Thoughts When Reading Evicted

Spoiler alert: this article contains a lot of quotes from the book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

First, a quote from the body text:

When people began to view their neighborhood as brimming with deprivation and vice, full of “all sorts of shipwrecked humanity,” they lost confidence in its political capacity.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, around 41%

I think it was around this part or the later part of this book where the author learned from his participants (i.e., tenants and landlords in this book) that not only white people do not want to live in a neighborhood with black people, even black people themselves do not want to live with their own people, which is both counterintuitive and different from previous academic findings. In Chapter 20, one of the black tenants said, “It would be nice to get away from these black motherfuckers.” And the author included a note after this quote:

Most of what we know about people’s acceptance or rejection of racial integration comes from vignette studies that take place in a lab. These studies consistently find blacks to be strong proponents of integration and whites to be advocates of segregation. […] If you step out of the lab and watch families search for housing in real time, you see something different and more unsettling. White movers have strong aversions to living in black neighborhoods – but so do black movers. I never once heard a black renter voice a desire to move into an “integrated neighborhood,” although they would be contributing to racial integration simply by moving from a majority-black neighborhood.

I know I’m totally biased – and yes, I’m proud of this particular bias of mine – I really do think for doing research like this, no method will be more reliable or more solid than ethnography. If the researcher doesn’t go to the place, talk to these people, and live there with these people for a long time, how could any reliable research observations and data be obtained? No way, not possible. Oh sure, the researcher themselves will bring in their own perspectives, for sure, but ethnography is still way better than survey, in which you get the data, but the data have no meaning, since there is no context provided for interpreting the data accurately. And meaning, yes, is all about context. Unfortunately, context is something lab studies love to take out and claim findings “scientific” or “independent.” (This really doesn’t work on social studies.)

I think towards the end of the book the author made another note that criticize previous methods (i.e., survey) of studying disadvantaged populations, but sadly I couldn’t find it cuz I didn’t highlight it… This being said, I also take great pleasure in reading these notes/footnotes from a solid non-fiction like this. (Not all the notes are worthy reading in academic writings; most are just bunch of signals made to show “hey I read this seminal thing in my field so I know my shit!”. Well, your work will show if you know your shit or not, right?)

In Chapter 21, the author said,

It was once said that the poor are “constantly exposed to evidence of their own irrelevance.”

This is a heart-breaking fact. It’s heart-breaking to read, but we all know it is true. One thing that the book does a great job on is it spells out the burden and torture of being poor, being constantly evicted, and being homeless one has to carry and endure. The burden and torture add not only economic weights on people, they also yield tremendous psychological and mental effects, sometimes deadly effects (e.g., suicide). I think in the middle-class, rich people narrative, the poor is seen as an utter other. It’s as if the poor are not human beings, they are objects that can’t be responsible for their own care and own situation. If they are seen as human being, then they must be some other breed that are different from us. It’s because this alienating view of the poor that these psychological and mental negative consequences of being poor are so often ignored and not discussed. I would argue these inner, “unseen” consequences actually affect the poor more than not having enough income, because how can one lift oneself up if one doesn’t have that strong psychological motivation? The author highlight this aspect in this book too, and I see how motivation can move a needle on the case of Scott.

I look forward to reading the author’s new book Poverty, by America.

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