Monday, July 30, 2007

"Regarding your racist, anti-white comments"

Below is an email I received on July 26, 2007 from a person whose email I will refrain from posting here out of respect. My response will come soon, but I think it's important to reflect on what is being said before I post my thoughts on this email for all of you to read. Letters like this remind me of why my role here and the work of the talented women who contribute to The Coup Magazine are so important. More to come soon.

- Wendi Muse

This presumption that America is racist, that whites are bigots and that white America controls the media and uses that control to diminish and oppress minorities in general and black people in particular is a monstrous lie (and anyone who has thought about it for two seconds, knows it). Yet black racists like yourself and liberal racists are somehow part of the mainstream conversation about race in America today. If women and people of color are being oppressed, why isn't there an exodus? Why do you live here? Why are Haitians and Mexicans and everybody else dying to come here? To be oppressed?

In fact liberalism — if you want to call it that — has become a form of political extremism. It is conspiratorial-minded, blind to the obvious and filled with a venomous, unthinking bias against people whose skin colors include whiter shades of pale. Do black males abandon their children and commit five times the violent crime that males from other ethnic groups do? White racism is responsible. Do black mobs tear up a city like Cincinnati because violent criminals are shot by police? Progressives know that the problem is really slavery, segregation and institutional racism, and cheer the rioters on.

The facts of American life roundly refute the prejudices of liberal extremism, but to little effect. America is not racist. If anything, the social establishment and the media exhibit far more concern for the fate of black Americans than they do for any other racial or ethnic group. A three quarters white actress declares herself black to gain status in Hollywood. And everybody knows she’s smart to do it. The predisposition of the media is far more likely to believe the worst about whites and to bend over backwards to legitimize racial paranoia among blacks. How else could an inciter of racial hatred, convicted liar, wannabe drug dealer, paid snitch and shakedown artist like Al Sharpton become a "civil rights leader" and Democratic Party presidential candidate? Does an LA prosecutor indict O.J. Simpson for killing his wife because he beat and threatened her, skipped town and tried to flee the country after the crime was committed and was tied to the victim through blood and DNA samples? He must have been framed by racist whites on the Los Angeles police force. The reader is correct in recalling that the media didn’t draw this conclusion; but, then again, the media treats with respect the Johnnie Cochrans who did.

On January 19th of this year, a white man named Ken Tillery was lynched by four blacks in Jasper Texas — the very same, small Texas town where James Byrd was lynched by whites four years earlier. The Byrd lynching was on the front page of every American newspaper. The president made speeches about him. The nation hated his killers. Ken Tillery disappeared without a trace. You think you will write a column about that? Or will you ever talk about this story reported in the NYT (4/23/03) Although blacks are 12% of the population in reality it is just 2% of the blacks that commit 50% of the murders and a greater percentage of other crimes. Consider: black females - 6%. Blacks from zero yrs. to 12yrs. and black males from 50-100 years commit an infinitesimal percentage of the crimes. Therefore we are left with two percent. If we eliminate crimes committed by this two percent from the U.S. statistics our country compares very favorably with all Western countries. Fact -- blacks kill 7 times more than whites kill. Fact -- blacks kill whites 20 times more than whites kill blacks. Fact -- blacks mug or commit group crime against whites 50 times more than whites commit against blacks. Fact -- blacks rape white women 2000 (yes 2000) times more than whites rape black women. In New York City, about 300 white women are raped by blacks every year BUT there has not been a black woman raped by a white male in anybody’s memory (going back over 20 yrs.) Consider: Al Sharpton had to go upstate New York to find a hoax and that was over 10 years ago. READ MORE

Jihad on the Western Front: Hatred Toward Muslims Continues

“Attempts to Islamize the West cannot be denied. The danger for the identity of Europe that is connected with it should not be ignored out of a wrongly understood respectfulness.” said Monsignor Georg Gänswein, advisor to Pope Benedict XVI, Friday to German weekly publication Süeddeutsche Magazin, signaling the continued efforts of the Pope to set us back by a few centuries. In past speeches, the Pope has made several statements regarding Islam, linking the faith tradition and its devotees to violence and the spiritual downfall of the West.

During his trip to Brazil recently, he also lauded the religious leaders who explicitly played a role in the decimation of native populations throughout the Americas:

"Indigenous peoples welcomed the arrival of European priests as they were 'silently longing'' for the Christian faith, and embracing it purified them"


"decried the growing gap between rich and poor in Latin America on Sunday but told priests to stay out of politics even as they fight for social justice."

Wow. Clearly the Pope is giving us hearty advice. His hypocrisy comes with a pretty long sting considering that religion, especially Christianity given its long history, is hardly apolitical. Religion has been used since the beginning of time to motivate leaders and their followers in their actions. The Pope and his advisors clearly do not stray from politics as they make public statements about the "European identity" and its need for purification. Considering the Pope's connection to Nazism earlier in life, I am not entirely surprised. Though his involvement with the Nazi party was supposedly due to conscription, the ideals of fascism seemed to have resonated within him as he continues to inject his announcements with Nazi ideals.

It seems as though the identity of American peoples at the earlier periods of Christian European contact were of little to no importance as their lives were in jeopardy if they chose not to accept the religion being forced upon them. Yet today, somehow the presence of a Muslim minority population, one that has not exhibited force en masse in Europe to solicit converts, threatens the European identity. I find the Pope's and his advisor's statement as absurd as it is racist as it just so happens that most of the practicing Muslims in Europe come from South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. I dare to hypothesize how the Pope would feel if they bore an appearance more similar to his or called England, Italy, or France their homelands. The Pope has, to this point, been pretty silent on abortion clinic bombers, the KKK, and terrorists working in the name of the Christian God, despite the fact that they pose a much greater threat to the Western identity than immigrant populations and their descendants who, for the most part, quietly observe their faith in the countries in which they now live.

The Pope is not alone in his jihad against Muslims and the Islamic faith, however. Plenty of Americans exhibit outright hatred toward Muslims and anyone whom they assume to practice the religion. In a recent Washington Post "On Faith" article authored by Muslim Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, the majority of the comments were so hateful toward Muslims that I could hardly continue reading them. Ellison, though proud to be a Muslim, is unfairly expected to speak for the entire group to which he belongs, a common expectation for people within a minority ethnic, religious, and/or racial group (among many others). Some readers also assumed that he was a representative for any Muslims who happened to have committed acts of violence and hatred. Though Ellison himself did not respond to the comments, the deafening silence from those who could have spoken out against the words pregnant with hate spoke for itself. There is still an infinite amount of misunderstanding with relation to Muslims and their faith in the United States, and fear of the unknown is what continues to drive this problem. Many young American Muslims are trying to do something about the problem. Blogging, film-making, writing, and other forms of entertainment and even merchandise seem to be several options that may help lead to a more positive relationship between American Muslims and observers of other faiths:

film courtesy of HijabMan

Instead of advertising his clear bias against people who are "different," the Pope should, instead, teach a true Christian message of understanding and loving thy neighbor. Sure, it's fine to speak out when you see acts of injustice, but the Pope has been more up in arms about what he feels is a "threat" to a European identity (that technically has always been quite fluid) and Christianity that, based on the many populations that follow it, isn't going away anytime soon. It is my hope that in the future, the Pope and other Western leaders can pass on a message of tolerance and not one of hate. I hope I am not being overly optimistic.

-Wendi Muse READ MORE

Monday, July 23, 2007

Whom Can We Trust?

1993: Two U.N. Peacekeepers hold a Somali boy above an open flame.

India has a new first lady, except this time, she's the president. This past Saturday, July 21, 2007, Ms. Pratibha Patil made history by being the first woman to be elected to presidential office in India, marking what many see as a turning point for women's rights in the nation. Considering the sexism that limits many factors of life for women in India, including, but not limited to, healthcare, education, and even married life, this is an incredible victory for women throughout the country and a sign of hope for progress to be made in the future. The best of luck to Ms. Patil.

But as this good news comes for women in India, a strange twist on war crimes reminds us that women's rights and their value of life are not a priority to many, even those whose job is to preserve them. On the same day Ms. Patil found herself the center of attention, the news of women being abused on another side of the world made just a blip on the radar for the New York Times. According to a Reuters report that the NYT featured on Saturday that happened to be only one paragraph long, the United Nations is investigating more into quite disturbing reports of widespread sexual abuse committed by its peacekeepers in a unit stationed in the Ivory Coast. Apparently this is not a new problem, the news brief reminds us, as the U.N. has instituted a "zero tolerance" policy for sexual abuse since previous incidences of the same in other countries throughout Africa as well as East Timor, a country in Southeast Asia.

I question the capacity of conscience for some people, especially those who take full advantage of their position to help in order to harm. But I think those whom I question the most are the people who come to the defense of people responsible for such crimes. Why is it that those who are guilty of some of the greatest offenses known to man, abuses that surpass what human rights organizations ever thought to protect against, are often the ones who have a voice in the end?

Forgiveness is up to the victimized, as clearly demonstrated by South Africa's post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where a confession and a statement of forgiveness in most cases led to little to no punishment for the perpetrators of crime, except maybe trouble sleeping at night and the fear of karmic retribution. In the case of those victimized by U.N. Peacekeepers on the Ivory Coast or by American soldiers in Iraq, there is very little opportunity to set up similar tribunals. The issues would be relegated to state concerns, i.e. the business of Iraq v. United States more so than the humans involved coming face-to-face to discuss what happened and what the next steps should be. This is what creates the voicelessness in my opinion. As the abuse is told by indirect actors to the crime, it seems as if the abuse technically continues. The criminal receives a set of attorneys and officials to speak on his behalf, whereas the abused, though also represented at this stage by attorneys and officials, must now deal with the weight of his/her story being lessened, primarily due to the removal of agency and voice.

I'm not sure what is the best way to deal with crimes like these, and I don't pretend to have anything close to an answer, but I wonder if there will ever be a time when the people whom we are supposed to trust, those who are there to help us, will not become another set of abusers?

A more detailed article regarding recent incidents of abuse committed by U.N. Peacekeepers can be found here and a more detailed report regarding abuse in the Cote d'Ivoire can be found here.

-Wendi Muse READ MORE

Which Do You Want First? The Good News or the Bad News?

Bad news sells, plain and simple. The more outraged a population becomes due to a rogue political leader or celebrity drunkenness or a natural disaster, the more papers sold and the more news segments watched. It's rare that we find something positive in the news, especially with regard to communities of color and developing nations. Some may say that, if anything, this aspect of news reporting is helpful for people who identify with the aforementioned in that it reveals there is still much work to be done. It illuminates the factors in the daily lives of many that are very real and tangible beyond what's written on paper by someone else, usually someone estranged from the very situations they cover. If we were to cover more positive stories, however, there may be a phenomenon of people mentally justifying the tragedies about which they read on the next page. "See?" they will say, "they are happy. They are fine. They live in a wore-torn nation and can't vote, but at least they have time to do [insert positive activity or achievement here]!"

Clearly this thought pattern is problematic, and it is, sadly, an outcome reporters risk frequently when they try to break up their heavier articles with something light. But what's interesting about light stories is that they tend to humanize their subjects. If one is constantly seen as a victim or enabler of violence and injustice, the person, whether "good" or "bad," is dehumanized. Tales of tragedy often alienate an audience from the people whom they are reading about. The events take place far away and involve people who live different lives. We don't have landmines in our backyards. We have the right to vote. I can write this article without being arrested. Stories that convey stories of people who lack any sense of legal or financial luxuries often unintentionally "other" the subjects and their situations. It's more difficult to connect if you have rarely or, most likely, never have experienced what is being discussed. You can sympathize, acknowledging their issues, but it's often difficult to empathize, to connect with those being discussed and pain they are going through. Sharing in the grieving process is virtually impossible from a privileged standpoint, no matter how much you *think* you understand.

Happy stories, on the other hand, stories of achievement or talent or collaboration between groups or peace talks or the gaining of rights, we tend to understand on a different level, most likely because we have experienced something similar in our lifetime. We can connect with regard to the feeling of happiness in a way that many of us may not be able to with regard to immense loss or catastrophe. By providing stories that demonstrate a ray of light within a storm of darkness, we also take away a message about the considerable strength of people who may have lost everything, but who can somehow still remember to help others or to realize their dreams. Stories like this, while trivialized by some, can speak volumes for others. It shows the remarkable capacity for humans to look adversity in the face and still laugh despite its ugliness.

So while this short piece is not encouraging that we forget about or not read/report about times of trouble and situations that make us doubt humanity, as I feel they are incredibly necessary to remind us how far behind the world happens to be in providing justice, rights, and simply a better quality of life and access to resources for all of its inhabitants, not just those of us who got lucky or live privileged lives because our nations were built on the backs of others. Instead, I am encouraging you all to remember the positive because it's out there. It may be hidden from view for now, but when you least expect it, someone who does something amazing will end up front page news.

-Wendi Muse READ MORE

Monday, July 16, 2007

Globalization or Zoo-Like Exploitation? Slum Tours on the Rise

Tourism provides a way for people to escape, to shed their suits for bikinis and shorts, their dress shoes for flip flops, and to replace stress with fun. What’s often left out of this story, however, is how hosting tourists involves the population of the vacation spot to “suit up” and serve their foreign patrons. The escapism in this case is a luxury, something that costs money and takes time, but an act in which many people, in particular the poor, are unable to engage. There is no vacation from the daily realities they face, even if reality happens to be in a beautiful city like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

For years, tourists from around the world have been flocking to this city for Carnaval, the ultimate hedonistic display and one of the first cultural traditions that comes to mind when people think of Brazil. Others come for the beaches, or to see the gigantic Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado Hill, or to do. . . other things. . . with local women and girls who are known to be beautiful and highly sexual—quite the standard to live up to. Sounds utopian doesn’t it?

But there are other tourists, still, who come for a Brazilian feature of a different sort: poverty. Apparently, guided Jeep tours through Rio’s hillside slums (favelas) are quite popular. Tourists can even stay in the favelas in small hotels or home rentals that come stocked with linens, toiletries, food, and provide transportation. These tours and bed & breakfast inns cater to tourists who want to see the “Real Brazil,” but I question how “real” one’s experience in the slums can be when the tourist requires a translator, a tour guide, and a temporary home where his/her needs are easily met. The tours are apparently so influential, that some tourists have made the favela their permanent home.

The favelas themselves have been a symbol for Brazil since the 1980s, when drug wars and gang activity increased as the government shifted from dictatorship to democracy. Tourism to Brazil by U.S. citizens is still fairly low in comparison to other vacation spots for various reasons, including the language barrier (Brazilians speak Portuguese, a language not commonly taught or learned in the United States), travel costs (a plane ticket to Brazil can range from $600 to $1000, and is even more expensive during Carnaval season), and limited familiarity with/exposure to Brazilian culture. But the stories of violence in Brazil’s major cities are seen as what created a major dent in Brazil's tourism industry during the 1990s. Brazil was marked as a pariah by American tourist agencies, and was considered one of the most dangerous places for vacation by the U.S. Department of State. The rapid increase of HIV/AIDS contraction certainly didn’t make Brazil’s image any better. Brazil, despite the diversity among its states, was spoken of in highly general terms, as if one bad story from one city was rampant throughout the entire country.

The aftermath of this stereotype, though temporarily detrimental for its tourism-based revenue, was an ironic glorification and romanticization of slum life. The image people had of Brazil still included beaches and beauties, but the favela stood out as a major landmark in tourists’ mental maps. Once a neighborhood avoided at all costs, and still very much stigmatized by middle to upper class Brazilians in the present, the favela became a symbol of Brazilian daily life. The poverty within was acknowledged, but largely overlooked as tourists tend to exist in a sheltered bubble where struggle is a non-issue. The fact that tours and accommodations for tourists within favelas are popular is, in my opinion, disturbing at best.

Of course, I am thrilled that non-Brazilians are becoming more aware of the socio-economic divisions within Brazil’s major cities like Rio and São Paulo, and many of those who allow tourists to stay in their homes note how their visits may improve both the image and economy of Brazilian favelas (and their inhabitants):

‘Favelas have a negative image of drugs and violence, but visitors find out it can be different,’ said Marcelo Mendonca, who rents out a room in his house in the Vila Canoas favela. ‘People love to go to the bakery and the corner bar. They help the local economy.’
I am not sure, however, if all will take away this educational message. After all, their experiences in the favelas are an adventure, a realistic video game where gunshots are heard, but the blood and dead bodies are absent. An Associated Press article about the subject entitled “Rio Shantytowns Drawing Adventurous Tourists” goes on to note:

So far, Mendonca [quoted above] has hosted guests from England, Australia, Hong Kong and Spain. Some complained that his favela, one of the city's safest, seemed too nice.
This is what worries me. When the image on the outside doesn’t match the reality on the inside, it means that something about the external portrayal relies on stereotypes, generalizations, and neo-colonial judgment of the "poor natives." I suppose without these images, the tours would make no money. Tourism, as a business, relies heavily on stereotypes in order to function, at least when the host population is concerned. The stereotypes in the case of Brazil highlight an interesting aspect of stereotyping that troubles many people of color: bi-polarity. Brazilians are seen as friendly, beautiful, vivacious, party-goers. They are also seen as violent, poor, criminals out to harm every tourist in sight. In the public eye, there is rarely a presentation of a happy medium, a real person, not just some caricature that the media has helped us form.

Another aspect of the favela tours that I can’t shake is how similar they are to World’s Fair displays. Filipino historian Renato Constantino makes note of the “othering” process that took place during the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis by way of human zoos:

On display were exhibits showing America's Negro slaves and bucolic plantation life, exhibits of American Indians, and the Philippine Exposition – one of the largest and most popular exhibits showing abducted Filipino ‘savages’ – which ‘gave Americans a chance to see the people they had recently conquered.’

A sampling of ‘Your new-caught sullen peoples, / Half devil and half child,’ as Kipling described the natives of the Philippines – before they were moved up the evolutionary tree thanks to America's civilizing presence. That'll be the day.

While the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair was a story of racial supremacy intended ‘to rationalize deep social divisions in a society that proclaimed its belief in equality,’ it was also an imperial narrative that sought to make the link ‘between Manifest Destiny on the home front, and America's burgeoning drive to expand overseas.’

People are not animals. Their lives should not be on display for the sensory gluttony of privileged Western tourists who can take home an image of the poor to feel better about their own lives. Maybe I am being too judgmental here. Not all of the tourists have a superiority complex. Shouldn’t I be equally as judgmental of the people who never want to enter a favela? I also have to question supply and demand. Do the tours exist because the tourists want to see the favelas or do the tourists want to see the favelas because now they know they can in a safe and sheltered way? I, sadly, don’t have any answers.

I wonder how these tours would play out in the United States. Of course, one could argue that the appropriation of "ghetto culture" or even gentrification are mild forms of the aforementioned, but I wonder how Americans would feel if people took tours through impoverished, gang-infested, crime-riddled communities here? How would it affect our national image? On a micro-level, how would the people who live there feel and ultimately react? Would they start up hotels and guided tours to accommodate their wealthier guests? Considering the racial implications of such tours as well, I wonder how they would shape race relations in this country and what they are doing for perceptions of the poor people of color in Brazil and even South Africa, where shantytown tours are also quite popular, and where racial tension runs high.

I suppose that the experiences of the racially and economically marginalized are exciting and entertaining, but in the long run, it’s just that for the people on the outside. It’s never “real” for those who don’t actually live it. If you’re born into it and have trouble escaping, it’s another story. If adversity continues to be a method of escape, a cheap thrill for tourists who want a break from their privileged lives, can real problems ever be addressed outside of song themes, t-shirt graphics, or movie topics and for what they really are?

-Wendi Muse READ MORE

Monday, July 9, 2007

What is Blackness?

What Is Blackness?

I don't know the answer, really, but I feel like the question comes up all the time. On occasion, it's asked explicitly, but other times, it's a mere implication, something that has to be read between the lines in a speech or a written piece or a simple comment during a casual discussion. Sometimes, this abstract concept of blackness is threatened by hints of rigidity. In order to be black, you must be X, say Y, and look like Z. Other times, the concept becomes so abstract that we lose focus, unsure of what to call the "black community" because we're still trying to define "black." Is it a universal feeling? Appearance? History? Is a shared past of oppression or a bond over a better future? Is it tight curls and locks or rust-tinted relaxed roots? Is it a skin tone or a style of dress? Do we learn it in schools? From television? From politicians? From the press?

For this issue, I wonder if the question might be the answer. Could it be that the pause that follows once it's asked properly addresses the magnitude of how we identify?

I am leaving this post open for that reason. I'd like to hear from you. For you, as readers, what is blackness?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Creating Legacy

Americans don’t travel. Currently less than 30% of Americans have a US passport and even fewer travel outside of the American continents. If experience is a master teacher, then the American public has fallen behind.

While considering the 30% of passport holding Americans I began to wonder, how many black Americans were a part of that percentage. It seems that when it comes to international travel, black travelers are few and far between. There are a number of factors, of course, that contribute to this reality. Social standing and income as well as the experiences of those around you—a legacy of travel experience—are some of the most obvious issues.

According to the U.S. Census Bureauthe median income of black households is a few thousand below that of the American average. And while many people who travel develop the habit in college the bureau also reports that less than 20% of black Americans hold a bachelor’s degree. However, the U.S. Census also reports that black Americans make up a large part of American entrepreneurship, and black investors are making waves in the financial market. It is important as we make strides forward that we also consider the wealth of experience.

According to Black Meetings and Tourism magazine, African-Americans are developing more of an interest in domestic travel. The magazine reports that there has recently been a boom in what they refer to as “heritage tourism.” It’s a step in the right direction.

International travel not only provides insight into the past and various communities but it is an equalizer of experience. Traveling internationally, familiarity with different cultures translates into varied understanding; a point of view that is valued not only in the work of philosophers and social reformists but from marketing and industry standpoints. No matter how “globalized” the world becomes, how readily available cultures are made from our own homes, it remains true that nothing beats a face to face.

-Ashleigh Rae READ MORE

Monday, July 2, 2007

Segregation of Another Sort

The moderate to liberal media, bloggers included, have recently lamented what some have considered the official death toll to the civil rights movement: Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 et al. The Supreme Court decision from last week left many activists in shock as it decimated any remnants of Brown v. Board of Education. In a 5-4 decision, the Court declared Thursday that “public school systems cannot seek to achieve or maintain integration through measures that take explicit account of a student’s race.” It seems as if the push for diversity in light of the fact that countless schools in the United States are completely lacking in racial diversity (that many deem necessary and beneficial to the academic environment) is now an effort rendered null and void.

In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Juan Williams advises Americans “Don’t Mourn Brown v. Board of Education,” and goes on to demonstrate how the decision is outdated and rarely effective:

. . . the fact is, during the last 20 years, with Brown in full force, America’s public schools have been growing more segregated — even as the nation has become more racially diverse. In 2001, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that the average white student attends a school that is 80 percent white, while 70 percent of black students attend schools where nearly two-thirds of students are black and Hispanic.

While I disagree with some of the piece, I do share Williams’ belief that the decision seemed to have the most impact during the Civil Rights Era. In the decades to follow, as political and legal framework supporting American apartheid unraveled, the desperation that drove the movement for the undoing of oppression was eased. Of course, we tend to dramatize the results of the CRE when discussing it in the present. We talk about that historical period as if all the change happened overnight. We look back on the time with nostalgia, as an apex of black achievement and struggle for change. While this praise and admiration is due, unquestionably, our fairy-tale rendition of the CRE as a battle of good vs. evil, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as black America’s knight in shining armor and the entire white population of the South as the enemy, is highly problematic because a) it provides an overly simplistic view of a very complex period, b) it makes any problems that followed the time (to the present) regarding race appear trivial in comparison. As a result of the aforementioned problems, forming coalitions against racism or even making people more socially conscious becomes a huge challenge because of the widely-held assumption that the problems our parents and grandparents fought against no longer exist today.

Despite the recent Supreme Court decision ultimately confirming that racism is an antiquated concept, a belief held by those who are naïve to the negative effects of racism and de facto social segregation, it’s important that we ensure black children are somehow guaranteed access to quality education. One aspect of social stratification that is often ignored in our national discourse surrounding inequality is class. Though some are beginning to delve further into the possibility of lessening poverty and its detrimental effects, it’s a problem that our country continually fails to address in the way that we (attempt to) discuss race and gender.

This silence can partially be blamed on the Cold War. Though the fight against communism is no longer considered an urgent issue, as communism has been replaced with the threat of terrorism as our grand international villain, it certainly slowed progress in the eradication of poverty. Any legislation and activism geared toward reforming institutions that enabled or directly led to poverty or initiating institutions that would ease poverty for those whom it directly affected were immediately deemed “socialist” or “communist,” and branded for exclusion from serious consideration. Remnants of the Cold War remain, exemplified by the United States’ continued tension with communist or socialist countries like Cuba and Venezuela, but for the most part, it appears that the newest challenge to poverty-related initiatives is apathy.

Race and gender, though we don’t exactly confront these issues comfortably, certainly receive more attention than poverty, for better or for worse. But all three issues are inextricably linked. Countless studies, including contemporary research on Latin American women of African descent, demonstrate that women of color continue to fall at the bottom of the global caste system. We sometimes lose sight of this in the United States, as women of color, and black women, in particular, are considered to have surpassed the achievements of their male counterparts. But in believing this characterization as a truth for women of color as a whole, we neglect to consider the situation of those who do not have equal access to opportunity.

One of the biggest complaints launched against Affirmative Action is that it benefits middle to upper class people of color far more than the poor (of all races) who lack adequate resources during their primary and secondary education to compete on equal footing. However, it is clear that even when those who may be of color and of a lower income background are able to reach higher achievement levels, a definite chasm exists between them and their upper class classmates. In an eye-opening Courant article about the experiences of a black female Yale student who grew up in a state of economic volatility, the social divide between rich and poor is made incredibly clear:

Aurora is one of the few to cross Yale's class threshold, but once inside, she struggled to fit in. Talk about money, race and grades was frowned upon, she quickly learned. Yet, as much as she craved connection, she seemed unable to stop speaking her mind and adopt her peers' keen sense of discretion.

Her anxiety at being on the margins hit home one night while she was working in the dining hall. She complimented a student on his University of Virginia hat and found out he was from Charlottesville. Excited, she explained that she was, too.

"What are you doing up here?" he asked. Aurora was confused, then hurt
as it sunk in. He had mistaken her for a townie. "I go here," she said, realizing that attending Yale is not the same as belonging.

Throughout the article Aurora explains the culture-shock of sorts that she experienced while attending Yale because so few of her peers had a real understanding of poverty and the boundaries it creates. While Aurora is one example of someone “making it,” there are thousands of other who aren’t. While some of this is due to lack of motivation, an aspect of poor achievement upon which we as a society tend to dwell because we continue to hold the American Dream myth as truth, many poor Americans can cite a lack of resources and support as a legitimate explanation for their circumstances. Their situations provide proof that our society, though certainly racially polarized, is even more segregated in terms of class.

To be honest, one would think that confronting class inequality would be the perfect way to address race and gender in this country. After all, discussions revolving around class can appeal to members of multiple racial and ethnic backgrounds because an explicit mentioning of race is not necessary. Whites are not necessarily demonized in these discussions. Instead, wealth and capitalism, both abstract terms in the American mind, are held in contempt, making it a slightly less anger-inducing method of combating social division.

But I wonder, is this the direction we should go in order to seek racial equality? It seems like it may be the only option considering that race is repeatedly deemed a non-issue by our leaders. The recent court decision also begs the question of whether or not race is not only a non-issue, but an outdated one to consider at that. Are we at the point where we have truly “evolved” and no longer see race or need to consider it as a facet of diversity? I don’t think so. But when it comes to making change, we have to shift our focus over time in order to target the problems we seek to eradicate. This court decision could be a catalyst for doing just that. Could class be the best way to make racial segregation obsolete?