Anti-Discrimination Movements and Economic Justice

A very interesting piece from Sunday’s Post-Gazette.

Pranab Bardhan, economics professor at University of California Berkley, examines the intersection of movements for social equality with economic inequality.  She basiscally says that movements pressing for social change must look at economic justice issues to be ultimately successful.

This implies that anti-discrimination and egalitarian movements need to broaden their focus to include electoral reform, better financial regulation, transparent privatization and, above all, an overhaul of the education system to ensure high-quality schools for the poor and pre-school nutrition and health care. In addition, massive investment in both countries’ creaking physical infrastructure would create jobs for some workers and improve the productivity of others.

The advantages of improving education, creating more jobs and increasing productivity seem clear. The question, then, remains why India and the United States neglect both education for the poor and infrastructure.

The answer lies partly in the fact that the rich in both countries are ceasing to use many public services. They send their children to elite private schools, are treated in expensive private hospitals and live in gated communities where security and other services are provided privately.

She also mentions the trend for empowered individuals to assimilate into the values of the elite rather than infusing power with their socioeconomic lessons. I think that’s true in the US … the shifting identity of “white” as a racial designation in the 19th and 20th centuries is a good example.  Racism embedded into anti-immigration discussions hinges quite a bit around socioeconomic power regardless of economic contribution … the hardest working are often most maligned (migrant workers, for example) whereas we embrace members of the ruling class fleeing their homelands as political refugees. Even worse, we turn a completely blind eye to the plight of human trafficking although once again their “contribution” as a slave class drive that monstrous practice.

I’ve commented on more than one occasion about the assimilation of LGBTQ families into mainstream society … are they opting out or opting in to their other natural affiliations (suburbs, minivan drivers, soccer playing, etc?) Do they continue to identify with less affluent members of the community, particularly those who experience significantly higher barriers in the workplace than do white, middle-class educated men & women who identity as gay or lesbian?  Anecdotally, I think they tend to distance themselves – the LGBTQ family who told me they continue to patronize Chick-Fil-A – and get their fix of solidarity when it comes to PrideFest or when a tragedy strikes.

I have an extended family member who is unabashedly committed to social climbing – and yet claims to be a liberal Democrat even as her aspirations to always have more convey disdain for those who struggle with less. I’ve also noticed the interesting phenomenon of complaining about what she does not have against a “public face” maintaining the illusion of being better off than she is.  Its fascinating even though sad at the same time.

Is the LGBTQ community ready and able to find a way to forge ties with members of our community (and beyond) who are unable to attend $50 dinners?   Or do we internalize the myth of gay affluence to the extent that we lose our sense of “other” with regard to socioeconomic conditions?

Interesting thoughts.


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