Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Social Class as Biomarker

Do you still believe that the Internet is a utopia of equals? Think again. Skin color, income, and class markers are more significant than ever and continue to function as biomarkers.

Biomarker: Biomarkers indicate presence, absence, and deviation from the norm.

I was living in Baton Rouge, LA, when Katrina hit. We caught the western edge of the storm--my electricity and Internet were down for 5 days, and I couldn't reach my mother for 2 full weeks--and we caught the NOLA evacuees. Overnight, the population of Baton Rouge doubled. My workplace, a biomedical research center affiliated with LSU, was closed for a week. (If you're in the sciences, you know that this is unheard of.) I used my cell phone, a Nokia N80, for news and updates, and I essentially lived at a CC's Coffee House near my home. They still had electricity and thus air conditioning.

When the incredulous journalists in NOLA, flown in from other cities to witness the drama, began talking about the "dirty little secret" of the impoverished Ninth Ward; when the photos of the Katrina survivors at the Superdome were published; when the flat expanses of the bombed-out, low-lying flood plain that is NOLA without its levees emerged into the national consciousness, people were shocked. Shocked at the poverty, shocked at the deep racial divisions--the Superdome survivors were overwhelmingly black and poor--and shocked at the crime waves of thefts, murders, and attacks that began even as Katrina pounded the city.

Those of us from the Deep South were amused at the onlookers' shock, their incredulity...their denial.

All these years later, parts of NOLA still have not been rebuilt. Jeremy Clarkson, during an episode of , expressed his surprise that the wealthiest country on earth had let NOLA languish for so long after the storm. 

Of course it's languished.


Because those who are near the social fringe are marked for that fringe. In this case, blackness and impoverishment are social markers that are as strong as ever.

Social markers are biomarkers. The social fringe is treated as the borderland of contagion. 

The larger social structure sees the potential for contagion among such populations and, revulsed, turns away. 

Social markers are as strong and thus as important as ever. We may not agree with their function, but expressing dismay and opposition on #Facebook does nothing. 

Instead, let's ask, what do we gain through social marking, and where is it headed?

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