same privileges.

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The Chicago Teacher Strike is NOT About Salaries

If you’ve watched the news in the last few days, you would think all of the teachers of Chicago were greedy assholes who care nothing about the needs of their students or the parents of Chicago.

After all, they turned down a 16% raise, right?  Wouldn’t most of us LOVE a 16% raise?

First, let’s be clear.  This raise was meant to accomplish two things: compensate teachers for the proposed 90 minute increase in their work day (an 8% increase) and to increase teacher pay to keep up with the cost of living in Chicago (something the remaining 8% most certainly would not actually do).  That doesn’t even keep up with the rate of inflation over the next four years.

But despite this fact and even though compensation and benefits are definitely important to Chicago teachers, the issues on which the negotiations between the city of Chicago and the Chicago Teachers Union are stalled have little to do with teacher compensation.

This strike is about class size.

The teachers in Chicago Public Schools work incredibly hard to deliver quality instruction and outcomes to the 400,000 students in the city, but the deck is stacked against those students and teachers.  I should know.  I used to teach in CPS, and many of my good friends are dedicated CPS teachers.

No one disputes that students who live in poverty are much less likely to succeed in school for a myriad of reasons, and in Chicago, 87% of students who attend public schools live in poverty.  Further, there is a research-proven causational relationship between class size and level of achievement in school.  Plus, the gains made by students of Color when class size is reduced are even greater than for their White peers (a notable fact considering that in Chicago Public Schools, 91.2% of enrolled students are students of Color).

Despite these facts, though, Rahm Emmanuel and the Chicago Board of Education are demanding that teachers sign a contract that would allow classrooms with up to 50 students.  When I taught, I had one class with 42 on the roster.  When even 36 of those students would show up to my classroom with 34 desks, learning was INCREDIBLY difficult.  The teachers of Chicago know that such high caps on class size will be wildly detrimental to their students’ learning.

This is a strike for a system that values holistic student learning.

Following the example of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Chicago Public Schools wants to tie teacher pay to their students performance on standardized tests.  The idea of pay for performance is a complicated one.  In some districts, it has brought about some pretty stark achievement gains, which is a good thing!  However, those who oppose pay for performance (like the National Education Association and the Chicago Teachers Union) say that it is problematic in two important ways.

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I Can Haz Rant? “That’s So Ghetto.”

Most of the time, I try to create well-reasoned and carefully-crafted blog posts about pressing social issues.  Today, though, I’ve gotta rant.

There’s a lot of common language that bothers me for its oppressive and prejudiced implications.  With some of that language, though, I find a lot of allies in ending their problematic use.  For instance, I know of at least one school that is hosting an “End the R Word” rally to stop people from calling people and things “retarded.”  I hear more and more young people speaking out against “That’s so gay” and “You’re such a fag.”  That gives me hope.

However, there’s lots of hurtful and messed up language use that seems to go unchecked an awful lot.  So going along with my posts on White people using the “n-word” and on the word “bitch,” here goes my rant…

People need to stop using “ghetto” as a synonym for shitty, low-class, ugly, cheap, scary, or otherwise undesirable.  Seriously.

I mean, what does it even mean when we call something “ghetto”?  After all, the word ghetto refers to the outcome of isolating a particular population (often one that is oppressed or marginalized in society) to a specific area, often forcibly or through economic policy.  That might be a specific area of a city or to a camp or prison.

So when some sunglasses break and you call them ghetto, does that mean that there is a tiny population of people living in your sunglasses that have been placed there by racist and classist policy?

No.  What you are saying is that your glasses were made poorly and that they break easily.

Can I get a little precision of language please!?

Because let’s be clear: every time you call something ghetto, you’re communicating one of three very specific, very messed-up messages.

  1. The item or person you are calling “ghetto” is low-class, cheap, or otherwise associated with those who don’t have access to wealth and wealth mobility.
  2. The item or person you are calling “ghetto” is (most often) Black, Brown, or associated with African American or Latino culture (or occasionally other racial or ethnic minorities).
  3. The item or person you are calling “ghetto” is a combination of 1 and 2.

No matter how you look at it, when you use that language, you’re either using some pretty classist language or some pretty racist language that positions certain items, people, and spaces as beneath you.

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