Photo by: Chor Tsang (Unsplash)


Two Years In, We Need To Learn the Lessons of This Pandemic

America’s pre-existing condition when the pandemic hit was inequality. That’s not a “normal” we should return to.

Two years ago I was panicking, making hundreds of phone calls to postpone my wedding that was a few days away. It was March 2020.

A global pandemic had reached the United States and changed each of our lives in ways we never imagined. Millions of Americans would lose jobs, friends, family, and even their lives to COVID-19, while billionaires would see record increases in their wealth.

While the country ground to a halt, and I googled whether an imam would perform our marriage over Zoom, there was a glimmer of hope at the back of my mind. Surely, I thought, an event so monumental — one that laid bare every inequity of our economic system — would call for a change of equal measure.

There was a swell of recognition that working people were essential. Affordable child care — and well paid providers — were revealed as the backbone of a functioning economy. Free health care suddenly seemed like a great idea.

As a new administration took over, some short term changes in the American Rescue Plan kept people from falling off a steep cliff.

Vaccines were distributed freely and efficiently. Americans got bigger stimulus checks, while workers who lost jobs got more generous unemployment insurance. Families with kids started getting monthly direct payments through the expanded Child Tax Credit.

But when it came time to pass the more transformative, longer term changes we needed, the lessons of the past two years weren’t enough for some politicians.

The Build Back Better Act would have reset the terms for how child care, housing, and income support operate in our country. It would have extended the Child Tax Credit, created green jobs, and much more.

But every one of the 263 Republicans in the House and Senate — plus Senate Democrat Joe Manchin — opposed it. For this, they were rewarded handsomely by corporate lobbyists. Oil giant Exxon, for example, donated $65,000 to Manchin’s campaign and bragged about their access to the senator, who also owns stock in the company.

A good deal for Manchin. Not so much for the many Americans who can’t fill up their tank for less than $100. We were so close to living in a country where higher gas prices, or an extra few dollars for ground beef, didn’t mean someone going to bed without dinner.

Companies that monopolize these necessities deserve the blame for a lot of inflation, including the rising cost of gas and food. But they’re also to blame for the fact that they don’t pay their workers enough to meet those costs.

Big corporations artificially raise the price of diapers, while also lobbying against extending the Child Tax Credit for people who buy them. The credit has since expired, throwing millions of kids back into poverty.

Banks are benefiting from the Federal Reserve’s decision to raise interest rates while also refusing Black people mortgage loans to buy a house and build up generational wealth.

Two years later, I can enjoy the photos from the in-person wedding I was finally able to have after my family and friends could get vaccinated. I’m grateful for that semblance of normalcy. But some things shouldn’t go back to the status quo.

We can’t fall back into a system where small unexpected expenses put entire families in poverty. We should be able to pay our bills and save some for the future, too. While that might sound “normal,” it’s been many decades since that’s been the reality for the average American.

But that doesn’t mean nothing at all has changed. As we grapple with another year of COVID-19, it’s time we flex the power that comes with being essential and fight for a new economy that favors people, not just corporations.


Domenica Ghanem is a communications consultant on political and social justice campaigns. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.


By   :     Domenica Ghanem

Date:    March 30, 2022

Source:  Inequality.org



In the fight for racial justice, optimism is not enough

Our desire for a better world must not lead us to ignore the fact that inequality is systemic, and ongoing

In the six years since Theresa May took office promising to tackle the UK’s ‘burning injustices’, an exemplary chapter in the story of Britain’s racial injustice almost writes itself.

Take May’s own role in the Windrush scandal – in which up to 57,000 Black and minority ethnic Britons may have been deported or stripped of their rights – and the ongoing failure to provide adequate compensation. Then there’s the increase in the number of Black children being cautioned or sentenced in England and Wales, which has doubled since 2010. Black children account for 28% of all children in custody, even though Black people make up barely 4% of the national population.

From precarious employment, where Black and minority ethnic millennials are 47% more likely to be on zero hours contracts compared to their White peers, to the appalling ethnic disparities of the COVID-19 pandemic, injustice persists.

How has this come to pass, when our present and future could be so different? Why has progress on racial justice been stagnant and failure so cyclical?

To reflect on these questions is to reckon with a widely-held assumption among anti-racist researchers, activists and policymakers. Namely, the optimistic view that racial justice will advance because social acceptance of racial difference has increased.

In my new book, I argue that this view supports the dominant narrative that racial justice is inevitable. But it is a cruel sort of optimism.

Take the opening statement of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, published more than 20 years ago. The authors of the Macpherson report believed that “awareness of the problems directly and indirectly revealed” would herald “a signal opportunity to deal with specific matters arising from the murder and all that followed”.

This opportunity came and went but the systemic racial disparities remained. With the help of the late Laurent Berlant, we can see why this expectation of progress ultimately rests in “optimism’s double bind”, where “an image of a better good life available” creates an impasse that does not easily allow us to “detach from what is already not working”.

For example, the striking thing about the MacPherson Report’s assessment is that it had been offered long before. The Scarman Report, which investigated the causes of the 1981 Brixton riots, concluded: “the evidence which I have received, the effect of which I have outlined … leaves no doubt in my mind that racial disadvantage is a fact of current British life … Urgent action is needed.” Lord Scarman was reticent to name institutional racism, and yet he could not deny that “racialism and discrimination against black people – often hidden, sometimes unconscious – remain a major source of social tension and conflict”.

More recently, the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, conducted by Wendy Williams, emphasised the role of “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness” in the scandal, which she concluded “are consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism”.

What Berlant helps us to see is that while shocking racial injustice may appear traumatic when accounted for at one moment in time, as a society we have learned to live with a systemic crisis – or, as Berlant puts it, “crisis ordinariness”. In this telling, extraordinary events such as the Windrush scandal or the impact of the COVID-19 crisis turn out to be “an amplification of something in the works”.

How else can we understand the abysmal Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which the Home Office admits may cause “indirect difference [of] treatment on the grounds of race”? Or the Nationality and Borders Bill, with its proposal to strengthen the power to strip people from immigrant backgrounds of citizenship? What else should we make of the government’s attack on Black Lives Matter, which the Department for Education describes in its recent guidance on “political impartiality” as “views which go beyond the basic shared principle that racism is unacceptable”?

Our optimism should not become naivety, or being “hostage to the belief that everything is going to improve or turn out well”. It is instead to hold that what is morally unjust should not prosper in our societies.

This is perhaps most keenly expressed in the statement by Stephen Lawrence’s father Neville, at the inquiry into the racist murder of this 17-year-old son. “We have to look forward,” he insisted, speaking through grief. “This is a very small place, this world of ours.”

These words, spoken by a parent surviving bereavement, remain a profound call for a better society, one greater than that which so cruelly took his son. More than twenty years later, they remain unheeded.


By       :         Nasar Meer

Date    :        March 7, 2022

Source:        Open Democracy 



How to Protect the Hope for Girls' Education in Afghanistan

The Taliban, heavily influenced by the Haqqanis, will continue using Afghan girls’ education as a bargaining chip on matters such as international recognition, financial sanctions, and aid.

Since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan six months ago, the educational dreams of millions of girls have been dashed. In late March, the group reneged on its promise to allow Afghan girls to attend secondary school. Although it has allowed some women and girls to return to the classroom, the Taliban has begun retooling the curriculum to prioritize religious studies and imposed harsh restrictions on how female students must dress, travel, and even talk on the phone.

If history is any guide, the Taliban will continue using Afghan girls’ education as a bargaining chip on political matters such as international recognition, financial sanctions, and aid. Nevertheless, the United States and its partners can still assist Afghan women, young people, and ethnic minorities who, in the face of Taliban intransigence, still seek an education. Today, many Afghans are turning to advanced technology, including satellite internet and virtual private networks, not only to maintain access to education but also to secure privacy where the Taliban forbid women and girls to study. While limited, virtual school for select Afghan university students in public institutions and local organizations are still operating against the odds.

Afghanistan’s future stability will depend on its ability to reconcile the priorities of the many competing factions and interests within the country. The United States, European Union, and other regional powers should request UNESCO or UNICEF to appoint a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador charged with implementing a steadfast name-and-shame policy aimed at the Taliban to promote peace through education, even where Russia, China, and Iran stay silent. The UN Ambassador should establish a multilateral forum that improves coordination, collaboration, and cooperation among regional powers to invite up-and-coming Afghan teachers and students—whether they remain in Afghanistan or are residing abroad—to live and study conflict resolution at foreign embassies, diplomatic institutes, and universities in South Asia and beyond.

The Role of the Haqqanis in the Taliban's Education Policy

The Taliban’s war on women’s education is reminiscent of its reign in the 1990s, when the group imposed extreme teachings by force. It largely confined women to their homes, with a fortunate minority of girls able to attend underground schools. Now, the drive to restrict women’s education is led by the Haqqani network, a faction of the Taliban more ideologically strident and violent than any that existed in the 1990s. For years, the Haqqanis have cultivated ties to al-Qaeda and to some elements of the Islamic State’s Afghanistan affiliate, known as the Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), even facilitating some of ISIS-K’s terrorist attacks in the Afghan capital, including recent activity against Kabul University, a maternity ward, and a girls’ school. 

The Haqqanis, designated by both the United States and United Nations as terrorists, have emerged as the dominant force in the Taliban government. The group’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, heads the powerful Interior Ministry, where he wields control over the nation’s domestic intelligence and military apparatus. A member of Sirajuddin’s network, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, acting Minister of Higher Education, where he is reorganizing Afghanistan’s education system around a strict interpretation of sharia law, imposing curriculum changes, segregating genders in schools, and imposing stringent restrictions on dress and conduct for girls and women. 

In addition to controlling key state institutions, the Haqqanis control a vast international business empire, licit and illicit, and have long enjoyed the backing of other states in the region that view them as a strategic asset. In contrast to the Taliban Political Commission in Doha, the Haqqani-dominated Taliban Military Commission had grown less dependent on Western aid in recent decades and is therefore relatively less susceptible to Western leverage on matters of security, human rights, and education.  They also remain at the forefront of orchestrating campaigns to kill former Afghan government officials and civilians, resulting in the flight of judges, journalists, teachers, and other leaders on whom Afghanistan’s emergent civil society depends.

“The vast majority of Afghan teenage girls have already lost a year of education,” Heather Barr, associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch, stated in an interview with this author in February, 2022. 

How the United States Can Help

Although the Taliban’s political commission could reform its education policies to gain international legitimacy or aid, it will likely not overrule Sirajuddin Haqqani where he maintains a dissenting opinion.  Even if the Taliban Military Commission remains ensconced in the government, there are other ways in which the United Nations, major and regional powers, and international technology organizations can empower women and girls to make their own choices about ensuring equal rights and education, and live the highest, fullest version of their lives. 

First, the United States, European Union, and other regional powers should call on UNESCO and UNICEF to appoint a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador to lead a renewed push for promoting peace through education, while executing an international name-and-shame policy highlight the Taliban’s failed promise to support Afghan girls’ return to school. The UN Ambassador should facilitate multilateral coordination for regional powers to invite up-and-coming Afghan teachers and students—whether they remain in Afghanistan or are residing abroad—to live and study conflict resolution at foreign embassies, diplomatic institutes, and universities in South Asia and beyond. An emphasis on peace education can help prepare Afghans for next-generation leadership on which any fragile interfaith dialogue, nonviolent dispute resolution, and advanced negotiation will depend. Even in minimal form, such a peace-through-education residency program would create a pipeline of leaders skilled at navigating ideological, political, and cultural differences—precisely the skills Afghanistan’s future leaders will need if they are to create a more stable and secure future order. At least half of the international scholarship recipients should be women who have finished their high school or university education, in order to provide a tangible incentive for Afghan women to persevere through secondary school.

In addition, the Ambassador should facilitate a multilateral consultation mechanism that brings together female education leaders and international technology companies to map the virtual school landscape and improve access to online classroom platforms, such as computer assisted instruction and massive open and free courses in Afghan languages based on geopolitical exigency. Information blockades are likely inevitable in Afghanistan in the future, particularly as China has been aggressively trying to sell or gift its advanced Great Firewall Internet filtering and monitoring software to countries in the region. When designed properly, enhanced access to virtual private networks and encrypted online classrooms can help Afghans evade such firewalls and circumvent the Taliban’s extreme ideology, values, and laws—or simply gain access to school. 

By taking these actions to support education of all Afghans, the United States and its allies can promote the aspirations of such next-generation leaders. Fereshteh Forough, who organizes virtual classrooms for women and girls, explains the potential impact of such programs: “Digital citizens can surpass the ideological bent geographical boundaries, preserving women’s rights in the struggle for freedom and security. Gaining such liberation today is possible almost only through education technology, for it keeps our identity private and enables us to connect with the global economy. Virtual classrooms give us hope, for they make our simple goal, to study, a reality, even as the Taliban aim to take away the basic human rights we have fought so hard to gain.”


Dr. Melissa L. Skorka is a Senior Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Changing Character of War Centre. She served as a Senior Adviser to the former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph F. Dunford in the Haqqani Fusion Cell and the International Security Assistance Force from 2011 to 2014.


Pandemic expulsion of migrant minors officially ends; adults still covered

WASHINGTON – The CDC ruled this weekend that unaccompanied minors should not be turned back at the border over COVID-19 concerns, a move welcomed by advocates who say the change now needs to be extended to all immigrants.

The ruling Saturday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention applies to Title 42, which lets border officials deny entry to anyone who might introduce a communicable disease to the U.S. It makes official what has been Biden administration policy since last January, when the new president prohibited the expulsion of unaccompanied minors under Title 42.

But with 1.5 million migrants turned away under Title 42 – more than 1 million of them since President Joe Biden took office – Democrats said it’s past time to end the practice altogether.

“Ending Title 42 for unaccompanied migrant children is a step forward, but the truth is that Title 42 remains a cruel relic and policy reminder of the Trump-immigration era,” Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said in a statement released Sunday.

“It’s time to immediately end Title 42 for adults and families once and for all and overhaul our immigration and asylum-seeking process to be just, humane and fair,” Grijalva’s statement said.

Calls seeking comment on the change from the CDC, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement were not immediately returned Monday.

The policy began in March 2020, when the Department of Health and Human Services imposed an emergency regulation that applied Title 42 to the COVID-19 pandemic, prohibiting entry to all undocumented migrants who arrived at the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico.

Almost 16,000 unaccompanied youth had been expelled by November 2020, when the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the practice halted against minors. When Biden took office in January 2021, he ordered that unaccompanied children be exempt from the rule, and just 20 youths have been turned away in the 14 months since, according to CBP data.

But Title 42 enforcement for other migrants has actually increased under Biden: CBP reported that Border Patrol expelled 76,298 people at the Southwest border under Title 42 in January and the Office of Field Operations expelled another 2,188 at the southern border that month.

Title 42 was used to expel 2,500 people at the Yuma port of entry in January and 15,469 people at the Tucson port of entry, the most of any Southwest port of entry that month, according to CBP.

But on March 4, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled that the CDC had not provided an adequate explanation as to why unaccompanied children should be treated differently from other migrants and exempted from Title 42. The opinion said that COVID-19 should still be a priority when making immigration policy, writing “there should be no disagreement that the current immigration policies should be focused on stopping the spread of COVID-19.”

The court gave the CDC seven days to either draft a better explanation for the unaccompanied minors policy, or start applying Title 42 to them again.

That explanation came Saturday, when the CDC argued that expelling unaccompanied children is not necessary to protect public health currently, as coronavirus cases are decreasing across the country. It also said there was a history of excluding unaccompanied children from certain immigration policies.

“Because of their vulnerabilities, (unaccompanied children) are generally treated differently than other individuals apprehended and processed at the border under the immigration laws,” the notice said.

While they welcomed the official termination of the policy for minors, advocates argued that Title 42 in general has been misused by border officials.

“For two years since the pandemic began, Customs and Border Protection officials at the southern border have been rapidly deporting individuals who arrive and request asylum after crossing the border, as well as individuals who are simply crossing the border and seeking a better life in the United States,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council.

Reichlin-Melnick said the policy should not be needed at a time when “almost no places in the United States have any COVID restrictions left, the vaccine is widely available, hundreds of millions of Americans have gotten vaccinated and protected themselves against serious illness or death from the virus.”

“So the rationale for continuing to send people potentially to their deaths rather than allowing them to seek asylum just to protect us from COVID, it doesn’t make sense,” he said.

With the pandemic no longer an excuse for that they called bad immigration policy, advocates said they hope that ending Title 42 for unaccompanied children signals the CDC’s willingness to end the rule altogether.

“The reality is that we have been subjecting migrants at the border to far more stringent health restrictions than pretty much anyone else,” Reichlin-Melnick said. “The CDC is realizing it’s not necessary anymore; after two years, it may finally be time for Title 42 to end.”


Reagan Priest expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in political science. Priest, who has worked as a politics reporter for The State Press and a social media aide for ASU/NewSpace in Phoenix, is working for the D.C. news bureau.


By    :           Reagan Priest

Date:           March 14, 2022

Source:       Cronkite News



Race Is Central to Identity for Black Americans and Affects How They Connect With Each Other

Many learn about ancestors, U.S. Black history from family

No matter where they are from, who they are, their economic circumstances or educational backgrounds, significant majorities of Black Americans say being Black is extremely or very important to how they think about themselves, with about three-quarters (76%) overall saying so.   

A significant share of Black Americans also say that when something happens to Black people in their local communities, across the nation or around the globe, it affects what happens in their own lives, highlighting a sense of connectedness. Black Americans say this even as they have diverse experiences and come from an array of backgrounds.

Even so, Black adults who say being Black is important to their sense of self are more likely than other Black adults to feel connected to other groups of Black people. They are also more likely to feel that what happens to Black people inside and outside the United States affects what happens in their own lives. These findings emerge from an extensive new survey of Black U.S. adults conducted by Pew Research Center.

A majority of non-Hispanic Black Americans (78%) say being Black is very or extremely important to how they think about themselves. This racial group is the largest among Black adults, accounting for 87% of the adult population, according to 2019 Census Bureau estimates. But among other Black Americans, roughly six-in-ten multiracial (57%) and Hispanic (58%) Black adults say this.

Black Americans also differ in key ways in their views about the importance of being Black to personal identity. While majorities of all age groups of Black people say being Black shapes how they think about themselves, younger Black Americans are less likely to say this – Black adults ages 50 and older are more likely than Black adults ages 18 to 29 to say that being Black is very or extremely important to how they think of themselves. Specifically, 76% of Black adults ages 30 to 49, 80% of those 50 to 64 and 83% of those 65 and older hold this view, while only 63% of those under 30 do.

Black adults who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party are more likely than those who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party to say being Black is important to how they see themselves – 86% vs. 58%. And Black women (80%) are more likely than Black men (72%) to say being Black is important to how they see themselves.

Still, some subgroups of Black Americans are about as likely as others to say that being Black is very or extremely important to how they think about themselves. For example, U.S.-born and immigrant Black adults are about as likely to say being Black is important to how they see their identity. However, not all Black Americans feel the same about the importance of being Black to their identity – 14% say it is only somewhat important to how they see themselves while 9% say it has little or no impact on their personal identity, reflecting the diversity of views about identity among Black Americans.

Beyond the personal importance of Blackness – that is, the importance of being Black to personal identity – many Black Americans feel connected to each other. About five-in-ten (52%) say everything or most things that happen to Black people in the United States affect what happens in their own lives, with another 30% saying some things that happen nationally to Black people have a personal impact. And 43% say all or most things that happen to Black people in their local community affect what happens in their own lives, while another 35% say only some things in their lives are affected by these events. About four-in-ten Black adults in the U.S. (41%) say they feel their fates are strongly linked to Black people around the world, with 36% indicating that some things that happen to Black people around the world affect what happens in their own lives.

The survey also asked respondents how much they have in common with different groups of Black Americans. Some 17% of Black adults say they have everything or most things in common with Black people who are immigrants. But this sense of commonality differs sharply by nativity: 14% of U.S.-born Black adults say they have everything or most things in common with Black immigrants, while 43% of Black immigrants say the same. Conversely, only about one-in-four Black immigrants (26%) say they have everything or most things in common with U.S.-born Black people, a share that rises to 56% among U.S.-born Black people themselves.

About one-third of Black Americans (34%) say they have everything or most things in common with Black people who are poor, though smaller shares say the same about Black people who are wealthy (12%). Relatively few Black Americans (14%) say they have everything or most things in common with Black people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ). However, a larger share of Black Americans (25%) say they have at least some things in common with Black people who identify as LGBTQ. All these findings highlight the diversity of the U.S. Black population and how much Black people feel connected to each other.

These are among the key findings from a recent Pew Research Center survey of 3,912 Black Americans conducted online Oct. 4-17, 2021. This report is the latest in a series of Pew Research Center studies focused on describing the rich diversity of Black people in the United States.

The nation’s Black population stood at 47 million in 2020, making up 14% of the U.S. population – up from 13% in 2000. While the vast majority of Black Americans say their racial background is Black alone (88% in 2020), growing numbers are also multiracial or Hispanic. Most were born in the U.S. and trace their roots back several generations in the country, but a growing share are immigrants (12%) or the U.S.-born children of immigrant parents (9%). Geographically, while 56% of Black Americans live in the nation’s South, the national Black population has also dispersed widely across the country.

It is this diversity – among U.S.-born Black people and Black immigrants; between Black people who live in different regions; and across different ethnicities, party affiliations, ages and income levels – that this report explores. The survey also provides a robust opportunity to examine the importance of race to Black Americans’ sense of self and their connections to other Black people.

The importance of being Black for connections with other Black people

The importance of being Black to personal identity is a significant factor in how connected Black Americans feel toward each other. Those who say that being Black is a very or extremely important part of their personal identity are more likely than those for whom Blackness is relatively less important to express a sense of common fate with Black people in their local communities (50% vs. 17%), in the United States overall (62% vs. 21%), and even around the world (48% vs. 18%).

They are also more likely to say that they have everything or most things in common with Black people who are poor (37% vs. 23%) and Black immigrants (19% vs. 9%). Even so, fewer than half of Black Americans, no matter how important Blackness is to their personal identity, say they have everything or most things in common with Black people who are poor, immigrants or LGBTQ.

The importance of Blackness for knowing family history and U.S. Black history

The new survey also explores Black Americans’ knowledge about their family histories and the history of Black people in the United States, with the importance of Blackness linked to greater knowledge. 

Nearly six-in-ten Black adults (57%) say their ancestors were enslaved either in the U.S. or another country, with nearly all who say so (52% of the Black adults surveyed) saying it was in the U.S., either in whole or in part. Black adults who say that being Black is a very or extremely important part of how they see themselves (61%) are more likely than those for whom being Black is less important (45%) to say that their ancestors were enslaved. In fact, Black adults for whom Blackness is very or extremely important (31%) are less likely than their counterparts (42%) to say that they are not sure if their ancestors were enslaved at all.

When it comes to learning more about their family histories, Black adults for whom Blackness is very or extremely important (81%) are more likely than those for whom Blackness is less important (59%) to have spoken to their relatives. They are about as likely to have researched their family’s history online (36% and 30%, respectively) and to have used a mail-in DNA service such as AncestryDNA or 23andMe (15% and 16%) to learn more about their ancestry.

The importance of Blackness also figures prominently into how informed Black Americans feel about U.S. Black history. Black adults who say Blackness is a significant part of their personal identity are more likely than those for whom Blackness is less important to say that they feel very or extremely informed about U.S. Black history (57% vs. 29%). Overall, about half of Black Americans say they feel very or extremely informed about the history of Black people in the United States.

Among Black adults who feel at least a little informed about U.S. Black history, the sources of their knowledge also differ by the importance of Blackness to personal identity. Nearly half of Black adults for whom Blackness is very or extremely important (48%) say they learned about Black history from their families and friends, making them more likely to say so than Black adults for whom Blackness is less important (30%). Similarly, those who say being Black is important to their identity are more likely than those who did not say this to have learned about Black history from nearly every source they were asked about, be it media (33% vs. 22%), the internet (30% vs. 18%) or college, if they attended (26% vs. 14%). The only source for which both groups were about equally likely to say they learned about Black history was their K-12 schools (24% and 21%, respectively).

Overall, among Black Americans who feel at least a little informed about U.S. Black history, 43% say they learned about it from their relatives and friends, 30% say they learned about it from the media, 27% from the internet, and 24% from college (if they attended) and 23% from K-12 school.

Younger Black people are less likely to speak to relatives about ancestors

Black adults under 30 years old differ significantly from older Black adults in their views on the importance of Blackness to their personal identity. However, Black adults also differ by age in how they pursue knowledge of family history, how informed they feel about U.S. Black history, and their sense of connectedness to other Black people.

Black adults under 30 (50%) are less likely than those 65 and older (64%) to say their ancestors were enslaved. In fact, 40% of Black adults under 30 say that they are not sure whether their ancestors were enslaved. Black adults in the youngest age group (59%) are less likely than the oldest (87%) to have spoken to their relatives about family history or to have used a mail-in DNA service to learn about their ancestors (11% vs. 21%). They are only slightly less likely to have conducted research on their families online (26% vs. 39%).

Black adults under 30 have the lowest share who say they feel very or extremely informed about the history of Black people in the United States (40%), compared with 60% of Black adults 65 and older and about half each of Black adults 50 to 64 (53%) and 30 to 49 (51%). In fact, Black adults under 30 are more likely than those 50 and older to say they feel a little or not at all informed about Black history. While Black adults are generally most likely to cite family and friends as their source for learning about Black history, the share under 30 (38%) who also cite the internet as a source of information is higher than the shares ages 50 to 64 (22%) and 65 and older (14%) who say this.

These age differences persist in the sense of connectedness that Black Americans have with other Black people. Black adults under 30 are less likely than those 65 and older to say that everything or most things that happen to Black people in the United States will affect their own lives. This youngest group is also less likely than the oldest to have this sense of common fate with Black people in their local community. One exception to this pattern occurs when Black adults were asked how much they had in common with Black people who identify as LGBTQ. Black adults under 30 (21%) were considerably more likely than those 65 and older (10%) to say they have everything or most things in common with Black people who identify as LGBTQ.

Black Americans differ by party on measures of identity and connection

Black Democrats and Republicans differ on how important Blackness is to their personal identities. However, there are also partisan gaps when it comes to their connectedness to other Black people.

Black Democrats and those who lean to the Democratic Party are more likely than Black Republicans and Republican leaners to say that everything or most things that happen to Black people in the United States (57% vs. 39%) and their local communities (46% vs. 30%) affect what happens in their own lives. However, Black Republicans (24%) are more likely than Black Democrats (14%) to say that they have everything or most things in common with Black people who are LGBTQ. They are also more likely than Black Democrats to say they have everything or most things in common with Black people who are wealthy (25% vs. 11%).

When it comes to knowledge of family and racial histories, Black Democrats and Republicans do not differ. Democrats (59%) are just as likely as Republicans (54%) to know that their ancestors were enslaved. Nearly 80% of Black adults from both partisan coalitions say they have spoken to their relatives about their family history. Similar shares have also researched their family histories online and used mail-in DNA services.

Black Democrats are also not significantly more likely than Black Republicans to say they feel very or extremely informed about U.S. Black history (53% vs. 45%). And among those who feel at least a little informed about U.S. Black history, Democrats and Republicans are about equally likely to say they learned it from family and friends (45% vs. 38%).

Place is a key part of Black Americans’ personal identities

The majority of Black adults who live in the United States were born there, but an increasing portion of the population is comprised of immigrants. Of those immigrants, nearly 90% were born in the Caribbean or Africa. Regardless of their region of birth, 58% of Black adults say the country they were born in is very or extremely important to how they think about themselves. A smaller share say the same about the places where they grew up (46%).

Black adults also feel strongly about their current communities. About half of Black adults (52%) say that where they currently live is very or extremely important to how they think about themselves. And when it comes to the quality of their neighborhoods, 76% of Black adults rate them as at least good places to live, including 41% who say the quality of their community is very good or excellent.

Still, Black adults say there are concerning issues in the communities they live in. When asked in an open-ended question to list the issue that was most important in their neighborhoods, nearly one-in-five Black adults listed issues related to violence or crime (17%). Smaller shares listed other points of concern such as economic issues like poverty and homelessness (11%), housing (7%), COVID-19 and public health (6%), or infrastructure issues such as the availability of public transportation and the conditions of roads (5%).

While nearly one-in-five Black Americans (17%) say that individual people like themselves should be responsible for solving these problems, they are most likely to say that local community leaders should address these issues (48%). Smaller shares say the U.S. Congress (12%), the U.S. president (8%) or civil rights organizations (2%) bear responsibility.


You can read the complete the article through this link: https://www.pewresearch.org/race-ethnicity/2022/04/14/race-is-central-to-identity-for-black-americans-and-affects-how-they-connect-with-each-other/ 


By  :    Kiana Cox and Christine Tamir

Date:  April 14, 2022

Source: Pew Research Center 



Photo by:  Patrick Hendry (Unsplash)


Addressing The Interlocking Impact Of Colonialism And Racism On Filipinx/a/o American Health Inequities


Within the monolithic racial category of “Asian American,” health determinants are often hidden within each subgroup’s complex histories of indigeneity, colonialism, migration, culture, and socio-political systems. Although racism is typically framed to underscore the ways in which various institutions (for example, employment and education) disproportionately disadvantage Black/Latinx communities over White people, what does structural racism look like among Filipinx/a/o Americans (FilAms), the third-largest Asian American group in the US? We argue that racism defines who is visible. We discuss pathways through which colonialism and racism preserve inequities for FilAms, a large and overlooked Asian American subgroup. We bring to light historical and modern practices inhibiting progress toward dismantling systemic racial barriers that impinge on FilAm health. We encourage multilevel strategies that focus on and invest in FilAms, such as robust accounting of demographic data in heterogeneous populations, explicitly naming neocolonial forces that devalue and neglect FilAms, and structurally supporting community approaches to promote better self- and community care.

Asian Americans are frequently invisible in health services research and policy and, consequently, an afterthought in resource allocation decisions. Representing 3 percent of the US population as the third-largest Asian American or Asian subgroup, Filipinx/a/o Americans (FilAms) are often excluded altogether or overlooked when aggregated into monolithic federal or social norm categories: Asian American, Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander, or “other.”1 As a result, few are aware that FilAms experience high rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes, lead incidence rates for breast and prostate cancer among Asian Americans, and experience limited access to mental health services compared with White Americans.

Health disparities among Asian Americans compared with White Americans are often attributed to sociocultural differences, class, ethnicity, and country of origin. However, FilAms report high employment rates, educational attainment, and English language proficiency, which are traditional measures of social advantage that typically correlate with health advantages. In actuality, we argue that FilAms experience serious, long-standing health disparities rooted in decades of US immigration policies and generations’ worth of trauma. Explanations grounded in a historical understanding of racism are often overlooked.

Racism is an ever-evolving system of power based on socially constructed races shaped by place, time, and context, and racism is a driving force of health inequities for Asian Americans and FilAms. US colonial practices on FilAm migration to the US are inextricably linked to structural racism, which is defined as the ways in which laws, policies, institutions, and social norms synergize to perpetuate White dominance and supremacy. This is evident in COVID-19 mortality disparities of FilAm health care workers and the lack of disaggregated data to warrant proper attention to their protection. FilAms represent 4 percent of US nurses but accounted for 31.5 percent of deaths among US nurses during the height of the pandemic; in comparison, Whites represent 75.9 percent of US nurses but 39.4 percent of COVID-19 deaths among nurses.13–15 FilAms are heavily engaged in front-line health care work, but they also have pre-existing health conditions and are likely to live in multigenerational households; these factors contribute to the burden of COVID-19 on FilAm nurses. Most state and national health statistics fail to disaggregate data for Asian American subgroups, obscuring health inequities; distinct forms of exclusion; and unique historical, cultural, and socio-political contexts that each US subgroup faces. This systemic ignorance of specificity reinforces policy neglect, marginalization, and the model minority myth—the assumption that all Asian Americans are healthier and economically well off, which disregards heterogeneity among Asian Americans.Inadequate policies uphold the trend through scant research resources for Asian American communities and data disaggregation.

Racism and colonialism heavily intertwine to shape the FilAm experience. While colonialism has conventionally been understood as one nation establishing political control over another, the legacies of colonialism extend contemporaneously as continued disenfranchisement of formerly subjugated people.19 Through formal colonialism, the US established a racial hierarchy in which American culture dominates Filipino culture. Colonialism is a racial formation (a process by which the socio-historical designations of race and class are defined); in turn, modern-day racialization of Filipinos is itself a colonial process.6,10,19 These legacies, embedded and recognized within US institutions as macro-level structural determinants of health (for example, governance, language, education, employment, and family), constrict FilAm access to fiscal resources, stunt knowledge production, erase and dilute FilAm culture, shape psychological perspectives (for example, colonial mentality or acceptance of the model minority myth), and ultimately perpetuate health inequities.19,20 We propose that FilAm health inequities are maintained and perpetuated over generations by the complex, symbiotic relationship of colonialism and racism (see online appendix A).

We argue that US colonial injustices produced, reproduce, and still result in FilAm health inequities. Colonialism is linked through present health inequities among FilAms through the production of extractive labor practices, colonial mentality, and intergenerational trauma. The use of “Asian American” as a racial or demographic category facilitates the erasure of social injustices through public health infrastructures and funding priorities that obfuscate FilAm health disparities. We offer this commentary in solidarity with other minoritized groups, who similarly attempt to dissect and dismantle racist structures that perpetuate disparities among their communities.


By:    Melanie D. Sabado-Liwag, Erin Manalo-Pedro, Roy Taggueg, Adrian M. Bacong, Alexander Adia, Donna Demanarig, Jake Ryann Sumibcay, Claire Valderama-Wallace, Carlos Irwin A. Oronce, Rick Bonus, and Ninez A. Ponce

Date:  February 2022

Source:  Health Affairs Vol. 41, No. 2




Understanding the reality of illegal miners in French Guiana

Up to 12 000 informal miners, known as garimpeiros, still operate in this Caribbean country. Between five and ten tons of gold are smuggled outside the territory each year despite the pressure from French authorities. Understanding what factors make these miners resilient was the object of research led by François-Michel Le Tourneau (CNRS).

French Guiana, a French overseas collectivity located on the Northern coast of South America, has a long history of gold exploration by small-scale miners that started by the mid-19th century. Gold profitability was low during the 1960s and 1970s. But this activity started being widely practised again in the mid-1990s, mainly under the influence of Brazilian small-scale gold miners who were encountering more difficulties expanding at home. These miners are known as garimpeiros.

At first, this new gold rush could use the relatively accommodating rules in vigour in French Guiana. But things started to change in the early 2000s, when the French mining legislation became stricter in overseas territories and when the French authorities began to act more aggressively against what was now denounced as a clandestine activity undertaken by illegal immigrants. French military police forces (Gendarmerie) started to stage operations against the garimpeiros in 2002, but they had not enough means to curb the phenomenon. From 2008 on, the French Army was then involved in supporting the police, and with these reinforcements, the chase for illegal placers, camps or pits became much more intense, and the pressure put on illegal miners increased.

In 2018, these operations were renewed, but up to 12 000 garimpeiros still operate in French Guiana. Between five and ten tons of gold are smuggled outside the territory each year, amounting to losses between 250 to 500 million euros. Therefore, the resilience of Brazilian gold miners in front of the operations aimed at crushing them is impressive. How can it be explained?

French Guiana covers about 86 000 km², an almost entirely dense Amazonian rainforest and most of the territory is devoid of roads and only accessible by helicopter or canoes equipped with outboard motors. This requires skilled pilots to navigate dozens of rapids and waterfalls. The garimpeiros can easily play hide and seek and evade police operations, especially because there are few operational forward bases that the Army and the police can operate from. Areas are swept and cleaned by temporary operations. The French government has only about 500 soldiers and military police members being available to operate in the forest on a daily basis, so soon after they leave, the gold miners can reorganize their business and supply lines and start the exploration again.

Other factors play out as well. Brazilian gold miners are very skilled to respond to the pressure by French authorities by increasing their flexibility and reducing fixed production costs. The authorities mostly aim at destroying their equipment and supplies, in an effort to break them financially, but the whole business of the garimpo relies on an extensive network of small entrepreneurs, tightly knitted together by mutual credit and debts, which acts with solidarity and where the ruin of one opens a market niche that another one will eagerly take on. Most salaries or profits are only paid when gold is actually produced in this system. Bosses then face few expenses if they have to hold on to their activity and hide their material because the police are near, which can sometimes last for days or weeks. They can hibernate and stay low until circumstances are better.

As cost-killers of the formal economy would, the garimpeiros are also experts at reducing other costs. They use cheap Chinese motors, smuggled from Suriname mostly and easy to replace. The garimpeiros also hide their equipment and supplies in several different hideouts so they won’t lose everything if their camp is spotted and invaded. Also, the increasing risk taken by suppliers to convey everything that is needed for the exploration (especially food and gasoline for the motors) is compensated by inflation in their prices. When you can sell a gallon of fuel ten times the price you bought it, it matters less if one out of three of your shipments is intercepted.

But all these economic and organizational mechanisms are not enough to justify the resilience of Brazilian garimpeiros to French authorities’ pressure. The social and cultural universe of the garimpo is, I argue after an extensive research, also an important –and perhaps determining– factor.

A work pattern extended throughout the Amazon

The garimpo appeared in Brazil during the colonial era, as a response to the crown of Portugal’s establishment of a royal monopoly on extracting diamonds and gold. It thus always has been a clandestine activity where the rule was to escape pressure by the authorities while at the same time opening placers, smuggling in the goods necessary for their operation and smuggling out the production.

The miners who work in French Guiana follow the same system that works throughout the Brazilian Amazon. 95% of illegal gold miners operating in French Guiana’s forests are Brazilian. Many of them have also operated in other areas in Brazil or in Suriname (also quite dominated by Brazilian miners, but to a lower proportion). More importantly, all norms and rules that are present in French Guiana’s working areas are equal to what is practised in Brazil. This includes the repartition of the production between the workers, who generally share 30% and the boss, who receives 70%.

Bosses provide all that is necessary to make the camp and the place running, paying the cook’s salary, providing food, fuel, motors, etc… The relationships between workers and bosses are framed as a “society” in which and they all contribute (workers with their work, bosses with their capital) and where there is no subordination (workers are free to leave whenever they please, and workers are not paid salaries or wages, but a share of the production), or other social norms (especially regarding acceptable conducts and their enforcement).

Most of the norms and the social organization that are seen today are as old as the garimpo is and this contributes to explaining the garimpeiros resilience in French Guiana as well as in Brazil. This community can rely on a time-tested social and cultural universe that provides all the ingredients that are necessary to maintain their trade under pressure, among their flexibility, solidarity, organization, and social horizontality.

Despite strong pressure by the authorities, this research sheds another light on the persistence of an illegal activity and highlights how the contributing factors of its resilience are not limited to economic gains and opportunities but include broader social and cultural components. This might not be good news for the French government. Dealing with the centuries of experience in resisting (mostly pacifically) and evading the State’s pressure that is ingrained within the “garimpo system” might prove harder than pushing a few thousands of illegal Brazilian immigrants out of French Guiana.

Also, these results can offer new insights about the resilience of other hard-resisting illegal activities in the Americas such as coca plantation or illegal timber harvesting. Taking into account the universe in which these are embedded instead of focusing only on the product or its economics might lead to new and more efficient ways of addressing these realities.


François-Michel Le Tourneau is a Senior Research Fellow at the French National Center for Scientific Research. With twenty years of experience in this region, he is a specialist in the Brazilian Amazon and French Guiana. Ultimately, his research has focused on small-scale illegal gold mining.


By: François-Michel Le Tourneau

Date: January 26, 2022

Source: LSE Latin America and Carribean 



Chile: the battle for a transformative new constitution

 Chile is currently undergoing a process of transformational change that is not only profound but also contradictory. The explosion of social unrest was a crisis that forced us as a society to fundamentally question the model under which we have lived for the past thirty years and which has caused widespread discontent in Chilean society. Today, that creative process takes shape primarily in the Constitutional Convention and in the fulfillment of its mandate: writing a new national constitution for Chile.

The last couple of years in Chile have been intense. The social unrest that began in 2019 not only evidenced the deep-seated inequality felt by the vast majority of the people of Chile, it also questioned an economic and social model that had been imposed on us during the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. However, social protests are not new in our recent history. The “Penguins’ Revolution” (2006), in which high school students occupied a large number of public education facilities throughout Chile, was only the first of several waves of protests. That “March of the Penguins,” as it was also known, would be followed by the great student movement of 2011, with university students now taking center stage. A number of new political actors, such as Camila Vallejo, Giorgio Jackson, and the current presidential candidate Gabriel Boric, emerged from this movement and would go on to breathe new life into national politics. In the last few years alone, Chile has seen multiple demonstrations over a range of issues, including environmental concerns, the pension system, and, in 2018, feminist demands, with women taking over university campuses across the country to protest against gender violence and sexual harassment and abuse in their educational establishments.

This surge in protests lifted the veil that had cloaked Chile, projecting the country as an “oasis” in Latin America, a term president Sebastián Piñera was fond of using to blow his own horn. An institutional solution to the crisis took form on November 25, 2019, when several political parties signed an agreement stipulating that a referendum would be held to give Chileans the opportunity to approve or reject the drafting of a new constitution and the mechanism through which it was to be drafted. The pandemic, which would come just a few months later, would delay the democratic process and would throw into even more stark relief the country’s deep-seated inequality. Finally, the option to “Approve” won by 78 percent of the votes, thus enabling the process for the election of a Constitutional Convention formed by 155 people. The makeup of the Convention is also historic for several reasons. In the first place, 17 seats were reserved for members of indigenous peoples. Second, the body was elected with gender parity, that is, the voting system was changed so that no gender could have more than 55 percent of the seats in the Convention. A high percentage of the delegates who were elected identify as feminist, and there is a significant number who identify as environmentalists.

The Constitutional Convention began operating in July 2021 with a clear mandate: drafting the first democratic constitution with gender parity and indigenous representation in the history of our country. It has until July 5, 2022 to fulfill that mandate. Three months after delivering the text of the constitution, Chilean’s will be called to a referendum in which they will vote to either reject the proposed text (thus reverting to the 1980 constitution) or approve the new constitution. Drafting a text that reflects the expectations of the Chilean people and succeeding in having the new constitution approved is a challenge.

The state of the art

The work of the convention delegates has not been easy. To begin with, the time they have is limited. The agreement that enabled the constitutional reform established a term of nine to twelve months for the drafting of the constitution. The first great task it faced was, therefore, setting up. The election of its steering committee, headed by the current president of the Convention, Elisa Loncón marked the first major precedent: the process would be led by a feminist indigenous Mapuche woman. This is important not only for Chile, but also for the entire region, where the struggles for self-determination and autonomy of indigenous peoples or first nations have met with oppression and discrimination from the state for hundreds of years. It should be highlighted that the Convention was inaugurated under a hostile climate characterized by negligence on the part of the government of Sebastián Piñera.

The second great task that the Convention had was establishing its rules of procedure. It is not easy to draw up new rules when the process of constitutional reform arose from a radical questioning not only of the country’s economic and social model but also of its way of doing politics. We must bear in mind that the constitutional assembly is not regulated by any institution so that what happened in practice was that the 155 delegates elected met and had to sit down together to decide the order in which they would draft the constitution,  what themes the discussions would be divided into, how progress would be reported outside the assembly, and what mechanisms would enable people to participate in the process. The general rules of procedure were finally adopted in October of this year, only four months into the Convention’s work. This evidences that it is making very good progress, in comparison to other constitutional processes around the world.

Regarding the rules themselves, there are two important aspects to be highlighted. The first noteworthy aspect has to do with the mechanisms for participation that they establish. This is significant because we have to understand the political process of the Convention as an act of political imagination in which certain major features of the democracy we seek to build are preconfigured. In addition to more traditional mechanisms, such as public hearings and town halls, the rules establish the possibility of holding an interim referendum for provisions that are backed by more than three-fifths of the Convention delegates but fail to obtain the two-thirds required for approval. Another innovation has to do with the popular initiative , as this mechanism allows any citizen to propose a constitutional provision on any issue. If proponents of a provision are able to gather more than 15,000 virtual signatures on the Convention platform in support of their proposal, the proposed provision will be considered by the corresponding thematic committee. They set a major precedent for the very contents of the new constitution toward guaranteeing that the model that is defined will take the country from a representative democracy to a participatory democracy that includes direct democracy mechanisms, such as popular legislative initiatives and referendums at the local and national level.

With respect to the discussion of contents, the rules established seven thematic committees, which will draft the provisions that will be put to the vote in the plenary. The seven committees are:

  1. Political System, Government, Legislative Branch, and Electoral System
  2. Constitutional Principles, Democracy, Nationality, and Citizenship
  3. Form of State, Decentralization, Equity, Land Justice, Local Governments, and Tax Structure
  4. Fundamental Rights
  5. Environment, Rights of Nature, Natural Commons, and Economic Model
  6. Justice Systems, Autonomous Oversight Bodies, and Constitutional Reform
  7. Knowledge Systems, Science and Technology, Culture, Art, and Heritage

These committees are now discussing key transformations for Chile’s future, including establishing that water is a human right and, as such, this natural commons must be removed from a regime that has de facto privatized it. It is also proposed that water and establishes that “all persons, without discrimination, have a right to sufficient, safe, acceptable, drinkable, pollution-free and physically accessible water.” Other important changes are the declaration of Chile as a plurinational state, the declaration of nature as a subject of rights, and the change in the state’s governing principle, from a principle of subsidiarity to a social or solidarity principle. From a feminist perspective, there is a proposal to eliminate all gender-based asymmetry in public and political participation, thus enabling a state with equal representation in its three branches. Also raised was the need to establish social co-responsibility in care at the constitutional level. It is hoped that care work, which has historically been shouldered by women without any kind of social or economic recognition, can be transferred onto the state, achieving a constitution that enables a national care system. While a care-related provision has yet to be presented, it is highly likely that a right to care and be cared for will be included in the list of fundamental rights.

The historical demand of Chilean women for our sexual and reproductive rights (and the possible adoption of law that enables abortion) is, without a doubt, also at the center of this proposal.

Chile, a country imagined

The country that is imagined from these perspectives is fundamentally different from the economic and social model imposed by the dictatorship, in which the state was shrunk to its minimum expression, to the point of basically relinquishing to the market the provision of rights, leaving the state to provide such rights only for those who cannot pay. This turned Chile into a country with  housing, health, and education for the rich , a pension system in which social security is left at the mercy of erratic investment profitability, a plundered nature,  whole communities without access to drinking water as a result of the pillaging of deregulated agribusinesses, and a tax system that does nothing to reduce inequality. All of this is crowned by Chile’s profound socioeconomic inequality. According to a study led by the Paris School of Economics’ World Inequality Lab, the richest 1 percent of the population owns half of the country’s wealth, while the poorest 50 percent has an approximate combined wealth tending to nearly 0 percent of the total.

Once all the provisions of the new constitution are approved, a harmonization committee will be formed to consolidate the new constitutional text, which must be finalized by July 5, 2022.

The new constitution and the future president of Chile

On Sunday, December 19, Chile will be electing its next president in a runoff election between Gabriel Boric, the candidate of the Frente Amplio (a coalition that emerged primarily from the 2011 student movement), and José Antonio Kast, the candidate of the Republican Party. The election is, thus, between the leftwing forces that championed the constitutional change and a far-right that expressed its rejection to it in the 2021 referendum. The future government will not only have to implement the constitutional changes along with the legislative branch (where the left and the right are currently tied in the number of seats), it will also have to organize the referendum that concludes the constituent process, where voters will approve or reject the new constitution. Chile’s progressive forces are now facing a presidential election against a leadership that has not only systematically denied the climate crisis, vindicated the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, and shown a high degree of misogyny, but which was also against guaranteeing gender parity and reserving seats for indigenous peoples in the Convention.

At the end of the day, Chile faces an election in which many of us will be looking to defend the democratic gains secured, the rights achieved, and the culmination of a constituent process that we hope will pave the way for a cycle of profound transformations that will bring us closer to that country we dream of.


By : Carolina Pérez Dattari

Date: December 16, 2021

Source: Transnational Institute 



Book Review: The Digital Disconnect by Ellen Helsper

In The Digital Disconnect, Ellen Helsper explores how digital and social inequalities are interlinked and what we might do to prevent them. Utilising an intersectional perspective and showing careful attention to the use of language around ICT use, this book offers a useful overview of the key issues relating to socio-digital inequalities and possible solutions, writes Anna Rohmann.

The Digital Disconnect. Ellen Helsper. SAGE Publications. 2021.

Have you heard of the digital divide? Ever wondered what ‘digital natives’ are and why it’s good to be one? Or why tech moguls like Elon Musk or Bill Gates lead rankings of the richest people on earth? Inequalities in the access and use of technology as well as the benefits of them are hot topics. If some people gain from the use of information and communication technology (ICT), is there something we can do to distribute those benefits more equally? And how does this relate to existing inequalities?

The question of how digital and social inequalities are related and what we might do to prevent them is what Ellen Helsper, Professor of Digital Inequalities at LSE, tackles in her book The Digital Disconnect. To address the interplay and consequences of these inequalities in-depth, she combines qualitative and quantitative data, derived mostly from LSE’s DiSTO project but also from public institutional databases, among them the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank.

The Digital Disconnect aims to fill a gap in theorisations of socio-digital inequalities where ‘the middle is largely missing. Relatively few scholars incorporate the networks and communities where people live their everyday lives’ (41). Consequently, Helsper narrows in on the meso level (between the micro and the macro) and aims to raise awareness of the social components of our engagement with ICTs and resulting socio-digital inequalities.

In Helsper’s definition, socio-digital inequalities refer to ‘the systematic differences in the ability and opportunity for people to beneficially use (or decide not to use) ICTs, while avoiding negative outcomes of digital engagement now and in the future’ (27). The conceptual focus on inequalities of outcome is convincing as she demonstrates that even with the same opportunities, differences exist that cannot be chalked up to personal merit. Socio-digital inequalities are to be understood as intersectional, with compounding disadvantages that map onto traditional inequality research, as presented in the first chapter.

Unlike a book with a twin name, Digital Disconnect by Robert W. McChesney, this book considers the interplay of inequalities not just from an economic but also from multiple intersecting perspectives. Inspired by Pierre Bourdieu’s three fields of capital (economic, social and cultural), Helsper developed the Corresponding Fields model (CF), putting the fields into relation with their digital counterparts. The CF model includes a fourth site – the personal – as capital reproduction also occurs in private spheres, not just systemic ones. Conscious of the critique of field theories being vague concepts with little practical relevance, Helsper emphasises that they are nevertheless important units of analysis as they illustrate that ‘links between social and digital inequalities are strongest between corresponding domains of offline and digital resources’ (39). The fields with their resources provide the structure for the rest of the book.

Tangible outcomes, like access to digital infrastructure (Chapter Three), digital skills measured in economic values (Chapter Four) and civic (formal and informal) engagement in the digital realm (Chapter Five), have often been the focus of inequalities research. However, Helsper notes that ‘the real issue is the continuation or exacerbation of existing inequalities’ (34), which includes the private, informal sphere, to which Chapters Six and Seven are dedicated. I found these chapters the most illuminating as the informal engagement with ICTs in the private and cultural sphere has received little attention in previous research, which is ‘a grave oversight’ (148).

Helsper makes the argument that it is equally important to understand how inclusion in online communities works to understand how differences in social wellbeing, online mobbing or loneliness affect us. Inequalities in our social relationships online often follow existing lines of stratification, meaning the vulnerable are less likely to have positive experiences and connections online than the already privileged. To address these compounded disadvantages, a multi-stakeholder approach is needed.

A similar picture emerges in cultural sites of content production and consumption. Digital segregation occurs from a positive feedback loop that encourages those who already feel accepted in society to make their voices heard, which ‘may unwittingly silence others, who do not see themselves represented, and who receive negative or no feedback on the content they create’ (177). The long-term consequences of this for our wellbeing and digital future are not yet researched.

Neither systemic approaches targeting neoliberal mindsets or class nor placing responsibility on an individual’s agency and skill can solve inequalities. This leads Helsper to conclude that change needs to happen on a collective level that takes intersectionality, relativity and network effects into account: ‘The lesson learned from sequential and compounded digital inequalities is that first-level (access), second-level (skills and engagement), and third-level (outcome) digital inequalities should always be studied and combatted together’ (180).

Scholars outline four possible scenarios for socio-digital futures in terms of inequalities: amplification (the rich get richer; see developments described in Chapters Six and Seven); stratification (the status quo stays); normalisation (equality is achieved); and leapfrogging (the poor get rich, the rich stay behind). Helsper’s ‘realist-optimist’ (28) view emphasises possible actions and recommendations for curriculums and policymakers, which takes arguments past theoretical thought experiments and provides some hope that we can change our socio-digital futures for the better.

The chapters are neatly organised, dealing with the causes and consequences of socio-digital inequalities by going through all the fields of the CF framework. Following this clear structure makes reading about complex inequalities easier and the use of vignettes illustrates the points driven by quantitative data.

An appealing quality of Helsper’s writing is her careful attention to language. The term ‘socio-digital inequalities’ is deliberately coined to avoid techno- and socio-determinism, which the popular language of ‘the digital divide’ or ‘inequality’ alone can perpetuate. The same applies to the choice of ‘digital engagement’ over ‘ICT use’, reminding us that not using ICTs can also be a privileged form of engagement.

Another strength of The Digital Disconnect is the outcome-focused attention to the meso level and the refreshing intersectional perspective. This is an important step to filling the gap in socio-digital inequalities research, especially since it offers not just theorisations of the problem but also solutions.

Simultaneously, the focus on solutions is one of the book’s weaknesses. Helsper makes the underlying assumption that the reader and ‘victims’ of inequalities see them as undesirable (45) and would want them eradicated no matter the solution, whereas the reality is not as straightforward. An example is Helsper’s proposal for solving inequalities in the digital literacy skills of young people. Conventional approaches focus on teaching hard skills and risks online. Reframing digital skills training to include soft skills is supposed to prevent the ‘negative’ outcome of formal training that ‘slots individuals into gaps’ in the job market. While a balanced approach to education is necessary, filling a niche as ‘workers on a digital factory floor’ (92) might be preferred to being unemployed at a time when economic citizenship carries a lot of weight. The judgment behind what ‘negative’ or ‘positive’ outcomes are, who draws these lines and the categories used for this could be questioned more.

My main point of contention is the data foundation. ICT is a relatively recent phenomenon and fast-moving research environment. Therefore, there is a lack of longitudinal data about many ICT domains, especially its social components, as most studies focus on the Global North with a descriptive, economic outlook. The author tries not to perpetuate the data bias towards the Global North, but reliable, independent research just hasn’t been done yet. While well-grounded in Helsper’s scholarly knowledge, the speculations about the future left me somewhat unsatisfied. If other readers share this feeling, I hope it inspires projects to collect the missing data.

In addition, data is often collected per country; however, ICTs are translocal by definition, meaning they are rooted in local and global digital spheres alike. A new way to measure inequalities in translocal spaces where geographic categories like nation states do not always reflect the experience of participants is needed. Helsper does not problematise these traditional categories and measurements.

All in all, The Digital Disconnect provides a good meso-level analysis of socio-digital inequalities, organised along the lines of the CF framework, and it provokes thought on the nature of research needed. While easy to follow, some familiarity with the inequality literature or an understanding of Helsper’s previous research, which she draws heavily on, might be useful. Therefore, I would recommend this book to everyone interested in a good overview of the emerging literature, key issues and possible solutions to socio-digital inequalities, rather than as an introduction to the completely uninformed reader.

The digital is here to stay, so dealing with socio-digital inequalities will be a task for our future. Concluding with Helsper’s realist-optimist words, ‘the fact that we all play a role in shaping socio-digital environments also means that we can collectively create a more just socio-digital future’ (193).


Anna Rohmann scored a hat trick of MAs, each from a different country, before starting her PhD in Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London, where she is currently researching diversity and inclusion through financial technology. Her research interests lie at the intersection of the (digital) economy with gender, sexuality and social change. Her writing has appeared in the LACUS Journal, Economic Research Guardian and Disegno Journal, among others.


By:  Anna Rohmann – Goldsmiths, University of London

Date:  February 13, 2022

Source:  LSE Phelan US Centre 



Refugees and racial hierarchies in Lebanon

How refugee protection policies in the country ignore the prevalent problem of racism

There’s no denying that Lebanon has a race problem. Accounts of racially charged physical and verbal abuse of, and discrimination towards, black- and brown-skinned refugees and migrants are common. Civil society organisations such as the Anti-Racism Movement (ARM) have documented widespread racist and exploitative practices. Even the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has repeatedly pointed to Lebanon’s lack of anti-discrimination legislation and recommended that the country should ensure that all manifestations of racial discrimination are prohibited and punished.

During my almost decade-long research on refugee protection in Lebanon, I have had many conversations with refugees and other migrants from a wide range of backgrounds. I have also talked at length with humanitarian aid workers, activists and state officials. They all appear to agree on one important thing: that racial discrimination is a major issue for refugees from countries like Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia. Yet, in practice, the humanitarian response seems to disregard this issue in its entirety, and the situation of these refugees has long been overshadowed by larger humanitarian emergency responses for refugees from neighboring Middle Eastern countries. What is going on, and what can we do about it?

Humanitarianism and racialised hierarchies

Racial hierarchies have long pervaded humanitarian work worldwide. The current UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Tendayi Achiume, has pointed to the more specific racial implications of global refugee policy, showing how race continues to persist as a neocolonial structure by allocating benefits and advantages to some and not others.

Even though the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has repeatedly underscored that non-discrimination is central to its protection mandate, the provision of protection and assistance arguably reflects changing geopolitical dynamics that apply a framework of preference to specific groups.

Comprising a few thousand individuals, Sudanese refugees constituted only around 4% of all “persons of concern” to UNHCR in Lebanon in 2018. With the majority of donor funding in the past decade directed towards specific programmes or on the basis of (Syrian) nationality, Sudanese refugees, one senior humanitarian worker told me some years back, were being “sidelined in the whole discussion”.

Racial hierarchies have long pervaded humanitarian work worldwide

This observation is not necessarily new nor limited to the Lebanese context. In 2009 a review of UNHCR’s operation for Iraqi refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria found an “unacceptable” level of disparate treatment of “non-Iraqi” refugees, including, most notably, refugees of African descent. More recently in Jordan, UNHCR’s purportedly discriminatory treatment of African refugees triggered massive external pressure to adopt a “one refugee” approach setting out that humanitarian aid organisations, governments and UN agencies should not discriminate against or for certain refugee nationalities.

The racially structured sidelining of these refugees risks obscuring humanitarian understandings of their protection concerns. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the humanitarian vulnerability assessments we see in Lebanon today.

Assessing vulnerabilities

In Lebanon, humanitarian vulnerability assessments in their current form fail to account for a category of harm that compromises the protection of refugees of African descent. Over the course of the Syrian refugee response, UNHCR, UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) have co-published an annual ‘Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon’ (VASyR) report, which provides a multi-sectoral update of the situation of this population. Since 2016, these agencies have also conducted a similar assessment for other refugee populations, including those of African descent – the ‘Vulnerability Assessment of Refugees of Other Nationalities in Lebanon’ (VARON). These vulnerability assessments are important because they provide the backbone for the provision of protection and assistance.

VARON brings to light some important discrepancies in the vulnerabilities of different refugee groups. VARON 2018 makes clear that the situation of “Iraqi and nationalities other than Syrian” is often “overshadowed”, and concludes that, among the surveyed refugee groups, those from countries other than Iraq – that is, Sudanese included – “were systematically worse off, and at times significantly so, for virtually all indicators”.

Racialised hierarchies in global refugee protection are a serious legitimacy and accountability problem for the UNHCR

While the vulnerability assessments may seem to highlight, rather than make invisible, the problems of Sudanese refugees, they nonetheless contain substantial shortcomings. First, by placing Sudanese and other African refugees in vague categories such as “non-Iraqis”, “non-Syrians” and “refugees of other nationalities”, humanitarian actors help mask the unique protection concerns and circumstances of these refugee groups. Labels such as these risk portraying Sudanese and other African refugees as mere ‘remnants’ or ‘leftovers’, seen in contrast to a ‘main’ refugee group rather than as a distinct group with equal rights.

Second, the VARON does not capture the intersectional and structural dynamics in which the lives of Sudanese refugees are situated, such as socio-economic class, gender and race. In fact, the VARON is blind to the question of racial discrimination altogether and contains no references at all to questions of race or discrimination. This essentially means that the assessment fails to take into account a whole category of harms that often constitute the very core of protection concerns.

Legitimacy and accountability

Overall, racialised hierarchies in global refugee protection are a serious legitimacy and accountability problem for the UNHCR. The organisation is mandated to provide international protection and assistance to all refugees, in an equal manner and without discrimination.

While its global policies for addressing xenophobic discrimination have been criticised for being inadequate, a positive new development is UNHCR’s 2020 ‘Guidance on Racism and Xenophobia’. This policy document is expected to broaden UNHCR’s scope to engage with structural forms of racial and xenophobic discrimination.

It is high time, then, to bring the overarching approaches embedded within this new policy into practice by including them in the humanitarian vulnerability assessments that UNHCR helps to design. Acknowledging the specific race-related vulnerabilities of refugees of African descent in Lebanon is an important step towards dismantling the racial ordering system that is ever too prevalent in this region.


By: Maja Janmyr

Date: January 17, 2022

Source: Open Democracy