Economic Restraints, Inner Cities, and Education

A few weeks ago, I listened to a podcast titled “This American Life,” hosted by Ira Glass. The episode was called “three miles” and discussed the affect economic restraints had on effective education. The podcast focused on two different students growing up in the Bronx. Both had vastly different childhoods, with one going to a public school in the poorest congressional district in the country, and the other going to one of the most elite private schools in all of New York. These two schools were just three miles apart. Growing up, I kept hearing about this cycle of poverty that exists in low income areas. I remember thinking, “why don’t they just study?” or “why don’t they just work hard and make a better life for themselves?” As I matured, however, I realized it was not this binary. The vicious cycle that exists in areas with low income leads to less employment, a lower quality of life, and less hope. The kids that grew up going to the poor school in the poor neighborhood with their minority counterparts grew up only knowing that. They saw their parents go through the same cycle and envisioned that they would too. I mean, why wouldn’t they? They were growing up in the same apartment that had only two beds for 5 family members, the same apartment where they saw their mother/father work multiple jobs only to put food on the table three times a day, if that. The same apartment where there were no college diplomas hanging on the wall or no books on the shelves. This cycle, where young people of color seem to get trapped in, is one that has been prevalent for generations, and if not reversed, will be around for many more. So how do we fix it? Can we fix it? Many say that the only way is to get more young people off to elite colleges where they will have a higher standard of learning. Some say that when these young adults get this high level of education, they will come back and “teach” others about what they learned and how they can achieve success too. This sounds a lot like what my parents and so many other first generation immigrants to America went through. To this day, my family members back in Pakistan call my mom and ask them how America is and how they can too one day come over and start a better life. It’s sad to hear such conversations because deep down I know that the path to becoming a US citizen for them is immensely difficult and will most likely not happen in their lifetimes. Is there something wrong when young minority American students growing up in economically challenged neighborhoods are left to wonder the same thoughts that foreigners dreaming of reaching Americas shores do? I mean, we are America, right? The land of equal opportunity for prosperity and the land of liberty and the pursuit of happiness all but promised…

I’ve spent the last couple of days pondering this question of how we right this wrong we have put our most vulnerable youth through. Although these are just wild thoughts, and in no way organized, I think they lay an outline of the first steps we can take as a country, as a society to truly live up to the promise that makes America the beacon of hope. Let me start off by dispelling the myth that if we send a few young folks off to privileged elite schools that they will come back and help the community, like some kind of minority robin hood. Let’s be honest. Although we may want to believe that such a thing will always happen, but it won’t. The number of disadvantaged youth is far too many to only select a few, through specific scholarships and grants to select and send off to the top universities. The root of the problem lies in early education. In the podcast, when some of the students of the poor school were chosen to tour the private school the responses were nothing sort of shocking. Some kids cried as soon as they got off the bus because they felt as if they were “outsiders,” even in their own city. They felt the eyes of the privileged kids staring at them as if they were animals behind a cage in a zoo. There was a disconnect. The teachers envisioned an encounter where the kids from both schools would see that they are in fact not that different from each other but the opposite happened. The kids, in that moment, saw everything that was different between them. They saw the verbal, physical, social changes that existed between them. The privileged kids walked, talked, interacted different than the kids who went to the public school. Now why does this matter? I mean this change should be there right? If a parent chooses to send their kid to a school where tuition is $43,000 a year vs a local public school, they want their kids to behave different, or more sophisticated right?

The interaction at the private school in the Bronx serves as a microcosm of what is happening to inner city kids who seek or are elected to pursue a higher level of education beyond high school. Kids, in inner cities, who decide to pursue college are stigmatized and seen as “nerdy” or “trying to act white.” They are seen as betraying their culture and their way of life. A way of life that has been engrained in their heads since they learned to speak. A way of life that has raised them in a way their father never did or their mom never had the time too. A child who has seen nothing but poverty and gang violence deciding to pursue a higher education should not be seen as “betraying” their community, but as precious gems who should be taught that they can achieve whatever they set their mind too. When I say “taught” I am referring to being taught how to interact and thrive in an environment so vastly different from what their used to. An environment that is made up of folks that are racially, socially, economically different. So often we see highly intelligent children of color break through the first barrier of graduating high school and being accepted into college only to drop out or fail out after a few years. Kids who were seen by their teacher, peers, parents as being “extraordinary” and as future Mayors and social leaders. Often, bright inner-city kids are selected for full scholarships to prestigious universities, given a path out of poverty and into the “light” per say. After arriving at such prestigious universities, they fall into habits that they witnessed but never participated in high school, slowly conforming themselves to fit into stereotypical images of what a black man or a Hispanic woman should be. Why? Why does this happen? Why are the kids who are seen as extraordinary in their low-income neighborhoods go on to end up being trapped in the cycle? Why do kids who had dreams when having dreams was frowned upon go on to give up?

The bridge begins to crumble when they arrive at University. In high school if you weren’t singing or listening to rap music during lunch or class, something was wrong with you. Here, if you play rap music while at the cafeteria you are almost immediately seen as being “ratchet” and looked down upon. In high school if you didn’t wear braid your hair or didn’t wear an afro you were trying to be white. Here, if you let your hair grow naturally, you are seen as being from the hood. In High School, weeks lunch money was saved up to buy the newest pair of Jordan’s. Here, a few weeks of tuition and a few meals on campus costs enough to buy several pairs of Jordan’s. There exists a disconnect. A disconnect in lifestyle. A disconnect in racial makeup. A disconnect in financial restraints. A disconnect exists. Our goal, as policy makers and social change seekers, if we wish to see the seemingly never-ending cycle of poverty in inner cities end, is to focus on this disconnect. Granted there several other things that must be looked at, such as funding, and equal opportunity, but we will get to those later. This disconnect must be addressed. Inner city kids should be told constantly that it is okay to dream, that just because you opt for a book instead of a handheld radio you are not different. If you seek a higher education outside of where you grew up, you are not betraying your city or your people. Nelson Mandela once said, “Young people are capable, when aroused, of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom.” As a young person myself, I know that the dreams and hopes that this young generation holds have the chance to make the world a better place, if given the opportunity. Every day we lose our brightest minds to unnecessary gun violence or being told their dreams are them trying “to act white.” To end this cycle of poverty and gang violence, we must take a look at ourselves. All of us. Whether you are a white suburban mother or a black parent living in poverty, we must bring it upon ourselves to see a brighter day for these young, bright kids growing up in conditions that are no fault of their own, but circumstances of a cycle that has fastened its grip on their community and family.


What is “White Privilege”? (GEF Entry)

For our fifth required blog post, our goal is to discuss what “white privilege” is and how it impacts race relations. The conversation around white privilege is one that is sensitive and often under discussed. To me, white privilege is getting preferential treatment in a court of law, in the classroom, or in any aspect of a diverse society, or when people who are white see their skin color as being an asset to them in a modern setting. It is important that we as a society have the conversation about what white privilege is, and how it impacts our society as a whole. Many argue that white privilege is a made up and false concept, but I disagree. As a person of color growing up in Oklahoma, I have seen what white privilege means and how it impacts race relations. Although we have made tremendous gains in the last few decades regarding race relations, contemporary white privilege undermines such gains. When one person, based on the color of their skin, see themselves as inherently better than another, our society can never progress. White privilege, a form of race superiority, has no place in the 21st century, and should be reflected upon by all members of society. Special treatment based on the color of your skin is something that should be left in the past and shamed upon if it ever tries to make a resurgence. If we, as a modern society, want to make the world a better place we must take a deeper look at ourselves and our biases/privilege son matter what race we are.


Diversity Issues in Study Abroad (GEF Entry)

From 1991-2001 a survey regarding the experiences of study abroad students was published by Brown University outlining specific encounters of students studying in the continents of Africa, Asia, Europe, Central America, and Australia. The results showed the vast array of experiences that American students underwent while traveling abroad; the experiences outlined the difficulties and privileges of being an American in a foreign space. It was interesting to see how the treatments of the students varied from country to country, with some countries being more accepting of Americans, and others not so much. For this Global Engagement Blog entry, I will be taking a deeper look into the the study and what it shows us.

The study begins with the stories of six female students studying abroad in various countries within Africa, such as Botswana, Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. The common thread that seems to exist between each of their stories is how they were perceived in the financial sense. All six of the students say that they were presumed to be wealthy just because they were American. As to why this is, there is no way to know for sure but that is one thing I found interesting. As far as the other continents, the majority of the students did not seem to encounter this on such a large scale. Also, throughout the study the students reflected on what it meant to be an American in a foreign country. Some students found it to be a humbling experience, while others felt targeted and lost. As someone who plans on studying abroad, I found these experiences, although a bit outdated, insightful. They offered a perspective that I will remember before, during, and after my journey. Most importantly, I believe it is my responsibility as an American traveling abroad to represent my country in the best and most respectful way possible, taking into account the experiences and perspectives of those around me. As a student and Global Engagement Fellow at OU, I have the awesome responsibility to study abroad on behalf of my university and country, and it is crucial to keep that in mind when overseas.


The Case for South Africa (GEF Entry)

As a recipient of the Global Engagement Fellowship at the University of Oklahoma, I have the opportunity to take two fully funded trips abroad. One of these trips has to be one semester long, and the other one only a few weeks. I am very grateful for that I am awarded the chance to travel to different countries around the world and immerse myself in their culture, as I have always loved to travel. For my first trip abroad, I would like to spend a semester studying in South Africa. While in South Africa, I hope to continue my undergraduate studies at the University of Fort Hare in Alice, while spending the weekend traveling across the country and absorbing as much knowledge about its history as I can. I have always been interested South Africa as a country, mostly because of the Apartheid system and its demise. Much like Jim Crow and segregation here in the United States, Apartheid seemed to limit the social presence and political power of colored peoples. The apartheid system was eventually disbanded due to the bravery of a few who started a movement. Most notable among these being Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Desmond Tutu, and so many more. The anti-apartheid movement shows us what the power of a few individuals committed to justice and equality can do. It is truly inspiring.
While in South Africa, I hope to learn more about the movement, how it came about, and how it accomplished its goal. I am blessed with the opportunity to travel to such a place, and I hope to make the most of my time in South Africa!


Jacob Zuma, the ANC, and the Future of South Africa

Jacob Zuma assumed power as the fourth president of South Africa in May 2009. Today, February 14th 2018, Zuma resigned amid severe pressure from his political party, The African National Congress. Zuma’s presidency was plagued by allegations and charges of corruption; where at one point the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that he must face 18 counts of corruption over a multibillion dollar arms deal stemming back to 1999. During much of Zuma’s political career, the shadow of scandal followed him, but he always seemed to weather the storm, earning him the nickname “Teflon President.” After a recall and request for his immediate resignation by the ANC’s National Executive Committee, Zuma announced Wednesday morning via a television address that he would resign as president of the republic. In his address, he said that no life should be lost in his name, and the ANC should never be divided because of him. But what was Zuma’s relationship with the ANC, and why did they call for the resignation of a president from their own party?

The African National Congress, founded in 1912, has been the ruling party of a post-Apartheid South Africa. The ANC gained significant international attention in 1994 with the presidential election of Nelson Mandela. Jacob Zuma first got involved with the ANC through its Youth League, notably founded by Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Oliver Tambo. In 1963, Zuma was arrested and sent to Robbin Island, where he spent 10 years in prison alongside Mandela. After being released from jail, Zuma got more involved within the ANC, eventually being elected as the Deputy President in 1997. After working and assuming leadership roles within the ANC for quite some time, Zuma was elected as president with the backing of his party. After years of stagnant economic conditions, corruption scandals, and unpopularity with his people, Zuma began to lose the confidence of his own party. The ANC, in an effort to rebuild its image ahead of the 2019 elections, has moved on from Jacob Zuma and is looking for a fresh start with a new leader. As of today, The ANC seems to be pushing for Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president, to succeed Zuma and rebuild the image of the ANC as well as reboot the economy and clamp down on corruption.


A United Korea?

In January 2018, news broke that North and South Korea would march together under one flag at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Both North and South Korea have agreed to form a women’s hockey team and send it to the games along with a joint delegation of athletes and supporters. These negotiations are a major breakthrough for a region that has been plagued by tense relations for decades. It is important to note that the last time South Korea hosted the Olympics in 1988, two agents, acting on behalf of North Korea, bombed a commercial airliner headed to the games. The bombing resulted in the death of all 115 people on board, and lead to increased tensions between the two nations.

30 years later, the world may be witnessing a significant step in meaningful negotiation talks between North and South Korea. This is especially surprising, because global talks for a nuclear-weapon-free North Korea have not exactly been going so well as of late. With the increasing tension and war of words between the U.S., North Korea, and other world powers, any step towards peace is a major one.

So what does this mean? Are we seeing a new age of communication between these neighbors? Certainly this development shouldn’t be overlooked, but some South Koreans warn that this is just a move by the North to buy time to advance its arsenal, while some hardliners are even going as far as warning that there will be another act of aggression at the games this year. The willingness by North Korea to come to the negotiating table is a drastic change in its policy, and could signal a new age of communication, but it should be approached with caution. North Korea has a history of making false and baseless claims, and world powers should keep this in mind when addressing their foreign policy.


Beginning of a new Era

Robert Mugabe’s rise to power was similar to that of Nelson Mandela’s. Both grew up in impoverished conditions with discrimination and segregation an integral part of everyday life. Both attended the University of Fort Hare in South Africa where they equipped themselves with the necessary tools to lead a movement. Robert Mugabe and Nelson Mandela were both trailblazers in a fight for equality and justice, and as leaders, both would assumed vastly different roles. Unlike Mandela in South Africa, Mugabe was seen as a dictator amongst his people. Mugabe was involved in corruption schemes, passed unfair policies, and most recently fired his vice president in order to ease the transition of power to his wife Grace Mugabe. Recently, I have been seeing and reading a lot about Mugabe, his rise to power, and his decline in effective leadership for his people. In November, news broke that Robert Mugabe had resigned as president of Zimbabwe after the military seized control and asked him to give up his power. Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s fired vice president, is in line to be the next leader of Zimbabwe, marking an end to Robert Mugabe’s reign. After years of leadership under Mugabe, the people of Zimbabwe are ready for the beginning of a new era.


Do you trust what you ‘Like’?

On Monday, November 13th I attended a lecture by Dr. Kenneth Rogerson titled, “Do you Trust What you ‘Like’? Navigating Social Media and Politics.” The lecture was put on by the University of Oklahoma’s Cyber Governance and Policy Center. The talk focused on what “fake news” is and how it impacts our society and habits. Dr. Rogerson argued that “fake news” as it has come to be called today, has actually been around for quite a while. Disinformation campaigns and the weaponization of information has been prevalent for quite some time, but have recently gained more and more traction due to the politicized state of our nation. When dealing with “fake news,” we can take a few different approaches, as summarized by Dr. Rogerson. The different approaches are apathy (not caring), belief (confirmation bias), skepticism, and fact-checking. It is important that we consider sources, recognize confirmation bias, and fact-check the information we are presented.