Category Archives: Social Justice

You will never catch up with Injustice

 

William Faulkner once said ‘you will never catch up with injustice.’ Truer words have never been spoken.

 Kyle Hiebert had some important things to say in a recent opinion piece in the Winnipeg Free Press. Here is the opening paragraph of that piece:

“With numerous national COVID-19 vaccine programs underway, the world has potentially entered the final chapter of the pandemic. That is, however, if you are lucky enough to be living in a country that has access to a vaccine. For billions of people around the world, that is not the reality.”

 

In the west we worry that our political leaders have not scrambled hard enough, quickly enough, and with enough ferocity to get our “fair share” of the vaccines. Of course in each country or each jurisdiction “fair share” means gross excess. No one is satisfied with fair. This attitude is spreading around the world like a pandemic. Funny how that happens.

Africa has been warned that they may not see the vaccines until the latter part of 2021.  According to Hiebert, here is the harsh reality and we should look at it, even though we may hate to do that:

“…advocacy groups warned that in more than 60 of the world’s poorest nations, nine in 10 people will be denied a vaccine before 2022. Other assessments say the wait could be as long as until 2024. Instead, wealthy nations representing a mere 14 per cent of the world’s population have snatched up billions of doses of different vaccines through pre-purchase agreements with a range of manufacturers, accumulating stockpiles grossly disproportionate to their population size.”

 

As has been happening over and over again during this pandemic we are seeing the existing inequities in our societies repeatedly exposed if not magnified. What shocked me though is which country is the worst offender? USA? Russia? Turkey? No. Canada!

As Hiebert said,

“The world’s worst offender: Canada, which — while failing at developing its own domestic vaccine production capacity — pre-purchased enough jabs to inoculate its population five times over. The Trudeau government has now belatedly announced that Canada would donate $485 million to COVID- 19 mitigation efforts in developing countries.”

 

Now in fairness to Canada, our federal government took the initiative and risk and ordered vaccines from a number of corporations on speculation hoping that some would work out well, but expecting that not all would work out at all. It spent a lot of money contractually agreeing to buy vaccines that might have turned out to be worthless. It did that to protect Canada who lacks the capacity to produce its own vaccines. We Canadians are likely happy they did that. But now—perhaps—we have too much. I hope we do the right thing now and help less advantaged countries get their fair share too.

Countries like Canada must do their part to bring about justice. Attitudes of Canada First or America First have their dark sides that ought not to be ignored and should be limited. We have to remember that we actually are in this together. Until the poorest country tackles this disease it can come back to haunt those countries that thought they survived the worst. As well, all world economies now rely on international trade and if poor countries suffer they won’t be able to buy good from rich countries and as a result all economies will suffer.

Kyle Hiebert summed the issues up well this way:

“The end of the pandemic may be within sight — for some. But even in the post-pandemic era, the myopic outlook of rich countries in terms of security and prosperity will continue to threaten the world’s ability to become a safer, more equal and more sustainable place.”

May be then we can at least see injustice and do something about it, even if we can’t run it down.

Economic Nonsense

 

There is one person in our family—and only one—that as soon as she is required to go for a Covid-19 test, she will get it immediately. She moves to the head of the line. And she gets her results the same day. She gets that benefit because she is important. The work she does is important. She is a care worker in a long-term private care facility for mentally challenged adult men. I agree with that. This is important work. If no one is on the job these men can’t survive. If she is not on the job it is not that easy to get a replacement.  Who wants to do such work? Who wants to change the diapers of adult men? Who wants to work shifts often through the night for low wages? I believe she also has the longest seniority of anyone in our family. She has worked there for many years.

Yet—and this is the interesting part—she is nowhere near the highest earner in our family. Rather she is woefully under paid. This is totally unfair. Our health care system recognizes her importance. Our economic system does not. That is also woeful. We bad. This is nonsense!

 

Welcome to America where some of them are all in it together.

 

Yesterday I blogged about a crisis nurse Chelsea Walsh. She goes to the worst places where Covid-19 has broken out. She was asked, “How do people like the crisis nurses avoid getting sick?” The short answer is they don’t. They get sick too. Walsh said she was about due to get sick again. Yes again. She has got Covid-19 as have her friends who are nurses. Sometimes the 2nd or 3rd time they end up in the hospital. So she doesn’t go near her family. The last time she saw them she could not hug them. She hasn’t been able to embrace her family at all. “That’s hard,” she said. I bet. She knows how hard it is for her patients to be away from family because she is too. “But we do it because we care about everyone and we want to keep everyone safe.”

Then Hari Sreenivasan asked her an interesting question. “If you’re an independent contractor what is your health insurance like when you re going into these dangerous hospitals?” Walsh is in fact an independent contractor and she has been sick multiple times. So guess what? She doesn’t have any health insurance any more! She got cut off in May or June. The insurance company won’t take the chance on her. “So I can’t go to the hospital, if I get sick” she said. Welcome to America! Where, as everyone says, “We’re all in this together.” Not really. Like Orwell’s Animal Farm, some are in it more than others.

Walsh says there are a lot nurses right now who don’t get health coverage! Insurance companies have rejected them. And some of them like her, are going to the most dangerous places in the country. And they continue to work. Many face death or bankruptcy if they catch Covid-19. Yet they go.

This is incredibly unfair. In many cases if they catch Covid they are not covered. And sometimes the results are horrific. Some who caught Covid were fired from the job because they could not prove they caught it in the hospital rather than the grocery store. So some health care workers who are independent contractors, don’t have health insurance even if they are doing work that puts them in harm’s way. I wish Charles Dickens  or George Orwell was around now to write a novel about this? The reality is that a nurse working in a hospital nurse on a Covid patient who gets sick and must be hospitalized might not be able to pay for her hospital stay. She would have to go bankrupt! Welcome to America.

This leads to the obvious question–so why do it? Walsh’s answer, “because everyone needs help.” She doesn’t know how much longer she or her co-workers can do it. Many of them feel like they are at their limit. Right now. As she said, “It seems like society is trying to pull the rubber band to see how far it can stretch. And that rubber band is just about to snap.” She also added, “It’s a very real possibility right now, that America may be left without hospitals in many places because the nurses will walk out or leave and will refuse to work in certain conditions.” Does that seem farfetched? I wish it did.

Ignorance Allied with power is a ferocious enemy of justice

If a person gives up on evidence, he or she gives up on truth. If, for example, faith is the foundation of belief one can only convince another of the truth of that belief if that other person shares the same faith. A Muslim cannot convince a Christian of a statement of faith. Similarly a Christian cannot convince the Muslim of a statement of faith either. A Muslim could persuade a Christian that the book in her bag is red by opening the bag and showing it to the Christian. In other words by showing the evidence to the Christian, the Christian can be convinced that the book is in fact red. If we give up basing beliefs on evidence we will relegate a lot of claims to realm of faith where agreement will not be possible.

The same goes for hunches. For example, when Trump said he had a hunch that the coronavirus would soon disappear that would not convince anyone, other than a person who had faith in Trump. Many of them had that faith so he could persuade them. They would believe him no matter how likely it was that he was right. That is why evidence is better than faith, or hunches, or feelings, or gut reactions. Faith is all right in our personal lives. In social lives where we live and interact with each other we need evidence.

Without evidence then the world of shared facts shrinks dramatically. The only shared facts then are those between members of the same faith, or between people who have the same feeling, or the same hunch. As result of the world of shared facts having shrunk many more people are ignorant than otherwise should be the case. That is an unfortunate consequence of abandoning evidence. And there is another consequence of that.

When people in power are ignorant, the rest of us had better look out. As James Baldwin said, in his 1972 book No Name in the Street: “Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

 In the summer of 2020 we saw a good example of this when Black Lives Matter and their supporters took to the streets to protest police brutality against black lives and the long history of black oppression.

 

As Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, recently pointed out: Not in generations has a sitting president so overtly declared himself the candidate of white America.”

Trump allied himself with right wing groups who wanted to maintain confederate flags and monuments so that racial bigotry and hatred could be legitimized. By doing so Trump tried to hide the roots of racism. In other words he allied himself with ignorance, as he has so often done. As a result the streets of America were made much more dangerous that summer than they ought to have been. He did that after all to emphasize to his base of white supremacists and their conscious and unconscious supporters that he was on their side. It is hardly surprising that he would do this in the midst of a tight election campaign. As Henry Giroux said, “After all, his white supremacist ideology is the cornerstone of his appeal to the reactionary and bigoted elements of his base.”

For exactly the same reason Trump got angry with NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag. It was what Giroux called “organized forgetting”. And when that is aligned with the most powerful office in the world, the American Presidency, that is, as Baldwin said, the most ferocious enemy justice can have.

Trump also proudly tweeted that critical race theory should be banned from all federal agencies because “this is a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue . Please report any sightings so we can quickly extinguish! ” People should be ignorant instead. That was more congenial with Trump’s ideology–white supremacy.

He also tweeted “How to be anti-white 101 permanently cancelled.” Really what he wanted to do is erase history. He wanted to show just the good parts. The parts that exalted whiteness. I am not saying whites are all bad. I am just saying they were not all good, and to suggest otherwise is a lie and an attempt to bury the truth. It is an attempt to entrench ignorance.

Giroux described it this way:

“Trump’s ignorance floods the Twitter landscape daily. He denies climate change along with the dangers that it poses to humanity, discredits scientific evidence in the face of a massive pandemic, claims that systemic racism doesn’t exist in the United States and mangles history with his ignorance of the past.”

Implicit in Baldwin’s warning is that the greatest threat to democratic societies is a collective ignorance that legitimizes forms of organized forgetting, social amnesia and the death of civic literacy.

Under the Trump regime, historical amnesia is used as a weapon of miseducation, politics and power. Trump wants to erase the struggles of those who fought for justice in the past because they offer dangerous memories and lessons to the protesters marching in the streets today.

Efforts to erase the progress of the past, including emancipation, is a centrepiece of authoritarian societies. These efforts cause public memory to wither and the threads of authoritarianism to take root and become normalized. They’re often accompanied by a broader attack on critical education, civic literacy, investigative journalists and the critical media.

When people stop looking at the evidence, they stop looking for the truth and they allow ignorance to rule. And that helps injustice to flourish. And that is an ugly thing.

The Complicated Savagery of Society Revealed

 

The Covid-19 pandemic reveals a lot about us. It shows us the best and worst of ourselves.

According to New York Times columnist Charles Blow, “This crisis is exposing the savagery of American democracy.” The pandemic is showing us the ugly predatory side of American society and American capitalism. Blow described America this way:

“People — mostly white, sometimes armed, occasionally carrying Confederate flags or hoisting placards emblazoned with a Nazi slogan from the Holocaust — have been loudly protesting to push their state governments to reopen business and spaces before enough progress has been made to contain the coronavirus. This is yet another illustration of the race and class divide this pandemic has illuminated in this country.

For some, a reopened economy and recreational landscape will mean the option to run a business, return to work, go to the park or beach, or have a night on the town at a nice restaurant or swanky bar. But for many on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, it will only force them back into compulsory exposure to more people, often in occupations that make it hard to protect oneself and that pay little for the risk.”

Blow sees America as the scene of class warfare .He pointed particularly to Georgia. The first businesses to be allowed to open were businesses like tattoo parlors, and barbershops, nail shops, and hair salons. Are these essential services? Clearly not. Why are they allowed to open? Is it because they are staffed mainly by low-wage earners? Is it because most of those low wage earners are black? Is it because these workers are considered expendable?

Blow opines this way:

“These are the struggling workers who entertain and aestheticize people of means. These businesses were by no means essential, and they put these workers in danger. There is absolutely no way to practice social distancing while inking someone a tattoo. (Also, what are you so desperate to stamp on your body that you would risk it all during a pandemic?)

These workers are “allowed” to be the first to try-out and hence, perhaps, the first to die by the opening out. It makes sense to think the establishment would prefer low-earning blacks take the first chances, giving more important white workers the ability to decline if it turns out unsafe.”

Yet, to be fair, these black people are serving “people of means” as Blow suggests. Are they not taking the same chance as the poor workers? In fact what person of means would be interested in taking an unnecessary risk to add to his armour of tattoos?

As well, as Blow admits, among those taking the biggest risks are medical care workers including Doctors and nurses and other highly paid professionals. How can this be a class war? Yet to make things even more complicated there are others in hospitals who are low-wage earners and they are taking big risks. Finally, as  well it must also be admitted that many of these low paid workers want to go back to work. They need to work to pay their mortgages, rent, or groceries. You might say that they are being compelled to work, but what would the workers really say? I don’t know.

Charles Blow made some more important points in his recent New York Times article:

“It has been widely reported that the virus is having a disproportionate impact on black and brown people in America, both in terms of infections and death. But that is only one aspect of the disparities. In a country where race and ethnicity often intersect with wealth and class, there are a cascade of other impacts, particularly economic ones, to remain conscious of.

In a Pew Research Center survey conducted last month, 52 percent of low-income workers said they or someone in their household had lost a job or taken a pay cut as a result of the pandemic. But, when you look at this through a racial lens, another striking reality emerges: 61 percent of Hispanic people agree with the statement, compared to 44 percent of African-Americans and just 38 percent of white people.

And, as Pew pointed out, “lower-income adults are less prepared to withstand a financial shock than those with higher incomes.”

Is it an exaggeration to characterize this as class war? If it is it is a a very complicated one. The fact is that whites, like me, often fail to see the privileges we enjoy at the expense of blacks, browns, or indigenous. That is what systemic racism is all about. Whites are blind to the benefits and detriments the system doles out. As whites we just think that is natural. We don’t see the water in which we swim. That is what racism is all about, and the first step those of us who consider we are not racists have to take, is to acknowledge the advantage exists and acknowledge the injustice of that advantage. There is no good reason that we enjoy that advantage.

Blow also referred to a recent McKinsey and Company report last month that found: “39% of jobs held by black workers, seven million jobs in all, are vulnerable as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, compared with 34% for white workers.” On what basis can we whites successfully argue that this is fair? I wish I had similar statistics for Canada for likely we are not immune to this. That report also showed that 40% of the revenues of black-owned businesses are in the five most vulnerable sectors — including leisure, hospitality and retail — compared with 25% of the revenues of all U.S. businesses.

Of course a systemically racist system like the one we live in, does not stop delivering advantages and disadvantages during the pandemic. Those will inevitably endure well beyond that time. As Blow opines:

“Even when the country starts to recover, the race and class disparities will most likely still be present and working against minorities in low-wage jobs. As the Center for American Progress wrote last month, ‘Evidence demonstrates that while workers of color are often the first to be fired during economic downturns, they are often the last to be rehired during recoveries.’

This pandemic is likely to not only expose inequalities, but also exacerbate them. America has never been comfortable discussing the inequalities that America created, let alone addressing them. America loves a feel-good, forget-the-past-let’s-start-from-here mantra.’

But, this virus is exploiting these man-made inequalities and making them impossible to ignore. It is demonstrating the incalculable callousness of wealth and privilege that would willingly thrust the less well off into the most danger for a few creature comforts.

This crisis is exposing the class savagery of American democracy and the economic carnage that it has always countenanced.”

Yet if this is class war it is a complicated one. What else is new? Things are always complicated.