modern poverty

Mass media representations of poor folk in general convey to the public the notion that poor people are in dire straits because of the bad choices they have made. It pushes images that suggest that the poor suffer because of innate weaknesses of character. When mass media offers representations of poor mountain folk, all the negative assumptions are intensified and the projections exaggerated.
—  bell hooks, Belonging

In the Indian state of Jharkhand, extreme poverty makes young, rural women especially vulnerable to human traffickers. Anti-poverty measures have not been very effective. For example, while the local government tried distributing bicycles to girls for them to travel to school, human traffickers target them on their routes. Even the women who have escaped slavery are still haunted and stalked by their traffickers. 

One woman, who had been kept as a slave by two married doctors and has since been rescued, is now enrolled in a state-run residential facility. Even though relatives of the doctors visited her parents to offer them “lots of money” to avoid prosecution, she has taken her case to court and is still fighting for justice. 

Learn more via Times of India.

Photo: Getty Images.


“One does not have to be a novelist seeking very subtle connections to trace the five thousand pounds of this prize back to the economic activities from which they came. Booker McConnell have had extensive trading interests in the Caribbean for over 130 years. The modern poverty of the Caribbean is the direct result of this and similar exploitation. One of the consequences of this Caribbean poverty is that hundreds of thousands of West Indians have been forced to come to Britain as migrant workers. Thus my book about migrant workers would be financed from the profits made directly out of them or their relatives and ancestors. 

More than that, however, is involved. The industrial revolution and the inventions and culture which accompanied it and which created modern Europe was initially financed by profits from the slave trade. And the fundamental nature of the relationship between Europe and the rest of the world, between black and white, has not changed. In G. the statue of the four chained Moors is the most important single image of the book. This is why I have to turn this prize against itself. And I propose to do so by sharing it in a particular way. The half I give away will change the half I keep.

First let me make the logic of my position really clear. It is not a question of guilt or bad conscience. It certainly is not a question of philanthropy. It is not even, first and foremost, a question of politics. It is a question of my continuing development as a writer: the issue is between me and the culture which has formed me.

Before the slave trade began, before the European de-humanised himself, before he clenched himself on his own violence, there must have been a moment when black and white approached each other with the amazement of potential equals. The moment passed. And henceforth the world was divided between potential slaves and potential slavemasters. And the European carried this mentality back into his own society. It became part of his way of seeing everything.The novelist is concerned with the interaction between individual and historical destiny. The historical destiny of our time is becoming clear. The oppressed are breaking through the wall of silence which was built into their minds by their oppressors. And in their struggle against exploitation and neo-colonialism - but only through and by virtue of the common struggle - it is possible for the descendants of the slave and the slavemaster to approach each other again with the amazed hope of potential equals.

This is why I intend to share the prize with those West Indians in and from the Caribbean who are fighting to put an end to their exploitation. The London-based Black Panther movement has arisen out of the bones of what Bookers and other companies have created in the Caribbean; I want to share this prize with the Black Panther movement because they resist both as black people and workers the further exploitation of the oppressed. And because, through their Black People’s Information Centre, they have links with the struggle in Guyana, the seat of Booker McConnell’s wealth, in Trinidad and throughout the Caribbean: the struggle whose aim is to expropriate all such enterprises.”

Speech by John Berger on accepting the Booker Prize for Fiction at the Café Royal in London on 23 November 1972

I watched that “Women’s Ideal Body Types Throughout History” Buzzfeed video again and I realised something really important that I don’t think I ever fully processed.

Beauty standards are largely based on supply-and demand trends. It’s about attainability.

Look back to times of peasants and the cog-in-machine workers of the Industrial Revolution, and, according to the video, your ideal was
-Italian Renaissance (1400-1500): ample bosom, rounded stomach, full hips, fair skin
-Victorian England (Late 1800s): Desirably plump, full figured, synched waist

The average factory worker or poor farmer’s wife has no hope of attaining that. It’s about status, wealth, and ability to achieve the “correct” look.

But then you look at the 1990s, specifically in America, after the fast food revolution, and the standard is “Heroin Chic”- androgynous, waifish girls, extremely thin with translucent skin. But the majority of America is middle class or lower, and the reality is that affordable food is often less healthy, which is a lot of why modern American poverty tends to be strongly related to obesity.

But then you look at “post-modern” beauty, and it’s a mixed bag: have a flat stomach and be “healthy skinny”, but large breats and butt are equally valued. And you should have all that plus a thigh gap. It even says, within the video, that “many women use plastic surgery to achieve their desired look”. And this, what we’ve arrived at in the 21st century, is the epitome of non-attainability. 

Because that’s what beauty standards are about. It’s about what look the fewest number of people can achieve, and it makes sure that those few people are the cultural elite. 

soy-un-madridista  asked:

Hi, I've been looking up novels on Haiti and so far I've only come across one's that blame Haitians for everything or ones that completely absolve Haitians of all blame and how they were completely powerless against western whims? Is this common?

Hello, many thanks for your question. This is indeed a very, very interesting one which could fill libraries, therefore, I will try to be succinct! 

As I’ve said many times on this blog, there are (usually) two currents when speaking about Haiti’s failure to become a stable and democratic state: one (mostly associated with people on the right) who would make it seem as if Haitians are absolutely responsible for each and every one of their problems. Authors who abide by this thinking commonly emphasise the numerous episodes of gross violence throughout Haitian history (I am thinking, for instance, of books like Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People by Robert Debs Heinl  and Nancy Gordon Heinl, although these two are not as far right as others). Then, you have this other tradition (usually attracting people on the left) who make the case that most of Haiti’s problems are the result of direct or indirect Western intervention, historically by France but most lately by the United States and other members of the international community (mainly with mechanisms such as the very controversial MINUSTAH). A good example would be Laurent Dubois’ Haiti: The Aftershocks of History.

At this blog, we are very much aware of both traditions and try to stay away from them because they are deeply flawed in their own ways. I think that, for instance, part of the reason every once in a while someone comes in and asks us (or accuses us really) of being white is because the more liberal explanation for Haiti’s modern instability and poverty is usually explained by Western entanglements in the country, an explanation which we do not completely favour.

As much as I don’t want to suggest that ahistorical (and often grossly racist) explanations for Haiti’s poverty (which are the favourite of the right) should be taken seriously, I find it equally problematic when liberal writers strip Haitians of all their agency by suggesting that only outside forces are responsible for historical movements in the country. (Now, I am not suggesting that this is what Dubois is doing in his book, but he does fall close to this tradition).

I think the central problem is that many individuals cannot hold that two ideas can be true at the same time. I want to stress here that: it is possible that there is such a thing as a political culture of corruption and a tendency for militarism which as been present throughout Haitian history AND that Haiti has been a victim of Western disdain and mistreatment. One does not cancel the other. In fact, it is only when we look at the interaction of those two sets of forces that we began to really understand and outline some of the important features of Haitian history.

A good example of what I mean here would be to look at Toussaint Louverture’s  leadership between 1798 and 1801/2 which pre-dates the modern Haitian state (but that sets an important precedent for future leaders). Toussaint Louverture was a brilliant military leader who seemed to have been committed to his goal of general and irrevocable emancipation. Yet, he was also a general who ruled with an iron fist (perhaps less so than Dessalines and Christophe after him but still), who militarised agriculture, re-invited white planters into Saint-Domingue, gave himself (through the 1801 Constitution) the exclusive right to govern until his death and choose his successor and thus made clear that he would not accept any dissidence to his “state” vision. Still, we have to look at Toussaint as this complex figure who had to rule Saint-Domingue in this extraordinary time with two revolutionary movements (soon to be going on opposite directions) raging in the Atlantic. Louverture was a man of his time, with one foot into the ancien régime and another one into modernity. He was both a genius and a despot (and I am not using those words lightly). To paint him as this bloodthirsty leader (as some have done in the past) or as this selfless abolitionist is equally wrong (granted for different reasons). Even though we have much less surviving documents about the Haitian Revolution than say, the American and French revolutions, we have enough to see that Louverture is a far more complex figure than what popular accounts would want to suggest. This is the way in which we have tried to present him throughout this blog’s short existence online.

Now, we have been accused in the past of being “too nuanced” and while I admit that I don’t fully understand why people would view a nuanced analysis negatively, I suppose some of it comes from this attitude (more associated with the “liberal camp”) of thinking that if we admit that the Haitian state, at various moments has turned against its own people, has acted out of self-interest and has ruled with no real popular consent, we are automatically validating what writers towards the right have said about this almost ingrained pathological thirst for violence which is supposedly characteristic of Haitian people and its leaders. There is, of course, a very thin line to walk between the two but this is absolutely not what we believe and we think nuances are important precisely because we have to transcend this way of imagining Haitian history as either the tales of Haitian violence or that of complete victimhood. (Even if victimization is an essential part of Haiti’s history, we should find ways of layering this victimization and not make it seem as if Haitians (the state and the people) have not been central actors in their own history.)

So yes, to go back to your original inquiry, these are very common ways of understanding Haitian history and for the reasons I’ve highlighted above (although many more could have been said) there are many problems associated with imprisoning Haitian history in this binary narrative as opposed to understanding national and supranational forces as existing in a complex dialectic relationship. 

I hope you will find this useful, please contact us again if you wish to discuss this further. Good day.

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Weird rules and regulations in Iceland

It is no secret that a hundred years ago, Icelanders weren‘t very modern. They were seen a bit uncultivated in the eyes of their contemporaries.

The Irish author Henry De Vere Stacpoole came to Iceland in 1910 and wasn‘t all that impressed by the country, and it‘s people.  He said it was impossible to distinguish Icelandic men from other Europeans; they could be Danish, German or Swedish. On the other hand, the Icelandic women were like no other in the world, and they never smiled.

He said Icelanders only owned sheep, butter, salted fish, horses and poets.

He‘s not the only one to find Icelanders a little bit weird. Ida Pfeiffer came in the middle of the 19th century and said Icelanders disappointed her; she thought they would be better than other Europeans due to their poverty. She was amazed by Icelanders poverty but at the same time, didn’t understand why the same people wanted her to pay for accommodation and guidance.

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