By Claire Liu
Police abolition. It sounds crazy. Extreme. Radical. Being able to call the police in cases of emergency has been the norm since we were born. However, we know there is a problem with the current police institution — they racially profile people, use excessive force, and are heavily militarized. I say “they,” not because there aren’t good people in the police force, but because they are part of an institution adhering to racialized practices and policies. That’s a separate argument. Whether or not cops are “good” or “bad,” something needs to change, and most people point to reform.
Organizations such as Campaign Zero and Obama’s New Era of Policing highlight policy reform as a productive way to reduce violence and change policing. Now, before discussing the outcomes of these policies, I want to clarify that #8cantwait and police reform do not go hand in hand with defunding the police. In fact, some policing reform requires more money to go towards police departments for implicit bias training, more body cameras, and community meetings. Also, Campaign Zero’s proposed policy changes aren’t new — they mirror President Obama’s task force on 20th Century Policing, which have already been applied in some cities.
Here’s some evidence I’ve gathered on why these policy reforms aren’t enough.Source). However, from 2005 to 2007, 75% of NJ police traffic stops were direct at LatinX or Black people even though the department made the procedural changes the DOJ required. Even with training, the police were still disproportionately targeting LatinX and Black POC.
2. Limit Use of Force
Citing the same article as above, the DOJ and local Cleveland police made an agreement to stop high speed chases or shooting at moving vehicles. Though the Cleveland police now had a policy “prohibiting officers from shooting at fleeing vehicles unless there was an immediate threat to life,” police killed an unarmed driver after firing 137 shots in May 2014.
3. Community Representation
Community policing is meant to allow the communities being policed to bring their concerns and work with police to find solutions. However, there are two immediate problems with this. First, the residents who attend community meetings are doing so for free. When their efforts are not appreciated, they do not continue to attend (Source-72). Second, bringing community problems to police makes everything a police problem, where solutions are more arrests and more tickets (Source), exacerbating for-profit policing.
4. Training for Implicit Bias and Procedural Justice
Unconscious biases are woven into every person as they grow up. Our biases frame our worldview, and how we perceive and interpret people’s actions. There is no concrete evidence that training can reduce implicit bias. There is no objective information. The only certain thing is that the police would need even more funding to conduct this training.
5. Requiring officers to wear body cameras
Several studies show body cameras have no impact on an officer’s use of force. The “quick fix” of recording has not held police officers more accountable, and requires more funding.
Now, I acknowledge I didn’t refute every single policy reform under these categories, and I even agree with some (mental health response teams), but there’s a clear pattern here where certain policy reforms are implemented, officers do not follow them, and then are not held accountable. The fact that Minneapolis implemented various procedural reforms such as duty to intervene, implicit bias training, and body cameras, and then had officers standing by while Chauvin used excessive force on a Black man, shows this policing reform does not effectively prevent police violence. Procedural justice reforms do not work because there is no fairness in the system when racism is rooted in the system itself. If you need more explanation about why some reforms don’t work and don’t defund the police, I found this helpful graphic.
So, what’s the alternative? Can we meet in the middle? The reason I wanted to write this article in the first place was to persuade myself abolition was the answer, or find some sort of compromise along the way. I’ve proven to myself (and hopefully, to you) that the police reform we are seeing has not worked, and it’s not productive to mobilize under reforms that will not eliminate police violence. We need a new framework to advance and change the system. At first glance, police abolition seems to be no police at all. But, abolition is really a mindset for prevention, intervention, and transformation. Instead of hearing “no police,” I like to think of it as alternatives to the police and ways to address the root causes of crime. It also is not eliminating the police all at once. Let’s keep in mind that this change will be gradual, and slowly reallocating traditional responsibilities of the police and reinvesting those funds will push us towards communities where people can feel safe. Because, if you think about it, the safest communities aren’t the ones with more police patrols, they’re the ones with the most resources.
Here’s how I can start rationalizing police abolition (maybe even in this order):
2. #DefundthePolice and shift resources to community programs
There should be mental health professionals on call for “crazy” people disturbing the peace in public areas. There should be social workers to help people experiencing homelessness sleeping on a bench. There should be more counselors in schools instead of police fueling the school-to-prison pipeline. Community organized CeaseFire in Chicago intervened in street violence and promoted better ways to solve conflict, which led to reductions in gang violence and shootings.
3. Create safe spaces
When there is a hate crime, or violence towards a specific group, the police will come and try to catch the perpetrator, and charge them. While there is justice in that, it is just a band-aid solution to hate crime and something similar could happen again, to the same marginalized group. The focus should be on figuring out why the perpetrator committed a violent crime, the circumstances leading up to it, and how to prevent it in the future. The SOS Collectivefocuses on tackling the root of the problem, and works to create a safe space for the queer community, preventing future violence. Also, it doesn’t make sense to me that police are called for domestic violence when 40% of police families experience it compared to 10% of the general population. Police don’t prevent sexual assault, domestic violence, or abuse, so we should fund programs that do.
4. Call your neighbors and friends, not the cops
In the 1970s, the Citizens Local Alliance for a Safer Philadelphiasuccessfully organized a community action model to prevent theft and crime in their neighborhood. Using flashlights and freon horns, neighbors were able to signal to each other when a crime was happening so other neighbors could come out with their horns. Residents felt safer and more comfortable outside and there was a 75% decrease in crime rates compared to adjacent police districts.
Now, What about the dangerous crimes and the dangerous people? When I look at the FBI’s violent crime data, the number of offenses scare me. There are a little over 16,000 murders, and almost 140,000 cases of rape. I wonder, where would the perpetrators go, if not prison? Can we live in a world where people aren’t punished? Punishment does not seem to be a huge deterrent for people. Anyways, I know these numbers are not put into context, and I sometimes question the criminal justice system because it doesn’t hold everyone accountable. How many of these murders were at the hands of police? How many rapists were acquitted and not included in these numbers? What about clearance rates? Could any of the violence have been prevented with a community-led strategy before it escalated to someone’s death? Abolition as a strategy and mindset starts to tackle the majority of crimes — both violent and nonviolent — through investment in community health workers, social workers, mediators, and counselors. As we implement community-led change, I want to see where the police and world are before I tackle alternatives to edge-case violent situations. And to be honest, right now the police aren’t approaching rapists and murderers in a way that is preventative. Sure, it might not be police responsibility to prevent crimes, but that’s exactly why there needs to be investment in alternatives which attempt to address root causes. I want people to acknowledge that the current system for dealing with crime has several shortcomings, and disproportionately impacts BIPOC.
Abolition does not go against all reform, or immediately remove all police. I see abolition as a way for people to start thinking about new systems to gradually implement instead of constantly trying to fix the current one. Calling the police shouldn’t be our only option, and I’m excited to see how the abolition movement grows and how we can creatively find ways to make safe communities for everyone.
Organizations we can support to defund the police:
Reclaim the BlockReclaim the Block began in 2018 and organizes Minneapolis community and city council members to move money from the…
www.reclaimtheblock.orgHome - MPD150Toward a police-free future.
www.mpd150.comCritical ResistanceOur Mission Critical Resistance seeks to build an international movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex by…
Disclaimer: I’m no expert on this, and I’m just scratching the surface of abolition and the abolition mindset. Defunding the police is part of a larger prison abolition movement to change the processes, structures, and institutions traditionally used to tackle the problems that the prison industrial complex attempted to “solve”. Here is a comprehensive list of resources if you want to contextualize and learn more.
The Kashmir conflict has only grown since the partition of India in 1947. After Jammu and Kashmir were divided, India, Pakistan, and China have been vying over the territory, each with its own explanation for laying claim to the land. This territorial dispute has led to multiple wars, riots, protests, and countless deaths.
Kashmir is a princely state of 3 million people, predominantly of Muslim faith much like is seen in Pakistan, whereas India’s overwhelming majority is Hindu. This in itself has caused much contention; while India claims to value Kashmir’s religious diversity, Pakistan worries that the Hindu majority will eventually liquify the Muslim state. So what should the government’s role with regard to religious diversity of its constituents be?
This was just one of the questions asked in a recent Global Health University discussion. With the Kashmir conflict laid out as our topic of interest, we launched into a colorful discourse about nationalism, governmental control, and the influence of social media on political attention.
One of the questions asked us to define nationalism; what are its benefits and pitfalls? Many of us described the benefits of nationalism in terms of patriotism: a love or devotion to one’s country. The dark side to nationalism, however, comes when one puts their “nation above all others and plac[es] primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups” (Merriam-Webster). One of our members stated that nationalism prompts “similar beliefs and similar ideals [which] leads to political expediency… but ultimately diversity is pretty cool.” Yes, nationalism can be used as a political tool, to rile up the masses in devotion to a single way of life, fearing the “other”, but living in a pluralistic society, in which many peoples come together and are enriched by their differences, that is what creates an inclusive, educated, and strong society.
Recent events in the Kashmir conflict have heightened the worry of Hindu nationalism and incurred heated acts of violence and increased the death toll which is now over one hundred thousand since 1989. However, a lot has changed since then and now stories such as these get coverage not only in the news, but also in social media. Twitter, Instagram, even Snapchat have all become hubs through which political networks can form through peer to peer connections as well as through broadcasting systems to a wide audience.
Consequently, the question rises: what kind of impact does social media truly have on politics and activism? It is undeniable that social media can draw awareness to otherwise undercovered topics in the news cycle and it bans groups of followers together forming an alliance between each other and the topic of interest. However, it can also promote a sense of sufficiency in laziness. Spreading awareness is critical, yes, however it is not enough. Engaging in activism via social media is passive, it is protected, and low risk, however the topics discussed are high urgency and require more than a like or repost, they require action.
“The Difference Between 'Patriotism' and 'Nationalism'.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, 2019, www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/patriotism-vs-nationalism.
You’re driving down the highway and you get stopped at a checkpoint. You get your ID scanned, you are allowed to pass, and you go on with the rest of your day. But the surveillance camera caught your face and has linked that digital footprint to a web of your personal information. In Kashgar, China, millions of Muslim ethnic minorities are constantly being monitored through these checkpoints in the city. This high-tech surveillance combs through billions of records and retrieves your education, family tree, and previous visits around other checkpoints. The surveillance system could do this for every person that passes through the various checkpoints and cameras planted throughout the city. For the general public, however, crime is significantly reduced and people are less concerned about staying out at night. Though this surveillance could be used for the collective good, Kashgar is at the forefront of segregated surveillance, only monitoring the Muslim population for “suspicious” activity and potential crime.
On the same thread of monitoring crime, some police agencies in the United States are trying to utilize body cameras while they are on duty. In one study in Las Vegas, there was a reported reduction in the use force in incidents because police officers have more transparency and accountability. However, body cameras run into the same ethical issue as the surveillance in Kashgar. Digital “faceprints” caught on these body cameras can be used to find criminals, missing persons, or…anyone. The continuous surveillance of any individual’s whereabouts would be stored on databases belonging to law enforcement. Some cities, such as San Francisco, have already banned government use of facial recognition technology, but in other places the bill is still up for debate.
A very careful balance must be maintained for surveillance to do its job, but not go too far. However, every society, corporation, and person have their own line for “too far.” Surveillance is designed for comfort and safety, but it can quickly escalate to breaching privacy and giving select people too much information and power over others. In some cases, we have the option to makes things private, like using incognito mode or making a private Instagram. But there are edge cases of suspicious activity that culminate with tragedy – what if law enforcement could utilize technology and data to stop a shooting before it happens? Is it possible to strike a balance between being proactive, respectful of privacy, and safe? Government surveillance is a “necessary evil” when we want to safely board airplanes and enforce national security, but the line we want to draw won’t be straight. With so many stakeholders, factors, and new advances in technology, our line will have many loops, holes, and curves that could go on indefinitely.
By Angela Li
Cultural appropriation, as the name would suggest, is when one culture appropriates, or takes for its own use, aspects of another culture. What comes to mind is pictures of indigenous headdresses donned at flashy music festivals, cornrows and dreads exhibited on catwalks, and endless Halloween costumes, sugar skulls and qipaos galore.
The popular debate surrounding cultural appropriation is concerned with whether using another culture is showcasing an appreciation, or is negatively appropriating this culture. While for some, simply displaying various parts of another culture is demonstrating an appreciation, for others, this is not enough. Appreciation instead requires an adequate attempt at learning the importance of what is actually being appreciated, and presenting it in a manner that would be accepted by the culture itself. Educating oneself on another culture demonstrates a desire to appreciate this culture. However, this brings up the issue of how to measure whether or not someone has put in the work to truly appreciate a culture, especially one that is so distinct from their own?
Cultural appropriation is, ultimately, dependent on circumstance. It is difficult for a minority group to conceptualize how details about their own identity and culture such as language, appearance, and customs, can be cause for denigration and discrimination, yet for the majority, cause for praise and admiration. To exist as a minority in one culture without being able to express the multitudes within said culture, while others can, and do so willfully and without fear of repercussions, is infuriating, to say the least, especially if done for personal or corporate gain. There’s a sense of exoticizing a culture, but only the aesthetically pleasing and agreeable details, and a sense of reducing cultures to simply what is acceptable for the appropriating group. It isn’t appreciative or respectful. It’s a double standard. It's dismissive.
Is it only appropriation if done to minorities by majorities? What if appropriation occurs between different minorities— for example, Jeremy Lin, a notably Asian American basketball player, was criticized for having dreadlocks by Kenyon Martin, a notably African American basketball player. Lin responded to this criticism by criticizing Martin’s Chinese language tattoos. This back and forth sparked contention over whether each were appropriating the other’s culture. In this case, there was an equating of the importance of dreadlocks and language symbols to each respective culture, when dreadlocks are symbolic of a greater politicization of black hair. Black and African American people in the United States to this day face discrimination solely due to their hair, and broadly, systematic maltreatment of a social/ethnic group.
While also contributing to the debate of appreciation versus stealing of other cultures, cultural appropriation has also arguably further enabled “call out culture.” Call out culture is any sort of public condemnation, often through media, of some sort of perceived social wrongdoing.
The difficulty surrounding call out culture is due to the binary thinking that it implies and the social aftermath. Calling out cultural appropriation could both raise awareness but could also eliminate the possibility of discourse and possible understanding of the implications of appropriating— there is no room for redemption, forgiveness, or future change. Calling out the actions of an individual or a group establishes one normative right versus one normative wrong, inflicting both an uneven power dynamic and a good or evil dichotomy. However, call out culture can be a necessary, public, and sometimes viral movement that pushes for broader recognition of important issues, notably for the #MeToo movement, and again, cultural appropriation. In this case, call out culture can make space for other voices and experiences to express the absolute need for such a pushback.
By Angela Li
Culture-bound syndromes are a confusing concept. The actual terminology is inaccurate, as culture bound syndrome has evolved into something that is not truly “bound” to one culture, mainly just non-Western cultures, and the term syndrome can be too all encompassing to be accurate. Most culture-bound syndromes are localized to certain cultures or regions, most often the aforementioned non-West. Broadly speaking, culture-bound syndromes are any sort of diagnoses that recognizes abnormal behavior that is cause for distress. In the Philippines, lanti is the term for when one is sick— be it from a plethora of symptoms such as crying, stomachache, or fever. Being diagnosed with lanti is tantamount to assuming one has been surprised or upset of late. In Peru, the term saladera is given to those assumed to be bewitched and consequently befallen with bad luck. In South Asia, latah is a similar predicament, where one being constantly frightened leads to peculiar, atypical behavior in response to being startled such as copying the actions of others. Mental illnesses are often assigned culture-bound syndrome titles, or certain syndromes have akin qualities to Western designations of mental illnesses (think schizophrenia or depression). However, a patient’s own understanding and perception of their syndrome can affect their symptoms, their experiences, and their behaviors themselves.
One of the major issues combatting culture-bound syndromes is the constant risk of dismissal, due to their uniqueness, a side effect of romanticizing “exotic” cultures. Non-Western cultures are often defined as rooted in traditional thought and therefore in juxtaposition to what are deemed as modern societies; but conceptualizing culture in this way can reinforce the idea of modernity and in this case, medical sciences, as only a trait of the West, reinforcing the idea that the West is obligated to save other cultures. Culture-bound syndromes exemplify that different cultures are not lesser nor less knowledgeable, but are merely different. These diagnoses are thus a good example of the necessity of respecting and acknowledging culture— cultural beliefs, practices, and environment— when treating various illnesses.
By Angela Li
The United States Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.” This void is predominantly the result of limited accessibility to healthy food providers, or no accessibility at all; thus, reliance on processed foods increases. This void is, instead, filled with cheaper convenience stores and fast food restaurants. Food deserts largely hurt rural, marginalized, vulnerable, and low-income communities who do not have the financial resources to allow for healthy eating without burdening themselves. Nutritious foods often have drastically different price points than more obtainable, processed foods. Consequently, residents of food deserts have diets laden with high fat, sugar, and sodium, ultimately culminating in poor health outcomes. This lack of healthy foods affects how people choose their foods: rather than for health and nourishment, residents are restricted to only what foods are available to them, what foods are cost effective.
Additionally, food deserts cannot accommodate those with specific allergies, dietary restrictions, or a need for culturally distinct items. Low-income communities also do not have the financial ability to choose to move into areas that offer better food choices. There are also the issues of transportation, time, and travel. People living in food deserts face obstacles such as unsafe areas to travel in, poor or erratic sources of transport, minimal time to even go grocery shopping due to work, single parenthood, lack of time for constant meal preparation. Food deserts further contribute to health disparities that align with historically enabled injustices within the political, social, cultural, and economic realms. The minorities that these injustices marginalize are disproportionately negatively affected.
The development of food deserts can be contributed to development of larger chain stores, demographic changes, and land fragmentation. Large chain stores want to be in communities that have residents who can assuredly be profited off of. Economic segregation within American cities, with wealthier residents moving out of inner cities, led to a lower median income that could not sustain larger supermarkets. In some areas, land is broken up to make it easier to sell, and these smaller plots of land are unsuited for the building of large supermarkets. The growth of large chain stores, chains with better quality and variety of foods, in affluent parts outside of the inner cities can attract consumers away from smaller and independent stores, forcing their closure. Only those with reliable access to transportation are able to take advantage. However, underlying these reasonings is all the pervasive theme of racism, prejudice, and discrimination that make developers and policy unable and unwilling, respectively, for construction in low-income neighborhoods. As a result, these neighborhoods are hurt disproportionally by food deserts and inevitable mortality, morbidity, and health problems such as diabetes and heart disease, all of which are further exacerbated by the strains of poverty. Even if supermarkets and grocery stores are built in food deserts, residents often feel out of place— while residents now have greater access to nutritious food, whether they will be welcomed by these stores is another issue.
Behavioral health campaigns focused on schools— incentivizing schools to increase healthy foods served in schools and reducing food advertisements targeting children— are possible solutions to effect change early on, to change the precedent with which students view food. Food deserts also provide another crucial point in the never ending list of reasons to improve infrastructure and to better public transportation. Cities can also incentivize companies themselves through tax benefits and changed zoning codes to move into areas that need healthier foods. Communities can build community gardens and organize local farmers markets.
Increasing health education can empower residents with the awareness of the necessity of healthy food options. But on a broader fundamental socioeconomic level, combating income inequality and poverty will have the best long-term solution.
By: Angela Li, Adele Wallrich
In the short time I’ve known Adele, one of our two amazing ghU coordinators, her enthusiasm, dedication, and overall lovely personality has made her a joy to work with. She is consistently able to think of meaningful conversations and the multifaceted lenses through which we as a club can look at staggering, relevant issues in the global health field and beyond.
A conversation with Adele:
Why did you join GlobeMed?
I joined GlobeMed because during my freshman year, I started to become disillusioned with the idea of altruism in international work and whether or not it was possible to affect change in ways that were not ethically problematic. I was good friends with Barune since the beginning of my time at Berkeley, and he told me about how he wanted to found a Berkeley chapter of club called GlobeMed. I was quite skeptical at first given my existing doubts of the whole idea of "helping others," but he explained the partnership model and how GlobeMed really emphasizes sustainability in their work. The focus on grassroots change and working with people who are familiar with their respective communities stood out to me as well. I started off as Director of Community Building because I really wanted to be involved in curating how the culture of the club would develop and setting precedences that would help guide the course of the chapter.
What are you interested in that relates to GlobeMed and more broadly, global health?
In the beginning, I was actually much more interested in the community empowerment and grassroots side of GlobeMed. Over time as I started to find my academic niche at Berkeley, I realized I was interested in food systems, which of course integrates public health as well. So as I took more classes for my major, I realized my interest in GlobeMed was broadening from my initial focus on social justice to the actual public health side of it, especially since our first project was on pesticides, which is something I learn a lot about in my classes. Now that (almost) 4 years have passed, my interests are really multifaceted and include equity in public health, pollution and chemical contaminants, the US's presence in international aid/relief, and sustainability in environmental work as well as health programs/interventions.
What are you passionate about?
I'm super passionate about intersections between the environment and health! I have a growing interest in environmental health sciences and policy, but I love ecology and how biological processes affect anthropogenic systems, such as agriculture. On a totally different note, I'm also very very passionate about music! My life before UC Berkeley was mainly dedicated to my musical training in piano, and even though I don't do music at Berkeley, I'm a musician at heart and in an alternate universe, I would absolutely be a performer and do music full-time.
By: Angela Li
In 1993, photographer Kevin Carter traveled to Sudan to capture the tragedy of the famine occurring then. His subsequent photograph, “Struggling Girl,” won a Pulitzer Prize. This picture showed a young emaciated Sudanese boy, with heavily protruding ribs, bowed over, having collapsed in the dead grass and dirt. A vulture lingers dangerously from behind. There’s a haze of yellow and brown at the front, the only color available in the verdant trees at the very back. After the picture was released in The New York Times, there was rush to donate to any organization that had to do with Sudan, and the public was anxious to hear of what happened to the child. Organizations reused the photo for their own campaigns, and news outlets published it repeatedly. However, there was an incredible amount of backlash against Carter due to how he waited to take the perfect picture before helping the struggling child. Carter waited for 20 minutes to see if the bird would spread its wings. Eventually, he scared the bird off and watched as the child moved again towards the feeding center. He lit up a cigarette and conversed with God before crying, thinking about his own young daughter. Carter would later commit suicide, referencing the suffering he saw in Sudan in his suicide note.
“Struggling Girl” is one of the most notorious examples of poverty porn. Poverty porn is any form of media which exploits the impoverished and their conditions. It glamorizes the idea of being poor and in pain. The purpose of this form of media is to gain charitable donations through sympathy and shock value, or to draw attention to a specific cause— especially when the audience is a privileged group. The consent of the subject is usually disregarded for the sake of creating this shock value. These forms of media reduce people in poverty to flimsy stereotypes that are then broadly applied to entire countries. These stereotypes are used as necessary justifications to even aid the destitute. One specific stereotype is the idea that the communities depicted are completely and utterly reliant on outside sources, generally “white saviors” or the West. While the goal is arguably noble, generating attention or sympathy leading to donations, it is worth questioning whether this type of media is worth the detriment it may inadvertently cause. Oftentimes poverty porn does nothing to address the underlying causes of those suffering, or it may distort or oversimplify the reality of poverty and lead to desensitization. By appealing to people’s sympathy so as to bring in donations, the processes of the actual organization— whether they respect the cultural boundaries of whomever they’re helping, how much of their funding actually goes to those shown in the media, whether transferable skills are being taught, and whether public infrastructure is being erected— are ignored. The extreme nature of poverty porn also reveals a tendency to wait until crises get to a place of no return before those in need are actually helped. The issues prevalent in poverty porn must be so shocking that they must be addressed. Only the most striking causes are worthy of attention and solving rather than broad, systemic issues. Fundamentally, poverty porn shows a lack of decency and awareness towards global issues. However, knowing this, NGOs and the public can learn to critically readjust how they put out and consume media, respectively, so as to effect real, empowering change.
I remember clearly the frustration my friend and I felt at the dearth of global health organizations on campus. As we began to be introduced to more nuanced perspectives on the nature of global health, suddenly our already scant array of options began to look at best ineffectual, and at worst harmful for the communities they worked in. What structural factors were being overlooked in these programs that were designed to be short-term? As we saw it (and still see it), the field of global health is plagued by the remnants of colonialism and the contemporary pitfalls of oppressive global structures that are often made invisible by the very sentimentality that drives people to help. Yes, we must act because it’s right and there’s no time to lose, but we must also develop deeper understandings of the people, the place, and most importantly ourselves if we do not want to perpetuate existing dynamics of power to the detriment of the communities we hope to serve. We were searching for an organization that understood this fundamentally. We found it in GlobeMed.
GlobeMed, within its organizational foundation, represents the way in which I hope to live my life. Intensely introspective and unafraid to challenge itself to be better, I felt an understanding of – or at least the desire to understand – the complexity of reality within its spaces. Even as we collectively struggled with accepting this notion, we always found our way back to this ethos. But existing in this space between theory and practice is not easy. The bridge between the two seems vast in the abstract, and when confronted with real-world decisions it more often than not it is only visible after a course of action has already been taken. Yet GlobeMed’s dogged commitment to do better by understanding better inspires hope in me. Of course, this culture is made and shaped by the incredible members I had the privilege of working with. Though at times our work felt disconnected and unnecessarily challenging, I think with fondness of the willingness of members to be critical and push further; to see the work done with humility. I will miss the community GlobeMed provided for me, the people that kept me constantly reimagining a better world. But I know that I will never forget them; that they are my community and that they will continue to push me to be a better person. So, thank you to the people that made up GlobeMed at UC Berkeley for everything you have given me. You will quite literally change the world.
Berkeley is nestled in one of the most affluent areas in the world. But, its economic endowment is a double-edged sword.
The phenomenon that is Silicon Valley has attracted exceptionally intelligent and diverse people from all around the world to Berkeley and its surrounding area. Yet, this process has also spawned a crisis: gentrification.
Gentrification is one of those “five syllabled concepts” whose meaning and importance is most often confined to its academic origin--the classroom. However, to many, particularly in the Bay Area, gentrification is beyond a theoretical concept, and manifests itself in insidious ways on a day to day basis and its effects are all too real.
Gentrification can be broadly defined as the result of wealthy individuals moving into an “existing urban district”, consequently raising rents in the area, and displacing it existing population. Most often, the consequence of this phenomena is its ability to disrupt cultures that have taken root in certain areas. Gentrified neighborhoods, for example, feature “fusion restaurants seemingly on every block as an attempt of preserving local culture”. However, this “preservation” of culture is more accurately characterized as a perversion and distortion leading some to claim, perhaps hyperbolically, gentrification is contributing to a “cultural genocide” of sorts.
While cultural degradation is certainly a feature of gentrification that is worth a second look, the consequences of gentrification extend beyond this. Often overlooked, but equally significant, are gentrification’s implications for public health. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) notes that those displaced by gentrification are at higher risk for cancer, birth defects, and increased mortality. Often, displaced persons will be relegated to substandard living conditions and homelessness which increases their exposure to toxic chemicals such as lead paint, which can have insidious consequences especially for young children. Furthermore, related to its cultural ramifications, the CDC observes that the collapse of certain social networks can cause emotional distress that can become chronic mental health problems in displaced persons.
The trouble with gentrification in the Bay Area reveals important features of the nature of public health crises in general. First, they are ubiquitous, yet tend to have a disparate impact on a society’s most vulnerable members. In other words, wealth of a particular country or region is not an indicium of whether or not that country or region will be immune from a harmful public health crisis. Additionally, and specifically related to the issue of gentrification, while increased housing costs have begun to even have adverse impacts on middle class Americans in the Bay Area, its consequences most acutely affect the region’s poor. Second, public health crisis exists in a broader societal context and therefore, have the ability to have a ripple effect. As people get pushed out of the Bay Area housing market, many of whom work in the Bay Area, now have to commute far distances to work. Increased traffic has resulted in increased air pollution from car exhausts.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the public health crisis spawned by gentrification teaches us to think more critically, or perhaps more fully, about how will deal with and view certain phenomena.
About The Global Health Soap Box
This blog evokes the spirit of UC Berkeley -- the home of the Free Speech Movement. The Global Heath Soap Box provides a platform for GlobeMed at Berkeley chapter members to explore and discuss their thoughts on relevant public health issues. Whether it's an expansion on what we discuss in ghUs or a topic of interest--The Global Health Soap Box covers a wide range of topics.