Op Ed

Wealth Inequality in the US Parts II and III

by

Part II: On Race and Gender-Based Income Inequality

This piece was originally published in the newsletter (which you should totally sign up for here if you haven’t already) on 7/31 and is the second installment of three (third installment below) in the content series on wealth inequality in the US.

Now that we have the billionaire-hatred out of the way we can get on with talking about the serious business that is the socioeconomic divide in this country. Yet I believe from a more philosophical perspective, it is important to stop admiring and paying attention to billionaires, who I think of as criminals, merely because it takes away from the beautiful, heroic, epic stories that occur at every level and experience of human existence. There is an equal story of power and strength in your neighbor or that random person on the train, even if they wear their mask below their nose.

And even if you still think I am on some radical left-wing here, even the House Anti-Trust subcommittee took aim at tech giants, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, among others this week. Some house members in that subcommittee hearing, most notably, the Chairman Jerrold Nadler went on to say that these massive mergers that have happened, most notably, Facebook and Instagram, probably never should have happened in the first place and that Facebook should be broken up. “Classic Monopoly Behaviour.”

Now, we can proceed into the next part of this newsletter: race and gender-based income inequality in the United States. The final part of this series will occur next week where I will talk about what we need to do to try and combat the foremost pillar of oppression in American society.

I am infinitely grateful for the amount of time I have spent in the foodservice industry because of the number of people and perspectives one can meet and gather, even in a single night or job. Whether you are paid over or under the table, you will have a diverse array of coworkers, ranging from all types of colors, genders, and backgrounds. While I certainly cannot speak in the experience of being anything other than a non-binary, queer, Jewish, disabled person, I am also poor so I know the work entailed with being of this class.

And first let me just say Fuck. And second, cigarettes. The work is physical, the work is mental, the work is social, and all of these things happen simultaneously and at varying levels of dynamism that I still ogle at excellent service, because damn, how do you have your shit together that good while making minimum wage. As I have said before, food service workers work harder every day than the people we serve.

Ok, so what is minimum wage? I can also say that working full time at one job that pays less than $15 an hour flat, you will walk away with making LESS than $25,000 working at the base level in the foodservice industry.

But before we peel back how deep poverty cuts, particularly if you are a woman and/or Black or Native or Latinx, it is important to remember as James Baldwin teaches us, that this problem is beyond statistics, it cuts deeply into our existences. Karens going wild was never just a meme and is in no way new, it is a symptom of a larger form of oppression that binds us all together, yet some folks (the Karens and Kevins) just choose to look away rather than looking at each other as humans. But even in that word “Karen” there is such a loaded reaction of misogyny or internalized sexism.

& No one is perfect here. We are imperfect beings living in an imperfect world and you have to make mistakes to know how to not make them and how to teach other folks how to do the same. But this is why being a lifelong learner is so important. It is important so that we can continually have the growing capacity to reflect and to love at a subjective level each individual person as they come.

But this rosy-cheeked vision is perhaps just the opposite of what I have come to expect. And if you were paying any attention at all to the #metoo movement and/or the Black Lives Matter, you know how much worse it is for Black and brown people, and for women. The #metoo and the feminist movement of late, fraught as it is with its own transphobia, classism and racism, still promotes and intersects with many important causes, most notably the pro-choice movement.

The Black Lives Matter movement, almost overnight, after the brutal murder of George Floyd, put close to 5 years of organizational work to use in awakening the American conscious to the horrors of systemic racism and how that intersects with police brutality and how that intersects with “urban renewal” initiatives which James Baldwin knew as code for getting Black people out of the city.

These movements matter. And they matter particularly in the way that the seek out, point out, and fight back against opposing intersections of oppressive institutions, whether that is patriarchy, racism, or classism.

Most, not all, of these power structures intersect where rich landlords and banks and weapons manufacturers make oodles of money while employing and/or arming armies of legal and non-legal petty bourgeoisie militants to protect their properties and divisive social structure. That is the truth in America, the police are there to protect profit and not people.

But, perhaps the ruling classes have figured out now that they didn’t quite know months ago. Bolsonaro, Trump, Netanyahu are all weaponizing the virus not just on Black and brown Americans, indigenous Brazilians, and Palestinians, but even more people as the virus further infects war-torn countries like Yemen and Syria or the refugee camps that surround the most vulnerable countries on earth.

What can we do about this? First, don’t be a Karen or a Kevin and check out next week’s letter to find out. Or just listen to Noam Chomsky speaking on DemocracyNow! a few weeks back — Noam, you broke my heart when you signed that Harper’s letter but you’re just so. damn. right. on this whole world-ending scenario, that is if you believe in the catastrophic reality of climate change and/or nuclear annihilation, which uh, I do.

Part III: What You Can Do

This piece was originally published in the newsletter (which you should totally sign up for here if you haven’t already) on 8/8 and is the last installment in the content series on wealth inequality in the US.

So what can we do about the wealth gap in American society (if you want to call it one)?

Below I will provide some action items pertaining to a primary issue set related to systemic poverty.

But before that, a few notes. First and most importantly make sure that your actions are not simply performative but progressive in that, your activism actually does something for other folks that is not entirely self-serving.

And second, while self-care can be a tad played out, it is super important and I believe it is a political act of resistance in and of itself. Sleep well, eat well, play well, and don’t stress yourself or chastise yourself for not doing enough in the activist realm. Just do something.

The Issues & Organizations:

Living Wage and Unions:

This issue is probably the most obvious in how it relates to poverty, but for some reason still seems the least actionable. And that is coming from an employee who has been paid minimum wage in the last 18 months. So what can we do to advocate for a higher minimum wage faster than inflation advocates a higher one for us?

RaiseUp Mass is leading the effort as a coalition of a vast network of community organizations to fight for a living wage and more worker rights and protections, even in the pandemic. WBUR reported that they “are now a force on Beacon Hill” and “have broken ground for the most progressive family and paid medical leave program in the nation.” Our labor policies can always be more progressive. Join their, or one of their partner’s programs today to fight poverty and for worker rights in Massachusetts.

Immigration:

The state of immigration policy in America today is in total disarray due in large part to the POTUS’ harmful policies and separation of families. There are 5 ICE detention centers in New England, 4 in Massachusetts alone. One of them nestled right here in Boston.

Luckily there are also organizations scattered throughout Massachusetts to help provide short term and long term solutions to immigration policy in MA and across the country, like De Novo, The Catholic Charities of Massachusetts, The Berkshire Immigrant Center, and the ACLU. Get involved and/or donate to those organizations today.

Prison Abolition:

Not prison reform. Prison abolition. Get rid of the whole rotten system in other words. Prison Abolitionists believe that restorative justice is the real solution to mass incarceration and the penal system in the US and the world over. And, particularly over the past 10-20 years, the prison system has gotten much worse in large part due to the mass privatization of for-profit prisons. These prisons enforce slave labor and unsafe conditions, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, where 24 people have already died in San Quentin prison in California of COVID-19. On top of all this, it has been widely cited that these prisons disproportionately house BIPOC people more than their white counterparts, oftentimes on low-level offenses.

The prison system has got to go and luckily there is Black and Pink and Resist, The Marshall Project, Deeper than Water, Critical Resistance, among many more!

Disability/ M4ALL:

The state of disability rights in this country is in total disarray. Never has there been a more important time to stand up for folks with a disability and to read up on this issue and probably the best place to start is where I started, and that was by following @mia.mingus on Instagram. But don’t stop there join the fight with healthcare and disability rights organizations across Massachusetts like MASS, The Disability Law Center, Advocates For Autism in Massachusetts, and many more.

As for healthcare and M4ALL: Massachusetts is one of the best states, the second-best in the nation actually, in healthcare. Yet even in a state where pharmaceutical labs are a dime a dozen, our actual quality of healthcare is, eh not the best. So there is always room for improvement. So get out there with organizations like HCFAMA, MAHCA, and more!

Student Loan Debt:

Student loan debt has got to go. Or if not all of it, serious steps need to be taken to absolve the American working class of tens or thousands of dollars of debt they need to pay off during their lifetime. Even worse, the student loan problems impact BIPOC people more than it does their white counterparts, which makes this a racial issue as well.

I went to state schools and a community college and still have close to 45K in debt (after 4 years of paying off my debt). Nationwide, there are 45 million borrowers with a collective 1.6 trillion dollars owed. If you have a thing for zeros, that is more than $1,600,000,000,000 in debt people have to pay just to learn stuff and things and get like jobs to put food in our mouths to, uhm, eat and have walls a ceiling which are things called houses, you know what I mean?

Unfortunately, there is little you can do to avoid paying your debt unless you want to strike but that’ll kill your credit score faster than the cops kill just about anything. There are calls inside congress, where even centrists are calling for at least $10,000 dollar forgiveness, which would be SWEEET.

Responsible Citizenry:

Being a responsible citizen means being an informed one, a citizen who votes, and more importantly, one who acts. In doing all of these items, it is important to take time and look into all of the choices you make. Read deeply, triangulate sources and campaign programs, and if you find a discrepancy or a wrong somewhere along the line, think about how you may right the wrong.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – MLK Jr.

What Anyone Can Do Now:

Read up on these issues and educate yourselves:

No one wants to listen to someone who has no idea what they are talking about. If you have issues you are instinctually passionate about, search our some writers who have written on that subject. If you have no idea what to do but want to do something, all of the issues above have a vast amount of literature behind them, though if you want to skip the policy mumbo-jumbo and go right to the gut, may I suggest some abolitionist work for you? Perhaps some Angela Y. Davis or Michel Foucault for your afternoon reads?

Contact your reps consistently on numerous issues:

You read that right and your friends will probably think you’re a square but hear me out. Just because the ‘system’ is fraught with catastrophic problems does not mean that it is still not responsive in some way. The squeaky, well-informed wheel gets the grease.

Have you ever been really miffed at something and you wrote it down or talked about it and felt better? Well, make your representative your diary or best friend because we have a lot of talking to do before shit gets better anytime soon.

Vote, but also vote with your dollar:

While many of my friends don’t vote, and while I rarely plead with them in person, I will plead with you online; please vote. It is literally the least you could to assert yourself politically.

But also, vote with your dollar, all the time. The meat industry is an oligopoly? Become a vegetarian. Cigarette companies fund climate change denial? Quit smoking. Exon/Mobil knew about climate change and did nothing? Go to a local gas station instead and/or get a bike. I could go on but you get the gist.

And last but most importantly, Organize:

Organize, organize, organize, and maybe read some Saul Alinsky to help you get on your way. Like a good work of art, movements and political statements are most palpable in their own political context. And if you have done any research into the most recent BLM movement or have done light research into the Civil Rights Movement, you would know; they were/ are massive, highly organized groups of people uniting to fight a foremost pillar of oppression in American society: racism. It is important to understand that movements come with a lot of hard work and that, especially in today’s world, that they are leaderless. Which means take a seat and learn how to become a participant in something much larger than yourself. Everyone has a role, it is just a matter of finding your own.

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Chris Hues is a human & writer from Boston, Ma & Associate Editor of bostonhassle.com. //// They can be reached at [email protected] or @crsjh_ via instagram & twitter.

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