Foreign Virus, Harvey Weinstein, and What COVID-19 is Teaching Us About Economics in America

I haven’t been able to get the phrase “foreign virus” out of my mind since the President first introduced it into our vernacular last night.

I similarly haven’t been able to get Harvey Weinstein’s well-deserved sentence out of my mind, or the fact that the United States Soccer Federation is using a grossly sexist legal defense to excuse paying female players less than their male counterparts.

And then of course there is the threat (and in some instances the actualization) of school shut-downs due to COVID-19 that will have the unintentional effect of depriving poor children of needed meals and safe spaces. Similarly, this novel pandemic has highlighted the plight of workers without health care or even sick leave. The men and women who go without are faced with losing their jobs or going to work and putting themselves and others at risk. Then there are the teachers who, even with sick leave and health care, continue to show up to work in germ-filled classrooms with Kleenex-filled trashcans and a short supply of hand sanitizer each and every day, despite their personal fears of becoming sick. And let’s not forget to mention congressmen who kill bills that might have eased the economic burden on those who need it the most.

From “foreign virus” to sexism and abuse and back to the virus again, these seemingly disparate things have one very specific thing in common: othering.

It was no mistake that Trump deemed COVID-19 “foreign.” Not because it started in China or because Europe didn’t make a good enough effort to contain the virus, but rather because it is inflammatory, self-protecting, and accusatory. If we—Americans—become ill, it is only because some other government, some other type or color or differently accented people, immorally allowed a virus to ravage not only its own people, but also ours. Economic and physical harms arising from this will continue to be laid at the feet of the other, even as Dr. Anthony Fauci says America is failing to appropriately address this pandemic.

Harvey Weinstein preyed upon women who went to him looking for work, for mentorship, for help in a cutthroat profession where women are already expected to acquiesce to nude scenes and subject themselves to playing roles that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. These women—like the female soccer players who are accused of not working as hard as or having the inherent physical talent of male players—apparently needed to pay their dues somehow and Weinstein found a way. Under these standards, the female body, whether as an athlete or sexual being, is no match for the prowess of men. Women are “other,” and in being so are less than.

But of course, that’s almost always the case.

It is the “other,” those who are “less than,” whose economic plight many are just now realizing as COVID-19 is sweeping our nation, bringing certain hardships into common conversation. It’s easy to see only the “top layer” of a story, but underneath there is always so much more. The plight of low-wage workers, food insecure kids, the homeless, and the chronically ill goes on each and every day, not just this particular moment in history. Sick leave, health care, child care, living wages; they are always relevant.

We live in a nation built on “othering.” There are moments in time that make that othering obvious, bring it to the forefront of public consciousness. But a Facebook meme showing white people in traditional Chinese garb holding a giant bottle of Corona is not a novel type of humor. The abuse Weinstein perpetrated upon women happens at every economic level and largely without public scrutiny or discussion. Women at all professions, not just professional athletes, continue to be underpaid, and the poor tend to remain that way.

Gratefully, a small but mighty portion of Americans wage a daily war against the disease of othering, though usually in ways that are underfunded, overworked, and underpaid. And as we too often do in important work sectors (such as education), we tend to push those in the trenches of this war into their own economic insecurity. Of course, with a president who continues to create new columns in which we can place those “different” than us, nationally televising and normalizing xenophobia, I think it’s safe to say these war wagers will not soon be out of a job.

The Locust Effect

Despite our best efforts, we’ve somehow missed it.

Even in the midst of our generous financial donations, volunteer hours, mission trips, and letter writing, we’ve failed to see what should have been glaringly obvious: the global poor lack the most basic ingredient for forward progression — personal security.

In their recently released book, The Locust Effect, Gary Haugen (founder of the International Justice Mission), and Victor Boutros (federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice) convincingly argue that all our best work to eradicate poverty — even while worthwhile, helpful, and well-intended — is for naught unless we concurrently address the epidemic of violence and fear facing the poor in the developing world.

Read the rest of today’s post here.


Marginalization of Women Leads to Increased Rate of HIV/AIDS

During the past 30 years, the AIDS pandemic has provided an unfortunate opportunity to follow God’s call to care for the widow and orphan. Husbands succumb to illness, leaving behind wives and children who also carry the disease. Mothers die, leaving behind children without care, and too often is the case that those children — who could have avoided in utero transmission of HIV with proper medical care — also die. Entire families are lost.

This Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of World AIDS Day. This day is not simply about wearing a red ribbon to show solidarity in the fight against AIDS. Instead, it is an opportunity to address the tough issues presented by HIV, such as how those disproportionately affected by the disease mirror society’s most marginalized populations — the poor and women — and how faith-based communities can best serve those populations.

In the book, Women, HIV, and the Church: In Search of Refuge, editors Arthur Ammann and Julie Ponsford-Holland compile expert voices to deconstruct the stigma of HIV within the church, set forth the biblical mandate to care for the sick and suffering, and define what role the church can play in providing education, protection, and refuge for those infected or at risk of infection. While Refuge speaks at length about the fallacy of a sin/sickness connection on an individual level, as well as God’s mandate to serve the widow and orphan, its primary emphasis is one of gender equality: to respond fully and compassionately to HIV, the global church must both verbally affirm gender equality as well as uphold that affirmation in practice.

Read the rest of today’s post at Sojourner’s by clicking here.

Photo: Michaeljung/Shutterstock

My Years as a Welfare Mom

Twelve, to be exact.

And during those years, I experienced on a very deep and real level what it’s like to be poor, to depend on the kindness of others, and to be told I must quit school so I could work full-time instead of just part-time, which, presumably, would lift me out of poverty just enough to be ineligible for assistance, yet broke enough to suffer.

Although it would take bottle upon bottle of “ink” to fully discuss the time in my life that included short-term homelessness, food insecurity, and harsh stares of judgment, today at Red Letter Christians I recount a few of my experiences during those twelve years, and how they informed my stance on government benefits.

You can read the article here.

Mississippi Teen Pregnancy Laws and Sex Trafficking – Has Mississippi Gotten it Right?

First off, let me say that I’m from Arkansas. And just like Mississippians make the joke, “Thank goodness for Louisiana!,” Arkansans make the joke, “Thank goodness for Mississippi!”

That said, I’m wondering if maybe Mississippi is ahead of the game this time.

Mississippi’s teen birth rate, although declining, is still 60% higher than that of the rest of the nation. And approximately 111 of the 6,100 births to teenagers in Mississippi were to mothers under the age of 16.

Effective July 1, doctors and midwives in Mississippi will be required to take umbilical cord blood samples from babies born to some women under the age of 16. The new law is intended to discourage older men from having sex with teenagers and to track down statutory rapists.

Lawmakers responsible for drafting the bi-partisan legislation believe it will deter older men from having sex with younger women:

“It is our hope that we can deter men over the age of 21 from having sex … with girls 16 years and younger, particularly if they know we are going to pursue them,” Jim Hood, the state’s Democratic attorney general, said.

If a girl is impregnated by a male more than three years older than her, the state will prosecute the baby’s father. This law applies to girls under the age of 16, which is the age of consent in Mississippi. Although the legislation has no opposition, it is poorly crafted in that it is unclear who would prosecute the men if they are located, or how lawmakers would determine where the baby was conceived in order to file charges. It also does not state who will pay for the DNA testing.

The bill is getting some push back from the state medical association, which has asked lawmakers to remove a provision that includes penalties for doctors who might not abide by the law. It is also getting push back from advocates for women.

Jamie Holcomb-Bardwell, director of programs for the Women’s Fund of Mississippi, believes the legislation’s focus is misdirected, saying that few teen pregnancies involve very young girls and much older men.

“It is a lot easier for politicians to talk about protecting young women than it is for them to talk about adequate sex education, access to contraception, looking at multi-generational poverty, [and] making sure we have an adequately funded education system,” she said. “All of these things have been shown to decrease the teen pregnancy rate.”

What Holcomb-Bardwell’s statement does not address, however, is sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is on the rise in Mississippi. Girls are forced into sex trafficking in a variety of ways, and their pimps are the ones who gain monetarily. Despite the fact that these girls are victims, they can be and are criminally punished for their “participation” in prostitution. The absurdity of this, of course, is that these young girls cannot “consent” to participating in prostitution. Even if they say “yes,” when a 12-year-old has sex with a 30-year-old, that 12-year-old is not yet developed enough to give true consent. This is certainly true when that “yes” is born of fear, early grooming, or a desperate need for “love” otherwise not available.

Nonetheless, in cases of child prostitution, police often target the girls instead of the pimps, because the girls are easier to catch. That makes a certain sort of sense, assuming the girls divulge the name of their pimp and/or stay off the streets, but unfortunately it doesn’t tend to happen that way. And as one of the top anti-sex-trafficking advocates in the nation states,

“Every act of what’s called … ‘prostitution’ with these children is actually a form of child sexual abuse — and to take it further, child rape,” she says. “So I don’t think children who are raped should be criminalized, no I don’t.” (Nole Brantley)

So if the children shouldn’t be criminalized, and the pimps are too hard to catch, what are the options for our police officers and prosecutors? Local, state, and federal governments need to start thinking creatively on this. Is Mississippi’s law the way to go? Well, maybe. If even one child under 16 becomes pregnant and the umbilical cord DNA leads to someone involved in a child- sex ring, the results could be amazing and far-reaching.

But, let’s go back to Holcomb-Bardwell, especially her point regarding multi-generational poverty. According to Brantley, it is often children from impoverished families who end up involved in sex trafficking. The reasons for this are many, and Holcomb-Bardwell is right that legislative efforts must begin there. Assuming that Mississippi’s new law takes up much-needed funds that could otherwise be spent on poverty eradication and the other areas mentioned by Holcomb-Bardwell, I have to say I agree with her. In a perfect world where funding is unlimited; however, I say “why not?” Every little bit helps, and this law may be a creative way to address sex trafficking.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you think Mississippi has it right? Or is the law a dead end? What are some creative options for our law enforcement and our legislators?