How Modern-Day Eugenics Spreads Dumb Ideas like a Virus

January 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

Last week, the folks over at Richard Florida’s The Atlantic Cities wrote a real think piece. The article, entitled ‘How Economic Segregation Spreads Crime like a Virus’, is built upon a fairly simple and understandable premise; when varying economic groups are living within isolation, rather than integration, crime rates rise. Mind blowing, right?!

So why am I wasting my time telling you about a real whoop-dee-doo article that came out of intensive research from the cats over at the Brookings Institute and the D.C. Crime Policy Institute? Because in no uncertain terms is this article littered with unadulterated classism and ambiguous flashes of racism, and that’s a real problem. Not to mention that I think we can all agree with the idea that eugenics is a bad thing.

Let’s be clear, comparing poverty, or any other societal problem to a ‘virus’ in which ‘vaccinating’ entire communities are possible ‘solutions’ is very wrong. This is perhaps the worst way a person of privilege, with access to immense power via institutional juggernauts, can go about espousing an altogether agreeable sentiment.

When the author, John Roman, postulates this idea, that diversity is a good thing, he falls back on his laurels by automatically assuming that those with capital are the ones with the solutions. This may, due to lack of any critical insight on his part, be the base assumption that makes this article so hard to swallow. The author has either never heard of our nation’s rich history of economic/ racial segregation or is blissfully ignoring it to advance his own agenda. He begins framing his argument by suggesting…

Here is the thought experiment: Suppose we set up the worst-case scenario, one where cities have no recourse to reduce crime other than arranging where people live. And suppose a city was assigned a set number of high-risk (economically disadvantaged) places, a set number of low-risk (highly prosperous) places, and some in between. Now we ask, how should the city arrange those places to create the most safety and the least amount of crime?

The answer is surprising.

At first glance, three things strike me as problematic; ‘high-risk’, ‘low-risk’ and ‘surprising’. First, this is in no way surprising. Now we are left to dissect the notion that the remainder of this article is predicated on; ‘high-risk’ and ‘low-risk’ communities. While the author may not directly state it, he artfully dances around the premise that white upper-class suburbanites can fix all of the problems of the urban core by displacing communities of color who are ‘economically disadvantaged.’ I hope you can begin to see my problem with the article. To build upon this let’s explore the root causes of this situation.

An actual graphic used in an actual publication.

An actual graphic used in an actual publication to describe actual communities. Cross your fingers you don’t get ‘infected’ by the poverty-virus or expose it to any of your rich friends lest they spread this horrible wealth-killing virus! Also, to add insult to injury and demonstrate that he, the author, clearly doesnt give a fuck  the ‘prosperous’ area is white (duh) and the ‘infected’ area is, well ‘dark’ (sigh).

How have these ‘high-risk’ communities become labeled as such? How are ‘low-risk’ communities’ hands clean in this scheme? And furthermore, what are they doing/ not doing that makes them the arbiters of solutions to problems they have no experience dealing with? To me, it all seems a bit backward. Then again, we have an economic system that is constructed to make the poor feel like vile, virus-ridden, slum-dogs who temporarily inconvenience the ‘highly prosperous’ residents they have been convinced they will one day become. What is missing here is the simple idea that economic income ought not be an indicator of crime, yet in situations in which resources are limited, our economic system fosters, even necessitates, the existence of crime. What is not defined here is what ‘crime’ actually is. Is it criminal to hoard resources that will inevitably create situations of dependence? Is it criminal to displace communities? Is it criminal for non-residents to buy up whole city blocks of housing to personally profit while hollowing out already limited resources in various communities? Is it criminal to demolish vacant property despite high rates of houselessness/ homelessness? No, not according to John Roman.

What is criminal, however, is undefined. The reader is only left to make assumptions, and it is from those assumptions that stereotypes begin to get reinforced and further polarize an already divided issue. Mr. Roman leaves the readers with one shred of evidence to let us know he is human, ‘we cannot arrest our way out of crime problems’, and yet, increasingly, that is exactly what most of our major cities are doing. This well-intentioned fellow for the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute may need a refresher course on what ‘justice’ exactly is. To take a page from Mr. Roman’s playbook, I will not define what is centrally important to my argument, but instead leave you, the reader, with a thought experiment.

Suppose we set up the worst-case scenario, one where certain communities have the lion’s shares or recourse to barricade themselves from anything that is different from themselves, and others are left vulnerable to economic uncertainty, outside speculation, divestment, and the belief that their community can become an incubator for outsiders, where new-trendy ideas can be tinkered with – just because. And suppose a city was assigned a set number of high-risk (economically predatory) places, a set number of low-risk (highly compassionate) places, and some in between. Now we ask, how should the city arrange those places to create the most safety and the least amount of crime?

The answer is surprising! Work to create situations in which wealth and capital cannot be hoarded by those who create situations of poverty, dependence, and compliance. Rather, work to build interconnected communities upon the foundation of compassion (literally to suffer with). In this paradigm neighborhoods can have a say on the influence of outside forces. It fosters self-determination rather than dependence, it builds wealth rather than extracting it, and fosters innovation through mutual beneficence rather than compliance.

Maybe now the poor will look less like this:


And more like the humans they are.



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