Living in a poor neighborhood changes everything about your life
Alvin Chang on January 12, 2017
The role of social housing in Northern Ireland's divided communities
Paddy Gray on October 12, 2016
FACTSHEET: The housing situation in South Africa
‘No doubt’ Iceland’s elves exist: anthropologist certain the creatures live alongside regular folks
South China Morning Post on May 14, 2016
The sources I have chosen and am reflecting on are current events reporting on the intersectional topics of: historic conflict, nationalism, racism, housing, poverty, segregation, discrimination, and displacement. While these issues occur across the globe, I am reflecting on the nature of these issues within the contexts of the United States, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Iceland. Each of the aforementioned topics are all happening in one way or another in each of these countries, however, these topics are more predominant in the United States, South Africa, and Northern Ireland. Iceland is by no means a perfect country, but I chose Iceland and the article about the Elves and Hidden People there as background to juxtapose, compare, and contrast the other nations and articles with.
The ranging contrast between what is considered fair housing and equitable treatment to all constituents within a community shows stark differences when viewing these issues in the United States, South Africa, and Northern Ireland next to Iceland. The United States has a long history, centuries in fact, of systemic and institutional racism. Institutional racism is a monster with many heads and one of those heads is the fact that People of Color tend to occupy a lower socioeconomic status than Whites. One exhaustive study after another reports the many detrimental ways poverty affects the overall wellbeing of the poor and working class. The disturbing statistics gained from these findings in the U.S. show that systemic racism causes more people of color to live in poverty and therefore to experience higher rates of ill health and other issues. What’s more disturbing is how many people are reluctant to blame such economic disparities on racism. Additionally, despite the progress and policy changes which came from the Civil Rights movement, the harsh reality is that the socioeconomic wellbeing of Black people has changed very little and there is an up-rise in dormant racism that many thought had been eradicated.
Income disparities as well as well as disparities regarding the quality of neighborhoods between extremely rich and poor are increasing dramatically. In the U.S. there are two very distinct classes. The one’s who have money, a lot of money, and the ones who don’t, which are mostly Black and other People of Color. The poorer neighborhoods have cyclical problems with unemployment, crime, and health, and constituents in poor neighborhoods often get sucked into downward spirals of lack and illness, the revolving door to jail, or the school-to-prison-pipeline. One of the health issues which poverty exacerbates has to do with learned behaviors and brain development, as well as being exposed to physical and environmental toxicities. The more people are exposed to the overlapping complexities of poverty the more they become accustomed to exposure to environmental toxins, substance abuse issues, poor food choices, and the higher chances they have of developing illnesses. Additionally, neural pathways are built and being poor becomes familiar, the norm, the way things are with no expectation or hope for change, especially for intergenerationally impoverished families. The longer one lives in poverty and adjusts to the complex hardships of poverty, thus getting stuck in their ways, the harder it is for brain plasticity to build new neural pathways for living in a more privileged environment. Moreover, research shows living in poor neighborhoods which have higher rates of crime, ill health, homelessness, and unemployment, can change the brain just as trauma changes the brain. Finally, living in poverty can affect a person’s ability to learn and do well in school too, it increases stress and decreases the ability to experience happiness, and it pollutes the individual and collective psyche and aptitude for self-actualizing their highest potential.
Similarly, in post-Apartheid South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) was designed to bring balance to a previously imbalanced, racist and highly volatile sociopolitical power structure which severely abused and enslaved native Black Africans, who are also the majority in South Africa. The TRC was meant to allow oppressed and harmed peoples the opportunity to share their stories and even to forgive their oppressors in hopes that they might heal from being given that opportunity. The TRC was also a forum to hold White Afrikaner oppressors accountable for their racist crimes against humanity, as well as to create a balance of power socioeconomically, and it did to a degree but not nearly enough change came from the commission. Presently, post-TRC trends in South Africa are similar to post-Civil Rights Movement trends in the United States, as Blacks still live in extreme poverty and homelessness, while Whites still live in privilege, holding most of the wealth and power. Both the TRC and the Civil Rights era raised awareness and brought much needed changes, yet, somehow systemic and institutional racism continue to thrive in both nations. Racial and class injustices were not fully dealt with; therefore, old wounds have not fully healed. The result of such failures are on-going segregation and disparities, including power imbalances, between Communities of Color and White communities. Interestingly, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela worked together to end apartheids and to end the war on poor people across the globe. What would they think if they were alive today and could see the results of their life’s work?
In Northern Ireland, nationalism and religious segregation are the source of the Troubles between Protestant British nationalists and Catholic Irish nationalists. Segregation between the religions and nationalists are the impetus for centuries of violent conflicts and the Troubles which were on-going for thirty years. Northern Ireland is only now considered to be in a post-Troubles conflict era. Bloody battles, prejudice, religious discrimination, and socioeconomic disparities which include housing and poverty issues have negatively affected many communities. In addition, the fighting between groups was so violent that peace walls or peace lines were constructed to separate people. Out of 110 peace walls, a thirty year-old, eight-foot brick wall, was demolished last year with 109 to go. Government agencies were created and funds allotted to build the peace lines to begin with. These agencies also deal with housing and are supposed to create ways to encourage mixed habitation of Catholics and Protestants within the same neighborhoods. Currently, an outdated point system is designed to promote choice and encourage people to choose housing in religiously diverse neighborhoods, while concomitantly giving points to those who report having been intimidated by others, which perpetuates division as well as discriminatory housing practices. According to Gray, the goal is to demolish all of Northern Ireland’s peace walls by 2023 and to create a more tolerant and unified Northern Ireland, but are some people or agencies invested in the continuation of the conflict?
Conversely, 75 years ago in the U.S. when racism and segregation were more concrete and blatant, it was actually legal to build a wall to separate people, like what was done in Northern Ireland and many other nations. In the U.S. the wall was built between a White and Black neighborhood in order to increase the property value of and to increase eligibility for construction loans to build White neighborhoods. Without the wall, funding would be cut, so the wall went up and Black people were forced into spaces which became increasingly destitute and isolated. The seeming segregation of the past still exists across the U.S. and it perpetuates itself in the present. The results are causing People of Color to be less healthy, educated, employed, safe, happy and financially stable. Similarly, in Ireland, British nationals in Northern Ireland receive support from England while the Irish nationals in the South struggle to survive. Discrimination and bloodshed have taken their toll on both groups. The peace walls may have decreased physical conflict but they have not promoted cooperation, reconciliation and equity.
In conclusion, the article on Iceland’s Elves and Hidden People glaringly contrasts with the racist and nationalist segregation issues in the United States, South Africa, and Northern Ireland. While poor living conditions, even poorer negotiation skills, and socioeconomic disparities are predominant in the U.S, S.A., and N. I.—which is none other than a symbol and an inability to see the other as real—mythical beings are believed to be a real part of society by many Icelanders. Even if a large majority of Islanders do not believe in the existence or realness of these invisible creatures, Elves and the Hidden People are still respected enough that they are considered and negotiated with in urban planning projects and in policy making procedures. Such acts legitimize their existence in very reifying ways. Personally, I believe in the magic of Nature and the Cosmos and that there is much more to it than what meets the human eyes and intellect which are limited and conditioned by many things. It is astonishing that Iceland chooses to hold its presumably mythical beings in higher standings and treats those beings with more respect than how other nations shamefully treat visibly real members of society, who have been historically brutalized, abused, and disenfranchised. Sadly, with the current state of American politics being the corrupt disaster that it is, I have little hope that healing historic racial conflicts and reducing socioeconomic disparities in the U.S. will be located anywhere on the Administration's or Congress’ priority list.