Social Justice, Democratization and Social Movements

                               

                               Photo by :   Mostafa Meraji (Unsplash)

 

What’s in a social justice diet??

 

It’s perfectly possible to eat with equality and sustainability as priorities.

Billions of dollars are spent telling individuals how to eat healthy. But even if you follow EAT-Lancet’s planet-friendly diet to a T, and your dinner plate is filled with gluten-free nutrivore fare, vegan locavore leafy greens, and ovo-pescatarian (wild caught!) omega-3’s, it still might be missing something. America’s industrialized food production and the dire nature of our planetary health raise the question: How do we add climate and social justice to our diet?

This year, members of the federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will convene to update their recommendations. But this effort to help guide Americans toward a “balanced” diet is also the product of lobbying by the dairy, grain, and meat industries, which have long been accused of pursuing dollars at the expense of health.

Considering the impact of environmental racism and the number of food deserts in the United States, it’s clear that food production and consumption are not just about personal decisions. It’s about politics and systems that determine who has healthy grocery options available and who does not. Existing guidelines not only ignore the needs of the climate and rely on intensive factory farming practices, but they assign blame for poor bodily health and quality of life based on “choices” that, for many people, simply do not exist.

What would it look like to be able to eat with justice—social, racial, economic, and climate—in mind?

 

Honor tribal treaties and food systems.

Before we talk about eating, we have to talk about the land on which our food is grown. In contrast to the American colonial prioritization of extracting resources from the ground, rivers, and oceans, Indigenous food systems are built on a relationship with the land. But when Native peoples were forced to leave their lands—along with their soils and place-based expertise—they were robbed of the healthy diets they had developed over generations.

Genocide, forced assimilation, creation of reservation territories, and continuance of anti-Native policies have dispossessed Native people of two kinds of wealth: the ability to truly self-govern and manage their land, and the ability to build capital, which would enable individuals to make choices about how to live a healthy lifestyle.

“What we’ve noticed, and what I’ve aimed to do, is promote the simple enrichment of diets through our traditional foods, because we know that eating just one traditional food meal a week changes the blood,” says Valerie Segrest, a member of the Muckleshoot tribe and a director with the Native American Agriculture Fund. According to a 2019 U.N. report, Indigenous peoples steward 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity—plant and animal species that are essential to climate health.

But the U.S. government has an abysmal record of breaching treaties made with Native governments. And by replacing Native food systems with industrialized versions, Segrest says the U.S. harms the land and public health simultaneously. Native leaders, U.S. scientists, and public health officials say that chronic diseases, including diabetes, didn’t exist in Native communities until the mid-20th century. Now, Native people have the highest rate of diabetes of any racial and ethnic group in the U.S.

Segrest has worked with all of the tribes in Washington state to teach the importance of traditional ingredients and says that Native foods are the remedy to this health crisis: “What’s good for an Indian is good for everybody.”

 

Grow knowledge and anti-racist practices.

Ayanna Jones is a Black farmer, educator, and community organizer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She lives in a majority-Black community, which runs up against a number of institutionalized racist practices. “Food justice is huge for us,” Jones says, detailing how her community’s food options are limited to local grocery stores that often sell low-quality or spoiled produce.

The stores offering higher quality and healthier options are intentionally located in the wealthy White communities, where customers are thought to be more interested in and able to pay for them. For those who can afford to travel to these neighborhoods to shop, their dollars end up leaving their own communities.

With this in mind, Jones says she began to think about what it would look like to grow her own food, to become self-sufficient. She wanted to find a way to show young people in the community that their bodies were worthy of food that is not rotten or laden with sugar and salt.

In 2015, Jones started the Sankofa Village Community Garden to provide anti-food-apartheid education and community programs, including gardening for seniors and summer camps for youth. Here she teaches young people how to produce their own food and how their bodies feel when they eat food that’s good for them.

“I give them that mental food,” Jones says. “They’re discovering the myths they’ve been given about food and food justice.” But even when one learns that sugar-filled cereal won’t sustain a child throughout the school day, if parents aren’t paid a wage that allows them to purchase healthier options, it’s difficult to turn knowledge into action. Still, Jones believes that “information is power”—that knowing is better than not knowing. “I’m growing to educate,” she says.

 

Shift food policy by buying regionally.

In nearly every corner of the country, it’s cheaper to purchase a liter of soda than it is to buy a head of broccoli; a 2013 study found that a “healthy” diet cost $550 more per person per year than an “unhealthy” one. For a family of four, that’s an extra $2,200 each year. “The system is set up to feed poor people more poorly,” says fifth-generation farmer Andy Dunham, who runs an organic vegetable operation in Grinnell, Iowa. “The only reason that soda is so cheap [is because] the United States government subsidizes the hell out of those crops: sugar cane and corn.” Billions of federal dollars are disbursed annually growing Big-Ag products: corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice, and to industries like big beef and big pork rather than small family farmers.

“I don’t think people have any idea about how much we spend on policy that [is] environmentally degrading,” Dunham says. To combat today’s industrial production, he calls for establishing ecologically diverse farming systems and a managed grazing system that allows soil to sequester carbon. And empowering people to know the difference. If consumers and voters understand the environmental implications of what they’re purchasing and which businesses they’re supporting through their consumption, then food policy at the federal level might look different. “Having a food literate society allows for policy to be sane,” he says.

In terms of what that translates to on the plate, Dunham says climate justice eating is about having a region-based diet. That doesn’t always mean picking plants over meat; it means taking into consideration where your food was raised and what kinds of energy, chemicals, and transport went into that process. You may need to change your approach to menu planning to reflect what’s in season, rather than relying on production somewhere that’s enjoying summer during your winter. This approach supports local farmers and keeps the carbon footprint of your food relatively low.

 

Support community-run collectives.

All forms of structural inequalities are made visible in the industrialized food system—from production to consumption, says Victor Brazelton, a community activist and educator with Planting Justice, an Oakland, California-based grassroots organization that works to cultivate food sovereignty, economic justice, and community healing through individual and communal empowerment. Planting Justice hires organizers, farmers, and activists who were formerly incarcerated. Part of its work is to combat current-day colonization and community displacement by building access to organic food through community gardens and educating kids about what healthy food looks and tastes like. “Food is medicine,” Brazelton says. Sustainable farming practices heal people and the planet.

“Community first starts wherever you are,” Brazelton adds, which includes acknowledging and collaborating with the people who originally stewarded the land. In the East Bay of California, the state government forced Ohlone tribes from their land through violence, but despite this, they still live and practice Ohlone culture today in what’s now called Oakland. Planting Justice developed a partnership with the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, which works to repossess stolen Ohlone land. Planting Justice is currently working to pay off a 2-acre land parcel, and when it does, it will hand the deed over to the Land Trust.

“What’s really important is people having agency over their food,” says Molly Scalise of FRESHFARM, a D.C.-based food justice organization. FRESHFARM brings healthy food directly to communities through farmers markets, in-school programs, and gleaning programs, which distribute unsold produce to shelters. The organization also runs a farm-share through local schools, where parents can purchase produce at a subsidized rate using SNAP benefits. Scalise says this is necessarily a collaborative effort with D.C. residents to make sure it’s “not invasive or intrusive.” She says solutions arise from working with neighbors and communities.

The goal is making options more accessible to consumers in order to impact community health while ensuring that local farms remain profitable.

 

Develop relationship-oriented food systems.

How can we begin to talk about justice when those most impacted have the least access to decision-making tools and systems? That question is at the center of Jamie Harvie’s work. Harvie is the executive director of the Institute for a Sustainable Future, which works to build solutions for ecological health through advocacy and research. A food justice diet, he says, must mitigate climate impact, reduce poverty, and ensure that decision-making processes include those most impacted.

Ultimately, Harvie says, what’s good for the climate will be good for people too. But White, Western, colonial systems have conditioned many of us out of the understanding that food systems and communal health are connected.

Food justice must return systems to communities, Harvie explains. Organizations like Oregon Rural Action tackle food injustice from a farming and policy perspective, by working to change state laws that allow farmers to sell directly to consumers, as well as collaborating with the state’s Department of Energy to provide low-interest loans to schools upgrading their energy systems, and building access to local farmers markets. Local food systems that are communally owned and operated allow for communal wealth creation. This means that food is not only eaten in the same region where it is produced, but the financial and public health benefits uplift the community as well.

Tying together food and climate justice isn’t an intellectual exercise, Harvie notes. Justice work, in any form, is about creating and sustaining relationships with one another, including the relationships with the Earth and our food systems. We have to do the hard work of moving from a transactional, colonial, and capitalist model of feeding ourselves to a relational model of feeding and caring for each other.

 

This article was first published in YES! Magazine under a different stand-first and lead image.

 

By                   :                     Ray Levy-Uyeda

Date               :                     September 15, 2020

Source           :                      Open Democracy

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/transformation/whats-in-a-social-justice-diet/

 

Youth of color disproportionately represented in the justice system

 

Teenagers and youth across the country commit the same types of crimes – carrying a weapon, drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana and fighting – but even as the number of incarcerated youth has declined, disparities affecting young people of color have continued to grow.

This overrepresentation of minority youth is only half of the picture, a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed, along with other reports. 

Youth of color account for 28% of the U.S. population in 2017, according to a study from the Pew Research Center. However, they represented 67% of offenders in residential placement, according to Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 

Joshua Rovner, a senior advocacy associate for the Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C., said there isn’t a significant difference between the crimes committed by youth of different ethnicities. The overrepresentation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system originates from systemic inequalities. 

“There are differences, but none of the differences are big enough to explain the differences in arrests,” Rovner said. 

He said the disparity gets worse at every step through the juvenile justice system. 

Nationally, Black youth are five times more likely to be detained or confined than white youth, the Sentencing Project reported. Native American youth are three times more likely and Latino youth are roughly two times more likely than white youth. 

Growing up in Rochester, Minnesota, Dylan Sutter said he always helped out his single mother, took care of his younger siblings, never got into trouble and dreamed of playing college basketball.

Today, after a long history with the juvenile justice system, the 21-year-old sits in a cell in the Faribault Correctional Facility, where he’s serving a five-year sentence for burglary. 

“I never had problems with him when he was very young,” said his mother, Leslie Sutter. “He was never a troubled young man that I saw. But now when he describes things to me and he’s written me letters, he says, ‘Mom, I always felt like it was part of my future and my destiny to go to prison like my dad did.'”Experts point to many factors contributing to these disparities, including the disproportionate presence of police in communities of color. 

Minority youth lack “the benefit of the doubt,” said Tanya Washington, a senior associate for the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore in its Juvenile Justice Strategy Group.

“I think (it’s) assuming that the behavior that (white youth) are engaged in warrants a call to their parents and a non-justice system resolution, versus youth of color, (which) almost by default involves police, in handcuffs, and a judge and a charge,” Washington said. 

Growing up in Rochester, Minnesota, Dylan Sutter said he always helped out his single mother, took care of his younger siblings, never got into trouble and dreamed of playing college basketball.

Today, after a long history with the juvenile justice system, the 21-year-old sits in a cell in the Faribault Correctional Facility, where he’s serving a five-year sentence for burglary. 

“I never had problems with him when he was very young,” said his mother, Leslie Sutter. “He was never a troubled young man that I saw. But now when he describes things to me and he’s written me letters, he says, ‘Mom, I always felt like it was part of my future and my destiny to go to prison like my dad did.'”Experts point to many factors contributing to these disparities, including the disproportionate presence of police in communities of color. 

Minority youth lack “the benefit of the doubt,” said Tanya Washington, a senior associate for the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore in its Juvenile Justice Strategy Group.

“I think (it’s) assuming that the behavior that (white youth) are engaged in warrants a call to their parents and a non-justice system resolution, versus youth of color, (which) almost by default involves police, in handcuffs, and a judge and a charge,” Washington said. 

“I felt in high school, the principal and the administration had their eye on me a little too much,” he said. 

The presence of school resource officers often leads students into the justice system, known as the school-to-prison pipeline, for more arbitrary offenses. 

“I made a lot of mistakes and I maybe earned that target on my back,” Sutter said. “But even when I thought I was doing the right thing and wasn’t involved in any trouble, I felt like they still were out to get me.”

Black youth are the most overrepresented minority group, according to the Sentencing Project. In six states – New Jersey, Wisconsin, Montana, Delaware, Connecticut and Massachusetts – they are at least 10 times more likely to be held, which is twice the national average. 

Disparities continue to grow in some states.

Kentucky decreased the overall detention rate for youth by 20% from 2014 to 2017, but detentions of Black children grew by 30% in 2017, according to the Kentucky Juvenile Justice Oversight Council. 

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, when some detainees are being released to reduce their risk of infection, white youth are being released at higher rates than Black youth, a recent Annie E. Casey Foundation report found.

Black juveniles represent about 54% of youth transferred to the adult system, according to the Campaign for Youth Justice. 

Rachel Antonuccio, a juvenile public defender in Johnson County, Iowa, represents juveniles facing charges in adult court. She said most of the children she represents are kids of color in a state the Census Bureau says is 85% white non-Hispanic. 

“The initial charge is based on police discretion, and that’s how you start in adult court,” she said. “My concern is that racism in the police system is responsible for quite a bit of this, frankly. And then, racism across systems. That’s where it starts.” 

Police officers and college students surveyed by the American Psychology Association found that “Black (children) were rated as more culpable than Latinos, and Latinos were rated as more culpable than Whites.”  

 

Black youth treated differently

Black children as young as 13 have been viewed as adults, the report said.

“In other words, our findings suggest that, although most children are allowed to be innocent until adulthood, Black children may be perceived as innocent only until deemed suspicious,” it stated. 

Kameron Johnson, the chief juvenile public defender in Travis County, Texas, said perception of age is important to consider. 

Black children have “the same gestures and mannerisms, say, that a white child would, but (officers) are seeing them in different ways,” he said. 

Johnson said Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old killed by Cleveland police in 2014 while playing with a pellet gun, was prejudged by officers responding to a 911 call of a man brandishing a gun.

“They pulled a gun on him,” Johnson said. “The officer viewed him as threatening. And then the response (was), ‘Oh, he looked older than he was.'” 

Rice’s death, at the hands of law enforcement, is one of many that inspired the Black Lives Matter movement, which continues to gain traction through protests and national efforts to reform police departments.

The adultification of juveniles particularly affects youth of color, said Samantha Mellerson, the chief of strategy and impact at The W. Haywood Burns Institute, which works towards eliminating racial and ethnic disparities. 

“In a training session once, somebody (pointed out) the Dennis the Menace cartoon,” Mellerson recalled. “What would that look like if that was the Black boy? Totally different.” 

Mellerson said assumptions about children of color are unfair and that minority kids feel they can’t be kids.

Glenn said he grew up knowing police would assume he was older than he was. 

“Where I come from, in my type of neighborhood, you’re an adult as soon as you’re over 5 foot, 5 inches, that’s the way the police deal with you,” Glenn said. “They don’t deal with you like a child, they deal with you like an adult.”

Latino juveniles also face adultification, according to a 2016 report from the Northwestern Journal of Law & Social Policy, which stated, “Black and Latino boys were more likely than white boys to be seen as older by law enforcement and legal actors.” 

Black and Latina girls are not exempt either. Minority girls have a higher likelihood of being incarcerated compared with white girls. 

Black girls made up 34% of youth in U.S. detention facilities in 2019, while Hispanic girls accounted for 22%, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In 2015, more than 6 out of every 10 females in residential placement were minorities.

Iliana Pujols, 22, was expelled from high school after getting into an altercation with another girl. Pujols said police officers never asked her side of the story. 

“The immediate assumption was that I was the aggressor because I was a little bit bigger than the other girl,” said Pujols, who is Latina. “They thought I was over 18, but I’ve always presented myself as a very mature person, and an older person, so nobody knew that I was 16 years old at the time.”

Latino and Native American youth encounter unique biases within the juvenile justice system. Their identities are underreported and misrepresented in data, and they often face prejudice from law enforcement, experts said. 

Hispanic youth on average are detained about two times more often than white youth, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Edgar Ibarra, 27, said he felt police targeted him and presumed he was in a gang because of his Chicano Indigenous identity. 

Growing up fatherless, and with his mother constantly working, Ibarra said he had little guidance. Watsonville did not have enough youth services, Ibarra said, and he struggled to find a path in life. 

“The people that we looked up to were just kind of like the guys hanging out around our blocks around the neighborhood,” Ibarra recalled. 

Although Ibarra said he was not in a gang at the time, the juvenile justice system always treated him like he was. Police often would approach him and his friends if they were walking in a group, performing “tattoo checks” and taking down personal information. 

When he was 12, Ibarra was stopped by a police officer, asked to take off his shirt so his gang-related tattoos could be photographed – but he had none. 

“They’d put your name on there, they would determine what gang you were already going to be a part of and begin the whole process,” he said. 

Presumed gang affiliation is a prejudice most Latino youth face, said Washington, D.C., attorney Julie Swaney, which often is based on the assumption that a Latino or Hispanic surname means gang involvement.

“That already stigmatizes the child who may not be involved at all in any type of gang activity,” Swaney said.

Ibarra said his mother, who wasn’t a citizen at the time of his conviction, was barely involved in the legal process. 

“She never spoke up in court because she was scared that they might question her and she might get deported,” he said. “I thought that she was just the kind of the normal, soft-spoken … Mexican mother (who) just doesn’t want to change anything.”

Today, Ibarra works for Motivation Individual Leadership for Public Advancement (MILPA), an organization staffed by formerly incarcerated people whose mission is to “cultivate” change-makers. His work focuses on helping Latino youth avoid or navigate the justice system, using his own experiences to provide insight. 

In Utah, Montana and Pennsylvania, Latino youth are more than three times as likely to be held in placement than white youth, and in Massachusetts they’re more than seven times as likely, according to the Sentencing Project.

He was convicted for the first time at the age of 15 in Santa Clara, California, of assault and robbery. He was in the Preston Castle Reform School from 2008 to 2013. 

Although Ibarra said he was not in a gang at the time, the juvenile justice system always treated him like he was. Police often would approach him and his friends if they were walking in a group, performing “tattoo checks” and taking down personal information. 

When he was 12, Ibarra was stopped by a police officer, asked to take off his shirt so his gang-related tattoos could be photographed – but he had none. 

“They’d put your name on there, they would determine what gang you were already going to be a part of and begin the whole process,” he said. 

Presumed gang affiliation is a prejudice most Latino youth face, said Washington, D.C., attorney Julie Swaney, which often is based on the assumption that a Latino or Hispanic surname means gang involvement.

“That already stigmatizes the child who may not be involved at all in any type of gang activity,” Swaney said.

Ibarra said his mother, who wasn’t a citizen at the time of his conviction, was barely involved in the legal process. 

“She never spoke up in court because she was scared that they might question her and she might get deported,” he said. “I thought that she was just the kind of the normal, soft-spoken … Mexican mother (who) just doesn’t want to change anything.”

Today, Ibarra works for Motivation Individual Leadership for Public Advancement (MILPA), an organization staffed by formerly incarcerated people whose mission is to “cultivate” change-makers. His work focuses on helping Latino youth avoid or navigate the justice system, using his own experiences to provide insight. 

In Utah, Montana and Pennsylvania, Latino youth are more than three times as likely to be held in placement than white youth, and in Massachusetts they’re more than seven times as likely, according to the Sentencing Project.

Like Sutter, Ibarra said going to jail felt like the path he was destined to take.

“I thought (going to jail) was OK, it was normalized,” Ibarra said. “It should’ve never been normalized, it should’ve never been internalized nor should ever have been OK, but growing up at the time, that’s what it was.”

Jaime Arredondo, executive director of CAPACES Leadership Institute, an organization focused on leadership development within Latino communities, said he worries about the effect of disproportionate incarceration has on Latino youth. 

“We’re losing our youth, we’re losing our workers, we’re losing a brother, a sister, a potential entrepreneur, a taxpayer,” he said. 

 

Statistics on Latinos ‘unreliable’

No uniform system of data collection exists to identify youth as Hispanic and Latino when they’re detained, according to Melissa Sickmund, director of the National Center for Juvenile Justice. Some systems, but not all, include multiracial as an identifier. 

Rovner said data surrounding incarceration rates of Latino and Native youth can be unreliable. Often Latino or Hispanic youth are categorized solely as white, and Native youth are identified as Latino or Hispanic. 

“The fact that the data is aggregated, or disaggregated, and just grouped in such a way that each kid only gets one ethnicity,” said Rovner from the Sentencing Project. “Well, half of Native youth in this country are also Latino, but they get categorized only as one or the other.”

Data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention shows Native American youth are nearly three times as likely to be detained or committed than white youth, but Native Americans account for less than 2% of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau.  

“Native American youth are bearing the brunt of this in an epic way as well,” said Tshaka Barrows, CEO of the W. Haywood Burns Institute. “But it’s rarely discussed.”  

A 15-year-old boy from Wyoming received 20 years in prison after bringing two loaded guns to school when he was 14. He pled guilty to assault and possession of a firearm with unlawful intent. Dale Warner, originally from the Lakota Sioux Tribe on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, faced difficult circumstances growing up, according to his adoptive family. 

Warner developed a fetal alcohol syndrome disorder as a baby, a common issue in Native American communities plagued by higher rates of alcoholism and a lack of preventative resources, a BMC Public Health study stated.  

His adoptive father, Scott Warner, said his son met a harsher judicial process than white youth who had committed similar crimes in Gillette. 

“I honestly think race had something to do with it, because it just seems weird how the other cases, and I’m going to say there’s probably three or four of them, never saw the light of day as far as adult court or any of that,” Scott Warner said. “Yet my son all a sudden has 20 years in prison.”

Swaney, the Washington attorney who works on the Criminal Justice Act Panel and the Juvenile Delinquency Panel, said the solution is preventing kids from ever getting to the courthouse door. 

“If they need to be in the court system because of the severity of the offense or because there just has been repetitive activity of that nature, then we need to focus more on what types of things are actually effective at preventing or solving some of those problems,” she said. 

LaTasha DeLoach, co-chair of the Iowa Disproportionate Minority Contact Committee, said it is important to use data to create solutions for disparities and create positive results for minority communities.  

“I really believe the answer is always there.” she said. “It’s about us finding it and finding the things that are impacting kids that are ending up in this space.” 

 

Mikhayla Hughes-Shaw is a Murray Endowment fellow.

This report is part of Kids Imprisoned, a project produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 initiative, a national investigative reporting project by top college journalism students and recent graduates from across the country. It is headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

 

By                :                   Mikhayla Hughes-Shaw, Nicole Sroka and Victoria Traxler/News21

Date            :                   September 2, 2020

Source        :                   Cronkite News

https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2020/09/02/systemic-racial-disparities-juvenile-justice/

 

Book Review: A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice by Caty Borum Chattoo and Lauren Feldman

 

In A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice, Caty Borum Chattoo and Lauren Feldman explore how comedy can serve to advance a social justice agenda. Drawing on her own experience of writing and producing comedy shows in Berlin, Christine Sweeney finds that this book offers answers to questions she has long been pondering: how do we open up social research and discourse to wider audiences; how do we highlight the absurdities of our world, making us laugh and think? 

A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice. Caty Borum Chattoo and Lauren Feldman. University of California Press. 2020.

‘If you’re thinking, you’re not laughing. Rule one of comedy,’ my stand-up teacher continued, ‘plenty of political comedians are skilled at this kind of humour, leave political or issue humour to them’. But if I wasn’t allowed to use politics and current events as comedy material, what would that leave? Stale observations about Tinder dates, eccentric people on the bus and worn-out gendered stereotypes? What is the dreadful state of current events if not prime material for comedy?

That’s right: I went from earning a master’s degree at LSE to a stand-up comedy class. I’ve also taken classes in improv, sketch-writing and sketch producing. How does someone go from a career in policy analysis to full-on immersion in the Frankfurt School of critical theory to chasing English-language open-mic nights in Berlin? For me, comedy was a coping mechanism I’d developed over the past few years of particular political uncertainty. Making jokes of everything was a salve for the sting of total disillusionment. It was an antidote to the earnest and material worlds of economics and politics, which I had come to regard with total cynicism and hopelessness. Once professionally driven to ‘make the world a better place’, the unexpected results of elections and referendums shattered my (naive and overly optimistic) world. I turned away from analysing and solving problems I felt were unsolvable.

With the state of the world, I might offer a revision to my stand-up teacher’s advice on political comedy: ‘If you’re thinking, you’re crying, not laughing.’ From a place of relative privilege, I wanted to stop crying when I thought about global problems of inequality and climate change. Laughing seemed to be the only alternative. However, I felt frustrated with a constructed dichotomy of the silly and serious when, more often than not, I found myself laughing and crying at the same cycle of news. In avoiding actually doing something about it, did I really have to choose between laughing and crying?

And we are more comfortable in knowing or being directed towards when we are meant to be silly versus sombre. Everyone knows the uncomfortable feeling of reacting to a joke that wasn’t intended to be a joke, or taking something seriously that was said in jest. Being able to manipulate people’s reactions with storytelling and context is a power I first witnessed seeing Hannah Gadsby’s stand-up special Nanette. In it, she points out the heartbreaking real-life experiences of violence, poverty and homophobia that inspired her comedy. She has her live audience laughing before uncomfortably pausing when she explains the punchlines of her previous comedy sets. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that she manoeuvres using a dry tone and comedic timing, skills she honed during her previous career as an art history scholar. Her audience came for the comedy, but perhaps left with a deeper understanding of everyday homophobia and the male gaze in classical art.

How does a former academic learn to make others laugh? They research. And nothing makes a joke funnier than explaining it. In A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice, co-authors Caty Borum Chattoo and Lauren Feldman do just that: they explain the joke. Or rather, they explain how comedy can serve to advance a social justice agenda. Perhaps Borum Chattoo and Feldman would argue that activism and comedy are each made better when they collaborate. With overlapping backgrounds in communication scholarship, media strategy in the context of social change and justice, comedy and creative media production, the authors bring a veritable Venn diagram of perspectives. The central argument is that ‘comedy’s potential for public influence in the context of social issues is newly powerful in the digital media age’. They suggest that comedy isn’t a tool for social justice strategic communications, but rather an artform to depict what public radio would call ‘the world’s most pressing issues’.

The book examines how different forms of mediated comedy, including satirical news, scripted episodic TV, comedy documentary, stand-up comedy and sketch, have the unique potential to increase message and issue attention, disarm audiences, lower resistance to persuasion, break down social barriers and stimulate sharing and discussion. If this sounds like a practical handbook for communication strategists more than an academic discourse analysis, you’d be partially correct. As someone who is professionally indecisive and curious to a fault, I’ve spent time in academia, social justice and comedy. My brain is constantly making jokes, and then overanalysing those jokes to a point where I am a bit too silly for academia and a bit too serious for comedy; this book quite eerily spoke to me.

A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar doesn’t argue for or against comedy as a vehicle for social justice. Rather, it lays out how convergence culture, the power of the media consumer to influence the media producer, has allowed for ‘niche’ comedy, from comedians previously regarded as ‘niche’, to use identity or format to send a message via a larger platform, thanks to technology. Whereas mediated comedy used to be censored by mass-market demands, ratings and the tastes of executive gatekeepers, streaming has expanded and diversified platforms for emerging voices.

In a world where news and entertainment are interspersed on news feeds, and ‘news’ takes on a double-meaning of current public and private events, ‘The News’ has expanded to cover more frivolous topics, like gossip and the personal lives of public figures. At the same time, entertainment has taken on more serious topics. The internet’s globalisation of both news and entertainment has also expanded access to diverse commentary on this content. An optimistic reading of technology’s power to connect us would suggest that it also has the power to build empathy, giving us access to the experiences and perspectives of others. According to Borum Chattoo and Feldman, comedy, sharing a joke, requires that comedians and audiences have a common understanding of current affairs, in order to then distort that reality. Global access to news media expands our shared library of comedic ‘material’. Those who deliver that comedy can describe the absurdity they experience every day. To quote fictional comedienne Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel, otherwise known as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel:

Comedy is fueled by oppression, by the lack of power, by sadness and disappointment, by abandonment and humiliation. Now, who the hell does that describe more than women? Judging by those standards, only women should be funny.

If oppression, lack of power, sadness and disappointment are the stuff of great comedy, perhaps we are in a Golden Age of humour. The mechanics of turning this dark matter into something that is at once funny and thought-provoking is another major theme of the book. Borum Chattoo and Feldman describe the ways in which satirical comedians like Jon Stewart, John Oliver and Samantha Bee effectively break down complex concepts, particularly in US and global politics, for issue awareness and social change. For example, ahead of the 2012 US presidential elections, Stephen Colbert made campaign finance law understandable, describing how money is effectively laundered to legally fund candidates. While his audience may not had gone out of their way to study complex campaign finance law, on his show comedy served as a primer to get people to pay attention. This is the role of comedy in social justice. Getting us to pay attention.

From a social science research perspective, Borum Chattoo and Feldman sprinkle in studies demonstrating comedy’s ability to promote information retention. In another, 20 minutes of stand-up comedy was comparable to 20 minutes of exercise in terms of promoting positive wellbeing. Other studies show the ways in which comedy induces ‘arousal and mirth’, disarming us and making us more playful. This openness helps us to see the world in new ways.

While satirical news shows like Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show and Oliver’s Last Week Tonight often preach to a progressive choir, scripted episodic television has the power to introduce social issues and diverse viewpoints to wider audiences. Borum Chattoo and Feldman give the example of Black-ish, a US family sitcom created by Kenya Barris. With Nielsen data suggesting that as many as 80 per cent of the show’s viewers since the 2016-17 season are not Black (62), the show has brought themes of racism and police brutality to those who may not have had personal experience of or previous engagement with these topics. Scripted television, particularly in the US, has served as a ‘centralised system of storytelling that shapes perceived social reality of its audiences’, or cultivation theory. Through this centralised storytelling, contact hypothesis suggests that ‘positive interactions between members of diverse social groups can reduce prejudice, providing opportunity to learn more about other groups’. In other words, scripted television has the power to build familiarity with those seemingly unfamiliar to us in our everyday lives, meeting viewers where they are in their understanding of cultural, gender and race issues.

A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar analyses other comedic forms like stand-up and sketch, which offer more intimate and agile modes of social commentary. Comedians can use deeply personal narratives to illuminate social justice issues, reframing the experiences of marginalised groups. Sketch comedy from shows like Saturday Night Live can more nimbly tackle news cycles with short-form parodies of current events.

Borum Chattoo and Feldman helpfully use specific global issues like climate change, poverty and inequality as examples of how comedy can bring people together to understand and care about the kind of topics that leave us feeling overwhelmed and helpless. When conventional news reporting shows the bleak realities of global warming and growing wealth inequality, comedy offers a way through fatigue and despair while staying engaged. Borum Chattoo and Feldman note that while environmentalists and humanitarians have long been doing the hard work of activism, they can be seen as didactic and aggressive.

Mediated ‘poverty porn’, images of starving children first featured in 1980s telethons to raise money for charities, has further fatigued audiences. These mediated narratives of poverty, while originally intended to build empathy, have reinforced damaging economic archetypes. A 2017 United Nations report on US poverty cited ‘caricatured narratives’ of poverty in the public mind, portraying the wealthy as moral and hardworking, and the poor as lazy and backward. Comedy has the power to challenge these narratives, skewering the status quo and the absurdities of systems that reinforce inequality. Crucial to social justice comedy’s ability to reframe narratives is punching up, rather than punching down: creating spaces for those who have experienced poverty to tell their own stories. In many cases, promoting storytelling involves expanding the comedy stage for comedians who have experienced poverty.

Among the most relatable chapters of Borum Chattoo and Feldman’s book are those focused on comedians’ perspectives as accidental or intentional social activists. Comedians like Hasan Minhaj (Netflix’s Patriot Act), Francesca Ramsey (MTV’s Decoded) and Issa Rae (HBO’s Insecure) share how, as members of marginalised communities in the US, they struggled to access the traditional stand-up club circuits, and instead got their start on platforms like YouTube.

While club circuits of the past have rewarded ‘lowest common denominator’ humour that speaks to mainstream (traditionally white, cisgender, heterosexual male) audiences, social media removed traditional gatekeepers, connecting audiences with comedians who reflected their own experiences. For many of these comedians, their lived experiences, real stories of discrimination and abuse, serve as their material in ways that can highlight the absurdity of racism and sexism embedded in mainstream culture. These comedians use humour to build empathy, illuminate, demystify, mock power, instruct, educate, humanise and represent. When your everyday experience of racism and sexism has not been previously represented, it becomes topical and imbued with social justice, whether intentional or not.

But what about when non-comedians seek to use humour to advance social justice agendas or when media executives and entertainers seek research and expertise to strengthen social justice comedy? Borum Chattoo and Feldman use interviews with emerging social justice communication firms and studio executives to suggest how activists and comedians can more effectively collaborate, making what is funny more informed, and what is informational more funny. They describe a careful balance of social activism groups serving as an information resource for entertainment, while respecting comedians as artists with creative licence. Too much information can outweigh comedy, while too little can trivialise serious topics.

Who is A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar written for? The vagueness of the intended audience is both a strength and weakness of the book, further illustrating the oppositional forces of serious academic analysis that cause us to sit up straight and pay attention, and the comedy that disarms us and makes us laugh. The book offers answers to many of the questions I’ve had since grad school: how do we open up social research and discourse to wider audiences; how do we highlight the absurdities of our world, making us laugh and think? Comedy that does this well doesn’t make light of serious issues; it sheds light on them (sorry!). Bringing together researchers, activists and comedians can only serve to support more informed, engaged and hopeful audiences.

 

This review originally appeared at the LSE Review of Books.

 

Christine Sweeney writes and produces comedy shows in Berlin. Before that, she researched gender representation in media and earned an MSc in Media and Communications at LSE. Before that, she worked in international development and tech policy.

 

Date                             :                     October 18, 2020

Source                         :                    LSE UCentre's daily blog on American Politics and Policy

https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/usappblog/2020/10/18/book-review-a-comedian-and-an-activist-walk-into-a-bar-the-serious-role-of-comedy-in-social-justice-by-caty-borum-chattoo-and-lauren-feldman/

 

Why the fight for climate justice is a fight for justice itself

 

Movements are overlapping to take an intersectional approach to activism

Ask any guide, teacher or life coach, and they’ll tell you that the first step to breaking a pattern is identifying and recognizing exactly what it is.

When it comes to patterns of injustice, it appears COVID-19 and climate change are taking care of this first step for us.

The pandemic is exposing the vast inequalities in health and income across the globe. Racial and ethnic minorities are far more likely to die or be hospitalized after contracting the coronavirus. And in much of the Global South, lockdown measures have left children facing malnutrition and migrant workers stranded and out of work.

Similarly, 80 years from now, climate change could kill as many people as all infectious diseases, and these deaths will be concentrated in the world’s poorest countries.

There are countless more examples of injustices caused by inequitable global systems – from climate-induced migration to uneven access to health care to plagues of locusts causing food insecurity. It would be an injustice in itself to try and capture them all here.

What matters more is realizing that these are not different patterns of injustice that resemble one another. Rather, climate justice, social justice and racial justice are all one and the same.

So too, then, is the fight against them.

“We have to tackle these crises collectively, or we cannot tackle them at all,” says Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the Sunrise Movement in the U.S., who featured in a recent GLF Live.

“We need to address the inherent inequalities in our system that lead to some people breathing worse-quality air, experiencing the brunt of storms and being able to recover far slower than other people,” Prakash says. “Those inequalities almost always fall along lines of race, class and gender.”

 

The trails of legacies

The next step in tackling these injustices is a step backward, to understand the historical roots of where we are now. Global inequality has increased dramatically over the last 200 years, driven in large part by colonialism and industrialization, which drove economic development in Europe and its settler colonies but hindered it in other parts of the world. Climate change is exacerbating this inequality: the gap between the richest and poorest 10 percent of countries is now 25 percent wider than it would have been without global warming, according to one study.

In many cases, colonization also degraded the landscapes of colonized nations, making them particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, such as hurricanes. Deforestation in India has been attributed to the construction of railways by British colonialists, while much of the Caribbean was stripped of its forests to build plantations.

In Jamaica, for example, the colonial plantation economy has left a legacy of dependence on intensive agriculture, with sugar, bananas, cocoa and coffee still among the country’s major commodity exports. Slash-and-burn practices are widespread and, with their dangers amplified by climate change and global warming, are contributing to bushfires and deforestation. “A lot of these practices were inherited from colonialism – the idea of having to burn away vegetation to create space for added agricultural production,” says Jhannel Tomlinson, a Jamaican climate adaptation researcher and activist.

“Habits are hard to break,” Tomlinson adds, “and because these practices have been passed down through generations, it’s very difficult to tell farmers that they’re harming the environment, because this is all they know, and it’s hard for them to transition to a more sustainable way of farming.”

 

Intersectionality in environmentalism

Jumping back to the present, and into the climate space specifically, many activists are now calling for an intersectional approach to tackling injustices. The term ‘intersectionality’ refers to how different forms of social identity such as race, ethnicity, gender, class and sexuality overlap, particularly in the experiences of marginalized groups that often face multiple layers of oppression.

“It doesn’t make sense to just focus on a binary view, [such as] that all women are vulnerable and all men are privileged,” says Bimbika Sijapati Basnett, a researcher on gender and co-author of a CIFOR manual on intersectionality in forestry. “Issues of vulnerability that are faced by urban women, for instance, are much more linked to issues around pollution, waste and water management, whereas in rural areas, it’s more about agriculture.”

Rather than neatly dividing people into distinct categories, Sijapati Basnett believes it is important to recognize how overlapping identities can affect how they experience oppression. Much of her work focuses on Nepal, where caste, social class, gender and ethnicity all intersect to form complex identities that evolve over time.

“Sometimes development programs set quotas for low-caste women or ethnic-minority women without understanding that there are hierarchies within those groups,” she says, noting that some ethnic minority groups are in fact quite affluent. “We need to understand broad parameters of social difference but also have the flexibility to adapt and change.”

 

Diversifying the climate movement

Flexibility also means recognizing that some practices can unintentionally exclude people from these marginalized groups. The movement to ban plastic straws, for example, has been criticized as ableist, as it ignores the needs of people who might be unable to pick up a cup. Similarly, climate activist group Extinction Rebellion has been called out (and apologized) for relying on mass-arrest tactics that inherently exclude people of color.

Many climate activists of color have spoken out about the challenges of participating in a movement that, across much of the Global North, remains predominantly white and middle-class. “In a lot of places, I am usually the only person of color, which is a huge responsibility,” said Danick Trouwloon, a Netherlands-based activist originally from the Caribbean island of Curaçao. “All the faces are on you, and you become like an ambassador for any experiences with color. I struggled a lot with that.”

Yet communities on the frontline of the climate crisis have much to offer the climate movement, and Prakash believes it is crucial to ensure that they take an active role. “Many of the things that Greta Thunberg has been saying have been said by lots of Indigenous, black and brown leaders, particularly from island nations, for so long,” she points out. “And yet they have not been uplifted in nearly the same way.”

“Those closest to the pain can speak toward the solutions that we need with the greatest clarity,” adds Prakash. “It is absolutely essential that those folks have a place in our movements, otherwise we’re going to have major blind spots.”

This year’s mass demonstrations for racial justice are prompting many in the climate movement to engage more deeply with issues of race and ethnicity. “Something that I find really positive over the past month is how easy these discussions are to have now,” says Trouwloon. “In the past, you could often feel the tension in the room when racism was mentioned, but I think now people are really listening to each other.”

“That conversation is being had much more often now, and there’s a lot more space for me to say things that may be uncomfortable – but I speak to my experience.”

 

Building climate solidarity

One of the more uncomfortable realities of the climate crisis is the need for the world’s affluent citizens to cut their excess consumption and carbon footprints.

Global resource consumption is currently around 70 percent over the Earth’s regenerative capacity, according to the Global Footprint Network. Most of that excess is attributable to the Global North, with the average person in North America consuming almost six times as many resources as the average person in Africa, and around five times the planet’s biocapacity.

Some scholars and activists argue that the Global North has a moral duty to drastically cut its excess consumption in order to allow resources for the Global South to attain a decent standard of living. This process, often referred to as degrowth or a transition to a steady-state economy, involves a paradigm shift away from infinite growth in consumption and towards the pursuit of sufficiency.

Tomlinson believes the first step toward reducing consumption is at the individual level. “As individuals in the Global North, you need to recognize how you are contributing to these challenges and to see how you can live greener and cleaner,” she says.

And with funding at a premium for many grassroots climate-change projects, Tomlinson believes donations and volunteering can also make a crucial difference. “Where possible, individuals can contribute in cash, or in expertise to assist local communities in implementing these projects,” she suggests.

Equally important is the need to build solidarity across racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and intergenerational lines. “Our allies in the Global North increasingly have a role to play in amplifying our voices,” Tomlinson continues. “They can utilize these platforms to highlight our plight in the Global South and to share some of the challenges we face.”

“It is an all-hands-on-deck moment to stop the climate crisis,” Prakash agrees. “Let’s be clear about that: young people cannot do it by ourselves – we definitely need other generations to team up with.”

Strengthening ties with the Global South could also bring valuable lessons for the climate movement in the Global North – such as learning from island communities on how to deal with scarce resources. “You have to make do with what you have,” Trouwloon says. “If you lose a fishery, you’ve lost that fishery. You can’t move up along the coast and find another area to exploit.

“That could be a metaphor for the entire planet – how we’re also an island in the universe. If we make a mess out of it, we don’t really have a Planet B.”

 

By               :                  Ming Chun Tang

Date           :                   September 7, 2020

Source       :                  Landscape News          

https://news.globallandscapesforum.org/46649/why-the-fight-for-climate-justice-is-a-fight-for-justice-itself/