[Opinion column written by Alex Conyers]
“Something ominous began to happen in the United States in 2006. The rate of foreclosures on housing in low-income areas of older cities like Cleveland and Detroit suddenly leapt upwards. But officialdom and the media took no notice because the people affected were low-income, mainly African-American, immigrant [Hispanics] or women single-headed households. African-Americans in particular had actually been experiencing difficulties with housing finance from the late 1990s onwards.
Between 1998 and 2006, before the foreclosure crisis struck in earnest, they were estimated to have lost somewhere between $71 billion and $93 billion in asset values from engaging with so-called subprime loans on their housing. But nothing was done.
Once again, as happened during the HIV / AIDS pandemic that surged during the Reagan administration, the ultimate human and financial cost to society of not heeding clear warning signs because of collective lack of concern for, and prejudice against, those first in the firing line was to be incalculable.”
- David Harvey, The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism
What does it say when we coddle our rich, neglect our poor, and then look in the mirror and pretend it’s just not true?
Listen to the famous final lines of the poem, The New Colussus, written in 1883, which captures the feeling of American society at that time; a place of egalitarian freedom, a democracy of one man, one vote, of true fairness and opportunities for all, a song that was being sung so loudly from the lips of those on the free side of the Atlantic:
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
- Emma Lazarus
‘She’ – the proudly standing Statue of Liberty – a shining symbol of the free world, holding a book with the date of the Declaration of Independence etched into it – July 4th 1776 – and a lantern in the other hand, to shine a path for those tired and poor souls, those huddled masses yearning to breathe free. And to banish the darkness of those backward dated, old world customs of inequality, gentry and highborn class bestowed from birth.
But where has that American spirit gone? Where is the romantic and storied love of those days? I want to know. Yet oddly, I can’t quite find it; that feeling, that sense of new world order, of entrepreneurialism and opportunity, of setting out for greener pastures, to leave the war torn struggle behind, to walk away from the entrenched oligarchies paying wages in cheques of destitution or on the dole. To build a life built on the premise that he who works his land will have abundant food…
… Well, for those less suited to an agrarian lifestyle, I think that fish has floundered, sunk and died, frankly.
Could you argue that the structural inequality that existed back then, that the hindering [and now obfuscated and hidden] structural racism and prejudice that terrorized those of lower class systems, could you argue it has ended? Or better yet diminished at all?
Just by turning on any one of the 24 hour news machines any given day of the week, I could argue it is alive and well. If you do any examination of the distribution of wealth in a country like America, you would find a pretty startling gap and serious shrinking of the middle class at the dollar of those in the top 10%, or worse, at the expense of those in the bottom 50%.
An article I read stated that the financing arms of car manufacturers have actively been charging people of African-American and Asian backgrounds more money for a car… because they are people of colour… or because they’re not white. Read the article:
“Institutional racism in the auto financing industry is alive and well, as it was announced that Toyota Credit, the financing arm of the automotive giant, will pay $21.9 million to Black and Asian buyers who were charged more for car loans than white customers.”
It makes me sick… and sad.
What would those settlers of the great free world think? Those who set out to abandon the antiquated practices of the outdated, monarchial old worlds. Would they think that society and the mentality – of palaces for the rich and prisons for the poor – is no longer ingrained in our modern day cultural fabric? Or perhaps they would think that it has never really gone any where at all, that is has been firmly rooted here, stitched into our very clothing, the whole time.
I want to ask the question… and I want to know the answer.
But I was taught in school that there was all this progress. I know I read it somewhere. Let me just find the page. Because those teachers told me about those people and that everything is so much better now… I know they did… well, maybe they meant it is better, for me…
Is this just another narrative in a book somewhere?
I look at the news and see Syrian children washing upon the shores of Greece.
I see politicians in America and Europe squabbling to block the entrance of immigrants who are suffering in war zones, dying of hunger and disease.
I see hopeful United States presidential contenders, vying for control of the free world, saying they would get lists of Muslims and banish them because of their religion, and keep out immigrants at the border by building bigger walls, and protect our children by giving every person a gun and creating armies of teachers at schools. What is in the mind and hearts of people who are voting for them? It must be fear because I don’t believe it can be sense.
And then I see the ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free’. They are depending on us but who is us and what do I do?
I ask, ‘what I should do?’ And I want to be helpful but I feel so helpless.
What happened to lifting our lamp beside the golden door?
What happened to the shining symbol of Liberty? Where has her love gone that shone so warmly down?
Are you so sure your foremothers and forefathers did not look up to see her lamp one cold winter morning in 1883, after many days at sea, so many years ago, to kiss the ground they set foot on?
Maybe that world only ever existed in my classrooms and in my poetry books, in those fairytales and in my mind…
And maybe I am just young and naïve… but another year has come and gone… and wouldn’t it be great if it were to exist tomorrow?
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
- Langston Hughes
Veritas lux mea,
- Alex Conyers
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