Microinequity and Vicious Cycles at Home and Abroad
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s latest column-post-comments combo is worthwhile reading.
The thread explores two ideas I’d like to say a little more about:
1. Microaggression and microinequity – that is, the constant little events that underline someone is different or of a lower status – fuel bad feelings and inequality and have a corrosive effect on the person on the receiving end, even if the person on the giving end has no intention to hurt.
Microaggression is a really common talking point in the English-speaking expat community in Japan. Here’s one example.
I’ve had friends tell me they couldn’t stay in Japan or Taiwan anymore because they couldn’t handle never being fully accepted. It took me way longer than it should have to connect this frustration with the feelings American minorities have in their own communities. Then the little things that happened here felt really small. In fact, it became clear that Western foreigners in the East are a privileged minority.
James Baldwin describes the way the disrespect of others can poison one’s spirit in his essay “Native Son”, which I also happened to read this week:
This isn’t just a macro (societal) issue, though. Little differences in treatment are in my opinion a major cause of family rifts. Anyone who feels looks down upon (say, for having less “success”) resents it and things quietly get worse and worse.
2. We need to be more aware of how systemic inequalities created the world we have today and how we ourselves contribute to the perpetuation of suffering.
This sort of thing also happens in home life, too. Say you have an overweight family member, and everyone’s always telling him he needs to lose weight…and yet when there’s food left over after dinner, everyone shovels it onto his plates. The people complaining about the problem are themselves perpetuating it!
Likewise, social ostracism fuels antisocial behavior. For example, yakuza membership is largely made up of (1) children of yakuza (2) graduates of teenage biker gangs, who mostly come from broken homes (3) the burakumin, or untouchables (4) ethnic Koreans and other ostracized Asian groups. People that society rejected find their best opportunities are in crime.
One thing I’ve learned this month is that “the ghetto” is the result of public policy. From The Warmth of Other Suns: “The story played out in virtually every northern city – migrants sealed off in overcrowded colonies that would become the foundation for ghettos that would persist into the next century. These were the original colored quarters – the abandoned and identifiable no-man’s-lands that came into being when the least-paid people were forced to pay the highest rents for the most dilapidated housing owned by absentee landlords trying to wring the most money out of a place nobody cared about.”
Black neighborhoods got the worst of everything from city hall in infrastructure and services. (Hello, broken window theory.) No one was allowed to move out, and government housing authorities redlined/hugely undervalued their holdings as owners even as they paid out the nose as renters – which meant their wealth was being constantly devalued.
More Ta-Nehisi on how ghettos were created by elite discrimination:
Since inequitable urban policy reaped so much destruction, couldn’t equity go a long way to solving problems? Couldn’t city halls take a much more active role in identifying addressing inequalities?
I’m wondering now why the demographic differences between Indy’s Marion and Hamilton counties have always been so stark and thinking my own hometown is a place where there is much legitimate urban renewal to be done.
There’s much to do here, as well. Immigrants from Southeast Asian countries in particular deserve more equitable treatment. Personally, I’m resolved to never look down on anyone. I admit I’m not there yet. To never feel contempt, I’ll have to examine my conscience daily.