The single women portrayed in pop culture are not reality, but rather exist in a dream world. Like Sex and the City, these professional single women ‘have it all’ yet are consumed with their looks and are dependent on male attention and pleasure for happiness. Now that women in their twenties are entering their professional careers in singledom, it only makes sense that the media should match. The media has not caught up with the new direction of women’s independence. Who, then, are the real single women?
Written by one of the Moxie’s working for Hollaback!, an international movement committed to ending street harassment and sexual violence in public space. The author has removed her name for this internet audience.
Today, a female soldier in a combat zone is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than to be killed by enemy fire.
I recently watched “The Invisible War” with my DukeEngage program. This documentary tells the all too often covered up and disregarded stories of military rape. It’s an amazing movie, and I would absolutely recommend it, but with a caveat—trigger warning. Knowing the subject matter and my personal history perhaps I should have stayed away. People in my program would have understood. But I didn’t want to have to answer questions about why I hadn’t been there, and more fundamentally, I didn’t want my history to prevent me from participating.
As the lights dimmed, I told a friend “I may not be able to handle this– might have to leave in the middle,” and, as it turns out, I did. So, while I can’t tell you how the movie ends, I can tell you the stories of their experiences were horrifying. However, the most traumatic part in many cases was not the incident of assault, but the aftermath. Some of the women suffered multiple assaults from men in their unit, and faced dire consequences if they chose to report. One woman was threatened with violence, another charged with a misdemeanor while he attacker walked free. Another was told her rape kit had been lost, only to find out after the case was closed that this was false. Another struggled to access adequate medical care for injuries sustained during her assault that continued to affect her quality of life years later. When one woman reported what had happened to her, she was met with, “you’re the third girl to report rape this week. Are you guys like, all in cahoots? Do you think this is a game?”
In case after case, denialism and victim blaming prevent male and female victims of sexual violence in the military from seeing any semblance of institutional support.
And this isn’t just a military problem.
Every couple months or so, I see a high profile story in the news about sexual violence– some military, some celebrity, some on college campuses– any number of variations. But again and again, media questions the victim. This type of response, military or civilian, celebrity or no, constantly derides the credibility of those who come forward, and works as a barrier to justice.
Fundamentally, The Invisible War demonstrates the true power of storytelling. The stories were there, the documentary simply gave these men and women the opportunity to tell them. At Hollaback, this is what we seek to do. We ask individuals to speak, and we give them a safe place for their voices to be heard.
We live in a society that blames and demonizes victims of sexual violence, which deeply discourages those who come forward. The only way to end this cycle is to personally commit to supporting the survivors in your life. The impact of the stories that are told have such deep potential to make a difference. Sharing our experiences can make it easier for other people to share theirs, but it can also break down personal prejudice against victims among our family and friends, and change the way people who care about us view sexual violence.
So here it goes— I was sexually assaulted.
More than once.
And it wasn’t my fault.
I’m a civilian, and I didn’t report what happened to me. But I have experienced the trauma of living as a survivor in a culture that blames me for what happened. Being a survivor is a part of my identity that I seek to be more open about. It does not define me, but it does change how I view the world, how I view people around me, and how people view me.
Too many people dismiss the prevalence sexual violence in the military, in New York, on college campuses. The power of the one-in-four statistic gets lost in denialism and under reporting.
But every single person I’ve ever met knows a survivor.
Every single person I’ve ever met knows a survivor.
Because they know me.
Yesterday on the Rachel Maddow Show, Melissa Harris Perry, filling in for Maddow, called on viewers to join neighborhood associations or other organizations. She stated that civic faith is important among this nation’s great conributions to the world has been its distinct associational life” but in recent decades Americans’ participation in associational life has declined. “We are less likely to join bowling leagues, PTAs and even local political parties.” She cites this lack of associational connections to a decline in solidarity, trust and tolerance. Harris Perry was specifically speaking about the tragic shootings in Colorado over the weekend, but her arguments also have greater implications for traditional organizing models. Before transitioning to her comments on associations, Harris Perry was speaking about the time for “turning to faith” and prayer that many political candidates spoke of yesterday and extending this to a turning to associations. During the past few decades, not only have citizens turned away from various associations and political parties, but people have also largely turned away from places of worship. Many countries the world over, especially in Western Europe, similar reports of dwindling church attendance roll in. While many churches are shrinking, one type of church has been growing, those non-denominational churches with a distinct penchant for contemporary music and fiery oratory. These organizations are also a base for organizers on the right to organize protests on pick-your-cause. The more traditional mainline Protestant churches? Shrinking populations make for a difficult to organize base. As such, the left does not effectively use spaces of faith to organizing and create lasting change.
In contrast, groups on the right utilize faith spaces (of differing traditions) effectively to make political statements and change. Through these means these groups are able to influence the public dialogue on a topic. Examples of such are anti-choice protestors or even the Westboro Baptist church. These groups are able to serve as very effective “rubber band groups” able to shift all discourse a little further to the right and occasionally wreaking havoc in our under-participated-in electoral system. Religious groups on the left and right both run thousands of types of social programs. These can range from counseling, addiction, job training programs, shelters and even clean needle programs. These types of charity organizations have been a foundation of the American church since well before the American revolution when churches served as pillars of the community providing most education and social services within each community. Now, the power of more than half of these faith based communities has dwindled. Be it from apathy, the dissaccosiation trend the country has been experiencing or such as simple fact as disparate experiences, few religious organizations on the left have effectively organized to make lasting change on one particular cause. The selection of a cause may be a problem, but I have personally witnessed many instances of group support of an idea and a total lack of willingness on the part of any single individual to spearhead these projects.
To be sure, the Episcopal Church of America has significant strides in this respect with their programs to LGBT rights, even urging Congress to do so. But sadly, there are other churches with national and international scope committed to combating injustices similar to the Episcopal Church, but these efforts are sadly disparate. Even within the Episcopal church I have seen hundreds of different types of social programs offered, but I have only twice seen diocesan cooperation on a specific project, and in these cases the projects were handed down by bishops.
Traditionally churches and other religious institutions have served as important sites for organizing. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X each had incredibly strong bases in religious communities, as have other leaders as far back at the American Revolution. Some organizations, such as many members of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, where I am working this summer, are organized from religious communities, meet in churches, or are comprised of many members of the same religious community. Can these faith spaces organize to work together and transform their influence into an effect? My priest will often bring up Episcopalians’ aversion to conversion of others due to the stigmatization associated with the aggressive tactics of fundamentalist evangelical groups, but do these desires to appear different hinder our ability to organize effectively? It seems that mainline Protestants have a lot to learn from their more conservative counterparts.
Two months ago, a young voice started singing an R&B song in the backseat of my car. It was Chris Brown’s song… and it was my seven year-old brother’s voice.
“Brian, do you know who sings that song?” I asked. “Duh Peyton, it’s Chris Brown,” he said.
I doubt that Brian knows what happened on February 8, 2009. He doesn’t know that Brown had an argument that left his girlfriend in the hospital. He didn’t see the pictures of Rihanna’s injuries. He doesn’t know that Brown pleaded guilty to a felony.
Although Brian is unaware of this domestic violence case, the rest of America is not. Images of Rihanna’s face sparked outrage and disgust, offering a national platform for discussion of domestic violence. This celebrity couple proved that domestic assault is a very real and very prevalent issue.
After the incident, Wrigley Company canceled its contract with Brown, terminating his role as spokesman. American radio refrained from playing his music, and Jay-Z threatened to pull out of the 2009 BET Awards if Brown performed.
When these decisions unfolded, it seemed that maybe, just maybe, America was going to show zero tolerance for domestic violence.
Only three years later, a battered America has returned to its abuser.
In the United States, Chris Brown’s album Fortune debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, giving Brown his second number one album in the US. Today, his single “Till I Die” sits at number eighteen on the US Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
Since February 2009, Chris Brown has performed at three BET Awards. He has collaborated with numerous other notable artists such as Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa, and Kevin McCall.
Perhaps the most disturbing collaboration occurred earlier this year. On February 20, 2012, (Rihanna’s 24th birthday), the full length version of her single “Birthday Cake” premiered online. The featured artist was Chris Brown.
Reports in June suggested that Rihanna and Brown are back together. Celebrities and the general public were outraged and disappointed at Rihanna’s decision to reunite with Brown. How can she return to her abuser? What kind of example is she setting?
Ironically, America is blaming Rihanna for an action that America has already committed. We refuse to delete him from our iTunes playlist, because we have invested $0.99 in each song we have purchased. We refuse to leave a club if a DJ plays his songs, because we have invested an entrance fee in the club. And, let’s face it; a lot of us simply love his music.
In a three year period, our nation has retreated back to an abusive partner. There are barriers to exiting the relationship, and we can’t overcome the investments we have already made. Rihanna and thousands of other women retreat to their abusers just as Americans have retreated back to Brown. Before we judge their decisions, we must examine the factors of an abusive relationship, and how we contribute to the normalization of domestic violence.
My little brother might be nine or ten or sixteen years-old when he finds out that Brown assaulted Rihanna. I don’t know how old he will be, but the point is that someday he will find out that it happened, and I won’t be able to use Brown as an example of a person having to pay for his actions. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a Chris Brown song is playing on the radio the day we have that conversation.
“I thought about running for president… I would love to have had the right timing. But, timing is everything in life,” Senator Kay Bailey of Texas said this on Wednesday. How many other women have felt this way? Have you felt this way?
When I was younger I had dreams myself of running for President one day, but today I’ve come to find myself questioning those dreams. As Senator Bailey said the timing just doesn’t seem to ever be right. As children we don’t understand all of our other responsibilities, but one has to wonder if we acted on our “childish dreams,” what would this country look like?
Women hold only 17% of the seats in Congress, only 22% of all statewide elective executive office positions are currently held by women, state legislatures are only 24% women, and only 6 out of 50 states have a female governor. In a nation where 51% of its citizens are women these statistics make one wonder where are all the women?
But not everybody is wondering this. With Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin consistently in the news many people see them and think there are women in politics. As a woman thinking about running for political office one day this notion makes me seriously concerned for the rest of this country. Two women who have been beaten and bashed by the media over and over again are our best representation for women in politics, seriously? Two women do not represent 51% of this country properly.
So many times people have said we need more women in Congress, more women need to take on leadership positions, where are the women? These statements are all very true, but they are just statements. To truly see more women taking on leadership positions we must tap individuals, and we must support and help them run for office. Campaigning and winning an election is the first step in seeing more women in positions of higher office, but that first step is a pretty big one to take alone.
Many women believe that, that is a step they must take alone. This belief and the notions that there are plenty of women in politics are perpetuated from a patriarchical system that is unwilling to change or adapt. Because of this, this year we will see several key female Senators and Congresswomen step down. Senator Olympia Snowe, Senator Kay Bailey, Congresswoman Sue Myrick, and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords are just a few of the many. With only 17% of congress represented by women today, what will that percentage after this year look like-14, 10, 7 percent? Whatever it is, it doesn’t sound or look good for Congress and women.
Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers said last week that, ““It’s still relatively new to see women serving in all these positions and taking on more leadership.” While this is true, should we let this newness scare us from trying? I think not. This is just one example of how the political system and the society that we live in are unwilling to see women in leadership positions. To help women and to see more women in leadership positions we should be focusing on changing society and the way we define leadership roles.
I understand that I am a junior in College and that the change I’m asking for is not going to happen over night. But I think if we do not look to the future and beyond we will remain stuck in time, and nothing will ever change. To be sure this isn’t everybody’s dream, but for those who have thought about this it is time to act.
The system starts with us; we are the system. To see change and more women in politics, we-the women of this nation- must run. So we may lose our first time, and the media is going to ridicule and pry into our personal lives, and the timing may not be exactly right. If we wait for these things to adjust, more and more women will leave Congress and there will be nobody there to inspire a new generation to step up. Two women are not enough to represent truly what the women of this nation believe. We represent 51% of this nation, and it is time we represent 51% of this nation in Congress. It is time to act on our “childish dreams.”
It is unfortunate that an amendment to ban gay marriage was passed in North Carolina a day before the president of the United States announced his support for same-sex marriage. At a time that support for the LGBTQ community is at an all time high, we are still reminded that we haven’t advanced as much as we’d hoped.
This summer I have been presented with various opportunities to understand the struggle of the LGBTQ community. Most importantly, for the first time in my life I am inspired to think about the equal opportunities they are fighting for and whether or not I support their fight. I have since decided that I completely support not only the LGBTQ community, but I also support the fight of every individual facing inequalities and unfair discrimination. Personally, I have never been discriminated against based on my sexuality and I have not experienced the inequalities that many other groups face on a daily basis. However, as both an African American and a female I know all too well what it feels like to be discriminated against for just being myself.
I recently began an internship at Hollaback, a non-profit organization with a mission to end street harassment (unwanted advances and comments made toward women while in public spaces). Working at this organization has given me insight into the ways in which women’s organizations can provide a platform for other groups such as the LGBTQ community to have their voices heard. In less than a decade Hollaback has gained a massive following in 50 cities and 17 countries. Hollaback openly supports other groups that have faced oppression, which in turn allows these groups to gain a wide-range of supporters and brings attention to the issues they are facing. Due to this exposure, feminists and women who often advocate for female empowerment become inspired to think about others and the issues that these people struggle with.
A member of the LGBTQ community sat down with Hollaback to discuss the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), a measure aimed at ensuring transgender New Yorkers are protected from discrimination in areas of everyday life. I listened as the representative and my supervisor came up with ideas that Hollaback could work with the LGBTQ community to ensure that it was widely recognized that legal protections based upon gender identity and expression are a basic civil right. I was unaware that individuals who identify as transgender were constantly discriminated against while seeking employment and housing. It did not seem fair and I realized that I would have never known about GENDA if I had not been interning at Hollaback. I finally began to understand the major role that organizations like Hollaback could have in bringing awareness to issues and ideas that most people are unfamiliar with. Now that I was aware of GENDA, I wouldn’t feel right advocating for women and the inequalities we face while ignoring these other victims of blatant discrimination. How can I expect people to support me and my fight for equality if I am not willing to acknowledge the struggles of others?
It was not long before I learned about GENDA that I witnessed another group requesting to work with Hollaback. A few weeks ago I was forwarded an email from my supervisor. The email was from a man who was a member of the deaf community. He was requesting that Hollaback support members of the deaf community to fight against the negative exploitation of sign language. After reading the email, I could not help but question how Hollaback and its mission to end street harassment would attract members of the deaf community. I eventually came to the realization that deaf individuals are no different than women who experience street harassment. Both groups of people face discrimination and judgment based on something we cannot change about ourselves, whether that is being deaf or being female.
There are several feminist and women’s rights organizations that are supported by millions of people who are fed up with gender based discrimination. It is not difficult for supporters of these organizations to take time and learn about other victims of discrimination: the LGBTQ community, the disabled, domestic workers, etc. It should become more commonplace that these successful organizations publicly admit their support for these people whose voices are not always heard. As President Obama said in the video “It Gets Better,” which addresses young victims of bullying, “I don’t know what it’s like to be picked on for being gay. But I do know what it’s like to grow up feeling that sometimes you don’t belong.” We may not have personally experienced the inequalities of every other group but as women we have all been in situations where we were made to feel inferior because of our gender. Women should work with other groups and join them in their fight for equality because standing up for what’s right is the freedom that America’s all about. As citizens of this country we all deserve respect and fair treatment.
I spent the last two weeks reading Rebecca Traister’s book in preparation to meet with her last Friday, and one section of the book in particular caught my attention. While I appreciated her commentary on the 2008 election, this election was before my political awakening (and before I was old enough to vote) so it was more of a history lesson than illumination of phenomena I experienced.
Traister’s book includes a lot of discussion of the Obama girl and Hillary supporter stereotypes as well as the implications for cooperation among feminists, but I believe that these generational differences are more pronounced than just which candidate to support. For example, Traister’s argument that one of the most pronounced generational differences between young feminists and pre-Title IX (my formulation, not hers) feminists is their view of the importance of having a woman in the Oval Office. She argues that many pre-Title IX feminists want to get a woman in the White House, while young feminists view this as an inevitability and would rather wait and vote for a woman whose politics they prefer to Hillary’s. In reflecting on this formulation of pre and post Title IX feminists, I thought of the many differences that appear to drive a wedge between second and third wavers (or whatever I am) including tattoos and piercings, issues of intersecting identities and views of women in leadership roles.
Firstly, the stigma associated with tattoos and piercings is among the most simple of issues that separate second wave feminists and third wave feminists. These feature prominently among younger feminist activists, but are highly stigmatized by older feminists, like my Mom and her friends. I don’t think I have a very solid understanding of the big-name feminist views on piercings and the like, but I do know my mom advised me in high school to never get tattoos or excessive piercings because these, especially tattoos, are highly looked down upon by women of her generation and older.
Another potential wedge separating second wavers and young feminists are that many of the most active young women in the Women’s Movement are also queer. Many of these women-identified folk are tattooed and pierced, or at least accepting of tattoos and piercings. I think that the choice to get tattooed and pierced is related to a rejection of traditional roles for women, and occasionally as a queer middle finger to unsupportive parents. I wonder if the gap in experience between queer or non-gender conforming women and straight, married, second wavers are contributing factors to the gap between young feminists and women like my mother in the second wave. This is not to say that all queer folk have bad relationships with their parents at all, but I am proposing that this gap lies in the differences among life experiences including experiences of homophobia in the third wave and the pressures of marriage and family still overwhelming women during the second wave. Is it that young feminism is doing a better job of including the experiences of LGBTQ folk than second wave feminism did including women of color? Many of the conversations we have in Moxie have to do with the intersectionality of oppressions, but I don’t really know whether or not these are conversations that second wavers had/have. Maybe they are? I’d like to find out.
Lastly, I was born 10 years after Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court and almost 20 years after Title IX was passed. I take women’s sports and women in leadership roles for granted. This is a wonderful world to have grown up in, but this experience does not lend me to being particularly worried about the state of women leaders. Traister cites numerous second wave feminists bemoaning the lack of participation of younger women in the Women’s movement but I agree with her (and Gloria Steinem’s) conclusion that this is a product of the hard won rights that second wave feminists won for them. The portion of the book that most caught my attention was Traister’s narration of the conflict between second and third wave feminism as the conflict between mothers and daughters. This formulation really struck a chord with me in that I feel it reveals a lot about the conflicting ideas about feminism that often arise between my mother and I. I cannot reflect on whether this portion of the book would be as appealing for a “mother” or second wave feminist to read, but I plan to suggest my Mom reads the book to find out. Whether this lack of action stems from a rejection of our mothers’ ideas of feminism, generational differences or simply an inability to perceive threats to our rights, there is still work to be done and apathy is a privilege for times of peace.
All of this leaves me concerned: will we be able to bridge this myriad of differences to continue to fight for Women’s rights, or will we have to lose ground before these groups will be able to effectively work together?
It is common that I would come across news articles about employment (or unemployment) rates. Some of them would argue that college students majoring in STEM topics are more likely to be employed than those that are in “useless” majors – i.e. a lot of the humanities. As student who transitioned from six year of involvement in the sciences to these past seven months of being a philosophy major, I had to ask myself what was the difference between being in STEM that makes it more employable than being in the humanities.
I will use scientific research as an example because that is the STEM field that I understand the best. My example of work in the humanities is what Legal Momentum does.
Having worked in both, I observed that there are surface level and fundamental similarities between a scientific laboratory and a non-profit organization. These similarities made me think that the transition from working in scientific research, a STEM field, and a non-profit is not as big of a jump as people would think.
My first internship was at a laboratory, researching to treat congenital heart defects. Structurally, like Legal Momentum, it sustained itself through federal grants. Furthermore, work was indirect service that was hard-to explain in layman terms. In addition, like LM, its spearhead was a charismatic, energetic leader who traveled and handled the business aspect. The workers were graduate students, whose pay-rate and grueling work hours that echoed at LM.
In terms of the day-to-day work, at Legal Momentum, the workers travel and then spend most of their time writing; the graduate students did that too. The writing components were crucial to the success of both organizations and required extensive research and pinpoint accurate diction. When not meeting and discussing their research, the graduate students worked on their own – whether it was on the computer or in the experimental tables; that’s not a huge difference from the way things operated at LM.
There was also competition. Other laboratories, at both the same university or at another, are studying the same thing. The laboratory struggled to distinguish its results from that of others and while competing for the same grants. Legal Momentum also has “rivals”, by the way.
The laboratory was essentially a non-profit organization. Both LM and the lab were stuck in a never ending cycle of: conduct experiments to get results -> results needed to apply for grants -> grants = money -> money fund experiments. Whenever an experiment failed, I felt the stress of this cycle. The dagger of lack of funding loomed overhead for all of us.
The biggest differences between the two were the methods of problem of solving and the jargons. The laboratory was much “wetter” because it focused on biological sciences. The reports were written in passive voice to express as much objectivity as possible. The dictions – such as transforming growth factor receptors – and the specific skills required – e.g. microscopic dissection –are vastly different. The thing is: all of these things that can be learned and become accustomed to and nothing is an inherent ability. My point is: person can move between both fields of work as long as he or she spends time learning the specifics.
Most of all, success in both of these fields require logical, critical thinking as well as attention to detail and strong writing ability. Endurance in both fields necessitates personal qualities like the courage to fail, strong passionate feelings toward the topic, and a creative, positive mindset. I hope don’t have to elaborate as to why writing legal papers or scientific reports require those things.
There are also a lot of similarity between scientific research and fields like engineering and computer science. There are engineering laboratories and computer laboratories. Researchers, engineers, and computer scientists definitely cooperate. In fact, the popular term for this is: interdisciplinary science.
There are ample connections within the STEM fields, but there are also connections between STEM and the humanities. So why does studying in one field makes a student more employable than if he or she studies the other?
I believe the answer is the demand for the product. We need more bridges and drugs – the products of lots of engineering and researching. There is not as much demand for solving domestic violence.
The topic of economics is beside the point. What’s important here is that: those that call humanity majors “useless” are not aware of the benefits of the skill sets that those studies offer and other qualities that a student can potentially gain from being in that area. Those skills are adaptable and necessary for any profession.
Topics like science, engineering, English, and history are just different approaches, and studying them equip students with different and similar skills. These skills are tools. The flexibility and effectiveness or a tool depends on the end goal of the user.
We need to be more open to the idea of letting people learn on the job. What they must enter the door with however, is a flexible, open-mind, a willingness to spend time, and the stamina to endure daily trial-and-error.
I think another problem is that employers do not have the time to training humanity majors in STEM jobs. It’s probably much more efficient if the employee came with the knowledge.
However, I wonder if company could benefit from diversity, not just in race, but in framework of thinking. New approaches and new ideas… I wonder where one could go from that.
As I prepare to graduate from college, I seek advice from an array of places. The career center at my school, newspapers, horoscopes and my grandfather. Everytime I call him I am comforted by his long rant about people “my age” not staying in jobs quite as long as his generation had. And I see it everywhere. Whether people are doing Teach for America, finding jobs in between grad school, going straight to graduate school or working in restaurants because the rent needs to be paid, there is a general sense of comradery in the fact that we’ll all get where we are going eventually.
I also see this in the non-profit organization I am currently working at. It boasts how its staff is younger than 30 (although this is untrue at the current moment). While I know nonprofits tend to have a high turn-over in positions, I also see how my executive director leaving this year will have a negative effect on the organization and I can’t help but to think that this idea of “we’ll get where we’re going” may be to the detriment of nonprofits.
How quick does social change happen? Not quick at all. And with the overturn in leadership at non profits this may take even longer. The mindset of finding your passion somewhere can affect nonprofits in two ways. First, someone can stumble into the nonprofit world on their quest for the one job that will satisfy their every need (does this even exist?). With the rise in volunteering happening in our society and all of this in between time, people entering the nonprofit world may be searching for a passion that does not exist. This will affect their effectiveness within the organization. Secondly, those passionate and effective in the nonprofit world may have many aspects of the social justice world that they wish to tackle, may become burnt out quickly or may feel that their voice is no longer new and fresh. They leave in search of a passion lost or dwindling. The passionate feel they are becoming ineffective and the unpassionate sometimes are ineffective.
What if our views of our futures were less idealized? The nonprofit world would be overrun with passionate people who would not feel the pressure to make quick change and move on. However, this also has a downside. It is beneficial to have new ideas and minds come into the nonprofit world. This helps them stay original and current and prevents burn-outs and apathy from the staff. But it is also a shame to see effective leaders bow out because it is expected of them.
And so I resume my search for a graduate school or a part time job or a career track that probably has nothing to do with my major. And my grandfather will assure me that I can move around and still be successful, still make it. But will the nonprofits?
All of our lives changed when ill health fell upon the patriarch of my mother’s side of the family. Power dynamics changed among my relatives. Obligations and responsibilities among my mother and her siblings shifted. And my grandfather was no longer the resolute and persevering provider of our family.
My grandfather’s change in health was immediately followed by the death of my mother’s oldest sister. The fact that my papa had to bury his own child took quite the opposite effect than we expected on his state of mind regarding his own health. When he first got sick, we all just knew that my determined, stubborn, shoot-now-and-ask-questions-later grandfather would overcome his sickness. But he didn’t. We thought the sudden death of my aunt would be a wake-up call. But it wasn’t.
As U.S. citizens today embrace a new American era marked by the adoption of universal health care we must be able to see through the one-dimensional debates over cost and too much government expansion. And while I do admire that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will offer all US citizens health insurance or pathways to affordable and adequate insurance, I find that the beauty of the legislation lies in how it can address health outcome and health care disparities that plague racial and ethnic minorities in this country.
Blacks and first indigenous populations suffer disproportionately from diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and stress. While personal behavior plays a huge role in this, vast epidemiological research suggests that social determinants account for the majority of health disparities. How can we expect people to be healthy in neighborhoods that feature no areas where children can go outside and play and where fresh fruits and vegetables are miles away? Built into the ACA are initiatives to transform communities into places that are conducive to safe and healthy lifestyles. This means building parks in communities, providing adequate lighting at night and bringing in more grocery stores and farmer’s markets among other things. The health of the individual is inextricably linked to his or her place of upbringing so it makes perfect sense to start making changes to American communities.
Another goal of the ACA is to have more minority and female physicians, nurses, counselors, etc. Having a doctor or a nurse that looks like you fosters better health care and outcomes and allows for a beneficial patient-doctor relationship. More minority doctors will also eliminate many of the biases and stereotypes that patients and physicians hold against each other as well as historical distrusts that certain minority communities—like the first indigenous and blacks—hold against medical doctors and researchers. Research shows that minority and female doctors tend to carry out less unintentional and subconscious racial or ethnic discrimination when diagnosing illness or prescribing medicine in the examination room. It will take a highly diverse health care workforce to address the health needs and concerns of an increasingly diverse nation.
While America’s historical fear of paternalism and big government naturally did apply to the adoption of universal health care we must always remember the stand behind Rawls’ veil of ignorance when adopting policies that will benefit all instead of some. And we should always fight for policies in this nation that can help redress pass injustices whenever they arise. And while genetic predispositions may explain some of the phenomena I discuss in this piece, there is a fallacy and danger in always adopting this view and ignoring the social and structural determinants of health.
When I reminisce about my aunt’s premature quietus and especially my grandfather’s debilitating sickness I simultaneously think about the environments they grew up in. My grandfather owned several businesses in the south from the 50s to the 70s–a time when it was even harder than it is today to be a black businessman. I’ve been to doctors appointments with my grandfather where I witnessed very little communication come from my grandfather or the physician; the entire session was void of any real understanding of each other. How can someone improve their health if they and their doctor rarely speak (if they even have one). Sometimes I cannot help but think that I lost my aunt and the man that my grandfather used to be to the eternal and unyielding stress of being a minority in this country. This stress overtime degenerates the body and brings on a sense of hopelessness. As I finish college and begin my working life during the inception of universal health care in the U.S. I will be happy to be living in an era where such a sweeping policy will be making this nation a better one for racial and ethnic minorities to live in.