Author: merinorc

U.S. Activism

Comparing activism in the United States versus activism in Europe is interesting because the cultural and historical differences become much more apparent. I admit that I may be missing some nuance from both sides of the conversation, it seems that activism in the United States is defined by demographic difference, while activism in Europe is defined by socio-economic class solidarity. By demographic difference, I am mainly referring to racial and gender & sexuality differences. The United States has a deeply racist history, from slavery to Jim Crow and the current police brutality epidemic. Moreover, the powers that be in the United States have spent decades pretending that the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s ended racism in the country.

This dynamic creates a very interesting environment for the types of protests, rallies and riots that are seen in the United States. An important point is that with racial equality and LGBTQ+ activism, the participants are protesting against fellow citizens as much as they are protesting the government and corporations. The fight against Separate but Equal is an example of this, where the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that racial segregation did not ensure equality for black students and students of color. This led to pushback from white community, and was therefore a factor in the civil rights movement of the 60s. Moreover, the Stonewall Inn riots from around the same time showcase the importance of identity politics within American activist movements as the LGTBQ+ rioters protested against the unfair treatment of queer people in New York. This highlights another factor in American activism, which is the relatively violent force used by American police against protestors.  The United States is very proud of its military force, which trickles down to the local city police forces as demonstrated by the gear worn by police during Black Lives Matter protests.

Sustainable Development Never Ends

A comparison of the videos about Copenhagen and Nairobi highlights two facts about sustainability: that sustainability does not refer solely to environmental health and that sustainability is dynamic. The FreeThink video shows the process behind Copenhagen’s impressive act of reducing carbon emissions while growing in population size. It portrays how the collaborative efforts between private sector companies, local government and citizens can have amazing results regarding the sustainable development goals. It also proves that “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Similarly, the World Bank video tells the story of the Nairobi Sanitation Project, detailing how connections between international organizations, local financial institutions and community leaders led to accessible clean water and sanitation in the settlement. The parallels between the two projects are obvious, as each showcase that interdependence is a necessary component in effective and sustainable change. While the statistics regarding Copenhagen’s carbon footprint are impressive, it is important to keep in mind Danish people’s positionality, as they are privileged with the ability to invest time, money and resources to tackle climate issues. Therefore socio-economic disparities between the two cities cannot be ignored.

Despite the success of the Nairobi Sanitation Project, the hurdles the community had to jump to reach that success are indicative of the hegemonic global norms that keep people in poverty worldwide. The World Bank video was made to show the great work that the organization does in order to fight poverty. However, I found the “output based aid” subsidy problematic. If the bank had decided not to provide the $6M loan, then that community would still be facing health and water access problems. I understand that this is a way to combat possible corruption, however, asking a community where $12 a day is the normal pay for skilled labor to raise $6M dollars is strange. Also important to keep in mind is that while clean sanitation and water access is only a part of what is needed to end poverty in this community,  that relatively small change made a very significant difference in the livelihoods of the community.

Sustainability Image


This image does a good job at depicting the important aspects of sustainability. The concepts within the graphic are all connected, showing not just that they are equally important, but that they are interdependent. Moreover, through its circular shape, the image shows that sustainability is dynamic, and requires constant assessment and reassessment, especially regarding development projects. To be helpful global citizens, we have to listen to those we are helping to make sure that our actions are, indeed, actually helpful. Moreover, it is a reminder that sustainability is not a one one-size fits all concept when addressing the concerns of global communities. Each community will have different strengths, weaknesses and requirements which require tailored  projects to effectively address those needs.

 

the previous graphic excelled at portraying the intricacies of sustainability in an easy to understand way, the “simplify your life” image misses the mark. I interpret this image as a reminder for adopting more conservative consumption habits. While this is an important facet of sustainability, it is not the only important aspect. Firstly, this thought can come across as tone-deaf because for some people, problems lie in how simple their lives are. For example, they may not have access to clean water, food, health care or education which are problems that cannot be solved by adjusting personal habits. Moreover, by focusing on a singular person. it disregards global realities of inequality and injustice which can only be addressed by first acknowledging the systemic roots of global issues. Living a sustainable life should be synonymous with creating better global infrastructures for the betterment of humanity as a whole while making sure that the planet is taken care of.

Intersectionality Calculator

This intersectionality calculator was an interesting tool because it tried to put into perspective some of the visible and invisible attributes that affect privilege and marginalization in a quantitive manner. That said, I am convinced that this is a satirical website meant to draw out ridiculous responses. I could honestly see this tool featured on an Onion article. Identity is a complex concept and the thought of using a simple tool such as this to quantify marginalization is quite the undertaking. That said, this website does a good job at highlighting some of the weaknesses in our understanding of intersectionality.

The creator of the website explains that they use a slider because they want to capture the spectrum of people’s identities, which can’t be done in a binary format. However, the labels used do not showcase the nuances behind identity because they are still limited by binary limits at each end. Moreover, some of the labels are confusing. For example, the White vs Person of Color slider: I identify as a person of color but ethnically I am considered white, which makes it difficult to choose where to place myself. Does the far-right option signify black? And if so, comparing “person of color-ness” in relation to being black versus white can be problematic. Another confusing item is the English as Second Language because English is my second language but I think I speak it better than I speak Spanish. In that case, my identity as an “English as a Second Language” speaker may not cause me to be marginalized.

All in all, I thought this was an interesting and comedic tool. What I found most entertaining were the comments, especially because they can be grouped by “privileged” and “oppressed”responders. A lot of comments are angry responses about the fact that identifying as white gives you negative points, which I find interesting. No one wants to be oppressed, which is what a higher score count signifies. Do the people complaining want to be oppressed?  My score is a 67, and while I don’t take this tool seriously, it would be nice to have a lower score if it reflected the way I was treated in real life. A test as simple as this can’t measure the nuances in systemic oppression but I think it can be a way to start thinking and conversing about this topic.

How does consumption stymy global flows of culture & identity?

This question is complicated to answer. I do not think that consumption stymies global flows of culture and identity. I think that consumption commodifies culture and identity, leading to conversations such as the ones had on NPR. In this regard, consumption can ease the flow of culture across borders, but have unintended negative effects. The discussion about Rosalia and Antonio Banderas being labeled as “Latinx” is important because of that colonial background and the power dynamics it represents. Seeing the conversation through an American lens, the difference may not be as important. They both speak Spanish and their work may seem familiar to those of Latin American descent.  However, from a Salvadoran point of view, the idea that a person who does not share the specific types of oppressive experiences that many Latinx people do is recognized in the same space is a little upsetting.

Adding identity to the mix can complicate matters more because people’s identities can vary from place to place and over time, as mentioned by Banderas in the article. However, identifying with a group of people more than another does not necessarily mean that they share the same culture.  Moreover, commodifying culture can be dangerous because only the parts that are profitable make the jump. This is apparent when certain public figures such as artists or sports players speak out against social injustices. Many times, they are met with comments of “you should stick with doing what you do instead of opening your mouth about xyz.” From this point of view, it is clear that only certain aspects of a culture are respected, and those tend to be the ones that sell. Commodification of culture is objectification, and it can further dehumanize certain groups of already marginalized people.

How can we advance the ideal that every human being has obligations to every other?

This is a question I am having a difficult time answering in a way that I am happy with. The first thing that came to mind was having open and patient, yet firm conversations with others when talking about global human rights issues. It circles back to the point from earlier in the week that being a helpful global citizen requires humility. However, to engage with someone in order to advance the ideal “that every human being has obligations to every other,” that person has to want to have those conversations.

At a base level, it starts with leading by example. Maybe this takes the form of sharing a news story from another country or a video from a content creator talking about their experience with a certain issue. Bringing these issues up casually can be a way to open the conversation. Another approach is to speak honestly about your own experience in developing a perspective that values global justice. This can possibly resonate with others and help them get started on their own journey.  Nevertheless, you cannot force someone to care if they don’t want to. This is especially obvious now with the deep divide between those fighting for systemic change and those wishing that protestors would just stand down. However, that is not reason enough to stop trying. Which brings me to my second point. Persistence.

We need to be persistent with our form of advocacy to shed light on little known issues or amplify the ignored ones. This includes making sure to further educate yourself on any given issue.  It can be uncomfortable to be the only one talking about an issue in your circle of relationships. However, there might come a time when it reaches someone and that small chance is worth it. Not only that, staying persistent solidifies our own personal journeys with cosmopolitanism, which is important to keep in mind. Using your own platform and available resources, no matter how big or small, to spread awareness is needed to cultivate global relationships.

Ethnocentrism and Globalization

The readings by Appiah and Elliot highlight the complex, and often asymmetric, relationship between the West and the rest of the world. In a practical sense, the idea of being a global citizen is arguably reserved for people in the West. People from Western countries have powerful passports and we tend to have the resources to actually leave the places we were born. While being a global citizen requires us to take care of our siblings across borders, it also allows us to experience these places physically. The political power of being from a western country cannot be disregarded when having these discussions.

The industrialized West is seen as the epitome of the modern human experience. Sprawling cities with dozens of illuminated logos are seen as a sign of developed and advancing societies. This can be problematic in the realm of international aid and voluntourism, as discussed by Elliot, because it might lead to unsustainable forms of aid that don’t benefit local communities. By trying to help people reach our (unsustainable) way of living, we can cause more harm than good. This is why making sure that any project meant to help a community has a strong relationship with people in that community.

Another danger is ethnocentrism, which is lightly touched upon in Elliot’s piece, and further discussed in this interesting blog post. Something that comes to mind is religious service trips, which have the potential to disregard the host community’s practices and beliefs. It is a tricky thing to balance, however, keeping in mind Appiah’s discussion on what makes a culture “authentic.”

Finally, an important limitation is that the majority of the theories used as frameworks to understand relationships across borders have been developed in Western academic settings. From philosophy, sociology, and psychology to international relations and political science, these theoretical frameworks could benefit from non-western input. By not doing so, we run the risk of encouraging corruption and environmentally unsustainable practices in non-western countries trying to achieve the developments. Overall, it is important to be mindful of many variables when discussing globalization to no add to the western supremacy narrative.

The XYZs of Interdependence

Interdependence refers to the actions of a group of people and its effects on another, who are separated by something, whether it be distance, culture, or other relevant differences. These effects can be positive or negative and they may be significant or less-so. In thinking about how interdependence affects me specifically, visualizing interdependence as a 3-dimensional web of interactions is helpful.

 

If observed on an XYZ grid, the X-axis refers to physical distance, the Y-axis to cultural distance and the Z-axis refers to historical distance. This streamlines the thought-process behind the ways that I am a product of interdependence. At point zero would be myself, with all of the privileges and disadvantages that affect my livelihood at a current point in time (in 2020).

 

So, here I am, sitting at my parent’s dining room table eating home-made lentil soup with a prepackaged piece of naan. At the first level, there is a chain of farmers, factory workers, transportation workers, designers and engineers (among other professionals) to thank for even being able to cook in an efficient and healthy manner from home. Additionally, scientific advancements such as the development of vaccines, medicines and psychological treatments allow me to live in a relatively enjoyable way.

 

On a second level, I like to place the socio-political phenomena that affect me until now. From the civil rights movements and the riots for LGBTQ rights in the 60s, to my parents’ advocacy for my US citizenship in the early 2000s, my rights and responsibilities are a product of decades upon decades of hard work by other minority groups. Of course, the same can be said about the disadvantages when keeping in mind white supremacy and the patriarchy. Nevertheless, interdependence is an important concept to keep in mind as we move-forward with actions intended to make a change because it forces us to think about how these actions can affect others in the future.

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