Author Archive
Debunking the Myth of Self-Made Success

Debunking the Myth of Self-Made Success

Here is a short piece I wrote recently for a Zócalo Public Square discussion on the question "Is Rising Inequality Slowly Poisoning Our Democracy?" The discussion included experts from the Brennan Center for Justice, Cato Institute, Economic Policy Institute, and Georgetown University Center on Poverty and Inequality.

When Michael Young coined the term “meritocracy” half a century ago, he meant it to be an insult, not an ideal. In his view, a society where only the best and brightest can advance would soon become a nightmare. Young predicted that democracy would self-destruct as the talented took power and the inferior accepted their deserved place at the bottom.

Of course, the world we live in today is still no meritocracy. If most Americans are expected to go it alone, without the help of government or unions, elites continue to block competitors and manipulate the rules—as Wall Street did in spectacular fashion in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis.

The Big Picture of Baltimore, Ferguson, and North Charleston

The Big Picture of Baltimore, Ferguson, and North Charleston

When an unarmed black man dies after a confrontation with police, there is a natural tendency to focus on racist police officers or racist police departments. We saw this after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, and we saw it, too, after the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Walter Scott in North Charleston. Without a doubt, there are plenty of bigoted bad apples to be found, as seen in the shockingly racist emails unearthed in the Department of Justice investigation into Ferguson’s police department. But we also need to consider that big picture, or what sociologists call social structure: institutions like the economy and political system and the roles that people take up within them. After all, the modern-day factors pushing down poor African American communities—and pulling them into hostile encounters with police—involve more than just racial discrimination (or at least discrimination of the plain-vanilla variety).

Best of In The Fray 2014

Best of In The Fray 2014

The following are the best pieces published in In The Fray this year, as chosen by the editors.

The Lethal Snows of Everest

The Lethal Snows of Everest

Today, twelve Sherpas died in an avalanche on Mount Everest, the worst accident in the mountain's history. (Four are still missing.) The Sherpa community, an ethnic group in Nepal renowned for their mountaineering skills, has long guided foreign visitors up the world's tallest peak. "Sherpas bear the real burden of climbing Mount Everest," American mountaineer Conrad Anker told National Geographic. "They're the ones who take the biggest risks."

Last year we published a story by Stephanie Lowe that described the growing dangers of the mountain and the concerns of the Sherpa guides, whose very job is to risk their lives on Everest's slopes.

Best of In The Fray 2013

Best of In The Fray 2013

Out of everything we published this year, our editors chose the following pieces from each section for being standouts among their peers. As we see it, they best represent what In The Fray is all about: stories that further our understanding of other people and encourage empathy and compassion.

Click here to read our best commentary, news, photo essay, culture, and blog pieces from 2013.

Support Stories of Inspiration and Change

Support Stories of Inspiration and Change

I am writing to ask you for your support. For twelve years, In The Fray has published stories that further our understanding of other people and encourage empathy and compassion. The staff work hard — for me and others, on a strictly volunteer basis — to bring you original reporting, photo essays, personal narratives, and reviews that we think are timely and compelling on a global scale.

Our small nonprofit urgently needs your help to continue our mission to be a forum for real, honest discussion and provocative, informed storytelling.

‘Two Fragile Souls in the City’: Contributor Joshunda Sanders at TEDCity2.0

‘Two Fragile Souls in the City’: Contributor Joshunda Sanders at TEDCity2.0

In The Fray contributing writer Joshunda Sanders recently spoke at TEDCity2.0, a conference focused on the challenges and innovations that cities across the world are experiencing today. Joshunda gave a moving talk about her mother's struggle with mental illness (a story she also told for our blog), and the ways that cities can help, and hinder, the lives of the mentally ill — particularly those who are poor and homeless. There are compelling reasons, Joshunda says, that so many homeless individuals congregate in cities.

Violence against Women: An In The Fray Retrospective for International Women’s Day

To celebrate International Women's Day, tonight In The Fray tweeted links from stories we've published over the past decade that relate to violence against women. We joined thousands of other individuals and groups in a twenty-four-­hour, global tweet-­a-thon to raise awareness about gender-­based violence. In case you were asleep during our time slot, here are the links we tweeted:

Breaking the Silence, by April D. Boland

When Rape Becomes Normal, by Anna Sussman and Jonathan Jones

Naked Feminists: A Conversation with Director Louisa Achille, by Laura Nathan-Garner

Gender Outlaws, by Emily Alpert

Genocide Is Not a Spectator Sport, by Anustup Nayak

Sisters of Fate, by Sarah Marian Seltzer

Look below the fold for the tweets.

Best of In The Fray 2012

Best of In The Fray 2012

My apologies for the procrastination — it's an occupational hazard of volunteer work — but here are the editors' picks for the best articles published in In The Fray magazine in 2012. (Actually, since December 2011, when we relaunched the site after a year's hiatus.)

Commentary: The Road Less Traveled, by Lita Wong

News: Freed, but Scarred, by Francesca Crozier-Fitzgerald

Photo Essay: Capitalism Reborn: An East African Story, by Jonathan Kalan

Review: Havel: An Authentic Life, by Jan Vihan

If you like the thoughtful, empathetic journalism that we believe these articles represent, please consider making a donation to In The Fray. Any amount helps. Thanks for your support!

The Good, the Bad, and the Tax-Deductible

The Good, the Bad, and the Tax-Deductible

Check out Rob York's new piece, Born This Way, about an American pastor who, from a barroom pulpit in Seoul, preaches a message of Christian love and acceptance of homosexuality, leading his mostly gay congregation in a David-and-Goliath struggle against South Korea's conservative Christian establishment. Also featured on the site is The Chicago Way, an essay by Nicole Cipri about the long and brazen history of corruption in that city — a “place so crooked,” the Chicago Tribune once lamented, that “even the reformers are on the take.” If you like these or the other stories we've featured throughout the year, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to our nonprofit, which very much needs your support to continue publishing into the new year. Happy holidays!

American Idols

The stories recently featured on the site — The Grapes of Graft by Karen Schaefer, Guitar Hero by Cherise Fong, and The Cajun Cellist by Eli Epstein — have something to say about virtues often forgotten in today's competitive, frenzied society: humility, patience, hard work with no immediate gratification.

New York Times columnist David Brooks has made the case that today's society has lost the sense of humility that once tempered the greatness of the Greatest Generation. Even on the day that the Allies defeated Japan, what was striking was the absence of gloating, Brooks says. Public pronouncements conveyed humility, a simple gladness that the suffering had ended, and a rejection of the tempting belief that the victors were God's chosen.

Don't Save the Planet

Don’t Save the Planet

In ITF's interview with Andrew Blackwell, the author of the book Visit Sunny Chernobyl talks about his travels to the world's most polluted places. One point he raises is that there's no way to return the environment to the "pure, pre-human phase" of its existence — and that this is a misguided ideal to begin with.

Perhaps it says something about humanity's self-centered view of the world that the catchphrase for the environmental movement is "save the planet." Planet Earth doesn't need saving. If life can survive in the pitch-dark, pitiless abyss of the deep ocean, or recolonize remote islands after volcanic explosions wipe the landscape clean, or — as Blackwell points out — thrive in irradiated zones where human beings now fear to tread, then you can imagine that life will eventually adapt to whatever nightmare scenario Homo sapiens visits on its terrestrial neighborhood.