Thursday, May 6, 2010

Unnatural Causes and Nice White People

Last night a friend and I went to the first of a series of lectures/community meetings at the library. The series orbits around the documentary, Unnatural Causes... is inequality making us sick?

The documentary portion was really quite good, creating the space for many good questions and not (as of the first portion) offering any tidy answers. One thing I found exciting was that the meeting itself wasn't just a bunch of upper middle class white folks sitting around tut-tutting about how to help those people. There were actually some first generation immigrants who seemed to have a lot to contribute. I hope they will be at future meetings.

One thing I that made me cringe (repeatedly) was the explicit and implicit lamentations about the breakdown of society and the wish to get back to The Good Old Days -
this by people who I'm sure are quite comfortable calling themselves progressives. From comments about getting back to neighborhoods and people sitting on porches, getting in each others' business (de facto neighborhood watches) to people meeting each other at neighborhood markets as they walk daily to procure fresh produce and baked goods and exchange camaraderie and gossip... complaints about how people these days spend all their time alienated, staring at their mobile phone screens and not forming relationships with anyone... All the Nice White People seemed to agree that the social problems in the world today could all be remedied by stopping or reversing the hands of time.

What none of them seemed to acknowledge was that many of the things they rhapsodized about were made possible by roughly half of the population (women) being pressured into unpaid labor (housewifery) through few options for paid employment and the jobs available to them paying ridiculously low wages compared to similar work done by men. Therefore there were women home, working without pay, to populate the neighborhood homes and walk to the markets each day and police the neighborhood kids.

And there's that whole issue about this being the case more for white middle class families, not so much for the immigrant families... you know, the people we were there to learn about and to gain understanding of the specific health-related challenges they face.

Yeah, their problems would be solved if we could snap our privileged fingers and make them middle class white people in a Leave it to Beaver episode.

The few times I worked up the courage to speak up, I managed to croak out suggestions that maybe there was a reason our society had changed (you know, like concepts of gender equality and rapid population growth and globalization) and that these changes weren't bad, just changes that made it necessary to move forward and embrace the technological changes many were complaining about in order to build community and work towards real equality, rather than turning away from it to romanticize a time when we didn't have to think about the inequality that was worse, in many ways, than what we deal with currently. Or at least, that was what I was trying to communicate through my stuttering and mind-blanking social anxiety. *sigh*

Anyway, I did manage to point out how I've personally used the technology to access grocery co-ops and education co-ops and exchange community information... and hopefully made the point that maybe the solution isn't to banish communication and network technology, but rather to make it available to everyone... under the community-building umbrella (yes, this was related to the healthcare discussion).

So, anyway... much to think about. If your community is doing anything around this educational program, I think it's worth checking out.

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