Is Economic Mobility Destined to be a Zero Sum Game?

Harvard Gate Photo by Flickr User Patricia Drury

Harvard Gate Photo by Flickr User Patricia Drury


In the New York Times, Richard V. Reeves is smacking sacred cows, positing that there is no way for everyone to win in our society. Writing on “The Glass-Floor Problem,” Reeves looks at mobility and “sticky floors,” noting:

It is a stubborn mathematical fact that the top fifth of the income distribution can accommodate only 20 percent of the population. If we want more poor kids climbing the ladder of relative mobility, we need more rich kids sliding down the chutes.

Even the most liberal parents are unlikely to be comfortable with the idea that their own children should fall down the scale in the name of making room for a smarter kid from a poorer home. They invest large amounts of economic, social and cultural capital to keep their own children high up the social scale. As they should: there is nothing wrong with parents doing the best by their children.

The problem comes if institutional frameworks in, say, the higher education system or the labor market are distorted in favor of the powerful — a process the sociologist Charles Tilly labeled “opportunity hoarding.” The less talented children of the affluent are able to defy social gravity and remain at the top of the ladder, reducing the number of places open to those from less fortunate backgrounds.

Many New York Times commenters rejected this framework entirely – the idea that someone else has to lose for another to win was too unsettling to consider. And yet, when we compete in an economy of “elites” and there are limited spots available for the most desired schools, jobs, and neighborhoods, that is exactly what has to happen. However, what interested me more than Reeves’s initial argument was a large piece of his solution: access to more elite colleges.

College matters a lot for social mobility. For someone from a poor background, getting a four-year degree virtually guarantees upward mobility. Elite colleges act as gateways to the best career paths. Getting more poor kids into colleges, and getting the brightest into the best colleges, ought to be a national mission.

In essence, Reeves wants to solve a problem by reinforcing the foundation of the problem. Continue reading

Quoted: Malcolm Harris on Race In Breaking Bad

Bryan Cranston as Walter White. Image via Green Bay Press Gazette.

Demographically, the viewers AMC wants are more likely to do a lot of pills than unscrew a light bulb to smoke some ice, even if the substances are chemically similar. There are plenty of expert scientists making tons of money cooking up and selling amphetamines, but they’re not robbing trains or toting guns. Big Pharma brings in a $250 billion annually in the U.S. alone, much of it from the same chemical compounds in White’s lab. When it’s 89 percent pure, it’s illegal meth; when it’s 99 percent pure, methamphetamine is sold by Lundbeck Inc. under the trademark name Desoxyn, for “the short-term management of exogenous obesity.” Walter isn’t making crank; he is manufacturing black-market pharmaceuticals.

A “Breaking Bad” in which the street dealers were diluting the product would have had Walter and his partner Jesse Pinkman competing with every local operation, struggling to set up a larger distribution network without costly middlemen and, well, interacting with meth users a lot. But “The Wire on Ice” isn’t sexy enough to sell a Dodge, and a teacher slanging to his fucked-up former students would turn stomachs, not open wallets. Suffice to say it would be a darker show.

Which brings us to the other thing that sets White and Pinkman apart from their competitors: color. And I don’t mean blue.

The white guy who enters a world supposedly beneath him where he doesn’t belong yet nonetheless triumphs over the inhabitants is older than talkies. TV Tropes calls it “Mighty Whitey,” and examples range from Tom Cruise as Samurai and Daniel Day Lewis as Mohican to the slightly less far-fetched Julia Stiles as ghetto-fabulous. But whether it’s a 3-D Marine playing alien in “Avatar” or Bruce Wayne slumming in a Bhutanese prison, the story is still good for a few hundred million bucks. The story changes a bit from telling to telling, but the meaning is consistent: a white person is (and by extension, white people are) best at everything.

- From “Walter White Supremacy,” in The New Inquiry

[h/t Rania Khalek]

Event Announcement: The Page Turner Literary Festival, October 5, Brooklyn, NY

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Our friends at the Asian American Writer’s Workshop are going all out for the Page Turner Literary Festival, a *free* event in Brooklyn.

While I would love to attend the panel with Marjorie M. Liu on how to write a graphic novel (she pens The Astonishing X-Men, among other things), Ken Chen provided 15 reasons to go:

1. MORE THAN 30 WRITERS, ARTISTS, ACTIVISTS AND PERFORMERS READING ACROSS FIVE SPACES. THEMES INCLUDE HIDDEN IMMIGRATION STORIES, THE SPECULATIVE CITY, LIFE DURING WARTIME, NEW IRANIAN AMERICAN WRITING, AND THE DAY JOB.

2. FOOD VENDORS LIKE BOMBAY SANDWICH CO., BROOKLYN SODA WORKS, BROOKLYN WOK SHOP, GRANOLA LAB, AND PARANTHA ALLEY. WE’LL HAVE PEARL MILK TEA.

3. DUMPLING-MAKING SESSIONS.

4. MAKE-A-POEM BOOTH: YOU TOO CAN WRITE A POEM.

5. DIY SCREEN-PRINTING & BUTTERFLY-MAKING WORKSHOPS.

6. AUDIO RECORDING BY NPR’S LATINO USA.

7. A POP-UP GALLERY OF IMMIGRANT POSTER ART.

8. THE 15TH ASIAN AMERICAN LITERARY AWARDS

9. AN AFTER-PARTY FEATURING TAROT CARD READINGS BY NOVELIST ALEXANDER CHEE, DIY SCREEN-PRINTING, AND HIMANSHU SURI OF DAS RACIST.

10. SOUND INSTALLATION BY AUDIENCE

11. VIDEO ART OF WALKING TOURS OF IMMIGRANT COMMUNITIES.

12. A GRAPHIC NOVEL WORKSHOP BY X-MEN WRITER MARJORIE LIU.

13. ORIGAMI FOLDING WORKSHOPS FOR THE KIDS WITH IRVING YEW.

14. TRAINED DANCERS ON STAGE AT THE ROULETTE BALLROOM.

15. AND DID WE MENTION IT’S FREE?

For details and registration, click here.

The Racialicious Links Roundup 9.26.13

    • For Migrants, New Land of Opportunity Is Mexico (The New York Times)

      Some Mexicans and foreigners say Europeans are given special treatment because they are perceived to be of a higher class, a legacy of colonialism when lighter skin led to greater privileges. But like many other entrepreneurs from foreign lands, Mr. Pace and his partners are both benefiting from and helping to shape how Mexico works. Mr. Rodríguez, the former Interior Ministry official, Cuban by birth, said that foreigners had helped make Mexico City more socially liberal.

      And with so many Mexicans working in the informal economy, foreigners have little trouble starting new ventures. Many immigrants say Mexico is attractive because it feels disorderly, like a work in progress, with the blueprints of success, hierarchy and legality still being drawn. “Not everyone follows the rules here, so if you really want to make something happen you can make it happen,” said Ms. Téllez, 34, whose food business served more than 500 visitors last year. “No one is going to fault you for not following all the rules.”

      Mr. Lee said that compared with South Korea, where career options were limited by test scores and universities attended, Mexico allowed for more rapid advancement. As an intern at the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency here, he said he learned up close how Samsung and other Korean exporters worked. “Here,” he said, “the doors are more open for all Koreans.” He added that among his friends back home, learning Spanish was now second only to learning English.

      The results of that interest are becoming increasingly clear. There were 10 times as many Koreans living in Mexico in 2010 as in 2000. Officials at a newly opened Korean cultural center here say at least 12,000 Koreans now call Mexico home, and young Mexicans in particular are welcoming them with open arms: there are now 70 fan clubs for Korean pop music in Mexico, with at least 60,000 members.

 

    • Brad Paisley and the Politics of Offense and Offense-Taking (The Atlantic)

      If you accept that the Confederacy fought to preserve and expand slavery, then you might begin to understand how the descendants of the enslaved might regard symbols of that era. And you might also begin to understand that “offense” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Reading Penthouse while having Christmas dinner with your grandmother is offensive. Donning the symbols of those who fought for right to sell Henry Brown’s wife and child is immoral.

      It is important to speak this way. Nothing is changed by banishing the Confederate Flag out of a desire to be polite or inoffensive. The Confederate Flag should not die because black people have come to feel a certain way about their country, it should die when white people come to feel a certain way about themselves. It can’t be for me. It has to be for you.

 

    • Census data mask poverty suffered by some Asian American groups (The Los Angeles Times)

      “There’s always been a recession in our community,” said Lian Cheun, executive director of the nonprofit Khmer Girls in Action. “The pain has always been there. It’s just not well known.”

      Tongan Americans have even more stunning poverty rates, the report found, with more than half estimated to be living under the poverty line countywide between 2006 and 2010. Because the community is so small, the estimates are rough and the actual poverty rate might be somewhat lower — but still far above the county average.

      The new report seeks to uncover such problems, using U.S. Census Bureau and other government data to poke holes in the “model minority” stereotype and illustrate the changes sweeping such communities.

      Asian Americans have become the fastest-growing group in Los Angeles County, which now has not only the biggest Chinese and Korean communities in the country, but also the largest number of people of Thai, Indonesian, Sri Lankan, Filipino, Cambodian, Burmese and Taiwanese descent, the report found.

      As the recession barreled down, their growing numbers also meant more people in need. In Los Angeles County, the number of Asian Americans who were jobless jumped 89% after the downturn, according to the report. Among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, the number more than doubled.

 

    • Burning The Bridge (Grantland)

      The writers of “The Bridge,” parked out in California, don’t know Juárez well enough to realize this. The show’s pilot opens with one upper and one lower torso dumped on the Cordova Bridge. One of the torsos, female, belongs to the conservative judge from El Paso. The other torso, as the cliché demands, is half of a pretty young girl from Juárez. According to a message relayed by the shadowy killer, the Juárez victim, Cristina Fuentes, “died 14 months ago. Nobody investigated. Nobody cared. Just another dead girl.”

      But now that the El Paso police are involved, somebody finally cares. Specifically a beautiful, blonde detective with Asperger’s syndrome named Sonya Cross. (She’s played by Diane Kruger.) Her cohort from the Chihuahua State Police, Marco Ruiz (Demián Bichir) has to explain to her why Fuentes’s disappearance wasn’t looked into. She was “only one of 250 girls who disappeared last year. They go missing from buses, factories, always 15 to 20 years old. Dark hair, beautiful.”

      “So you have a serial killer?” asks Cross.

      “Nobody knows,” Ruiz responds. “There’s just too many. The chiefs, they really don’t want us to investigate. Easier that way.”

      Not mentioned: More men and boys disappear every year in Juárez than do women and girls. And, crucially, if this really were Juárez, on the day Fuentes’s body was discovered the remains of as many as nine men and boys might have been found, too. And nobody would have investigated the deaths of those male victims, either. Gender has nothing to do with this police failure. To ignore this context is to grotesquely misrepresent what’s happening in the city.

 

    • Playing ‘Indian’ and Color-Blind Racism (Indian Country Today Media Network)

      Natives do experience the covertness of color-blind racism that limits life opportunities. Under the logic of colorblind racism, if I don’t make as much money as a white woman who does the same job, it’s because I’m not as experienced or competent. If Natives, on average, have less college attainment, it’s has nothing to do with the 500+ years of internal colonization and genocide or the eras of removal, relocation, reservation internment, and forced boarding school attendance. It’s because Indians are lazy drunks. No thought is given to historical context or constrained opportunities. Race scholars admit that marginalized groups still experience inequality, but argue that racism is expressed increasingly without direct racist terminology.

      But this certainly does not hold true for Indigenous Peoples in the U.S. We also routinely experience overt racism in the form of racial epithets like redskin, injun or squaw and horribly distorted depictions of Natives as mascots, reminiscent of the propaganda used against black, Irish and Jewish people in the 19th and 20th centuries. And this overt racism is not confined to hate groups, but is visible in everyday communication and throughout the media.

      We still live under the prevalence of Native misrepresentations in the media, archaic notions of Indianness, and the federal government’s appropriation of Indian names and words as code for military purposes. Racist informal statements are common expressions—statements like being an “Indian-giver,” sitting “Indian-style,” learning to count through the “one little, two little, three little Indians” song, or getting together to “pow wow” over a business idea.

Table For Two: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D

By Kendra James & Arturo R. García

Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) is under the gun(n) in the premiere of “Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

So after what felt like two years’ worth of hype, Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D finally debuted Tuesday night, offering up a potentially interesting new platform through which to explore the Marvel Movieverse, as well as a show featuring women of color in both the primary ensemble (Chloe Bennet and Ming-Na Wen) and the creative team (executive producer Maurissa Tancharoen). And that’s without counting the welcome return of Firefly‘s Ron Glass and Angel‘s J. August Richards to Whedonville.

As promised, the show doesn’t skimp on digging deep for its connections to the Marvel movie universe, referencing not just Avengers, but Iron Man 3 and Captain America in major ways. But how did our roving reviewers feel about it? They traded some thoughts after the premiere.

Continue reading

Quoted: Scot Nakagawa on The Backlash Against Miss America

But now, the white-makes-right faction of American society is making a comeback. Pissed over the fact that the racial demographics of the U.S. are turning against them, the white right of America is in full backlash mode. You may remember this viral video of an uprising at a Town Hall meeting hosted by Delaware Representative Mike Castle.

The birthers in this video are the kissing cousins of tweeters labeling our new Miss America a terrorist. In fact, angry birthers and racist tweeters complaining about the rockin’ brown blush on the cheeks of our new Miss America are just the foam on the crest of a wave of white resentment that is rising, and quickly, over the fear that white Americans are losing control of American culture, including cultural symbols like Miss America and the standard of beauty, femininity, and American accomplishment she represents.

Make no mistake, this Miss America scuffle is just one small battle in a much larger war over the meaning of “American” in a country whose future depends on the full inclusion of people of color, but whose history and contemporary political fights are all too often about limiting citizenship rights and genuine American cultural identity to white males.

- From “Yellow Is Not the New White: The New South Asian Miss America Gets Blasted on Twitter”

Check it out: United Colors of Amani

Amani Starnes’ new web series centers on what it’s like to be an “ethnically ambiguous” actress in Hollywood and the recipient of a host of stereotypes and biases. Starnes writes that she has “dealt with the ‘What are you?’ question her whole life. But what does it mean to be black, white, and everything in between as she navigates the entertainment industry and life in LA? The United Colors of Amani, a comedy with sociological undertones, sheds light on the uncomfortable, awkward, and outrageous constructions of race permeating showbiz.”

Episode 1: The Tryout

Abused Goddesses, Orientalism and the Glamorization of Gender-Based Violence

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By Guest Contributor Sayantani DasGupta; originally published at Feminist Wire

The Abused Goddesses of India. The advertisements, created by Mumbai-based ad firm Taproot India, have been making the rounds – not only of my Facebook friends’ walls, but of many a feminist and progressive site including Bust, Ultraviolet, V-Day and MediaWatch, usually along with reactions like “powerful” and “heartbreaking.”

The images are unusual in their aesthetic appeal. After all, it’s not every day that you see the Hindu Goddesses Laxshmi, Saraswati or Durga made to appear as if they have been subject to gender-based violence – with tear stained faces, open cuts and battered cheekbones. But even despite (or because of?) the bruising around those divine eyes, the images are breathtaking – recreations of ancient Hindu paintings accurate to their last bejeweled crown and luscious lotus leaf.

I’ll admit it, I too was entranced by these ads when I first saw them. Having grown up in the heart of the American Midwest at a time when no one in the media looked even remotely like brown-skinned and dark haired me, I have a particular soft spot for images of glamorous Indian women. After childhood and teenage years believing that no one who wasn’t a blonde, blue-eyed Christie Brinkley look-alike could be deemed ‘beautiful,’ I’m still a complete sucker for images of traditional Indian beauty.

Yet, no matter how appealing, these ads are also deeply problematic. The reasons are multiple:

Continue reading