Archive for the ‘ Poverty ’ Category

Whites-only Marijuana.

I didn’t ever actually go back and blog more about the The New Jim Crow, which I mentioned here, but I’d like to bring it up again for a second. The general thrust of this book is that the War on Drugs created a permanent underclass in much the same way that Jim Crow laws and black codes did after the civil war. The statistics and stories presented in the book, as well as the description of how the broad police powers granted by anti-drug legislation and SCOTUS decisions on them have significantly damaged civil liberties, will make you sick at heart.

So for the past few days, I’ve been thinking about medical marijuana. In the early days of this blog, I made some embarrassingly naive comments about medical marijuana. I talked some about American views on poverty, and mentioned race only in passing. Looking at medical marijuana, I think I was wrong to leave out race.

I believe that widespread adoption of medical marijuana laws at the state level, without corresponding decriminalization of marijuana at the federal level, will in effect create a whites-only space to use pot. Consider, for example, the already existing disparities in the way medication is prescribed. Also, see Joe Klein’s “The boomers like it, and really, who else matters” argument in Time from a few years ago. There’s a movement for the reform of marijuana laws in this country, but it’s by and large a movement for the reform of marijuana laws for relatively-affluent whites, rather than a movement aimed at any sort of justice.

Only half the story

Two reports just published by the Education Trust reveal how some secondary educational institutions in the United States are closing the achievement gap between students of differing racial/ethnic backgrounds (read: between whites and minorities), while also exposing some of those institutions with the greatest persistent gaps. Sadly, the Chicago branch of my alma mater falls into the latter category …

That aside, this is great news for our system of higher education! With some effort, disparities that Mother Culture often says are intractable can be overcome. However, merely focusing on racial/ethnic differences in graduation rates fails to take into account another aspect, which I think cannot be separated from the race issue (and vice versa), and that is socioeconomic status.

When research focuses exclusively on race/ethnicity or socioeconomic status, it neglects the complex interplay between these data sets (e.g., students from poorer backgrounds tend to achieve less, a greater proportion of African-Americans come from poorer backgrounds, etc …). Poverty affects people regardless of their genetic make-up. And other research indicates that “our highest achieving poor kids seem to be earning degrees at rates below our lowest achieving rich kids.” So while it is certainly commendable that the institutions highlighted in these reports have shown (sometimes very impressive) successes in closing the achievement gaps between racial/ethnic groups, they tell only half the story.

Preaching Revolution.

When I walk my dog, I go down the main drag (Old Glenn Hwy) where the fast food places are, down Business Blvd where the park, theater and bowling alley are located, and then down to the Eagle River, where the kids party sometimes. On this route, I get to meet and talk to a lot of the working poor–people I refer to as disposable citizens.

I talk to these people, trying to educate them about the myth of the American Dream, the loss of representative government, and how the wealthy and their government servants enrich themselves and fight wars for empire on the backs of disposable citizens. I recently bought a sack of the little 256MB USB drives, and I always carry a few with me when I do my talk walks. They’re loaded with wmv files of labor songs, civil rights songs by the Dropkick Murphys, Pete Seger, and others, interviews with Naomi Klein, Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, a couple of skits by George Carlin, assorted essays, and a pdf file with a list of websites appropriate for those questioning the status quo.

I like to think, in a tiny way, I’m contributing to change I hope is coming. That change can’t come through a ballot box rigged to maintain the status quo. It’s going to be won with massive boycotts and general strikes; with people simply refusing to play the game anymore.

From a popular lefty internet forum.

It is curious how people take it for granted that they have a right to preach at you and pray over you as soon as your income falls below a certain level.

George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London.

There is no difference between the behavior of the pseudonymous poster in the first quote and the “slumming-party” Orwell is ruminating on in the second. Both see the poor as objects to be acted upon. The soteriology is slightly different, but the message and goals are the same – save the poor wretches’ souls. Make them see how wrong they have been about their lives, and guide them into a better future.

I have, really, some sympathy for the slumming-party and the dog-walker. If you truly believe that the unsaved have an unimaginably terrible fate in store, or that the politically disengaged have truly nothing to look forward to in their lives, then the pressure on one’s psyche to do something – anything – must be incredible. So, you “freely [venture] into the lowest dens,” and attempt to enlighten the denizens, and feel the pressure bleed off for a day, or an hour,  knowing that you’ve done something.

It doesn’t change the essential nature of the act, though. The classism, the treatment of the poor as something other than fully human – these are at the core of that kind of “missionary work.”