Understanding Social Inequalities

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Film Review – Mardi Gras: Made in China


Mardi Gras:  Made in China:

A Socio Economic View:  Globalized Positions of Privilege and Disadvantage

Economics and state authority work in an interconnected fashion to shape public policy in ways that have encouraged an ever-increasing expansion of capitalism and an increased rate of globalization.  This has resulted in growing disparities of wealth amongst both people and nations, creating privilege for some folks while simultaneously producing situations of disadvantage for others.  This essay explores this phenomenon as it was documented in the film, Mardi Gras:  Made in China (Redmon, 2005), demonstrating the disparities amongst the players along the commodity chain that existed between the partygoers in New Orleans and the laborers in China who produced the beaded necklaces for their Mardi Gras celebration.

The film began with the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans where folks gathered to party, drink alcohol, and engage in exhibitionism in exchange for brightly colored plastic bead necklaces.  Some folks spent up to five hundred dollars on the purchase of plastic bead necklaces.  The film then took the viewers overseas to Fuzhou, Fujian province, China, to where the beads were produced.  Fuzhou became a free trade area allowing for the establishment of capitalist industry in 2010.

In contrast to the consumer excess of the U.S. partygoers, the Chinese workers received very little enjoyment from the beads.  In Fuzhou, workers labored long days at the Tai Kuen bead factory to make the Mardi Gras bead necklaces for approximately ten cents an hour.  Most of their earnings were sent home to their families.  These workers lived in cramped factory-provided housing.  They generally received only one day off from their fourteen-plus hour workdays, once every two weeks, with the exception of the two-week Chinese New Year celebration, a time when all employees, including the factory owner, returned home to be with their families.  A situation of privilege on one side of the supply chain translated to relative situations of disadvantage on the other end.

This is perhaps, because working conditions in China are regulated less than they are in the U.S.  In Roger’s factory, production quotas were listed on blackboards on the factory walls. Workers’ official day off was Sunday, but they were often assigned to work Sundays in order to meet production goals.  Roger repeatedly stressed that punishment was very important for keeping the workers focused on their tasks.  Failure to meet production quotas, for example, resulted in a ten percent pay cut.  Attempting to organize labor could result in punishment, too.  These were only two of many rules for which penalties were charged to workers if they were not adhered to.  The working conditions shown in the film are not unusual for factory work in China.  The Chinese government reinforced these conditions by arresting leaders of organized labor on the grounds of inciting social unrest.

Age and gender also played a role in the oppression of Chinese labor, as it was illustrated in the film.  Roger, the factory owner, explained that he employed mainly women, aged between fourteen and nineteen years old, because they were easier to control than the men.  He employed men only for jobs that required heavy lifting.  Not surprisingly then, the workers that Roger found to be most accepting to oppressive working conditions were primarily teenaged young women. 

Near the end of the film, photos of the Mardi Gras celebrations were shared with the Chinese workers, and likewise, films of the Chinese workers were shared with the U.S. partygoers. Players on each side of the supply chain were surprised by what they learned about the other.

The factory workers were shocked that the necklaces, which they considered ugly and not worth owning, were purchased by the partygoers for more than a thousand times what they were paid to produce them.  They were even more shocked at the notion that a woman would disrobe to obtain them.  In contrast, Roger took much pride in hearing about the celebrations, knowing how much Americans loved his beads. Although the Chinese workers obviously felt exploited, they did not want consumers to stop purchasing the beads they produced, because they appreciated the work it provided to them.  The workers only request was for the end of punishment in the form of withheld wages.  The producers of the beads realized the degree to which the system allows for their exploitation and asked for change.

The U.S. partygoers had mixed reactions to the images of the bead makers.  Some were clearly uncomfortable with their new awareness of the social inequality.  One woman said that this knowledge ruined the fun and made her want to take her beads off.  Others denied and resisted the implications of exploitation.  A young man said that in China, ten cents an hour was a lot of money, maybe even more than most people in their country had the opportunity to earn.  A woman said that when she found something that gave her joy, she didn’t question it.  It seemed that a few partygoers were unsettled by the knowledge of their part in an oppressive exploitation of others, but most partygoers preferred to deny that reality. Situations of privilege can be blinding such that it blocks opportunity for social change.

Don, the U.S. importer, was not disturbed by the work conditions in China.  He simply acknowledged that there were cultural and economic differences between the two nations, yet doing business with the Chinese did indeed provide economic benefit to everyone along the commodity chain.  He explained that U.S. workers could not create the beads at a price which consumers are willing to pay, and that Chinese people needed the work and income that the bead manufacture provided.  Don’s viewpoint seems harsh, but it did describe one perspective of reality.

Cultural positions of privilege and disadvantage are clearly evident in the circumstances of the festival celebrations between the two countries.  In the U.S., folks left their home to celebrate Mardi Gras by means of excess consumption and reckless abandonment of propriety and social norms.  In China, folks left work to go home and celebrate the Chinese New Year in a conservative manner with their families.  This was true even for the rich factory owner, who did not realize the same degree of leisure as presumably working class folks in the U.S do. Value is subjective and dependent upon cultural perspective.  Economic privilege in the U.S. resulted in different cultural and social values than did the relative economic disadvantage present in China. In China, a relative economic disadvantage resulted in the valuing of family relations; while in contrast, the U.S. situation of relative economic advantage resulted in the valuing of consumption and the abandonment of social norms.

State authority, through the establishment of regulations such as those concerning labor also contributed to positions of privilege and disadvantage.  In the U.S., labor was highly regulated, and this allowed workers higher wages and more leisure time in comparison to Chinese laborers, whose working conditions were regulated less.  Labor regulation resulted in the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S., while at the same time, lack of labor regulation resulted in an increased interest, by manufacturers, in the labor market in China.  Because of less labor regulation, China offered manufactured goods at much less cost than what the U.S was able to provide.  This relationship demonstrates that when benefits for workers increase, benefits to owners decrease, thus encouraging owners to seek more competitive labor, creating new economic opportunities elsewhere.

In this way, state authority can simultaneously create both advantages and disadvantages, for both producers and consumers.  In a globalized capitalistic economic system, the reality of competition for labor may result in a loss of manufacturing jobs in a nation that comparatively pays their workers more in salary and benefits than competitive nations. Additionally, when benefits to workers are less, products can be produced for less and sold for less, offering an economic benefit to consumers. Advantage or disadvantage is dependant on one’s situation and perspective.

Many levels of economic positions of privilege and disadvantage were evident in the film. Gendered positions of privilege and disadvantage were evident in the Chinese labor market. Because young women were the preferred labor in Roger’s factory, young women realized a greater opportunity to find employment than men.  Yet, the greater opportunity carried with it a gendered expectation of feminine submission to men of authority.  Although women had the privilege of a much larger percentage of jobs, they realized a disadvantage because they were controlled and exploited for cheap labor.

Exploitation existed as hierarchies all though the commodity chain.  Fathers exploited their daughters by sending them to work so that they could send money home to benefit the family.  The factory owner exploited the workers to maximize his profit.  The U.S. distributor exploited the free trade arrangement between the U.S. and China to maximize his profit.  The U.S. consumers exploited the entire system, although generally unknowingly, because they were able to enjoy the consumption of cheap goods made possible only though a system that would keep hidden the true cost of cheap goods.  Although there was exploitation at many levels, each level realized a benefit to some degree within a hierarchal system of power and privilege.

These hierarchies of power and privilege can be explained by economic theories.  For centuries, economic theorists have attempted to explain how the capitalistic economic system is either beneficial to society or how it is harmful to society.

Economic theories that Scottish philosopher, Adam Smith (1723-1790), developed in the eighteenth century are playing out today in the example of global trade between the U.S. and China.  Smith favored capitalism and he theorized that a division of labor would produce innovation resulting in the trade of goods in the proportions that a society desired and at a price that it was willing to pay.  The film demonstrated that there are workers who are willing to produce for very little profit to themselves in order to meet an economy’s demands.  Smith also argued that money was necessary for the facilitation of trade and social relations among people and this has clearly taken place.  Yet Smith also theorized that individuals pursuing self-interests in an environment of others acting similarly yet following contracts and laws could compete without strife.  This could be true, but in the film, it was demonstrated that the situation in the bead factory was one where the workers felt that they were exploited and attempted to organize labor to prevent punishment and the withholding of wages.  Some of Smith’s theories have held true, while others have not.

German philosopher, historian, sociologist, and economist, Karl Marx (1818-1883), believed that capitalism alienated people from the products they produced, the process of production, other people, and also one’s own self.  He theorized that specialized labor would result in loss of knowledge of the process of production, and loss of control of one’s own time as profit maximization monetized a wage labor system.  He further surmised that wage labor would translate to valuing or devaluing persons according to production capabilities.

Marx’s broad view influenced his theories on alienation that have played themselves out in this example of globalized trade. In the situation described in the film, social alienation was realized in many ways.  Factory workers were alienated from their families and they were not in control of how they spent their own time.  They lived most of their lives at the factories and they lived for dreams, if not for themselves, then maybe for their family’s wellbeing.  One factory worker said of her devalued worth, that her work and salary go to her brother’s education that all her dreams were for her brother now.  Also, the bead producers were alienated from their products.  They stated that they had absolutely no interest in the beads that they produce.  The bead producers were also alienated from the consumers of what they produced.  They had no idea how the beads were used.  Consumers were alienated from the knowledge about the life circumstances of the producers of the goods they consumed.  Additionally, Roger recognized the possibility of alienation in that if Don, the U.S. distributor, retired there was a possibility that the next CEO might not reciprocate Roger’s loyalty, but might instead favor capitalistic competition.  The capitalistic system simultaneously creates and dismantles social relationships in ways that affect the worker producers, the management, the distributors, the retailers, and the consumers each differently.  Marx’s theories on alienation, loss of control of one’s time, and the devaluation of human life have all been demonstrated in this film.

Although many dimensions of alienation were demonstrated in the film, it was also clear that new relationships were also created in the global capitalistic economic environment.  There were obvious relationships such as those between national industrialists.  Roger discussed his loyalty to Don, the U.S. distributor, who bought and resold the beads to retailers such as K-Mart and Wal-Mart.  There were also less obvious relationships such as those between the young factory workers who left their homes to live in the controlled and intimate living environment of Chinese style factory work.  Even as some relationships were torn down, as Marx predicted, others were simultaneously built up.

German sociologist, philosopher, and political economist, Max Weber (1864-1920), shared Marx’s negative point of view concerning the capitalistic economic system.  He theorized that both technology and ideas generated social change.  Yet Weber did not think in terms of alienation, but instead he considered modern industry and its associated bureaucracy and rationality as creating an ‘iron cage’.   Weber’s theory concerning these ideas was demonstrated by the new ideas that allowed for capitalist expansion in China resulting in new economic opportunities for industry and the people who lived there.  The iron cage Weber theorized about consisted of a bureaucracy of rules and regulations and hierarchies of power that trap people into situations that they do not control.  This theory can be demonstrated with Roger’s management style.  He knows that he must be competitive or else risk losing his business to competitors, and the competition could be located anywhere in the world.  His response to this situation was to govern his factory in almost a militaristic style, even including the control of workers personal time and relationships, and meeting out punishment for misbehavior.  In the example provided by the film, it was clear that new social relationships did form, even if they arose within an iron cage of a globalized hierarchal order of privilege and disadvantage in the environment of a globalized economy.

Another German philosopher, sociologist and economic theorist, Georg Simmel (1858-1918), also favored capitalism, as did Smith, but he believed that the use of money depersonalized social relations.  He saw labor as stepped, ranging from piecework to wage labor to salary and even honorarium, and where each relationship had a different degree of de-personalization.  It was his belief that depersonalization would provide benefit by eliminating the distrust in competitive social relations by allowing the maintenance of separate economic and private arenas in people’s lives.  This could be true in some circumstances, but it is clear that the competition between labor and management was not relieved by the payment of wages, in the situation in the bead factory.  The desire for the owner to reach predetermined goals encouraged him to use a punishment of withholding wages, resulting in strife between labor and management.  Simmel’s theory concerning the benefits derived from the depersonalization of labor has not proven true in this example of a globalized economy.

Although economic theorists sometimes attempt to classify the capitalistic economic system as either beneficial or harmful to society, in reality, as demonstrated above, capitalism is neither strictly beneficial nor strictly harmful, but rather its qualities are situational and relational.  Economies operate within relationships of give and take.  Sometimes players in this relationship gain a greater advantage than others.  Over time, relationships evolve and change resulting in new relationships of advantage and disadvantage.

Mardi Gras: Made in China illustrates capitalism’s hierarchic system of privilege and disadvantage.  It exposes exploitation based on the classes embedded within hierarchies of class, gender and nationality.  Capitalism is a hierarchical economic system that is based in the belief of a need to compete for limited resources.  This system of competition works to provide privilege and advantage to some groups of people while it simultaneously creates situations of disadvantage for others.  In a globalized capitalistic economy, such as what we know today, the desires of consumers in one part of the world can unintentionally influence the life circumstances of producers living in other parts of the world.


Redmon, D. (Ed.). (2005). Mardi Gras: Made in China. Carnivalesque Films.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Bullying and Harassment: The Process of Creating a Masculine Gender Identity As Presented in Dude You’re a Fag by C.J. Pascoe

Dude, You're a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School

Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School by C.J. Pascoe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dude You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School (2012), by sociologist C.J. Pascoe, is a discourse on the exploration of schools as a socializing institution for boys concerning the formation of their masculine identities. Pascoe’s discussion was based on the results of 18 months of ethnographic research that took place in a racially diverse middle-class suburban high school in northern California. The goal of her study was to “explain how teenagers, teachers, and the institutional logics of schooling construct[ed] adolescent masculinity through idioms of sexuality” (4). Through Pascoe’s research, it was demonstrated that the construction of powerful and controlling masculine and heterosexual identities, regardless if the masculinity was in male bodies or female bodies, determined the degree of acceptance and popularity experienced by those who successfully created that identity. Furthermore, some students, who were not successful in creating this version of hegemonic masculinity, or else rejected it, were many times marginalized or stigmatized, and even sometimes victimized by the members of the majority and controlling group. This study leads to implications on how educational facilities, as major institutions of socialization, might work to educate both faculty and students beyond the confines of narrow stereotypical gender-norm definitions and provide a greater understanding and acceptance of alternate gender possibilities. Freeing youth from these narrow confines of gender identity will promote a greater degree of opportunity, acceptance, equality and social justice for our youth and the future society that they will shape.

Pascoe’s masculine gender norm analysis centered on what she termed the ‘fag discourse’, the process by which boys reiterated “repeated repudiation of failed acts of masculinity” and an assertion of masculinity by “engaging in heterosexist discussions of girl’s bodies and their own sexual experiences” (5). She discovered that the fag trope did not refer to homosexual desire, but instead was in reference to a boy who was emotional, expressive, incompetent, noncompetitive, physically weak or unable or unwilling to dominate girls, for example. The fag discourse’s purpose was to ‘police masculinity’ by ‘shoring up contemporary definitions of masculinity’, and she discussed this fact throughout the book. The fag discourse was used in the construction of a masculine identity and consisted of boys attaching the stigma of the fag to other boys, while at the same time deflecting it away from themselves. Most boys also used girl’s bodies in the creation of their masculine identities through shared stories about girls and sex that were completely devoid of positive feelings of love or romance, but instead were about mastering and conquering girls’ bodies, and sometimes in a violent manner. The formation of a masculine gender identity was a process by which boys continually rejected the specter of the non-masculine man while also demonstrating that they did indeed possess masculine power and control, and this happened by means of insults and violent speech, and sometimes, violent actions. Pascoe also addressed the institutional sexism that ‘River High’ (pseudonym) promoted through programs and policies that reinforced both heterosexual and masculine dominance. Messages sent by school policies and programs, classroom discussions and activities, and the students themselves all worked together to reinforce ideals of heterosexism and masculine power and domination. The resulting hegemonic masculinity that emerged was generally understood as power and domination over others. The creation of powerful, dominating masculine heterosexual identities simultaneously reinforced the feminine quality of passive submission, while it also created marginalized and stigmatized groups of students who did not identify with and fall within the narrow definitions of a controlling masculinity or submissive femininity.

What was clear in Pascoe’s work was the dynamics of group formation and interactions, and the power that was conferred to the majority and dominating in-groups, because they had the relative power to define what constituted normal versus abnormal thoughts and behavior. The dominating in-groups consisted of those who identified with either hetero-normative behaviors, and those who identified with masculine behaviors. The school institution set up a formal structure for the foundations for hetero-normativity through the sanctioning of different competitions, dances, homecoming rituals, and other sexist and hetero-sexualizing activities. Teachers at River High reinforced heterosexuality by using heterosexual metaphors in their instruction, and by making sexist and heterosexist jokes. It is interesting to note that sexual orientation did not necessarily distinguish one as non-conforming though. Students confirmed to Pascoe that if a boy was labeled a fag, it did not indicate that he was gay, because a gay person could be athletic, for example, and therefore not a fag. Rebecca, a ritualist, who was gay and identified as masculine, sometimes faced the same type of labeling and policing that boys did when she stepped outside the boundaries of her masculine role. Her friends found it difficult to accept her secondary deviance and teased her for it. Also, the Basketball Girls, who were innovators, and of which some were gay, self-identified with a typically powerful and controlling ‘masculine’ style and behavior, and these girls were popular, being not only accepted by the larger in-group, but celebrated with their popular ‘pimp’ identity too. What was sanctioned and reinforced, by the majority in-groups at ‘River High’, were either hetero-normativity or masculinity, but not necessarily the need to be ‘straight’. The school institution acted in a way that created an organizational culture that enforced and reinforced a hegemonic hetero-normative and dominating masculinity that existed there, while stigmatizing those they considered ‘others’.

Those students who identified with neither white hetero-normativity nor masculinity were the non-conforming out-groups. Social deviance in the instances of ‘feminine’ boys, the politically active non-normative Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) group, and those who were identified by others as possessing a ‘non-white sexuality’, were stigmatized. Ricky, a retreat-ist, and an openly gay boy who violated most gender norms, was severely harassed and physically assaulted at ‘River High’, and because of the lack of institutional support, he eventually dropped out of school. The GSA group, were rebels, who were a politically organized group who worked to change the school’s culture regarding sexual and gender norms. The members of this group did not necessarily identify as gay or to stereotypical ideals of masculinity or femininity, but rather encouraged individual notions of sexual and gender expression. African-American young men were frequently and unfairly disciplined for what the administration perceived as overly aggressive heterosexist behavior, as was the case concerning bodily contact during school dances. The social deviants who did not conform to the majority controlling in-groups, experienced not only physical violence, but also structural violence in the form of discrimination, harassment, unfair disciplinary action, and therefore also psychological harm.

What Pascoe discovered is that many aspects of the high school environment worked to form social cohesion by shoring up stereotypical ideals of hetero-normativity and masculinity while at the same time marginalizing and stigmatizing those who did not identify with or fit into those categories. The creation of a powerful and dominating masculinity also co-created a feminine identity of passive submission where women possess a great deal less power than men. Furthermore, the creation of this hegemonic heterosexual and masculine identity simultaneously constructed marginalized and stigmatized groups of those who did not fit into this stereotypical gender ‘norm’. Understanding this process of identity creation through gender socialization is useful to help us see how the current hegemonic force shapes and maintains a position of masculine power through actions that should be recognized as forms of bullying and harassment. It is through the understanding of how hegemonic groups gain power through the creation of certain social sanctions that we may also realize how to intentionally re-create societies that encompass a greater degree of understanding, compassion and justice toward all.

Pascoe’s study provides a useful way of thinking in a more inclusive manner when thinking about sex and gender. Understanding that gender is a process, rather than a social identity associated with specific bodies allows us to recognize that there are opportunities for positive change. It will be by understanding beyond the stereotypical binary gender system of dominating males and masculinity in opposition to submissive females and femininity that the dismantling of hegemonic power and domination will take place. This allows us to devise and implement institutional practices, professional development, plus student education, in such a way so as to promote social integration of all students resulting in sexual and gender equality.

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© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Fashion Choice

The clothing one wears can be a status symbol.

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It is a way for us to communicate to the world who we are and who we wish to be.

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It can even determine whether or not one may fit into certain social groups.

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We have so many choices when deciding how we wish to represent ourselves through our clothing styles.  Yet many others do not have this opportunity because poverty prevents them from doing so.

I have come to think of ‘fashion’ as a means for capitalistic exploitation of others.  Much of the clothing that we consume is produced by cheap overseas labor, where mainly women and girls endure horrific conditions to produce our ‘fashions’.  We’ve all heard the news about the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh where over a thousand workers died, right?  I hope so.  Here is a blog post that speaks of this tragedy with an interesting view concerning clothing choices, and it also speaks of alternative ways in which some of us may choose to identify – a different sort of ‘status’, I suppose.  This status can be thought of as living intentionally through informed decisions.

Here is an online yes! magazine article that gives a slightly different view of clothing choice. This article explains how the exportation of cheap grain affects world markets & the living conditions of people in other countries, while at the same time it (conviently for us) produces cheap overseas garment factory labor so that we may purchase inexpensive fashion clothing.  U.S. grain, (cheap on the world market because of our unsustainalbe farming methods & tax dollar funded government farming subsidies) is flooded into the world market, displacing farmers in other countires who flee to cities where they find that they have little choice but to be exploited as cheap factory labor.

Our tax dollars create poverty situations in other nations so that we may then benefit from cheap overseas labor to produce inexpensive goods for our pleasure and consumption.  In this economic ‘relationship’ we, the citizens of the U.S., maintain a position of power and privilege over others.

These articles speak of a certain aspect of social stratification – that of inequality between nations – and how some nations (such as ours) maintain an oppressive force of economic power over people in other nations – a power that allows us the privege of fashion choice at the expense of others’ ability to simply meet their basic needs.

We, in the U.S. have the privilege of choice.  With that privilege, I am ever more increasingly choosing to make consumer choices by living intentionally through informed decisions.

“We but mirror the world.  All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.  This is the divine mystery supreme.  A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review: Honky by Dalton Conley

HonkyHonky by Dalton Conley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sociologist, Dalton Conley, grew up as a white boy who lived in a predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhood of the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the 1970s and 1980s. In his ‘memoir’, Honky, he has offered the reader a unique lens through which to see the social constructions of race and class and how they intersect, plus also how these classifications offer some groups greater opportunity and privilege than they do for others. This important concept has larger societal implications.

The notion of race was not something of which Dalton was aware during his early years. He wrote that at the age of three, the new ‘sister’ he chose to ‘kidnap’ (the daughter of a family of black separatists) made that clear. Yet as time went by, the constructs of race did become apparent to him.

First he began to notice how he was different from others. He did not always receive the same ‘equal’ treatment that his playmates received. He desired to be part of their group, and to be called ‘nigga’ as the other boys were. He felt to be an outcast because he was never fully included in the neighborhood’s social circles. Dalton learned first hand the stigma of being a ‘minority’, even as he was simultaneously a member of the majority controlling group in the larger society.

When he grew a little older, he became aware of some privileges that certain notions of race can offer. For example, the discipline for misbehavior that he received from teachers and faculty at his school was much more forgiving and lenient than what the other classmates received. Additionally, because he did not belong in the ‘black class’ or the ‘Chinese class’ his family was able to choose which class they preferred for him. Choice is a privilege other students were not offered. Dalton had begun to learn about white-skin privilege. Dalton learned that having white skin offers the privileges of greater leniency in discipline and greater choices in opportunity, too. Yet did he, at that time, actually realize that this reality also necessitates the fact that others live oppressed experiences? Perhaps not fully.

As time passed, choice became understood as a privilege once again, after one of Dalton’s neighborhood friends was shot and paralyzed. At that time, because the social capital he had access to, that of his parent’s connections, he was able to attend an elite school across town, one that predominately consisted of middle-class white students. Here, the different style use of language (including body language) became apparent to him. For example, Dalton’s experience with the power of silence in certain situations gave him a realization of the benefits of certain types of cultural capital. This experience with privileged middle-class white students, attending a privileged middle-class white school, made clear the intersection of class and race and how lives are affected not only by one’s choices, but additionally by other forces which they might not otherwise be able to control, such as family connections (or lack of) and the language one learns and uses. Choice is a privilege that only some groups are offered.

Reading about Conley’s experiences has made the realities of racism (including systemic racism), and how they intersect with class distinctions much more clear to me, a person with white skin. What I have realized is that a child’s socioeconomic status has a major impact in the life opportunities they may receive. A child born into a family that has wealth is offered opportunities of choice, is influenced positively by cultural capital, and benefits from social capital connections. Poverty does not offer much in the way of property, power, or privilege, and children born into poverty do not realize the same choices, cultural capital and social capital benefits that the higher classes enjoy.

This has helped me to understand more deeply such situations as the realities that African-Americans must face today because of their ancestor’s experience of slavery. After their ’emancipation’ the ‘Freedmen’ did not have any wealth, nor power, nor privilege on which they could build. It was as though they were set to run a race, but the other runners had been given a big head start. To this day, the effects of slavery are still apparent in our segregated society where, for the most part, African-Americans are still trying to catch up in this ‘race’. This revelation has made it very clear to me that the U.S.A. is not the meritocracy that so many of us believe it to be. Perhaps it is a meritocracy for only a very select few.

As with Conley, I find it easier to see with a broader and more inclusive lens when I am able to encounter alternate experiences, either through real-life experience, through education, or through media sources, such as film, books, etc. The book Honky has been an eye-opener for me.

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© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Gender Justice

AFP Photo / Didier Pallages

AFP Photo/Didlier Pallages


Germany has decided to relieve parents from the necessity to decide the sex of children who have been born with biological features that do not clearly fit into neat male/female categories.  What a blessing for these infants to not to have to be rushed into difficult and painful gender reassignment surgeries in order to meet a binary labeling classification imposed by others.  These children may now grow and decide for themselves if they wish to be altered to fit biological male or female body types, or to remain as they were born.  This allows people to decide what is best for themselves.

I’ve read through many of the RT News facebook post comments of the Russian Times 17 August 2013 article, Germany to become first European state to allow ‘third gender’ birth certificates, and I see that discussing this issue is very sensitive to some folks.  Sadly, instead of generating interest and a desire to learn, I see that the majority of responses are angry responses.

I am attempting to understand what is behind the anger.

Please feel free to comment.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Guerilla Gardening


Ron Finley describes himself as an artist.  His canvas is unused city-owned land and his paints are fruit and vegetable plants.   Inspiration for his work came from looking closely at his ‘own backyard’ and realizing that the problem and the solution are one and the same: food.  What he saw was a food desert where the only food available was fast food, and he also saw the declining health of the South Central Los Angles population, and a city that has almost 26 square miles of city-owned vacant land, enough space to grow approximately three-quarters of a million tomato plants!.  Finley’s solution for his neighborhood’s problems is to engage in guerrilla gardening and to grow healthy and accessible food in what he names a ‘food forest’.

Guerrilla gardening is growing food on unused land that is often an abandoned site or other area not being maintained.  Guerrilla gardening is a form of political activism – nonviolent direct action or constructive program – and it is intended to create positive social change – specifically, the dismantling of the domination system in our food system. Where gardens such as Finley’s food forest spring up, amazing things begin to happen. Community gardens work to reduce the impact of poor nutrition by improving access to healthy food.  Yet they empower us to do so much more than simply that:

  • They can improve our health through exercise, fresh air and sunshine in addition to providing us with fresh and nutritious locally grown food.
  • They build community through the formation of community garden clubs.
  • They act as education centers that teach about gardening and the environment, plus exercise, healthy food choices, how to work together in community, and how to bring about positive social change.
  • They provide us with a new hobby to enjoy, and one that pays benefits instead of costing money.
  • They improve our environments and help us to save limited natural resources.
  • They provide for more nutritious meals while spending less money so that we may reach out and help others too.

Guerrilla Gardening is a fine example of living more-with-less.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Domination System in Our Food System


“What does the Farm Bill mean for me?”

The extension of the current (2008) federal Farm Bill expires at the end of September.  If a new bill (or an extension of the current bill) is not passed, federal price supports to farmers will revert to those of the 1949 permanent bill.  Some farmers, such as those involved in wheat or dairy production for example, would profit from the 1949 supports.  Yet farmers who produce commodities that were added after the 1949 legislation, such as soybeans would lose support.  This uncertainty makes it difficult for major food producers to plan for the future and to run profitable businesses.

 “I’m not a farmer, so why should I care?”

The Farm bill does not consist of only commodity support programs though. A larger portion of federal funding is dedicated to nutrition and food assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP), which was formerly known as food stamps.  The Democrat-controlled Senate passed its version of a Farm Bill that included nutrition and food support programs in addition to commodity support programs.  The Republican-controlled House passed only commodity support programs and not the nutrition support programs.  Both programs have always been supported by both major parties until this year.  This is the first time in history that support programs designed to assist those needing food have been split from support programs designed to assist producers achieve security and profit in unstable production and market conditions.  During a time period of increased unemployment and increased underemployment, the House is proposing to cut $10 billion from the SNAP program over the next ten years.  This has caused the entire Farm Bill to be stalled.  This puts our nation’s food producers at risk while bipartisan politics try to reach an agreement.

The Farm Bill Also Affects Animal Rights

Additionally, according to Live Science’s August 9th Op-Ed, the Farm Bill Tramples States Rights to Protect Animals Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, states that,

“As members of Congress left Washington and returned to their districts for the August recess, opposition to the farm bill amendment introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), began to swell. The King amendment is a sort of legislative kudzu, so invasive and dangerous it could crowd out hundreds of state and local laws setting appropriate standards for agriculture.”  and  “For the animal welfare movement, to put a fine point on its impact, King’s measure could easily repeal all the state laws against shark finning, puppy mills, extreme confinement of farm animals and the slaughter and sale of meat from horses, dogs and cats.”

How Our Tax Dollars Support the Degrading Quality of Our Food

If you would like a deeper understanding of how federal supports affect what farmers produce and how they produce it, please view the 2007 documentary, King Corn.

“King Corn is a feature documentary about two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation. In the film, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, best friends from college on the east coast, move to the heartland to learn where their food comes from. With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America’s most-productive, most-subsidized grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat—and how we farm.” (kingcorn.net)

Our food system has become a Domination System.

The system no longer works for our wellbeing, but instead we are dominated by the system’s need to create ever increasing yields and profit at the cost of our wellbeing, the wellbeing of our farmers, and of the crops and livestock they produce.  The domination system under which we all live is described by theologian Walter Wink in the Powers that Be.  I do recommend reading it.

We can choose to create another way to feed ourselves while also supporting our farmers and caring for animal wellbeing and the wellbeing of our environment.

. . .

We can grow a garden for ourselves with what space we have.

We can also support small local farmers.




Before we can dismantle the current systems that dominate us, we must first create suitable structures and systems with which to replace them.

This is Gandhian Economics – Constructive Program

This is Jesus’ Third Way – Nonviolent Social Change

This is Restorative Practices – Creating Systems to Meet People’s Unmet Needs

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.