Tag Archives: human rights

Coffee: Bitter with Imperialistic Bite

10 Jan

Attention Coffee-Drinkers in Your Trendy Mac-Device-Filled Establishment: Do you like coffee? Of course you do. It’s the world’s number one drug. But now for some troubling thoughts on an American Institution…. Urban coffeehouses, especially that cater to a certain young, upwardly mobile crowd of the typically Caucasian demographic. I’m in one of such coffee shops, and I notice a few key definitive elements…

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The flyers for different types of exotically-named Yoga classes (is this actual Sanskrit or something made-up?), categories of coffees labeled by country of origin… Peru, Columbia, Kenya. Treats such as baklava and alfajor (Lebanese and Latin American). The music is John Coltrane and Miles Davis. The coffee is sweetened with sugar harvested in equatorial regions. And we are all wearing clothes probably made abroad in unsafe conditions.

Couple all this with the army of teenage, light-haired, very young white women who are employed at cafe after cafe. If this is not deliberate it is still suspicious.

One woman turns to her daughter and shows her healthy dog treats, for the dogs who come in and visit. Meanwhile, homeless people outside freeze and starve.

Taking this in, it is clear how every element of this trendy establishment, by definition, has been appropriated from non-white people in the world… The Africans and Latin Americans grew the coffee beans, chocolate beans, and sugar cane we consume. The treats have all been Americanized and branded for consumption without context, whitewashing the cultural significance of things like baklava. The jazz music was invented by generations of cultural resistance of people of color whose culture was systematically bludgeoned out of them. The people who leave the coffee plantations in Central America are demonized as “illegal aliens,” while those people of color who record our beloved jazz music are seen as disposable humans by a society that regards their lives as less important than white life. Yoga, of course, is now a brand – whereas it is a sacred practice that guides elemental lifestyles in its homeland. Yoga’s poster girl is the white college girl in the ubiquitous “yoga pant,” finding harmony in a practice none in her class are bound to give proper cultural contextual consideration – even her instructor.

Something particularly questionable is when these kinds of places have expensive portraits of indigenous people from around the world, such as toothless old people smiling in Indonesia, or barefoot children harvesting wheat (or the image of a woman in Kenya harvesting coffee beans). It comes off as terribly insensitive, and downright offensive. With no context, it’s rendering the deep sacrifice (for our luxury) of those in the Global South meaningless, or worse – trivial and quaint. “Why look at the happy brown people with their good, honest living and traditional way of life. How I envy them in that simplicity,” some people will undoubtedly wonder.

Everyone here chats away, spending $17 on coffee and pie per person, and the beat goes on. Mother Jones encapsulates this absurd paradox with their indictment of “hipsters” who drink almond milk, as its production contributes to the worst drought in California in years (http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/07/lay-off-almond-milk-ignorant-hipsters).

I will recognize the efforts of conscious consumerism. Fair trade and sustainable-sourced products are increasingly popular. But such popularity eventually becomes trendy, and is then rendered mindless once again. How to protect such legitimate efforts to even the playing field for those in developing marketplaces when this pattern is so persistent?

Finally, let me disclose that I type this while patronizing one such place, sucking away at some combination of difficult-to-pronounce fruit and green tea. Reflecting on the above, it’s safe to say I will not be spending my money or time in these places anymore. I will find new places that allow me to work on my online courses without contributing so heavily to problematic paradigms.

Meanwhile, these establishments are often opened in gentrifying areas, where traditional communities are suffering economic and cultural displacement in that very location. How ironic that fair-trade coffee and Shakti yoga are marketed as “conscious consumer choices,” but in this environment, these are anything but conscious. They are mindless choices made by a product-hungry society, the primary element in the maintenance of the status quo in a market-driven, social system that is designed to oppress.

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Show Me the Money

23 Jun

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Personally, I’d like to think that we, as individuals, are independently responsible for our lives, and how we contribute to society. Ultimately, I do believe that – but it is also ultimately naive. I’d like to believe it’s that simple because it allows us to believe we are in control. In control of ourselves, our environment, our consequences, and our futures.

It’s the false belief that we are our own social agents. This is of course, not true, as much as we wish it was. We aren’t our own social agents – we are social agents, but not entirely independent from one another. There is a complex give-and-take; a balancing act, that determines the processes of constructing our society. It’s about us as individuals, yes – but it’s also about institutions. If we believe otherwise, it creates severe cognitive dissonance within us, because it means we don’t enjoy the control that we believe we should. 

One straightforward example of this is the case of social learning theory, pornography and violence against women. Meta-analysis of many different studies concludes that there is a correlation between acceptance of violence against women and pornography consumption (Malamuth, Hald, Koss, 2012). Other reviews of the historical scholarly literature (more meta-analysis of other studies) points to similar conclusions; that “a relationship exists between consuming pornography and attitudes that are supportive of violence against women, men’s dominance over women, and objectification of women,” (Hernandez, 2011). As they say, “you are what you eat.” 

Many people in this case like to argue that, “Hey, you can watch porn, it doesn’t mean you’re going to go out and rape women.” But these examples challenge the idea that we are our own social agents, and in this specific case, media influences our attitudes and behavior. The conclusion is simple: discrimination and sexism are exacerbated in society by pornography. It’s not as simple as to say that a few people become rapists and sexists because they’re “just a few bad eggs.” If it was, it would be easier for us to mentally process and comprehend. We have trouble accepting the idea that we don’t have 100% autonomy over ourselves and our own perceptions. 

The more power an institution has in money and political influence, the more power it has to shape our society. Karl Marx suggested that poverty exists due to the wealthy trying to get richer and even more powerful – inevitably taking resources away from those who do not have those resources, making the poor even poorer. Social Conflict theory shows that profit is put over people, time and time again. This is the most applicable theory in our post-industrial world.

Take our own country as an example – we have a number of domestic problems that urgently need to be addressed. Problems that include homelessness, obesity, gun violence, failing educational systems, immigration concerns, poverty, and having an increasingly broke government. Each and every single one of these issues could be addressed appropriately if there were not a powerful corporate lobby behind every issue, working to shape policy in favor of themselves making a profit – but not to better our nation. 

Homelessness could be alleviated by a radical housing program, but according to Amnesty International, there are five vacant houses to every one homeless person in the US (TruthDig, 2011). In my hometown of Washington, DC, Bozzuto Properties and other property management companies are literally throwing together expensive apartment buildings everywhere they can – often on top of former affordable housing projects. They could provide some low-income housing as a service to the community in which they operate and benefit – but they don’t. They only provide the bare minimum of MPDUs (Moderately Priced Dwelling Units) required by law, which is usually one or two units per building. It’s a simple matter of profit over people. This is their right in a capitalist society. We live in America – don’t we also all have the right to live a life that’s free, for the pursuit of happiness? Unobstructed by Kings and Lobbyists?

In the case of obesity, we have a number of big agricultural/ corn companies lobbying to keep their high fructose corn syrup in just about everything you eat – because that makes them richer, and it makes us fatter (Merrion, 2004). 

Gun violence is often in the news – there have been approximately one mass school shooting every six weeks since the Sandy Hook massacre, and 64 other school shootings since (Politifact, 2014). Why hasn’t more action been taken to reform our gun laws? It has lot to do with the exhaustive and successful corporate lobbying and propaganda by the NRA (Stone, 2013). 

Still other issues relate the enormous amount of profit at stake, and the companies behind them. In the case of illegal immigration, undocumented workers are being detained at skyrocketing rates, in dangerous conditions, and often held indefinitely and without trial or representation (Abramsky, 2004 & Mejilla-Cuellar, 2014). 

As far as our government is concerned – well, it’s basically been taken over by corporate ownership now. Our entire democracy has been bought (Krumholz, 2013). 

The common denominator of all of these issues is very simple – there’s big business behind them. Profit over people. 

I’d love to believe that we as individuals have power over our reality. But we don’t enjoy the power we like to believe we do – in the world we live in, money is more important than people. If you believe more in the “personal responsibility” perspective more than the “social” one, then it’s worthwhile to evaluate why we have created a world that we can no longer so easily control. Furthermore, if you subscribe to the “personal responsibility” perspective, then it’s time to take some of our own in allowing some institutions to become so out of control. 

Sources:

Abramsky, S. (2004). Incarceration, Inc. Nation, 279(3), 22-25.

Have there been 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook? A closer look at a tricky statistic. (2014). PolitiFact. Retrieved June 23, 2014, from http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2014/jun/13/everytown-gun-safety/have-there-been-74-school-shootings-sandy-hook-clo/

Hernandez, D. (2011). The Effects of Consuming Pornography: Men’s Attitudes toward Violence against Women, Dominance over and Objectification of Women, and Sexual Expectations of Women.Perspectives (University Of New Hampshire), 116-123.

Krumholz, S. (2013). Campaign Cash and Corruption: Honey in Politics, Post-Citizens United. Social Research, 80(4), 1119-1134.

Malamuth, N., Hald, G., & Koss, M. (2012). Pornography, Individual Differences in Risk and Men’s Acceptance of Violence Against Women in a Representative Sample. Sex Roles, 66(7/8), 427-439. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0082-6

Mejilla-Cuellar, G. (2013). Immigrants for Sale: How Private Prisons Exploit Aspiring Americans. Ella Baker Center. Retrieved June 23, 2014, from http://ellabakercenter.org/blog/2013/05/immigrants-for-sale-how-private-prisons-exploit-aspiring-americans

Merrion, P. (2004). A sticky mess for agribiz. Crain’s Chicago Business, 27(21), 1.

Stone, P. (2013). THIS GUN’S FOR HIRE. Mother Jones, 38(3), 12-14.

Vacant Houses Outnumber Homeless People in U.S.. (2011). Truthdig Main News. Retrieved June 23, 2014, from http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/more_vacant_homes_than_homeless_in_us

Change Comes From Within

9 Mar

I had the distinct pleasure and privilege to attend a DC event put together by an international non-governmental organization, that featured notable speakers and panelists on global women’s issues.

Hundreds of professionals and scholars gathered to learn more about the pandemic of violence against women and the barriers to universal education for girls. We swapped stories and traded perspectives; we bonded and tweeted; we texted our friends to let them know how much they were missing.

As I settled in to my seat with my glass of wine and a few chicken cordon bleu hors d’ouevres, I chatted with a neighbor.

Afterwards, I overheard women (the event was 95% female) talking as well. Everywhere, women were chatting, networking, bonding.

But I noticed something else – something beyond the expected. Something disturbing.

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International Women’s Day / National Women’s History Month Events

26 Feb

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Oh, how my epic California surf dreams are beginning to conflict with my Washington, DC opportunities.

So many events coming up soon! Will I see you there?

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