In 2013 I moved to Ndola, a city in northern Zambia, to work on an HIV research project. Ndola is the hub of the country’s copper mining industry, a bustling commercial center that draws entrepreneurs from South Africa and beyond. My organization worked with government clinics in villages around the Ndola area to provide HIV and family-planning counseling, care, and education. I’d recently graduated from a master’s program in public health, and a US-based research organization had hired me to co-lead a year-long study of HIV infection among women.
During the week, my office prepared truckloads of supplies—test kits, condoms, appointment logbooks—and shipped them to the clinics. Once every week, our doctors also treated patients at our headquarters in the city. Ndola, Zambia’s third-largest city, had a great need for affordable, high-quality health care. If at times the cityscape seemed picturesque to me—jacaranda-lined dirt roads, merchants bearing enormous bowls of vegetables upon their heads, uniformed schoolchildren gleefully walking back home at the end of day—there were always reminders of Zambia’s extreme, endemic poverty. For many of the children I saw, home was the sprawling encampments on the city’s outskirts—a maze of rudimentary, one-room structures that housed entire families.Read More →
While there are many reasons why Donald Trump won the election, it’s clear that the movement of the white working class away from the Democratic Party had something to do with it. Given that this demographic seems to have put Trump over the top in the Electoral College, what do we expect his administration’s policies to do for this group—and for the working class (which, importantly, is increasingly nonwhite) more broadly?
First, his proposed tax plan will dramatically increase income inequality in this country. It will be a windfall for elites—particularly the richest 0.1%, America’s corporate executives and Wall Street financiers—who already have rewritten the rules of the economic game to favor them. Meanwhile, it will punish millions of low-income and single-parent families by stripping away some of their tax deductions. (Ironically, the white working class that broke decisively for Trump has been increasingly falling into this latter camp.)Read More →
I've written a piece for The Atlantic about the hollowness of our modern economy and the effect it has on the working class. Here is an excerpt:
The modern economy privileges the well-educated and highly-skilled, while giving them an excuse to denigrate the people at the bottom (both white and nonwhite) as lazy, untalented, uneducated, and unsophisticated. In a society focused on meritocratic, materialistic success, many well-off Americans from across the political spectrum scorn the white working class in particular for holding onto religious superstitions and politically incorrect views, and pity them for working lousy jobs at dollar stores and fast-food restaurants that the better-off rarely set foot in. And when other sources of meaning are hard to come by, those who struggle in the modern economy can lose their sense of self-worth.
It’s the late morning, and my wife Mardena and I are headed back to our hostel in Antalya, a city on Anatolia’s southwestern coast. We’ve just returned from a trip to the archeological museum, where we saw a stunning display of Roman mosaics set out under clear glass walkways. As we duck out of the 111-degree heat and into the hostel’s lobby, we come upon a young man, probably in his early twenties, standing with his head craned forward and eyes fixed on a TV mounted high on the wall. A Turkish news report is discussing the war raging in neighboring Syria. The camera footage shows smoke, rubble, and bombed-out buildings, but I have no idea what the reporter is saying. I ask the young man what is happening. “Assad is bombing Homs,” he says, his eyes still on the screen.
“My family is there,” he adds. “I haven’t been able to talk to them.” He speaks in a flat, almost stoic, tone, with a slight accent to his English. “My sister lives in Homs, but she can’t go out. She’s stuck in her apartment. She can’t get to my parents’ house.”
He glances at us, then turns his eyes back to the TV. “Hezbollah won’t let Syrian refugees into Lebanon,” he says. He pauses a moment, then adds, “Syria would not do that. Syrians are generous people.”Read More →
The Atlantic has published a piece I wrote about living in an extreme meritocracy:
Increasingly sophisticated data-gathering technologies measure performance across very different domains, from how students score on high-stakes tests at school (or for that matter, how they behave in class), to what consumers purchase and for how much, to how dangerous a risk—or tempting a target—a prospective borrower is, based on whatever demographic and behavioral data the credit industry can hoover up.… Statistical models that measure performance have biases that arise from those of their creators. As a result, algorithms are often unfair and sometimes harmful.… But as serious as their shortcomings are, the widespread use of decision-making algorithms points to an even bigger problem: Even if models could be perfected, what does it mean to live in a culture that defers to data, that sorts and judges with unrelenting, unforgiving precision?
Hopewell-Mann is a predominantly Latino neighborhood in the predominantly Latino city of Santa Fe. Close enough to downtown to make it a short commute, yet a world away so that tourism doesn’t quite reach it, it’s a stark reminder of some of the inequalities present in this city. While the stunning adobe architecture downtown looks like it’s been preserved in aspic, Hopewell-Mann’s main drag is lined with big-box stores, fast-food restaurants, and cheap motels offering month-to-month leases. The neighborhood attracts a mix of the transient and the locally displaced, and not surprisingly, people downtown tend to avoid it.
Earlier in the year, I was a writer in residence at the Santa Fe Art Institute, which is located in Hopewell-Mann. One day, I asked a friend to drop me off at the mall downtown, where I needed to pick up a few essentials. From there, I planned to catch a bus and take the scenic route back home.
Calvin and Raul waiting at the bus stopWhen I finished my shopping, I headed over to the bus stop—which took several minutes to locate, thanks to its inconspicuous signage. When I got there, I saw the back of a white-and-blue city bus trundling into the distance. I’d missed it by seconds. According to the timetable, the next bus wouldn’t be for another hour. I was stuck. Just then, the rain began to pour.Read More →