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Sunday, January 14, 2018


Status is a moving target

by Tom Sullivan

Image, public domain via Wikipedia.

If King were alive now, he would be standing w/ DACA & all immigrants. He would challenge a tax reform bill that transferred $2 trillion from the poor to the wealthy. He would be dealing head-on with health care & the resegregation of public schools....

...Dr. King would challenge a nation that spends 54 cents of every dollar on a military. He would be building a #PoorPeoplesCampaign to shift the moral narrative in America.

— The Rev. William J. Barber II in a series of tweets
This weekend Americans celebrate the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King. Again. But too often those memorials are soft-focused celebrations held in ballrooms and not in the streets.

The Rev. William J. Barber II is in Dallas this weekend to continue the work of his new Poor People's Campaign when he heard of the president's "shithole" heard round the world. But rather than his rhetoric, it is the president's policies and their harmful effects that should draw our attention, Barber believes. If the only place we see racism is in what he says, "you're missing the racism entirely," Barber said:
If King were alive now, he says, he would be "standing with DACA, with all immigrants. He would challenge a tax reform bill that transferred $2 trillion from the poor to the wealthy. He would be dealing head-on with health care and the resegregation of public schools. He would challenge a nation that spends 54 cents of every dollar on a military."

He would preach from every mountaintop, Barber contends, that a continuation of such policies will guarantee "a spiritual death."

Barber warns against "loving the tomb of the prophets but not the prophets themselves. It is dangerous to isolate Dr. King. Dr. King was all about 'we.'"
King's original Poor People's Campaign ended with his death. That 1968 effort attempted "to push Congress into passing an economic bill of rights including a package of guaranteed income, equitable housing and funds for poor communities." Barber's renewed effort aims to unite disenfranchised groups in common cause.

As dispirited as people may be and as disparate, they share more than they know. A study highlighted in the New Yorker finds that the mere perception of being disadvantaged has consequences without regard to quantitative measures. Keith Payne, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, finds feeling poor itself has leads to risky behaviors and other negative impacts:
This feeling is not limited to those in the bottom quintile; in a world where people measure themselves against their neighbors, it’s possible to earn good money and still feel deprived. “Unlike the rigid columns of numbers that make up a bank ledger, status is always a moving target, because it is defined by ongoing comparisons to others,” Payne writes.
Rising inequality has consequences for the wave of xenophobia, racism and conspiracy mongering Donald Trump rode to the White House:
People’s attitude toward race, too, [Payne] argues, is linked to the experience of deprivation. Here Payne cites work done by psychologists at N.Y.U., who offered subjects ten dollars with which to play an online game. Some of the subjects were told that, had they been more fortunate, they would have received a hundred dollars. The subjects, all white, were then shown pairs of faces and asked which looked “most black.” All the images were composites that had been manipulated in various ways. Subjects in the “unfortunate” group, on average, chose images that were darker than those the control group picked. “Feeling disadvantaged magnified their perception of racial differences,” Payne writes.

“The Broken Ladder” is full of studies like this. Some are more convincing than others, and, not infrequently, Payne’s inferences seem to run ahead of the data. But the wealth of evidence that he amasses is compelling. People who are made to feel deprived see themselves as less competent. They are more susceptible to conspiracy theories. And they are more likely to have medical problems. A study of British civil servants showed that where people ranked themselves in terms of status was a better predictor of their health than their education level or their actual income was.
Payne writes, “Inequality so mimics poverty in our minds that the United States of America ... has a lot of features that better resemble a developing nation than a superpower.”

All the more reason for people outside the One Percent to find common cause with one another than not. If Barber succeeds, perhaps they can bridge their divides. The president, on the other hand, finds his power rooted in division. Stoking people's feelings of being disadvantaged his his coin.

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