Kanye West Knows You Think He Sounded Nuts on Kimmel [Oct 2013]

Kanye West Knows You Think He Sounded Nuts on Kimmel [Oct 2013]

“I’m 9 or 10 and my mother and I are on a cross-country road trip when we decide to stop for breakfast at a small diner in Mississippi. I’m too young to be aware of the charged atmosphere of racial tension, but something feels odd. It feels odd when the people in the diner—most of whom are white—turn to look at my white mother and me, her brown son, as we enter and make our way to a table. It feels odd when my mom asks if there are raisins to put in her oatmeal and the waitress irritatedly spits, “No!” It feels so odd, in fact, that my mother asks our server if something is wrong: “No!” she barks again. It feels odd when the woman throws down the bill when we’re done eating. No one calls us names. No one threatens us. The surly waitress has even specifically told us nothing is wrong. But when we return to the car my visibly shaken mom pulls a canister of pepper spray out of the glove compartment and tests it on the ground to make certain it’s functioning properly.

I think one of the most damaging effects America’s omnipresent racism has on a person’s psyche isn’t the brief pang of hurt that comes from being called a slur, or seeing a picture of Barack Obama portrayed by a chimpanzee. Those things are common and old-fashioned, and when they happen I tend to feel sadder than angry, because I’m seeing someone who engages with the world like a wall instead of a human being. Rather, I think what’s far more corrosive and insidious, the thing that lingers in the back of my mind the most, is the framework of plausible deniability built up around racism, and how insane that plausible deniability can make a person feel when wielded. How unsure of oneself. How worried that you might be overreacting, oversensitive, irrational.

There’s a form of mental torture called “gaslighting,” its name taken from a play in which a man convinces his wife that the gas lights in their home she sees brightening and dimming are, in fact, maintaining a steady glow. His ultimate goal is to drive her into a mental institution and take all her money, and soon the woman ends up in an argument with herself about whether she’s losing her mind. American race relations have a similar narrative: An entire set of minorities confident that the everyday slights they’re seeing are real and hurtful, and an entire set of other people assuring them that they’re wrong.

In response to the shooting of Michael Brown, and the rioting that has followed in Ferguson, Missouri, I wanted to share one of the best essays about racism in America I’ve ever read. I read a wonderful article in the New York Times today about how white people are uncomfortable and confused; they don’t see that the world they live in is different than other people’s, even when they’re living in the same county. They don’t see their privilege. And I think this essay really speaks to that so well; it really breaks down the wall between perception and reality.

Let’s keep having this conversation, even after the headlines change.

Possibly the most widely held sentiment among whites is the hope that it all simply goes away. “I feel for everyone involved,” said Shannon Shaw, a jeweler in Mehlville. But, she added, “I think the protesters just need to go home.”

Even when they do finally go home, this all isn’t just going to go away for the protesters. They don’t have the privilege of going home to safe neighborhoods, where this is all only happening on the screens of their smart phones.

America Is Not For Black People

America Is Not For Black People

“The worst part of outfitting our police officers as soldiers has been psychological. Give a man access to drones, tanks, and body armor, and he’ll reasonably think that his job isn’t simply to maintain peace, but to eradicate danger. Instead of protecting and serving, police are searching and destroying.

If officers are soldiers, it follows that the neighborhoods they patrol are battlefields. And if they’re working battlefields, it follows that the population is the enemy. And because of correlations, rooted in historical injustice, between crime and income and income and race, the enemy population will consist largely of people of color, and especially of black men. Throughout the country, police officers are capturing, imprisoning, and killing black males at a ridiculous clip, waging a very literal war on people like Michael Brown.

********

By all accounts, Brown was One Of The Good Ones. But laying all this out, explaining all the ways in which he didn’t deserve to die like a dog in the street, is in itself disgraceful. Arguing whether Brown was a good kid or not is functionally arguing over whether he specifically deserved to die, a way of acknowledging that some black men ought to be executed.

To even acknowledge this line of debate is to start a larger argument about the worth, the very personhood, of a black man in America. It’s to engage in a cost-benefit analysis, weigh probabilities, and gauge the precise odds that Brown’s life was worth nothing against the threat he posed to the life of the man who killed him.”

Absolutely devastating read. Every word is like a punch in the gut. Don’t just read the paragraphs I’ve highlighted here, please: read the whole article.

The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats

The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats

“…Now I own a very large yacht.

But let’s speak frankly to each other. I’m not the smartest guy you’ve ever met, or the hardest-working. I was a mediocre student. I’m not technical at all—I can’t write a word of code. What sets me apart, I think, is a tolerance for risk and an intuition about what will happen in the future. Seeing where things are headed is the essence of entrepreneurship. And what do I see in our future now?

I see pitchforks.

And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.”

This is your must-read article for the week. I don’t care if you don’t read anything else today; read this. Read this, and let it sink in.

Because the pitchforks are coming.

(Seriously. READ IT.)

Ikea To Raise Minimum Wage For U.S. Workers With Tie To Living Wage Calculator

Ikea To Raise Minimum Wage For U.S. Workers With Tie To Living Wage Calculator

The Swedish furniture giant Ikea is raising the minimum wage in all of its U.S. stores, and it’s doing so in a way that may raise the bar for American retailers. The famous seller of ready-to-assemble home goods will base the wage floor for each of its stores on the MIT Living Wage Calculator, which estimates what salary a worker would need in order to get by in a particular geographic area.

According to Ikea, the move will boost the average store minimum wage to $10.76, a 17 percent increase, and bring raises to approximately half of the company’s 13,650 U.S. employees. The new rates will go into effect on Jan. 1, according to Rob Olson, chief financial officer and acting president of Ikea U.S.

Brilliant move by IKEA, especially since they’ve been criticized in the past for treating their American workers differently than their European workers. Considering the company isn’t planning on passing the cost along to its consumers, this whole decision really flies in the face of the American corporate status quo. It’s going to be harder for businesses to keep saying they can’t afford to pay their workers a living wage or even their health insurance.

Kudos.

As Court Fees Rise, The Poor Are Paying The Price

As Court Fees Rise, The Poor Are Paying The Price

In Augusta, Ga., a judge sentenced Tom Barrett to 12 months after he stole a can of beer worth less than $2. In Ionia, Mich., 19-year-old Kyle Dewitt caught a fish out of season; then a judge sentenced him to three days in jail. In Grand Rapids, Mich., Stephen Papa, a homeless Iraq War veteran, spent 22 days in jail, not for what he calls his “embarrassing behavior” after he got drunk with friends and climbed into an abandoned building, but because he had only $25 the day he went to court.

The common thread in these cases, and scores more like them, is the jail time wasn’t punishment for the crime, but for the failure to pay the increasing fines and fees associated with the criminal justice system.

A yearlong NPR investigation found that the costs of the criminal justice system in the United States are paid increasingly by the defendants and offenders. It’s a practice that causes the poor to face harsher treatment than others who commit identical crimes and can afford to pay. Some judges and politicians fear the trend has gone too far.

This is humiliating and a waste of tax-payer dollars. The fact that we still send people to prison over petty court fees is absolutely ridiculous. There needs to be a better way.

Sprawled Out in Atlanta

Sprawled Out in Atlanta: What happens when poverty spreads to a place that wasn’t built for poor people?

Long considered the epitome of red-state suburban comfort, a quintessentially middle-class kind of place where the median income is $65,000 and people pride themselves on owning their own homes, Cobb County now has other superlatives attached to its name. Between 2000 and 2010, the county’s poverty rate doubled to 12 percent. Just last month, the Urban Institute reported that of all counties in the United States, Cobb is where low-income people have the least chance of finding affordable places to live.

This is not an indictment of Cobb County in particular. Rather, what’s happening in Cobb is a microcosm of the dilemma facing suburbs nationwide: a rapid spike in the number of poor people in what once were the sprawling beacons of American prosperity. Think of it as the flip side of the national urban boom: The poverty rate across all U.S. suburbs doubled in the first decade of the millennium—even as America’s cities are transforming in the other direction, toward rising affluence and hipster reinvention. If the old story of poverty in America was crumbling inner cities and drug-addled housing projects, the new story is increasingly one of downscale strip malls and long bus rides in search of ever-scarcer jobs. We can’t understand what’s working in America’s cities unless we also look at what’s not working in the vast suburbs that surround them.

I can’t recommend this article highly enough. I haven’t posted much lately; I’ve been really wrapped up in my own life, but this story brought me right back to reality. As a relatively new resident of Metro Atlanta, I’m still startled when I read this:

Suburban poverty exploded here between 2000 and 2011, rising by 159 percent. Now, 88 percent of the region’s poor people live in suburbs. On its face, there is nothing remarkable about that statistic; after all, metro Atlanta is huge (8,300 square-miles, about the size of Massachusetts), and its population keeps rising (it’s now almost 6 million, equivalent to the population of Missouri). But fewer than 10 percent of us live in the city of Atlanta itself. So it would stand to reason that most poor people are suburbanites; most metro Atlantans are suburbanites, period.

Of course I know about the racially tinged history of mass transit, but knowing that and reading about how the lack of transit directly impacts upward mobility is heartwrenching.

Today in greater Atlanta, the odds of a poor kid making it to the top rung of the economic ladder are lower than any other major metropolitan area in the country—in part because residential segregation, which keeps metro Atlantans separated not only by race but also by class, has created widely disparate public school districts, further immobilizing the poor.

We know this problem exists, and yet

the Brookings Institute has found, fewer than 50 percent of poor suburbanites in metro Atlanta even have access to transit, and what they have is limited. Bus service in Clayton County, which has a 21 percent poverty rate, was canceled outright in 2010. There is no regular mass transit in exurban counties like Paulding or Bartow. In Cherokee County, there are just two fixed bus routes along with a few park-and-ride connections to the Xpress regional bus system, which brings suburban commuters to downtown and midtown Atlanta. If you don’t live or work near one of these nodes, you’re out of luck.

In Cobb County, there’s no bus service at all on Sundays. Cobb Community Transit operates a system that is tiny given the immense size of the county—just 20 routes.

How can we fix this? How do we convince a state full of conservative voters who loathe taxation, who love their cars, and who like to pretend poverty happens to other people that we need to publicly fund mass transit? I don’t know. But we certainly need to figure it out.

The Secret Life of a Food Stamp

The Secret Life of a Food Stamp [via Marketplace]

In politics and in the news, a lot of focus is put on the many Yolanda Ballards of America. Whether they deserve the food stamp money they get. What they spend it on. Whether they abuse the system. Those were the kinds of questions clinging to recent debates in Congress over funding for food stamps. But throughout those debates, which resulted in more than $8 billion in cuts to the program over the next decade, one subject got relatively little attention: what happens to those food stamp dollars after people like Yolanda Ballard swipe their EBT cards and the money becomes store revenue.

Last year $76 billion flowed from the U.S. Treasury to people’s food stamp cards. That money then flowed into the revenue streams of about 240,000 stores across the country, all of which have been approved by the federal government to accept food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. You can look at SNAP as a government subsidy with two lives. First, low-income people enrolled in the program get financial help to buy food. Then, when they swipe their EBT cards at the checkout counters, the government pays those stores for that food—which is, of course, being sold at a profit.

So it seems worthwhile to pay attention to how this “second life” of a food stamp subsidy works. There’s just one problem: A lot of the information about how stores benefit from food stamps is confidential.

SO FASCINATING. However you feel about food stamps and government aid, you should read this article. I learned a lot listening to the segments on NPR and I’m so glad I am able to share them to you via Slate.

You can – and should! – also read (or listen to) Part 2, “Save Money. Live Better.” Part 3 is yet to come.