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Reducing Economic Inequality Through Intersectionality – PART TWO

Reducing Economic Inequality Through Intersectionality – PART TWO

Read Time: 8 mins. 

Economic inequality has a vast impact on a wide range of social issues.

In the first part of this article series, I was joined by Economist, Tech entrepreneur, and social activist Mammad Mahmoodi, where we discussed how extreme economic inequality is a relatively new issue historically; an issue which has increased substantially over the last 200 years. We also looked at how it exists on both a national level in the US, as well as on a global level. Additionally, we shared that the new paradigm in economics favors addressing this disparity in income inequality.

This second part will look very specifically at intersectionality and socio-economic gaps, while in the third part we’ll be sharing some practical solutions from economists around the globe.

We’ll start by lookin at three examples of economic inequality and intersectionality, which can be found in political representation, mass incarceration, and horizontal inequality.

Mahmoodi and Allenby finalizing the article series.

Mahmoodi and Allenby finalizing the article series.

 

( I ) INEQUALITY AND REPRESENTATION

One of the largest issues of economic inequality lies in representation. Political representation has historically been skewed towards fairer rules and more abundant opportunities for the affluent. This is a problem globally but is also a very specific issue in the US for a core reason: US elections are fueled by external donations. The donors that are making the biggest contributions often do so because they want to operate within a system where their money is protected. This creates a vicious cycle where the wealthy back the candidates that make laws that will continue to protect that wealth.

Over $6 billion was spent on the 2012 US elections. In comparison, in the 2010 UK election around 49 million dollars was spent by the parties (an election’s greatest expense),1,2 while in Norway, the government pays over 60% of the candidate’s budgets, and each candidate is entitled by law to equal TV and radio time.3 In contrast, the US’ Citizens United Law was passed in 2010,4 meaning big corporations could act like citizens and make indirect participation to campaigns. Following the rise of Bernie Sanders in 2015, we’ve seen a whole generation of candidates that are refusing corporate and PAC donations. It’s a great start, but we need system-wide campaign finance reform on these policies moving forward.

In the US, this results in economic inequality worsening as candidates who stand for the disenfranchised are not receiving the same opportunities as those who stand for the economically empowered.

( II ) MASS INCARCERATION

Another significant issue in the US is mass incarceration. There is no equivalent in the modern world to the mass incarceration that exists in the United States. At any given time, over 2.3 million people are in prison in the US.5 This is almost 1 percent of the population, 12 times greater than the rate of incarceration in Japan.6

A person born in the lowest 10% of the US income bracket is twenty times more likely to go to prison than one born in the top 10%.7 In addition, having a family member in prison impacts first, and even second, degree family members8 not only emotionally, but also financially. Having a family member incarcerated, therefore, often bars other family members from climbing the poverty ladder too.

( III ) HORIZONTAL INEQUALITY

Horizontal inequality is a further factor. This is where those from a specific race, ethnicity, religion or region are significantly poorer than their peers. Research has proven that anywhere there is horizontal inequality in a society, there are higher rates of violence and destabilization within the society itself.9 For example, any community has a tendency of hostility towards those who are significantly poorer or significantly richer than them. This creates the great divide, leading to lessening opportunities to break out of socio-economic disparity.


INTERSECTIONALITY

Although we’ve focused on just three examples of the links between social issues and economic inequality so far (representation, mass incarceration, and horizontal inequality), there are countless further examples of social issues such as xenophobia, homophobia, homelessness, and racism which are directly linked to economic inequality. These impact one another simultaneously.

 

This is why intersectionality is of the utmost importance. Being a single cause activist without being aware of the other socio-economic parameters is not a sustainable way to solve issues. For example, Gloria Steinem highlighted10 that if we want the #MeToo movement to be sustainable, we need to ensure it continues to consider intersectional feminism and women of color. This was echoed by the Berkeley Law Scholarship Repository.11 As well as by British Comedian Jamali Maddix (who is most famous for his Vice TV series “Hate Thy Neighbor,” where as a POC, he went around interviewing Nazis to try and understand their psychology), who shared in his comedy show12 that the #MeToo movement has usurped racism. “Us black people have been waiting patiently in line. It was our turn. And then the #MeToo Movement swooped in and took our place,” he joked, on a recent stand-up comedy show in Brooklyn, NY, nodding once again to the need for more intersectionality in the social movements so we address all the issues simultaneously.


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THREE MAIN CAUSES OF ECONOMIC INEQUALITY

If we look more closely at the entanglement of these socio-economic issues, what we really need to address is the inequality of opportunities. What we are  talking about is the fact that less economic mobility prevents individuals from moving up from their impoverished place in society.

In the US, three of the main causes of economic inequality are education, the justice system, and child poverty, which we discuss in detail below:

( I ) EDUCATION

Both the authors of this article series were raised in socio-economic disadvantage. Mammad Mahmoodi was raised in post-war Iran where—following the Iran/Iraq war—there were limited resources. Sasha Allenby was the daughter of a dock worker in an industrial town in the North of England, where the majority of employment comes from factories, and where the job market was unstable. However, in both their societies, being raised in economic disadvantage did not block them from accessing high level education and climbing the ladder of opportunities. 

In contrast, lack of education opportunities is crippling to low-income communities in the US. If we divide education into three groups of: (i) Pre-K, (ii) K-12, and (iii) Higher Education, we begin to clearly see the issues of economic disparity and why they are insurmountable for many individuals.

NYC made free Pre-K available to all in 2013, but this is unique to New York and not echoed across the country.13

In K-12 the greatest issues lies in the quality of public schooling.With numerous instances of decline in K-12 public funding (either state or local), the burden of education is left on families.14,15

In higher education—which has become more essential due to a reduction of jobs in manufacturing because of automation—the biggest issue is costs that lead to young people starting their professional lives with heavy debts. In addition, government and state cuts on the education budget have made schools more expensive, adding to crippling student loans. In 2007 the average student debt was $19K.16 In 2013, it rose to $27K.17 By 2016 it increased to $37K.18 Further, in part one of this series, we highlighted that the government bailed the banks out in the financial crisis. They did so by giving the banks loans with only 0.75% average interest rate. In comparison, student loans carry an average 6.6% interest rate, putting further financial burdens on those who have had to borrow in order to study.

 

But what is even more startling in higher education is the disparity between the costs of college (including tuition, dormitory, textbooks, etc.) and the median income. In 1980, the median income was $46K and the average college cost was $9K per year. But in 2012, although the median income had only risen to $50K the average college cost has risen to $22K.19 That means there is a massive barrier for children from low to medium income families to attend universities.


( II ) JUSTICE SYSTEM

Low-income people are incarcerated at a much higher rate than their medium or high-income peers. If you divide the country into those in jail and those out of jail, the people who are in jail have less than half of the income of the people not in jail (even before they have been incarcerated).20 Much of this has to do with the unfairness and inherent biases of the justice system.

Justice has become a commodity that you need to be able to afford, rather than a right in the US. There are currently nearly half a million people awaiting trial in the US that are in jail without sentence because they—or their families—cannot afford the bailout money.21

This particularly impacts low-income people. NYCLU carried out a sample research on 8 counties in New York state and found that 10,000 people who spent time in jail before their trials had bailouts lower than $250, but as their families were unable to afford them, they had to remain in prison.22

Another example is the war on drugs, which started in the 1970s. It disproportionately addressed poor people23 (and especially poor people of color).24 It resulted in mass incarceration25 which has had a knock-on effect for the families involved, creating even fewer opportunities through the generations.

( III ) CHILD POVERTY

21% of children in the US live in poverty.26 This number increases to 40% for black children,27 (46% for black children28 under the age of 6), and 34% for Latinx children.29

Child poverty results in a range of issues which self-perpetuate. On a basic level, it means that food insecurities create lack of concentration for young people in places of education. It also leads to health issues (such as higher asthma rates for the economically disadvantaged)30 and learning disabilities (including increased autism rates for low-income communities)31 as well as limiting the access of underprivileged children to higher education.

The US Ivy League schools are a mirror of this social disparity. There are only 9% of the bottom 50% earners at Ivy League schools. Astonishingly though, in the top 50 to 75% of earners there are only 17% in Ivy League schools. That means that the children of the top 25% of earners dominate these schools with 74% of the pupils attending being from this group.32

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LAND OF OPPORTUNITY

Just about every country in the world was raised on the belief that the American dream is available to every US citizen. We all heard the story of the man or woman who came to the United States with $5 in their pocket and went from rags to riches by working hard and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. But it seems that, in the current socio-economic climate, the American dream is not alive for all.

 

Integrational Income Mobility33,34 is an economic measure that is used to determine the extent to which income levels are able to change across generations. This measure determines the likelihood of any particular group being able to break out of their socio-economic limitations. In other words, it dictates whether, if your parents are poor, you will also be likely to be economically challenged. In comparison to other developed countries, US has one of the worst performances. For example, in the US, your future is three times more dependent to your parent’s wealth than it is in Canada or Scandinavian countries.35,36 This means that in the United States, if your parents are poor, you are much more likely to remain so yourself.


SOLUTIONS

Part Three of this series will present the solutions to some of the many issues we’ve highlighted. To summarize what those solutions might look like, we can draw from one of the most renowned economists of our time, Stiglitz, who shared that inequalities are “partly due to economic forces, but equally, or even more, they are the result of public policy choices.”37

Many of the policies and laws that have reinforced economic inequality include bankruptcy laws, unfair tax systems, tax loopholes, offshore tax evasions, inheritance laws, campaign finance laws, cash bailout laws, and intellectual property laws. In the third part of the series, we will break these down so that we can start to see some of the solutions to creating a fairer system for all.

 


 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

 

Mammad Mahmoodi is an economist, community builder and tech entrepreneur. He has a passion for the social impact of technology, and how inequality impacts innovation and economic growth. He was co-founder of Ondamove (one of pioneering geo-tagging companies). Following that, he was a starter—and Executive Director—of Open Data Science Inc. (one of largest Artificial Intelligence communities in the world). He has taught entrepreneurship in a number of universities around the globe. Currently his main focus is supporting enterprises to create economic equality. He works and resides in Manhattan, NY. 

For the past decade, Sasha Allenby has been a ghostwriter for some of the greatest thought-leaders of our time. Her journey started when she co-authored a bestselling book that was published in 12 languages worldwide by industry giants, Hay House. Since then, Sasha has written over 30 books for global change agents. Following the events of the last couple of years, she turned her skill set to crafting social messages. Her latest book Catalyst: Speaking, writing and leading for social evolution was a global number one bestseller in social sciences on its release in Jan 2019. It supports thought leaders to craft dynamic messages that contribute to change. She works and resides in Manhattan, NY. 

 

Receive PART THREE of this series, plus regular blogs and updates. Be part of a community that is advocating for social change and learn to craft your messaging more effectively.


2. https://www.cnn.com/2012/01/24/world/global-campaign-finance/index.html

3. As Above

4. https://www.britannica.com/event/Citizens-United-v-Federal-Election-Commission

5. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2018.html

6. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/uk/06/prisons/html/nn2page1.stm

8. International Review of the Red Cross (2016), 98 (3), 783–798. Detention: addressing the human cost doi:10.1017/S1816383117000704

9. Stiglitz, Joseph E., Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them, W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., New York, 2013, P.289

12. https://www.joe.co.uk/entertainment/fringe-2018-jamali-maddix-194260

13. https://access.nyc.gov/programs/pre-k-for-all/

16. https://ticas.org/sites/default/files/pub_files/2007_state_debt_NR.pdf

17. https://ticas.org/content/pub/student-debt-and-class-2013-0

19. Stiglitz, Joseph E., Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them, W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., New York, 2013, P.166

20. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/incomejails.html

25. https://www.aclu.org/other/drug-war-new-jim-crow

26. http://www.nccp.org/topics/childpoverty.html

28. http://stateofworkingamerica.org/fact-sheets/poverty/

30. Stiglitz, Joseph E., Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them, W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., New York, 2013, P.179

31. As above

32. Stiglitz, Joseph E., Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them, W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., New York, 2013, P.180

34. https://voxeu.org/article/intergenerational-mobility-us

36. https://www.oecd.org/centrodemexico/medios/44582910.pdf

37. Stiglitz, Joseph E., Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them, W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., New York, 2013, P.288

Reducing Economic Inequality Through Intersectionality – PART ONE

Reducing Economic Inequality Through Intersectionality – PART ONE

Read Time: 8 mins. 

Economic disparity is the linchpin that sits at the center of most issues of inequality. As intersectionality has become an increasingly utilized buzzword, our quest to find the places where each issue of inequality meets has become a hot topic. When it comes to economic disparity, it seems to sit at the center of almost every issue. We can’t talk about racial equality, prison reform, equal pay rights for women, immigration, or refugee equality, for example, without touching on the issue of socio-economic gaps.

Most of us who are at the leadership level of creating more equality are able to talk with perhaps a little confidence about what the issues are. We may be able to state that the top 1% are part of the greatest challenge or that we need to close socio-economic gaps in order to create more equality for all. However, when it comes to the specifics of the underlying issues, many of the social impact leaders and social entrepreneurs that I work with aren’t able to properly articulate the finer details of the argument or pinpoint the exact issues that need to change.

With this in mind, I interviewed Tech Entrepreneur, Economist, and Social Activist, Mammad Mahmoodi. I wanted to understand how the clients I work with could better articulate their arguments around closing socio-economic gaps more effectively. What I thought would be a 30 minute conversation turned into a three day interview, and forms the basis of an article that will span three blog posts and look at the issue from a variety of angles.

Mahmoodi and Allenby finalizing the article series.

Mahmoodi and Allenby finalizing the article series.

 

We’ll start this week by looking at the “what” that underpins the current socio-economic gaps. In Part Two we’ll be diving deeper on the issue of economics and intersectionality, and in Part Three we’ll be sharing some models that offer solutions from various economists throughout the world. We’ll also be suggesting a paradigm shift in how economic policies are decided, in order to create more equality for all.

In whatever area you are creating more equality, this article series will offer you a new vocabulary for articulating your arguments for socio-economic change.


Massive Socio-Economic Disparity is Actually a NEW Problem

When I picture times of old, at least in the UK where I grew up, I always imagine that the socio-economic gaps were much greater than they are now. I picture the streets of London hundreds of years ago, with the privileged riding around in gold carriages and the less fortunate scrabbling for food in the dirt. So one of the first facts that Mahmoodi shared—that massive socio-economic gaps is actually a relatively new issue—blew my mind.

Gaps on a Global Level

Inequality on a global level is a new issue that has become more prevalent in the last 200 years. In economics, the term “GDP per capita” which means taking the total money that a country makes and then dividing it into how many people live there. Using the GDP per capita to measure, in 1820, the richest nation in the world (at that time, the United Kingdom) was making only four times more than the poorest nation in the world which was Africa.1 (It referred to Africa as a nation as, in 1820, Africa was not defined by independent and separate countries at that time, but rather colonies of super powers. Hence, the study referred to Africa as one nation.)

In 1998, the richest economy in the world (by then, the United States) had a GDP per capita twenty times the poorest nation (which was still Africa).2

Using the stats from the World Bank, Mahmoodi shared that within the last 20 years, (1998 to the end of 2017), this ratio had increased to 38 times. “This shows that the global inequality rate is increasing at an unprecedented rate,” he shared.

As of 2018, the eight richest people in the world have the equivalent wealth of the bottom 50% of the world (which means that eight people have the wealth of 3.6 billion people).3

Gaps in the US

On a national level, while the average income for the bottom 60%t of society has decreased in the last ten years, according to Census Data, the income of the top ten percent has increased significantly. Moreover, between 1980 to 2009, the share of income for the top ten percent increased from 33% to nearly 50% of all income.4

Unbelievably, the US is among the countries with the largest disparity between rich and poor among all the developed countries (the only developed countries with larger disparity are Chile, Uruguay and Singapore).5


Inequality is Not Just a Humanitarian Issue

In order to better understand wealth generation and redistribution, we first need to grasp the changing face of attitudes in economics as a whole.

From an economic perspective, inequality used to be seen as a humanitarian and philanthropic issue. In fact, in the old paradigm of economics, it used to be believed that addressing inequality would reduce economic growth, but now there is a new paradigm of economics—as well as a large amount of accompanying statistics (which we’ll be sharing across the article series)—that argue the opposite.

The old paradigm said that the money that circulates in an economy can be shown as a pie, and what society should focus on is expanding the size of the pie rather than focusing on the size of the piece that each person gets. The argument was that if the whole pie size increases, the size of the slices that each person gets increase automatically too. It was also believed that focusing on the size of the pie slices detracts us from working from increasing the size of the pie as a whole.

The new paradigm believes that working on increasing the size of the whole pie and working on fairness of the slices of the pie are not contradictory to one another. The new paradigm even goes further to claim that if the slices of pie are too unevenly distributed, it prevents the whole pie from increasing in size. So the new paradigm in economics is leaning towards more fairness for all.

According to Stiglitz—Nobel Economic prize winner, and one of the most prominent economists in the world—in a society with heavy economic inequality, not all the money circulates. This is because the wealthy don’t spend their money as much as the less affluent (due to those with less money needing to spend their income in order to live). So when money is circulating, it brings more economic growth to a society.

Therefore, tackling inequality is both the responsibility of humanity and also makes sense economically, too.

 


Two Types of Money – Resulting in Different Types of Economic Inequality

In order to create more socio-economic equality, we need to better understand how inequality is created. To do so, We need to understand the difference between INCOME inequality and WEALTH inequality. Income is the money that we receive from creating products or performing services. Wealth is the value of everything that you own, which includes your income, land/house/apartment that you own, money you inherit, and royalties you receive.

Income inequality is the gap between what the lowest income and the highest income people earn. As we saw from the statistics above, there is no doubt that this gap has increased in the US. However, wealth inequality is actually the main reason for socio-economic disparity. Wealth inequality mainly comes from the accumulation of fixed objects. To explain further, money can result in two things:

  1. PRODUCED OBJECTS – this is material goods, but also anything else that causes the rotation of money – food in restaurants, experiences, vacations, clothes, or groceries we buy, etc.
  2. FIXED OBJECTS – owning land, apartments, Intellectual property rights, valuable art, and so on. These don’t rotate the economy or increase its productivity. Fixed objects get their value from their limited presence, which is why they constantly increase in value. For example, apartments available for sale in cities like San Francisco and New York increase slower than the population, so demand increases and they become more expensive, leading to an increase in wealth for their owners.

“What happens is that the new money is not circulating as much in produced objects as it has been in accumulating fixed objects,” Mahmoodi shared. This increases the wealth of those who own fixed objects and reduces the money that could have been circulating in produced objects. When money is spent on the produced objects, it helps grow the economy and—more importantly—distribute the growth gains. This means that wealth inequality actually stems more from the accumulation of fixed objects, plus the rent and royalties coming from it, than from anything else.

Also, as the fixed object valuation escalates, it increases the risk of bursting the economy bubble. This is similar to what happened in 2008, which—as you will see below—causes more inequality.

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Financial Crisis and How it Increased Socio-Economic Inequality

Most of us are aware of the financial crisis of 2008, but what you may not be aware of is how this contributed to socio-economic gaps.

At the start of the 21st century, fixed object prices had a bubble, which burst in 2008. Basically, banks had valued houses more than what they were worth so when that bubble burst, the banks had a multitude of loans that people couldn’t pay back.

For the years before the bubble burst, money was increasing and—according to Stiglitz (the Nobel Economics prize winner and prominent economist that we introduced earlier)—over 95% of that went to the top one percent.6 The wealthy received the fixed money, and that wealth didn’t translate to income for the mass population. When the bubble burst, there were over 1500 billion dollars lost in the US economy. So what did the US government do? They gave a 700 billion dollar bailout to the banks that came out of taxpayers’ pockets that financed and insured the loss of the top 1%. Meanwhile, African-American families saw their wealth reduced by 53% in the recession (between 2005 and 2009). This led Stiglitz to call this phenomenon “phony capitalism,”7 a phrase pointing to the fact that profit was privatized and loss was socialized.

Further Causes of Economic Inequality

Of course, these aren’t the only issues of economic inequality. As we have already highlighted, a deeper look is needed into the unfair tax system, tax loopholes, offshore tax evasion, as well as bankruptcy/inheritance/intellectual property laws, and also deregulation policies (all of which we are going to explore in depth in part three of this series).

In Part Two of this article, we’ll be taking a careful look into how socio-economic gaps show up in a variety of issues, from prison reform, to racism, to child poverty, to the justice system, and how we can address them with intersectionality.

 


 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

 

Mammad Mahmoodi is an economist, community builder and tech entrepreneur. He has a passion for the social impact of technology, and how inequality impacts innovation and economic growth. He was co-founder of Ondamove (one of pioneering geo-tagging companies). Following that, he was a starter—and Executive Director—of Open Data Science Inc. (one of largest Artificial Intelligence communities in the world). He has taught entrepreneurship in a number of universities around the globe. Currently his main focus is supporting enterprises to create economic equality.

For the past decade, Sasha Allenby has been a ghostwriter for some of the greatest thought-leaders of our time. Her journey started when she co-authored a bestselling book that was published in 12 languages worldwide by industry giants, Hay House. Since then, Sasha has written over 30 books for global change agents. Following the events of the last couple of years, she turned her skill set to crafting social messages. Her latest book Catalyst: Speaking, writing and leading for social evolution was a global number one bestseller in social sciences on its release in Jan 2019. It supports thought leaders to craft dynamic messages that contribute to change. 

 

Receive PART TWO and PART THREE of this series, plus regular blogs and updates. Be part of a community that is advocating for social change and learn to craft your messaging more effectively.


SOURCES:

1 Sachs, Jeffrey, The End of Poverty, Penguin Books, New York, 2015, P. 28.

2 As above.

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jan/16/worlds-eight-richest-people-have-same-wealth-as-poorest-50

http://piketty.pse.ens.fr/files/capital21c/en/Piketty2014FiguresTables.pdf

http://datatopics.worldbank.org/gmr/palma-index.html

Stiglitz, Joseph E., Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them, W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., New York, 2013,  P.120

7 Harper’s Magazine, Stiglitz, Sep 2014

How to Engage Audiences to Take Action: Important Considerations for Social Impact Leaders

How to Engage Audiences to Take Actions:

Important Considerations for Social Impact Leaders

If you are creating a social impact message where you want others to engage or take action, there are several considerations for inspiring an audience.

In my latest book Catalyst: Speaking, Writing and Leading for Social Evolution, I identify five different message types that can be used to create various effects on your audience:

(i) Cathartic Message
Allows the audience to release and transform the emotional pain and suffering they have been experiencing.

(ii) Compassionate Message
Supports the audience to feel understood and see that you either have had similar feelings to them in the past, or you know how they feel.

(iii) Visionary Message
Sharing your vision of a different future and the obstacles we need to overcome for that vision to be realized.

(iv) Story Message
Using a story to create a connection to your audience.

(v) Leading by Example
The messenger IS the message.

Story Message

Out of the five message types, if you want to engage an audience to take action the story message will create the most powerful connection. In Catalyst, I broke down one of the most effective uses of the story message that I have seen in some time: Brandon Stanton (founder of Humans of New York) had started a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of the Love Army with the goal to raise $600,000 to build houses for Rohingya refugees.

In just a few days, the campaign reached its original target and by the eleventh day, it had reached over $2,000,000.

If you are engaging others to take action and make a difference, you may be asking what made this campaign such an astronomical success when the Rohingya refugees had barely been acknowledged by the Western world. The answer to that question is a simple one: stories.

Using Stories as a Force for Change

Humans of New York built an 18-million-strong following because of Stanton’s ability to capture a personal story in one paragraph. He writes as though he can see into the heart of his subject and, with an accompanying photograph, he allows his audience to witness their world, whether they are on the streets of New York, Delhi, Tehran, or in a Rohingya refugee camp. For a split second, all perceived barriers of class, religion, or race disappear, allowing one human to meet another without judgment or prejudice.

How the Campaign Unfolded

For ten days, Stanton told the refugees’ stories. He allowed his audience to bear witness to the atrocities they had faced. And in ten days, over 36,000 people responded with donations.

The following story is an example featured on the Humans of New York Facebook page on March 5, 2018; it was accompanied by a picture of a man holding two small children (the story contains sensitive and violent content):

They didn’t say a word. They just started firing into the air and lighting our houses on fire. The burning began on the north side of our village, so we fled south into the forest. We walked all night through the dark. I could hear people in the forest all around me. We were too afraid to rest. When the sun began to rise, everyone panicked and started to run. I noticed two children leaning against a tree. Both of them were crying. The boy said nothing. The girl would only tell me that her mother had been killed. When I asked if they wanted to come with me, they nodded ‘yes.’ I’m taking care of them the best I can, but it’s difficult because I already have a large family. I think they are happier now. The girl has made some friends in camp. But she still keeps asking about her mother.

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How Story Messages Differ from Other Message Types

In the same way that “not all superheroes wear capes,” a story message of this kind differs from the other types in that it puts the subject, rather than the storyteller, at the center.

If you want people to care, then stories are your most valuable currency. You can describe an issue or a problem, but if you don’t create a human connection, or engage emotion, then that caring pathway will be difficult to create. If your aim is to engage the help of others, then leading with the stories of your subjects is one of the most profound ways to generate compassion from your intended audience.

Why the Context of a Story is Essential

There is one important caveat, though, if you are sharing a story because you are trying to lead others to take action. Your story needs to have three components presented separately. The first component is the story itself. The second is the context of the story, and the third is an instruction for action. In the campaign highlighted above, Stanton directly followed each story—divided by a dotted line—with the context for what he had shared, letting his audience know what he wanted them to do. In the case of the story above:

This week I’m sharing a series of firsthand accounts from Rohingya refugees. The Rohingya are a persecuted ethnic minority who have been violently evicted from Myanmar by Buddhist extremists. Over the past year, nearly 700,000 Rohingya have been driven from their homes and are now residing in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Their living conditions are already dire, and monsoon season is approaching. As we share their stories, we are raising money to help build inexpensive bamboo houses for these refugees. (They are currently living in plastic tents.) Bamboo houses can be built for $600 a piece, and we’ve raised enough for over 400 so far. Please consider donating.[iii]

The story itself needs to engage emotion. The context needs to focus mainly on the recent history of the people you are representing, as it is usually more relatable to the audience you are trying to engage to talk about what these people are going through now, rather than what they went through decades or hundreds of years ago.

The call to action is usually at the end and asks for a direct contribution from the audience (anything from a financial or material contribution, to volunteering time, to signing up for a workshop or program). The combination of these three elements is crucial to success. Those with a story message will often make one of the following errors—with the result that their statement will not connect with the audience or lead to action:

  1. Sharing the story without a call to action; people will be moved but they won’t know how to help.
  2. Sharing the context of the story, such as in the example above, but not making the human connection with the actual story or one or more individuals.
  3. Asking for action or a donation without sharing the context or the personal story. For example, recently I consulted for a company that was trying to help refugees find employment, and I saw right away that they had overlooked the opportunity to share the context of the challenges that the refugees faced or the personal stories of the people they were helping. By assuming that people knew, they were missing the opportunity to create human connection.

     

EXERCISE: If you have a story message, whose story are you telling? Even if you are focusing on the plight of a group of people, do you have one or more individual stories that you can use in order to create a human connection?
What is the context of the story? The focus needs to be on the recent history of what the group you are representing has been through.
What is the action that you want your audience to take? How will you call them into that action?

In this blog we have looked at one of the five messages types. You will find these message types discussed in much greater detail in my latest book Catalyst: Speaking, Writing and Leading for Social Evolution.  


For the past decade, Sasha Allenby has been a ghostwriter for some of the greatest thought-leaders of our time. Her journey started when she co-authored a bestselling book that was published in 12 languages worldwide by industry giants, Hay House. Since then, Sasha has written over 30 books for global change agents. Following the events of the last couple of years, she turned her skill set to crafting social messages. Her latest book Catalyst: Speaking, writing and leading for social evolution supports thought leaders to craft dynamic messages that contribute to change. 

 

You are a catalyst or visionary who is crafting an evolutionary message. You want to be part of a community that supports you to make a difference with your spoken and written word. Sign up to receive weekly blogs and updates that enable you to craft your unique message.

Dear Vogue . . . We’re Calling You Out On Your “Non-White” Narrative

Dear Vogue . . . We’re Calling You Out On Your “Non-White” Narrative

Read time – 4 mins.

“You look nice with your face cleanly shaven,” the assistant at the local grocery store told Moji, my
partner’s brother.

We shot each other t​hat​ look, and I saw him catch his breath. We’d been in this situation before on more than one occasion, and it was immediately obvious that—once again—he’d been mistaken for my partner, Mammad, his brother.

I’m guessing they aren’t the first brothers to be constantly mistaken for one another, but the issue here runs much deeper than sibling misidentification. One brother is forty pounds lighter than the other. One with slim features, the other with a rounded face. One with a button nose, the other’s nose more prominent. One has long, wavy hair, the other short and tidily kept. One, always cleanly shaven, the other, never without a beard. The only similarity—outside of being roughly the same height—is that both of them have brown skin.


The Mistaken Identity of Noor Tagouri

Last week, we saw an incident in the media that hit on a similar theme. It was the moment where journalist, activist, and speaker, Noor Tagouri, had her dreams both realized and torn apart in under ten seconds. She shared a video showing the moment of delight where she was filmed introducing the magazine that contained her photoshoot in ​Vogue​, which was then turned to heartache and disbelief when she realized that she’d been misidentified as another Muslim woman—Noor ​Bukhari—a ​Pakistani actress with the same first name.

Later in the day, we learned that it wasn’t the first time that Tagouri had been misidentified, either. On CNN, Emanuella Grinberg reported that “In 2018, photos of the Muslim journalist were used to illustrate stories about Noor Salman, wife of the gunman responsible for the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando. The error came at a time when she said she experienced elevated levels of harassment and bigotry due to media coverage of Salman and the shooting.”

In an article in F​ashionista​ magazine, Tagouri shared that Muslim women are “not only overlooked” in the media, but “they are constantly put in harm’s way and put in danger.” She explained, “I have worked my entire career to combat that, not just for Muslim women, but for all marginalized communities.” She also highlighted that one of the main challenges is that, “People [in the media] don’t always see you as an actual human being. They see you as something that can fit into their narrative, and that’s what’s so dangerous about it.”


Misidentification and Misrepresentation

Tagouri used the opportunity as a teaching point to shed light on the deeper issues that it raised.

“This wasn’t about ME being misidentified and represented — it was about all marginalized people who are constantly an afterthought and not truly seen.”

She received support from far and wide. One supporter was ​activist and writer Fawzia Mirza who shared her response on Twitter:


Vogue’s Response Caused Further Backlash

But Vogue’s apology led to further backlash. They ended their apology by stating, “We also understand there is a larger issue of misidentification in the media—​especially among non-white subjects​.”

Vogue’s public apology highlighted more of the problem.

Having never bought a fashion magazine and not aligning with what ​Vogue​ stands for, calling women “subjects” sends a wave of discomfort up my spine because it is part of a larger issue of objectification that this industry represents. But that’s a whole other tangent and not so relevant here. What’s relevant is that they referred to Tagouri as “NON-WHITE,” which shows the underlying issue—making whiteness the norm, the basic standard and shining a light on the underlying prejudices that lie within. It assumes that everyone who is not white fits under one heading, too.

In an interview with Fashionista magazine, Tagouri shared:

“They have a lot of work to do when it comes to representation and diversity and inclusion, and it can’t just be to fill a quote or tokenize a people. It has to be because you care about these communities that you’ve overlooked for so long.”


Getting the Names Right

When he first moved to the US, my partner’s brother asked, “Which name should I use to introduce
myself? My real name or my coffee name?”

“What the ‘f’ is your coffee name?” Mammad (my partner) asked him, and I can still see the shock in his
face when his brother answered.

“My coffee name is the name that people call me so they can feel more comfortable.

The day that scene unfolded still makes my blood run cold. So the story went like this. When Moji (the
brother) had moved to Australia to practice medicine, he’d been taken to one side by the head
of the clinic.

“Moji, you need to pick a coffee name,” he’d told him. When he asked what that was, he was told, “It’s a shortened version of your real name.”

“But Moji ​is​ a shortened version of my real name,” he’d said, his real name being several syllables longer.

“Yes but we need you to choose the kind of name that other people—like your patients, the other doctors—will feel comfortable calling you. Like Max, for example.”

So reluctantly, and without much choice in the matter, Moji become Max.

I think about this story in the face of what happened to Noor Tagouri. This issue is fundamentally about interchanging Muslim women and failing to recognize individuality, and it’s also about a further insidious issue that I’ve noticed since I moved to the US. It’s a kind of laziness around making the effort to learn names or pronunciations, or to see individuals, and I’ve seen this occur frequently, particularly for POC who have names that require some thought and effort to get right.


The Core of the Issue

So what are the main learning points to take from Tagouri’s experience? I guess there needs to be a recognition and acknowledgment of the cultural biases that sit at the heart of what happened to her. We need to own that the treatment Tagouri received in this experience is not just a simple case of mistaken identity—it’s indicative of a wider challenge that POC in the US, and around the world, face on a day-to-day basis. We have to acknowledge the insidious ways that this kind of treatment has been enculturated so we can own it, unpack it, and grow beyond it.

One of the core reasons people don’t make the effort is the basic, faulty conditioning that states “mine is normal and what doesn’t look like me is different.” It builds an “us versus them” narrative which is the core cause of all the current political racism and xenophobia we are facing right now.  It leads to destructive thinking such as, “We do not want them here as they are the others.”

We need to move on from the structural misbelief that one type is the default and everything different from that is the other. In the example that we shared, Vogue assumed, without question, that white is the norm and anything outside of that is “non-white.” Their unintentional yet obvious othering was a reflection of the greater issue that sits at the core of our society as a whole.

This can be a great opportunity for each one of us to break down instances of othering in our daily lives. I’m hoping that Tagouri’s willingness to use this as a teaching point means that her experience becomes a catalyst for change not only in the fashion world, but in the wider world, too.


 

For the past decade, Sasha Allenby has been a ghostwriter for some of the greatest through-leaders of our time. Her journey started when she co-authored a bestselling book that was published in 12 languages worldwide by industry giants, Hay House. Since then, Sasha has written over 30 books for global change agents. Following the events of the last couple of years, she turned her skill set to crafting social messages. Her latest book Catalyst: Speaking, writing and leading for social evolution supports thought leaders to craft dynamic messages that contribute to change. 

You are a catalyst or visionary who is crafting an evolutionary message. You want to be part of a community that supports you to make a difference with your spoken and written word. Sign up to receive weekly blogs and updates that enable you to craft your unique message.


Changing the Narrative Around Prison Reform – Part 1

Changing the Narrative Around Prison Reform – Part 1
Read time – 6 ½ minutes.

My best friend—Brett Moran—is a reformed prison convict with an incredible story of transformation.

As a crack dealer and addict, he went to prison on a driving offense, and carried on his drug habit inside. One day in the prison library he picked up a book on Buddhism to cover up a drug deal. He started reading it and something inside him broke open. He took the book back to his cell, continuing reading it under his bed covers with a flashlight, so his cellmate wouldn’t see him. 

It was the start of an awakening that led him to be an authentic, down-to-earth, spiritual teacher who is tattooed from head to toe, and author of the no-nonsense transformation book Wake the F#ck Up.

 

Whether he is inspiring prisoners or everyday people with the understanding that change is possible, there is no space to argue with what he shares, because he is a living example of his own teachings.


US Prison Reform

Prison reform is a hot topic at present, and covers not only trying to reduce the amount of people sent to jail in the US, but also how we can help them bounce back when they are released. The more I come to understand the US prison system, the more convinced I am that a story like Brett’s would have been far less likely if he lived here in the US, and not in the UK where he comes from (especially as in some parts of the US, prisoners aren’t allowed access to books).

Since I moved to the United States, I started to understand that there is a huge disparity between the way previous convicts are reintegrated into society in European countries, as opposed to the opportunities they receive here. But there are also recent moves to break down these disparities and create more promising paths for reformation within the prison system.

This week we’re going to focus on one aspect of prison reform—how we change the social narrative around those who have been incarcerated so we can think and talk about them differently, creating a more promising pathway for reintegration—and in next weeks post, we’ll be looking at how we begin changing the narrative around the prison system as a whole.


“Tagged and Going Down”

My own passion for prison reform dates back almost two decades to when I was teaching teenagers with severe behavioral issues. Before anyone was really talking about intersectionality, the socio-economic factors related to the likelihood of imprisonment, and the unfair racial biasing in prison sentencing, I was part of a cutting-edge team in the UK, working with young people to try and prevent them from being incarcerated.

In England a system of “tagging” was popular at that time, which meant that the last stop before prison was an ankle monitor that would act as a tool to curfew young people after 7pm.

These kids were referred to as “tagged and going down” (“going down” being the British slang used for someone who is about to enter the prison system). I worked with these young people for a number of years, using drama as a social and educational tool to help them explore the consequences of their choices, in an attempt to keep them from making that final choice which would potentially lead to their incarceration.

 

What I noticed was that there was already a social narrative around these young people, and an expectation of their “path to self-destruction.” The dialogue around them already had them labelled as “a lost cause” or “an inevitability.” I saw it as my job not only to help them rewrite their own story, but to change the narrative of those around them who had already marked them with certain expectations.


Good Versus Evil

We don’t just need to change our narrative around those who have a greater chance of being incarcerated. We need to change our dialogue around every aspect of prison reform too. Part of this shift lies in a deeply embedded Western narrative around good versus evil. In Western cultures—especially those who have been raised on a Hollywood diet of villains versus heroes—there can be a tendency to judge a person’s core character based on their past actions. This has been reinforced in the dialogue around incarceration. The ‘bad guy’ who ‘did wrong’ becomes a second class citizen, and there are very few opportunities built into that narrative for the average person on the street who committed a crime to reintegrate successfully.

One of the core issues is that often, when someone has committed a crime, it is viewed in isolation, rather than as being symptomatic of a whole host of inter-related socio-economic issues that created a chain of events leading to that crime. If we are thinking about prison reform, we first need to think about the context in which crimes are often committed rather than polarizing our thinking into good versus evil.

We need to be creating opportunities for those who have been incarcerated to break out of socio-cultural conditioning and actually reform in prisons. They need to be places of education and growth, and this is slowly being recognized in some parts of the US. For example, there is a movement to reverse the outdated law that keeps books from prisoners. In the latest news, Pennsylvania correction agency have just announced that they are allowing books in prisons.

This is a huge step because if we want to support someone to change their perspective, see the world through different eyes, or take a different path, it’s often going to require some kind of outside influence, such as we saw in the opening of this article with Brett Moran in the prison library.


Dov’è la Libertà?

The other consideration is how we change the narrative around those who have already been inside. Recently I watched the 1954 Italian movie ‘Dov’è la Libertà?’ which translates to ‘Where is Freedom?’ Set in Italy in the 1950s, it’s a heart-wrenching tale about how a man who has served a 22 year sentence for protecting the honor of his wife, and is released back into society with only a few lire in his pocket (the Italian currency at that time). After his effort to reintegrate back into society fails due to being too honest for the real world, he attempts to break back into prison where he feels he can make his best contribution to humanity.  

Although this film is set over 60 years ago, there are some striking parallels with the way that reforming US convicts are often thrown back into society with little or no support, and while it might be understandable that post-war Italy did not have the resources to create a meaningful reintegration program, we can’t make those same excuses today. This is especially true since it costs around $90 a night to keep someone incarcerated, so at least some of that budget needs to be kept aside for when they return to the world outside the prison walls. This can only happen if we see reintegration as a worthy investment, not just for the individual who has been incarcerated but for society in general.  


Changing the Narrative

What happens when we change the narrative is that we get incredibly inspiring individuals who can contribute their knowledge and wisdom that they learned from their lessons and bring them back to enrich society as a whole.

 

An example of one such individual is ConBody CEO Coss Marte, who was released from prison in 2013 after serving time for dealing drugs. While in prison, Marte was told that even though he was only in his early twenties, with his weight and cholesterol so high, he only had five years to live. He lost seventy pounds in six months while he was in prison and is now the CEO of New York’s ConBody, a “prison-style boot camp” popular among celebrities and people from all walks of life, that exclusively employs former convicts. When Marte was asked how he had brought ConBody to life, he told CNBC Make It, “I never stopped pitching myself. I’d tell my story 20, 30 times a day. I’d go on the train and talk about what I do and act a fool. Whatever it took.” His story, and what it represented to others about the ability to change, was the key to his success, and to building a company that supports others like him and demonstrates how social change is possible.

Jarrett Adams is also another great example, turning a racially motivated wrong accusation into an inspiring story. He was wrongfully accused of sexual assault at the age of seventeen and sentenced to twenty-eight years in prison. While the evidence of his white accuser was unsubstantiated, as a person of color, he was still incarcerated. He devoted his time in prison to studying law and in a Now This video he shared how his studying enabled him to go from saying, “Hey look, I’m innocent, let me out,” to “Look, I’m innocent, this case supports my claim.” With help from the Wisconsin Innocence Project, his conviction was overturned. Adams walked out of prison with $32 to his name, but despite receiving no benefits or compensation, he became a lawyer and is fighting the wrongful convictions of others in his position with the New York Innocence Project. He said, “I won’t stop pushing forward. I have an opportunity with each day to continue to chip away at the negative stigmas that are attached to people who go to prison, whether rightfully or wrongfully.”

So this is how we start to change the narrative. By making prison into an opportunity for reform, growth and learning (whether in the face of a wrong accusation, or a right one). We have a long way to go yet—and in next weeks blog we will look at how we begin changing the narrative around the US prison system in general—but our starting point is definitely being prepared to challenge the common narratives that hold fixed perceptions of those who have committed crimes, and transform them into narratives of hope and possibility.


For the past decade, Sasha Allenby has been a ghostwriter for some of the greatest thought-leaders of our time. Her journey started when she co-authored a bestselling book that was published in 12 languages worldwide by industry giants, Hay House. Since then, Sasha has written over 30 books for global change agents. Following the events of the last couple of years, she turned her skill set to crafting social messages. Her latest book Catalyst: Speaking, writing and leading for social evolution supports thought-leaders to craft dynamic messages that contribute to change.