Main Street Now Session Preview: Why Fighting Inequality Will Make You Feel Better

March 30, 2020 | Main Street Now Session Preview: Why Fighting Inequality Will Make You Feel Better | By Mindy Thompson Fullilove, MD, Professor of Urban Policy and Health, The New School

The following post was originally featured on Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove's blog, Countdown to Main Street in May 2020. Dr. Fullilove is the author of the book Main Street: How a City's Heart Connects Us All.
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When have I ever seen so much information about inequality in the media? Basically never. The surprise is not that the fractures in society are the crevices along which the epidemic is flowing. The surprise is that we are given such detailed and honest reporting about every facet of it. We are not left in the dark to wonder about injustice: we get the headlines every morning.

When matters are so clear, people can take positions with confidence and indeed, the pressure to take a position mounts. Acting now becomes important, but it is attended by fears and risks. How, then, does it make us feel better?

Fighting inequality makes us feel better in quite a number of ways. Here are just three that I find very important.

First, you shed lies, and this is very good for mental health. In the ecology of inequality, everybody is caught in the trap of lies. Either you think you're a victim of inequality or you think you're not. Neither is precisely true. "Victims" are victims+winners – winners because they are spared the need to believe in all the lies that justify inequality. "Non-victims" are non-victims+losers – losers because they may profit but have to buy into the lies. Buying lies is bad for your psyche and your character. Recognizing the simple truth that we're all caught in the same system is profoundly liberating.

Second, you acknowledge relationship and can bring it into the right relation. The deep global crisis of our times is about relationship – relationship with the environment, with other people, with other countries, with the future. This simple diagram is designed to show that "inequality" is a relationship between two people.

This is a relationship built on harm. By getting rid of the harm, we release a lot of energy that can be put to good use. This is wonderful for mental health. And this is something pretty much all of us have experienced, as when we used our strength or power to harm a weaker person, maybe a little brother or sister. When we stopped doing that, it was better all around.

Third, you prevent even worse harm. Having recognized all facets of the ecology of inequality in our society, we turn a blind eye to it at our own peril. The system is not working to equalize resources and opportunity but rather to concentrate them in the hands of fewer and fewer people. If we want to fix this, we must act. Now is a good time, before things get even worse. It is a great feeling to know that we're contributing to a better future.

If you want to feel better and you're ready to act now, that's great. If you're wondering how to start, here are some ideas I have:

It's always good to get the big picture. Over the next few days, find all the articles in the news about different kinds of inequality that are showing up in this pandemic. What's happening to racial minorities? What's happening to women? What's happening to immigrants? What's happening with low-wage workers? What's happening with the food supply? What's happening to hospitals in poor neighborhoods? There are many parts to this struggle that are evidenced at the moment – it's good to know how big and complex the problem is. There are also a plethora of webinars going on now, teaching about the effects of inequality on the pandemic and helping people consider what to do about it.

Think about what you'd like to see in the future. What should it look like when we emerge from the this painful but necessary managed retreat? This is what I call "finding what you're FOR."

Start at home. How can there be equality in your house, block, and workplace? Who does chores? Who gets paid how much? These are issues in all of our lives.

Join an organization that's working towards the goals that you're FOR. There are lots to choose from. I think the Poor People's Campaign is in the forefront. I am also really proud of the work my former student Jacqueline Martinez-Garcel and her colleagues are doing at the Latino Community Foundation. Maybe it's your block association or Black Lives Matter that calls to you at this moment. Whatever it is, go for it.

Together, we can win a future for all of us.

About the Author

mindy_Y4A4661LG.jpgMindy Thompson Fullilove, MD, LFAPA, Hon AIA, is a social psychiatrist and professor of urban policy and health at The New School. She has published over 100 scientific papers and eight books. among them Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It, and Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America’s Sorted-Out Cities. She is co-author, with Hannah L. F. Cooper, of From Enforcers to Guardians: A public health primer on ending police violence, issued by Johns Hopkins University Press in January 2020. Main Street: How a City’s Heart Connects Us All, was released by New Village Press in September 2020.