This lunch was centered around an article Professor Hancock wrote for “HuffPost: Black Voices” called “Emancipation Proclamation and Realizing MLK Dream” and a response to said article Prof. Hancock received.
So the question became: how does one approach this woman and enlighten her to the deeper issues Hancock’s article highlights? Her statistics are correct, some of her points hold true, but her approach is wrong. It’s too superficial.
The members of Garthwait, in addition to Prof.Hancock, Prof. Cavin, and a few other educated persons, began to discuss why Prof. Hancock’s article is so relevant, even today, and why these issues are still present, 150 years after the Civil War. One issue we talked about was poverty and it’s relation to crime rates. Does being poor mean one a criminal? Absolutely not. Does being poor or living in an area of poverty make one more susceptible to crime? That remains a little more difficult to answer. One the one hand, some people claim poor people have more potential to commit crimes out of desperation, but on the other hand (which we pointed out during our discussion) poor people are caught more frequently than privileged people because they are constantly surveyed by authorities. In this way, they’re sort of set up for higher rates of crime compared to higher classes because they’re targeted.
We then went on to talk about the pro’s and con’s of Public Housing. Due to policies enacted by the federal government during the 1930′s, 60′s, and 80′s, low-income properties were destined to be torn-down in order to make room for affordable housing, displacing the communities that were already there. Public Housing, in theory, was to encourage better living for the poor, to mix various income households in one area, and to reduce crime and drug rates. Though the idea was admirable, “public housing increasingly became the housing of last resort. In many cities, housing projects suffered from mismanagement and high vacancy rates. Furthermore, housing projects have also been seen to greatly increase concentrated poverty in a community, leading to several negative externalties.”
We discussed how Public Housing encouraged cycles detrimental the poor. Once people gained more money, they would move out of the projects and buy a single home. To encourage people to live in the projects, the landlords reduced their qualifications for someone to live there. As qualifications lowered (i.e. income, employment, family-unit), projects became the place for the poorest of the poor. Once this happened, private investors and government funding pulled out because a good enough profit was not being made and the risks of investment became too high. As those who encouraged the projects began to abandon their work, Public Housing, physically and socially, quickly began to deteriorate.
Because of this cycle, people (such as the woman who responded to Prof. Hancock) see those living in the projects, who are namely African-Americans, as lazy, uneducated, and un-willing to better themselves. But if one is raised in a cycle such as this wherein, from the star,t there is little encouragement from the community and the government to further one’s life, why would they?
This brought us to the crux of the discussion: can you hold society just as responsible as we hold an individual? People are responsible for his/her actions, of course, but the nature of one’s surroundings can limit one’s choices and opportunities and affect his/her overall actions.
So, where does one draw the line between an individual’s responsibility and the responsibility of society?