Archive for SSP related Analysis

The success of ‘12 years a slave’ triggers shared societies community efforts

The NY Times' 1853 Article On 12 Years A Slave's Solomon Northup

Second of March at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, California: 12 Years a Slave wins three Oscars. For the first time in 86 years a movie directed by a black person wins the award and Afro American Lupita Nyong’o takes home the film’s industry higher honor as best supporting actress. The script is also awarded as the best adapted screenplay of the year.  Media underlines the importance of these awards as a landmark in the race discussion and the newly elected Academy’s President African-American Cheryl Boone Isaacs, says that with 12 Years’ success, “a major door have been kicked down… I believe very strongly that the entertainment and motion picture business is going to be more open and aware of different voices.

But far away from the string of reactions and global buzz that the picture generates along with the Hollywood Hills flashes and glamour, the story that tells and is a reminder of the recent past of the United States is still causing a lot of uncomfortable situations for many.

One place hidden from the limelight is Rapides Parish, the community in rural Louisiana where the real story of “12 years a slave” occurs. The picture is based on a book of the same name and it tells the true story of Solomon Northup, a free man who is kidnapped and enslaved. That was 161 years ago, but even today that legacy stills lives on today.

The book was rediscovered in 1968 by historian Sue Eakin, who lived in the same area were Solomon Northup was enslaved. As a white woman championing the story of a black slave in the days of deep segregation, and therefore as a women championing a shared societies vision, Eakin faced many challenges. 50 years after that, her great-nephew, Lamar White still has to deal with controversy as, even today, there are many who refuse to acknowledge this area’s history. As White says, “It is difficult to build a community when there’s that giant psychic wound that slavery inflicted. It was easier for people to get along if they ignored it”.

As the BBC reports in its article “Louisiana grapples with 12 years a Slave” at a two-day discussion on the book held recently at Louisiana State University, “Northup’s story was debated by a group of black and white Americans. Ginger Jones who leads the university’s multicultural committee, says her initial proposal to host a symposium on race relations met with resistance

People whose ancestors were slaves in the area refused to attend because it was a painful topic to address. Karen Riley a panelist at the symposium says “there’s shame, fear and mistrust”. She points to the way many in the South celebrate the start of the Civil War and the lack of memorials for those who suffered slavery. Bob Vincent, a white pastor whose ancestors were slave owners believes the conversation will only open up if America fully acknowledges the past.  “Here in America our hands are very bloody with the legacy of slavery”.

Therefore, here we have a case where a Hollywood success has again had a translation into the real world. Despite all the troubles and difficulties, the bad memories coming alive and resistances found in the way, there are a lot of positive angles to stress starting from the fact that the powerful filming industry starts breaking its own racial barriers.  And second, but as important as the former, the efforts of the communities to initiate frank talks about their past and to move forward a shared future in a shared society.

Additional information: see the original text from the New York Times (20th of  January, 1853) that documents Solomon Northup story. “THE KIDNAPPING CASE. Narrative of the Seizure and Recovery of Solomon Northrup. INTERESTING DISCLOSURES”.

Ethnic and cultural minorities with worse health outcomes

Precisely when we are in the process of reviewing the Post 2015 Development Agenda from a Shared Societies Perspective, we found this article “Stop Denying People Their Right to Health” by Sarah K. Edwards from Health Poverty in Action at the HuffPost Impact.

Across the world, ethnic and cultural minorities are marginalized and experiencing more poverty and worse health outcomes than the rest of the population, but there is a lack of statistical information around this. By measuring national averages, the MDGs cover up this situation and fail to incentivize countries to breakdown of data into sub-national groups.

Professionals on the field, as those from Health Poverty Action, are viewing and experiencing this, but the lack of data hinders the development of policies that could put a stop to this marginalization process. Allow us to link this with the position paper that the Club de Madrid prepared and is now promoting within the framework of the Shared Societies Project: “A Shared Societies Perspective on the Post-2015 Development Agenda”. In this paper, it is clearly stated that the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals must address the issue of the continuing marginalization of many groups on grounds of identity. Marginalization affects not only the groups being excluded but also the society as a whole, socially, economically and politically.

Furthermore, the first suggestion of this position paper for the New Sustainable Development Agenda is the importance of disaggregating data to show the differential outcomes for different sections of society. This was stressed in the Report of the High Level Panel. It would be helpful if this is explicitly stated in the new Agenda and that it includesdisaggregation in terms of identity. Otherwise we will have no way to know if new development has reached all sections of society.

If we want to promote policy approaches that generate safe and prosperous shared communities, Ethnic minorities shouldn’t be left behind.

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April elections: a Shared Societies opportunity for Afghanistan?

Photo credit: Al Jazeera

History in Afghanistan has as many twists and turns as one can ever imagine. And a new one could be in the making. This could be surprising for some but for the first time in many years the next elections, to be held this April, will feature 11 presidential tickets and all of them will be ethnically diverse. All tribes have their leaders separated and represented in various presidential candidate teams and that triggers a question: is the era of ethnic divisions, that had its climax during the civil war (1992-1996) over?

The answer to this kind of complex questions about Afghanistan will hardly consist in a simple “yes” or “no” but the good news is that it is “probably yes” or “partly yes” (for instance check out this article with the four main questions on the table regarding the elections). As Helena Malykar, Afghan political analyst and historian said in her Al Jazeera report:

The ousting of the Taliban by the US-led military forces at the end of 2001 and establishment of a new regime based on democracy, equal rights and freedoms, has offered Afghans a new environment. During the last decade, while Machiavellian games for power have continued to be played, a wave of change has also made its way into the society, especially among the young generation of Afghans. Changing values are slowly transforming this nation and this shift is quietly, but fundamentally challenging the old ways.

Photo credit: Al Jazeera

Photo credit: Al Jazeera

It’s true that the reasons why all the presidential tickets are integrating leaders from different backgrounds might not be very clear. The rumors in Kabul point to President Karzai as having a lot to do with this refound diversity in an attempt to control the process. Others think it is not a convictions/ideals driven process but calculation on the part of the candidates themselves. And yes, the common visions and programs may mean little but the fact is that the younger generation is striving for a better quality of life and better public services like education, health care or infrastructure rather than focusing on ethnic issues. As Malykar says

there are clear and present signs that voters may transcend ethnic and sectarian dividing lines during the April presidential elections. Whether the division of votes will be motivated by immediate material gain or based on a forward-looking vision, remains to be seen.

Therefore the process in Afghanistan towards a Shared Society is both challenging and promising. The fact that all the presidential tickets will be ethnically mixed at least opens the door to implement three of the Shared Societies Commitments and Approaches on Inter-Community Development: “take steps to reduce tensions and hostility between communities”, “initiate a process to encourage the creation of a shared vision of society” and “promote respect, understanding and appreciation of diversity


Awareness and media (sometimes) positive influence in building Shared Societies

Brookings Paper

A serious study based on facts, good media coverage and radical positive real change. A virtuous circle as hard to see as Halley’s comet? Maybe. But that’s why a more conscious media is needed in order to make an impact and foster the building of Shared Societies. In other words, media needs to be aware of their power to raise awareness and therefore make changes in positive (or negative) ways.

This story begins in the National Basketball Association in the USA, precisely in the NBA referees. A study from The National Bureau of Economic Affairs issued in June 2007 founded “that more personal fouls are called against players when they are officiated by an opposite-race refereeing crew than when officiated by an own-race crew. These biases are sufficiently large that we find appreciable differences in whether predominantly black teams are more likely to win or lose, based on the racial composition of the refereeing crew”. The study was grounded on a huge statistical database from two decades (1991-2002)

The report jumped into the headlines, was a front page story in The New York Times and many other newspapers, got extensive coverage from the powerful ESPN and NBA stars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Charles Barkley engaged in an open and public discussion.

A new paper (click here to download the paper) published by the same authors Devin G. Pope, Joseph Price and Justin Wolfers  and published by the Brookings Institute compares the next time period after the first study (2003-2006) to the timeframe immediately after the study was publicized (2007-2010). The result? “Racial bias persisted in the years after the study’s original sample, but prior to the media coverage. Subsequent to the media coverage though, the bias completely disappeared”. The authors founded that the most likely mechanism that may have produced this result is that upon becoming aware of their biases, individual referees changed their decision-making process. The media exposure was apparently enough to make that change as the NBA reported that it did not take any specific action to eliminate referee discrimination.

This case study proves awareness and media coverage are powerful mechanisms for change. And in this specific story it is not just awareness in the way we usually think, making others conscious of a certain situation or reality but the other way round. Sometimes the hell doesn’t live in the body of others, to use the phrase from Jean Paul Sartre (“L’enfer, c’est l´Autre”; “Hell is other people), but within us. Discovering our own evils, in this case through media exposure, is a good first step to clean them up and therefore make real individual and collective progress towards a Shared Society.

Zanele Muholi; inconvenient witness of hate crimes against black LGTB South Africa Community

Zanele Muholi, Mpumi Moeti, Kwanele South, Katlehong, Johannesburg, 2012, Silver gelatin print, Image size: 76.5 x 50.5cm

Ayanda Mogoloza and Nhlanhla Moremi wedding had a very special witness: the visual activist Zanele Muholi was there to document and photograph that moment of joy. The same happened when Promise Meyer and Gift Sammone tied the knot. But only a few weeks separates those happy events with the funerals of Dudusile Zozo and Maesnae Radebe, two black south African women who were killed  just for being lesbians. Zanele Muholi has became an inconvenient witness of a terrible reality: while South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions along with other legislation that outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace, and legalises same-sex marriages, homosexuality in the black communities is still terribly risky.

Three of her recent and award winning exhibits, “Mo(u)ming”, Phases and Faces and Love and Losses are a galleries of pictures and videos that explores and shows the daily life of the black LGTB black community in South Africa. A Huffington Post article notes that  Zanele’s Muholi’s work combines “her passion for art and her commitment to addressing social injustice, she tackles the subject of LGBT rights across the world, focusing primarily on her home country in order to redefine the stereotypes associated with gender and sexuality”.

Muholi’s objective is to empower LGBT individuals who are “silenced by a society which in principle has constitutional obligation to provide a platform to tell their stories, through their own voices, which currently is not the reality.” The powerful images she takes, the terrible truth she documents and her capacity to redefine stereotypes associated with gender and sexuality constitutes a reminder of how long the way for a real shared society can be but also a sample of how rewarding it can be.

#InclusionMatters for the World Bank

Geoffrey Ernest Katantazi Mukasa

Inclusion can be advanced in myriad ways, many countries have moved forward and change is within our reach”. This is one of the main messages that the Shared Societies Project has been spreading during the last six years, and now, a new report of the World Bank uses evidence to bring home this same message.

Inclusion Matters: The Foundation for Shared Prosperity

This report puts boundaries around an abstract idea and tells us what we can do to further the agenda. Social inclusion is embedded in the World Bank’s twin goals – it matters to ending extreme poverty because some groups are over-represented among the extreme poor, and it matters to creating shared prosperity because growth can leave some people behind. 

The report Inclusion Matters: The Foundation for Shared Prosperity was launched at a round-table discussion during the past World Bank Group/IMF Annual Meetings. With social inclusion being a central tenet in the World Bank’s twin goals, this Davos-style round-table discussion brought together policy makers, activists, academics and World Bank managers for a discourse about what inclusion means in the context of development, why it matters, and what can we do to achieve it. You can watch the web cast of the event here:

An accompanying art exhibit put a human touch on the conversation by bringing voices of the excluded through art, videos, and testimonials.

Additionally, the World Bank is hosting an online space, Striking Poverty,  designed for discussion and debate on innovation and development by a global community of stakeholders — bringing the perspectives of thought-leaders, decision-makers, experts, practitioners, policy-makers and other community members — to inform dialogue, focus debate, shape strategy, and provide a basis for action. The Shared Societies Project is participating in the discussions.

We will be coming back to the report Inclusion Matters: The Foundation for Shared Prosperity in future posts.

We encourage you to join the discussions and share why inclusion matters to you!

#inclusionmatters #SharedSocieties




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