A Heart-Ache of a Process: Immigration in the United States

The United Nations defines a refugee as someone who has been forced to leave their country because they are facing persecution or some form of targeted violence. Typically, refugees do not live with the general public of their new country. Most live in refugee camps, as my family did. We lived in a refugee camp for nearly a decade before finally being granted visas to immigrate to the United States. 

The immigration process is the embodiment of burdensome bureaucracy. It is a process that actively ignores the cries of people who are on the verge of life and death situations. It takes courage, persistence, patience, and a stroke of luck to even be in contention for a visa. The entire process is flawed. The problems are dangerously copious and they impede the pursuit of life, liberty, and property for many refugees, potential immigrants, and immigrants currently living in the United States.

Could You Ever Take That Mile Walk?

To understand why immigrants seek to leave their own countries, we must first look at the context of their country of origin. It may be difficult for anyone to truly understand why my family left our beloved country to live in a refugee camp for nearly a decade. It should never take decades to receive a visa to go to the US when we were forced to live in perpetual fear under a government that gazed elsewhere when we sought help. For my parents, escaping an imminent danger of a civil war in the 1990s in the Democratic Republic of Congo only to find refuge in the poverty-ridden country of Mozambique may seem nonsensical, but when you are seeking aid your options are extremely limited. 

Many refugees like myself have experienced the nightmares of anxiously waiting for a month’s rationing of food from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ assistance program that may never arrive due to the corrupt local government that ransacks the distributing trucks and hoards all food and supplies only to sell them at rates that no refugee can afford to pay. Many could never truly understand that unless they too have lived it, so instead of explaining it, I just say that our family came to America for a better life. After all, who doesn’t love a good story of an African wanting to make it big in the US and to attain the elusive myth that is the American Dream? 

Comparative Immigration Policies of Past Presidents

Before the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980, there was not a comprehensive definition of a refugee in U.S. law. There was an annual average of 200,000 refugees entering the United States throughout the 1970s, a decade that had an influx of immigration from Vietnam to the United States. And the fall of Saigon in 1975 led to the U.S.-sponsored evacuation of an estimated 125,000 Vietnamese refugees who are known as the boat people. In response to such unprecedented events, Congress passed legislation that amended the previous Refugee Act and defined a refugee as “any person who is outside his or her country of residence or nationality, or without nationality, and is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” 

In 1982, after establishing who qualifies for refugee status, only 98,096 refugees were accepted. The trend of refugees arriving in the U.S. would slightly rise again under President George H.W. Bush’s administration, where it peaked at 125,548 in 1992. Unfortunately, there was a significant decrease in 2002 with the numbers plummeting to just 26,785. This was the result of increased travel restrictions following the devastating terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. 

After the attacks, the country saw a spike in xenophobia that renewed preexisting racial profiling, especially for those of Arabic descent and Muslims in the country. There was an estimated 500% spike in hate crimes directed toward Muslims in the years following 9/11. Under the Obama administration, we saw a greater acceptance of refugees, which then came in sharp contrast with the Trump administration, which openly spurred anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican attitudes and policies, as well as overall disdain towards immigrants. A case in point is the executive order that was taken to the Supreme Court after backlash for barring immigration from several Muslim-majority countries. 

Months ago, we saw a strategic failure befall under the Biden administration as they pulled troops out of Afghanistan, leaving the nation in the hands of the Taliban after 20 years of war and bloodshed. After the departure from Kabul, the total number of people who have entered the United States after leaving Afghanistan through Aug. 31st is 31,107 — a number that will only grow with time considering the positive stance on immigration that the Biden Administration has taken in comparison to the previous administration.

The 2019 census report reveals that the United States has a population of more than 330 million people. Of those millions of people, 280 million are born in the US, 22 million are citizens through naturalization, and an additional 22 million are not citizens or are in the process of becoming citizens of the United States. Our Bluegrass state has an overall population of 4.5 million, with 4.2 million being born in the US, 70,000 naturalized, and 100,000 not yet citizens. Jefferson County, Kentucky’s most populated county, has 700,000 US-born citizens, 27,000 naturalized citizens, and 33,000 who are not yet citizens. 

Despite making up such a large and important part of the U.S., immigrants fall short in many categories of societal development, such as higher education and affordable housing. These deficiencies lead to high rates of homelessness and ultimately an even greater exacerbation of the poverty crisis in the U.S.

Is the American Dream Attainable for Immigrants Today?

Most immigrant families share similar goals that they hope for their children to have the opportunity to pursue. The goal is simply to create a better life than your parents fought for you to have. This is obtained by going to school, getting exceptional grades, attending a university, and getting a diploma, most commonly in either engineering, medicine, or law school. These are the common pathways that immigrant parents want their children to take when they grow up. With arduous work and a touch of fortune, they may just strike a gold mine and create generational wealth for their entire family. 

Sadly, this goal is far out of reach for many. In 2018, 49.2% of immigrants’ level of education was a high school diploma or less, 18.8% had either an associate degree or had some type of college experience, and an astounding 32% had a bachelor’s degree or higher. In addition to that, most first-generation, soon-to-be college students that have undocumented family members do not file for the Free Application for Federal Assistance because they understand the risk posed when revealing the names of undocumented family members: the Department of Education could pass that information to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and/or the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services who could then take irreversible actions such as deporting those who do file the form. 

How can immigrants expect success in this country when they receive little to no meaningful government assistance? Due to the failure of the federal government to pass legislative measures that adequately create social programs that help immigrants succeed – outside of throwing cash at us in hopes that those monies land in the right place by some luck – immigrant youths age 16-24 are more likely to drop out of school with a dropout rate of 29.1 percent. This is nearly three times the rate of the 9.9 percent of native-born youths because the lack of assistance forces them to enter the workforce to aid their families financially. 

With the overwhelming evidence pointing to government failure in its current trajectory, it is not a bad idea for the government to create active social programs that do not rely on the traditional system of simply handing out cash. Significant and practical solutions that could be produced involve the establishment of a new and improved curriculum that can assist English learners instead of relying on a flawed system that has not worked well enough. Having an educational system that is propitious to immigrants will encourage better results, hiring teachers that have an ethnic background that could help foreign students to become comfortable and active in schools, and providing government support for immigrant housing.  

Throwing money at the problem instead of addressing the issue does not and has not worked in favor of many countries, as Efosa Ojomo, a senior research fellow at the Christensen Institute, points out: “At best, cash transfer programs are akin to using Band-Aids on a wound with a serious infection . . . why not learn from countries that were once poor and are now prosperous? Singapore, South Korea, and China didn’t lift over a billion people out of poverty by handing out cash.” The U.S. used this method to bring the nation out of poverty during the Great Depression by passing the New Deal which created many infrastructure projects that demanded a high concentration of workers, which in effect fixed the economy. The Roosevelt administration did not print more money to be distributed to the masses because it would not have worked. Instead, they devised programs that have had a lasting impact on the country to this day. The same formula can be applied to address the issue of the poor education system that greatly affects immigrants in the U.S. To provide nothing more than just cash handouts to immigrants who want to set their families up for success would be nothing short of a failure and could significantly affect the U.S. economy even more. 

The Importance of Active Assistance

Immigrant families that arrive in a distant country require assistance –there’s no doubt about that. Without it, they’re on the verge of becoming yet another heartbreaking tale of a shattered dream. Thankfully, there are private organizations that act as agents/caseworkers for immigrants by providing necessities when they arrive in the U.S. For example, my family and I had the help of the Catholic Charities of Louisville in our first couple of years here by providing services that were crucial for us to understand how to survive in the U.S. This included donating clothes to us, providing basic house appliances, teaching us American customs, and tutoring us to learn English. And this organization has done this for thousands of other immigrant families in Louisville as well. Unfortunately, these resources aren’t available to all refugees and immigrants. If the U.S. government could implement similar social programs to its system, we could see better results than what we have today. 

In Pursuit of Happiness

The poem on our Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door” by Emma Lazarus is self-evident in American history. Strength in unity and diversity: that is the core definition of the land of the free. America is a proud nation of immigrants, and depriving them of life, liberty, and happiness due to a flawed system would imply a betrayal of the United States of America’s founding principles.

Libertarians Can Support Mask Mandates Without Violating their Philosophy

Photo by Patrick Whalen, featuring Justus Kellond.

Rand Paul, whose father was a member of the Libertarian party, is often described as a Libertarian-leaning Republican. In 2018, Paul gave a talk at Duke University published as “How Libertarian Philosophy Can Connect Divided Partisans.” For Paul, libertarianism is about protecting liberty and preventing government overreach in the lives of citizens. When asked how he “can be against government intrusion into private lives yet oppose a woman’s right to an abortion,” Paul described the libertarian philosophy as one that is typically against aggression and said that “If you think the baby is not a person, do what you want. If you think it’s a person then Libertarians say the government has a role to stop it.” Why? Because the basic principle of libertarianism is this: Do whatever you want, so long as it doesn’t harm others.

Fast forward to 2021, and Rand Paul has become one of the nation’s leading opponents to mask and vaccine mandates. In November of 2020, Paul moved a presentation he was giving to WKU students outdoors instead of abiding by the university’s COVID-19 masking policy, calling it “ridiculous.” Paul said “each individual should get to make their choice on what their risks are,” and that, “For young people under age 25, the death rate from the coronavirus is one in a million.” In August, Paul released an op-ed expressing his aversion to mandates and other coronavirus policies from “petty tyrants and feckless bureaucrats.” He closed by calling readers to “stand together” and “choose freedom.” For Paul and others like him, mask mandates are deemed paternalistic, meaning they force people to do what the government considers best for them, and are in direct opposition to libertarian philosophy. However, is it possible that mask mandates are not totally paternalistic, but instead a blend of libertarian and paternal principles? 

The Libertarian Principle

John Stuart Mill, a classical liberal, is often noted as the father of Utilitarianism, and his essay, “On Liberty” has contributed to fundamental libertarian principles. Mill begins the essay by writing, “that the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” He goes on to say that man should not be forced to do something “because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right.” These sentences form the basis of libertarianism, and in many instances inform a simple and straightforward philosophy. It champions personal freedom and abhors any attempt to limit it because something is deemed “good” for an individual. Mill’s statement, though, creates an interesting problem in terms of mask mandates. On one hand, mask mandates compel individuals to do something because it would be beneficial for them to do so and because it would be “wise” or “right.” This is inherently paternalistic and goes against the second half of Mill’s principle. On the other hand, when individuals choose not to wear masks in public places during a global pandemic, they certainly put the health and safety of those around them at risk, which is the only time, according to Mill, that an individual should be compelled to do something. 

Paternalistic in Nature

Paternalism, in essence, is concerned with compelling the general public to do what the government deems best for them. It could also be thought of as something that coerces individuals into doing something good for them that they perhaps do not recognize as good on their own. Examples of paternalistic laws could be ones that require helmets while riding motorcycles, seatbelts while driving, or preventing swimming without a lifeguard on duty. 

Paternalism violates the second half of Mill’s principle and was a philosophy that he was adamantly against. Mill’s principle is not as simple as it seems at the outset, though, which is something that Gerald Dworkin discussed in his essay, “Paternalism,” long before the age of COVID-19. Dworkin writes that Mill’s principle is really two: one that deems individual protection and prevention of harm to others as a good reason for government or societal intervention, and another that asserts that the good of the individual is never a warrant for compulsion. Dworkin notes that Mill himself was not totally concrete in his opposition to paternalistic principles, though, as he favored things like an intervention to prevent someone from selling himself into slavery by his own will because it would limit the man’s liberty. It is easy to see, then, that even to Mill his principle was nuanced, and that it is important to consider the context of individual circumstances. 

Certainly, mask mandates are paternalistic in nature. In mandating the use of a mask in public places, the government essentially forces you to protect yourself from COVID-19, disregarding whether you would choose to do so on your own. Dworkin writes that when a motorcycle rider chooses to go without a helmet, it isn’t that he doesn’t care about his safety, but perhaps that he values his personal freedom more, or simply doesn’t think it is likely that he’ll become injured. Most people who wear masks voluntarily in public understand the benefits of doing so, while those who do not perhaps do not understand the benefit or deem personal freedom more important, which further shows how mask mandates, and feelings towards them, coincide with paternalism.

Though mask mandates are paternalistic in this sense (they force you to protect yourself), it isn’t entirely possible to be against them using libertarian principles as justification. Considering that the decision to not wear a mask can impact others around you, it is safe to say that libertarians can reasonably support mask mandates without violating their philosophy. After all, John Stuart Mill was a major proponent of Utilitarianism, which is all about the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. If everyone wore a mask, fewer people would fall ill, and the greatest amount of good would be created. 

Must a libertarian pick a side in an argument that tugs at both ends of their system? Not necessarily. According to Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler in their essay “Libertarian Paternalism is Not an Oxymoron,” libertarian paternalists can “attempt to steer people’s choices in welfare-promoting directions without eliminating freedom of choice.” While it could be hard to do this in relation to mask mandates, it is definitely possible to think of ways to incentivize mask-wearing while leaving choices open. In the essay, Sunstein and Thaler note that this is usually accomplished by leaving free choice available, but making the choice to avoid what the government deems as “the best choice” inconvenient. For instance, if libertarians were to adopt this approach, they could designate certain hours in stores and restaurants as mask-free hours. Those hours may be very early or near close, but nonetheless, they would be available to those who do not want to wear a mask. It could be tricky, but possible to leave options open.  

Is Rand Right?

It is evident that Rand Paul values personal freedom and dislikes paternalism as much as John Stuart Mill did. However, it is also apparent that Paul does, or has, valued the principle that you should do what you want so long as it doesn’t harm others, as evidenced in his 2018 statement on abortion. Given this, it is interesting that he has so staunchly opposed mask-wearing and mask mandates in general. 

With the rise in vaccination rates, though, the tide has started to turn on mask mandates. Since vaccinated individuals are much less likely to contract COVID-19 or to become seriously ill, it is up for debate whether those who are unmasked and unvaccinated really pose a risk to anyone but themselves. Undoubtedly, though, Paul is right about one thing––it is possible for libertarian philosophy to bring divided partisans together, especially if partisans and legislators unite to produce policies that protect individual freedom while encouraging practices that prevent harm to others. As we move forward in the discussion of COVID-19 vaccine mandates, this is important to remember. In politics, few issues are totally black or white, and keeping this in mind will produce policies that are more understanding of everyone’s concerns.  

Kentucky’s Rising Student Debt Crisis

The United States, the so-called “Land of Opportunity,” has a knack for leaving people behind. Take an example aside from the titular issue: the healthcare system. Virtually every other developed country in the world has one form or another of a single-payer healthcare system. The United States does not.

Government inaction exists most strikingly within American higher education. Tuition at public and private institutions has skyrocketed over the past 40 years, even with inflation fully factored in. To curb this, the federal government has become the primary financier of student loans. In total, student loan debt amounts to $1.3 trillion, and continues its steady rise at this very minute. 

Loans are not the solution, and the federal government is not guaranteeing anything to anyone by issuing loans. When a person signs off on their loans, they’re likely not told about the years of laborious work that will be put in to pay them off.

A trend that certainly doesn’t help is the methodical corporatization of the higher education system as a whole—an attack that seeks to corrupt and soil education’s very role as a cultivating institution. The effects are right before our eyes. Universities function, effectively, as corporations with a bottom line, seeking profit-making opportunities and cost reductions.

How is Kentucky Faring?

Let’s look at Kentucky. The picture is no less grim. Data released by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy reveals, ominously, the degree to which Kentucky is an indebted state. As wages and Federal Pell Grants fail to keep pace with the rising costs of college attendance, a rising share of Kentuckians are taking out student loans—an estimated 616,000 adults currently, or 18%, which is higher than the national rate of 12.9%. In the Commonwealth alone, principal and interest balance total almost $20.5 billion.

The median amount of loans owed is around $18,000. However, a shocking number of Kentucky residents—an estimated 125,000—owe more than $50,000. Upon closer inspection, borrower demographics tell us something as well: the fact that young college graduates are not the only age group with a heavy loan burden. Close to 20,000 borrowers—with an average of $38,000 of student debt—are at or near retirement age. This is attributable to a large share of parents who’ve taken out loans to finance their children’s education.

Of course, institutional factors play a large role in the mess. Hikes in tuition echo slashes in funding of public universities by state governments. As higher education becomes increasingly underfunded by individual states, the costs of attending college rise steeply—and of course, the student has to cough it up.

What’s the Plan?

At the end of the day, the key player in determining who can and cannot get a free, high-quality education is the federal government. As mentioned before, 92% of outstanding student debt in the United States was issued by the federal government—so they regulate the mass of it. Debt cancelation should be the common-sense position. Virtually every other developed country provides free education … and we certainly don’t want to be behind, do we?

Here’s how we put an end to this: current loans should be canceled by executive order. President Biden has already canceled $11.5 billion, so there’s your precedent. Additional fees, room and board, and other non-tuition costs should be covered by Pell Grants. After that, public colleges and universities should become tuition-free through legislation similar to the College for All Act proposed by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). College for All guarantees free tuition for families that make up to $125,000, but it should go further. No family should be singled out. The only way to truly guarantee education to Americans is to finance it universally.

Want to talk economics? The cancelation of student debt creates financial security, allowing workers to make basic ends meet. It increases the likelihood of consumer investment, strengthens consumer protections, and provides people with more opportunities to buy. From this point of view, the ways in which student debt cancelation would change lives are innumerable.

Let’s think about this from an elementary moral position, though. The state of American education is unconscionable. Human beings are being refused the opportunity to flourish because there is an indefensible price tag on learning. If you can’t afford it, you can’t learn. If you can, well, guess what? Welcome aboard. You’ll learn to live with your debt until you pay it off — interest included, of course.

Look: education is the nourishment that leads a human being to their fullest potential, and there is an obstacle in the way of that pursuit. Americans know! Calls for federal relief programs are heard all across the United States—and exist as majorities within both parties.

Of course, pushback and resistance from private financiers is expected. It’s only natural that the business class will wage a relentless war to curb regulation of its wealth. This bitter struggle isn’t fought outright– instead, the wealthy opt for more subtle methods. All they have to do is tweak the narrative. Student debt cancelation is smeared as too far, too radical, and too extreme. 

Profiteers don’t want that. Limiting the spectrum of debate to acceptable barriers is their strategy. 

Their Achilles’ heel is that they don’t have the people.

Louisville Needs Affordable Housing

It’s fall now, and the days have turned colder. At night it dips into the 40s, and like most people, I don’t have to compete for a safe spot to sleep, I don’t have to worry about staying warm and dry, about my belongings getting stolen in the middle of the night, or about getting woken up and made to move. I have a warm bed and an apartment to shelter in, a privilege that sadly not all Kentuckians share. 

Homelessness in our communities is an issue easily overlooked, especially by people living in affluent and middle class neighborhoods. However, the reality of Kentucky’s homeless population is stark. The United States Council on Homelessness in January 2020 counted over 4,000 people who were homeless on any given day in the state of Kentucky. That Council also found that over the course of the 2018-2019 school year, more than 24,000 students experienced homelessness at some point. 

Homelessness is often featured on television as a problem major cities fail to solve, but it also exists right here in our communities. Most people who experience homelessness couldn’t make rent, lost their job, or experienced another financial emergency.  And while the majority of homeless people are not homeless for long, it’s horrific that anyone has to be homeless. It’s a traumatic and unsafe position to be in, and as we look towards another winter, another year, we cannot allow homelessness to persist. 

Exacerbated By COVID-19

Even before the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the number of homeless people in Kentucky was increasing for years. The most common type of homelessness is temporary, and temporary homelessness is often brought on by sudden financial crises. Unfortunately, COVID created the perfect storm for financial crises, with unemployment soaring during the pandemic and millions of people getting sick. Experts predict that the ramifications of this will be increased homelessness. 

This crisis is especially prominent in Louisville with our eviction rate being two times the national average. During the pandemic, Louisville evictions did not slow down to meet the needs of our community. Many evictions were concentrated in the West End and central neighborhoods. This increased housing insecurity left many people vulnerable to homelessness. On top of that, due to a lack of resources, COVID cases were particularly high among homeless people in Kentucky. Unfortunately, they were not given priority access to the vaccine despite their heightened vulnerability. One COVID precaution the state took was closing food pantries, so almost overnight, homeless people lost access to hot meals and nutritious food. 

One positive aspect of the pandemic was that the community of Louisville came together to help its homeless population.  Kerrigan Young, a volunteer at the nonprofit organization Feed Louisville, since its founding at the start of the pandemic, pointed out that, “it can be traumatic to sleep outside, especially for women. There is a lot of fear sleeping on the street, all of your belongings are exposed and you are incredibly vulnerable.” The nonprofit Feed Louisville really took off in March 2020, partly in response to food pantries closing, and in an interview with Kerrigan, she discussed how the pandemic opened people’s eyes to housing insecurity. While the numbers of homeless people increased, the community rallied to feed, house, and help those in need. Feed Louisville now has over 1000 volunteers, and in the last year has housed 50 people, most of whom were chronically homeless. Feed Louisville is also a proud partner of UofL, with UofL’s Alumni Club donating food to the organization.

Lack of Affordable Housing

Homelessness is a problem with an easy solution: putting people in houses. And this solution is by far the cheapest alternative to providing care for people without houses. The University of Louisville’s Kent School of Social Work conducted studies in 2004 and 2005 that determined homelessness cost the city of Louisville around $88,000,000. Much of that money was spent on correctional institutions, mental health services, and substance abuse services. The conclusion that the Coalition for the Homeless and many other advocacy organizations have come to is that the cheapest and most compassionate solution to alleviate homelessness is to put people in houses.

One of the best ways to alleviate homelessness is to provide affordable housing. The Department of Housing and Urban Development calculated that a fair market value for a two bedroom apartment in Louisville would be $694 a month including utilities. However, the average two bedroom apartment in Louisville goes for about $726 total. In order to afford that apartment, a minimum wage worker would have to work 77 hours a week. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, “Families living on… benefits and/or food stamps receive between $162 and $635 per month. Most of these individuals cannot even find an apartment where 100% of their income would cover rent and utilities. This does not take into account transportation, clothing, food, child care, medicine and other basic needs.” 

About 25% of homeless people have a job, so unemployment is not the only cause of homelessness. Clearly there is a need for more affordable housing as prices continue to rise while wages stay stagnant. If you cannot afford a place to live on minimum wage, housing prices are too high and wages are too low. In the short term, shelters and other resources are good, but in order to solve frequent and chronic homelessness, affordable housing is necessary. This is especially true for young adults. Over half of homeless young adults have jobs, but many are unable to pay first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit. Others have children that make it even more difficult to make ends meet. 

Once someone becomes homeless, obtaining and keeping a job can become extremely difficult. Many homeless people do not have all of their belongings. According to Kerrigan, many homeless people do not have access to their ID or Driver’s License, their birth certificate, or their Social Security information. It can be hard to prove citizenship and without proof of residence many jobs are unattainable. Without a car or a safe place to keep belongings, a job becomes more and more challenging to keep.  

Affordable housing provides a safety net for unexpected expenses and financial crises. It would help alleviate homelessness and would save money. COVID is the perfect example of an unforeseen crisis that caused huge financial insecurity, ultimately resulting in an uptick in the number of homeless people across the country. Having affordable housing is one way to ensure that those types of situations in the future don’t result in homelessness for Kentuckians. 

Respect for the Homeless

For various reasons, a lot of people don’t see the benefit of trying to help homeless people ‘who don’t want to be helped’. In America and especially in Louisville, many people have been desensitized to the realities that homeless people face, and may feel little sympathy for those facing mental health struggles and addiction. Marcus Stubbs, a writer for the Courier Journal who was once homeless himself, outlines a strategy for addressing the needs of the homeless community: notice, listen, learn, and engage. He advocates for treating homeless people like human beings, listening to their stories, learning about ways to help homeless people, and getting engaged in your community. Stubbs talks about how one of the most helpful people during the period of his life in which he experienced homelessness was his coach, simply because his coach saw him as human rather than homeless. 

There is a lot of stigma surrounding being homeless and other stigmas surrounding mental health, addiction, and poverty. The first step to getting homeless people the help they need is to treat them like human beings. Too often homeless people are viewed as a blight on society, as though they are less than ‘hard-working’ people. This perpetuates negative and untrue stereotypes about how and why people become homeless. Those living on the streets are looked down upon, facing constant harassment. At worst, people jeer and make fun. At best, they throw some change in their direction or ignore homeless people altogether. Kerrigan from Feed Louisville observed that LMPD purposefully throws away the belongings of homeless people while they are asleep or if they leave the camp. LMPD clears homeless camps often, forcing homeless people to and start over.

There have been many policy proposals to eliminate homelessness, and I hope that this issue continues to be talked about. Homeless people have voices, and they can and do talk about their experiences, so it’s important that we listen to them. At the end of the day, the only way to solve chronic homelessness is to put people in houses. And the only way to solve frequent and temporary homelessness is to provide affordable housing. Homeless people are people, and they deserve to have their basic needs met. Mental health services and addiction recovery services are vital for the health of our communities, but first and foremost, housing is needed.

Photo by Jon Tyson

The True Cost of a World Cup

Twenty-two players on the field, eleven on each side. The game plays for ninety minutes. Those ninety minutes will fly by. You blink, you might miss out on magic happening on the field. Every thunderous kick of the ball is packed with passion. Every step over, every flick of the ball is backed with a touch of glimmering bliss. Every goal scored reflects the result of determination from the players. Every joyous scream and jeers from fans in the stand reflect the beautiful game. One of the oldest sports in human history remains unscathed with an unmatched love. 

The game of football unites people around the world, with people from different backgrounds coming together to enjoy the occasion. A forty year study from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association has revealed that the percentage of 6- to 12-year-olds playing soccer regularly has dropped nearly 14 percent, to 2.3 million players. So why has the sport’s popularity dwindled in the past decade? How can the game that is known around the world be on the decline? These questions are answered by the nepotism of FIFA by allowing the beautiful game to be desecrated. 

A Middle Finger to the United Nations

Hosting their first World Cup starting in 1930, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is the highest football governing body in the world. FIFA has hosted its World Cup every four years since its establishment in 1930 (with the exception of during World War II). Different countries host the tournament each time, with the last installment being hosted by Russia in 2018. In 2010, FIFA awarded the rights to host the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, an absolute monarchy run by the house of Thani since 1847. The past rulers have been notorious for committing numerous human rights violations for the sake of preserving their oil reserves. 

This proved to be extremely controversial; not only because of past corruption among high-ranking FIFA officials, but also because of the numerous human rights violations that have been committed by Qatar. Violations of the host nation include a modern form of slavery in the kafala system, failure to enforce health and safety standards in work environments that would not be addressed until a year prior the tournament could occur, worker exploitations that included short breaks while working long hours, no minimum wage, poor living conditions for workers,  predatory employment contracts that would not allow migrant workers to terminate their contracts, and if they could, they’d be required to pay a deployment fee that was significantly higher than a regular fee, sometimes migrant workers were promised high paying jobs in their contracts that were written in a foreign language that they could not comprehend, and the suppression of unionizing in Qatar could not allow migrant workers to stage any boycotts or attempt collective bargaining. All of these human rights violations occurred between 2011-2020, just shortly after the Qatari government began constructions on the World Cup.    

This is a cry for help from those who have been silenced by the football governing body and shunned upon by leaders around the world while these atrocities are being committed. Articles 4 and 5 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights state that, “everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person and that no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” All statutes listed in the document are mandated to all participating countries in the United Nations, yet Qatar has chosen to ignore this for the sake of football and enriching the shareholders who support the infrastructure of modern football.

Corrupted Officials

On May 10, 2011, former Football Association chairman Lord Triesman brought allegations forward against certain members who were influenced by gifts in exchange for their votes. Some of these allegations included a request from Jack Warner, former FIFA Vice President and Minister of National Security of Trinidad and Tobago, who asked for 2.5 million pounds to build an educational center in Trinidad in exchange for his vote. Ricardo Teixeira, former president of  Brazil’s football confederation reportedly told Triesman, “Tell me what you can do for me when you come to see me.” This statement infers Teixeira would not discuss anything with anyone without some type of advantage. These allegations did not vanish, instead, more arose with time. In 2010, Qatar paid FIFA officials an estimated $4oo million from Qatari news outlet Al Jazeera for television rights 21 days before the host country would be decided. They also paid another $480 million three years later. 

In addition to that, in 2014, The Telegraph discovered that former FIFA officials were paid up to $2 million from a firm that was connected to Qatar’s bid. As a result of the series of corruption, football officials were punished for their role in the fiasco. The FIFA president at the time, Sepp Blatter, resigned amidst the corruption scandal and was banned for 90 days from football activities before receiving an eight-year ban from footballing activities (he would ultimately receive a follow-up ban of six years in March of 2021). Former UEFA (a sub government body of FIFA that is dedicated to European countries) President Michel Platini was arrested on June 18th, 2019 due to tampering with the election, accepting bribes, and coercion in the process of awarding Qatar the World Cup. Other members who were influenced by third parties in the process were also arrested and indicted on several charges. Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter described allowing Qatar to host the World Cup as a “mistake” and followed up by saying, “The technical report into Qatar said clearly it was too hot but the executive committee – with a large majority – decided, all the same, to play it in Qatar.” In actuality, FIFA officials were paid large sums of money to elect a nation that was not suitable to host a World Cup. Unfortunately, it is now too late to change this decision and they will live with their mistakes and the potential harm that the cup will cause to the player’s health.

Kafala System

To understand the humanitarian crisis in Qatar, it is important to know about the system that perpetuates it. The Kafala system is the relationship between foreign workers and local sponsors who are their employers in most cases. If an immigrant from Pakistan, for instance, is offered a job in Qatar, he or she would need a sponsor to provide a passport, a plane fare, a place to stay when they land, equipment that they will need for their job, etc. Since these immigrants do not have the capacity to pay for their own entry into the country, they rely on their employers to do so. A common practice is that the migrant workers are given two choices: 1) they take a loan that has high interest, or 2) they have their wages reduced or withheld for months to cover the fees. There are reports that suggest these workers chose to receive little to no pay as long as they avoided the loan as they felt it was a “better option than taking out high-interest loans or paying up-front”. 

Another reason this system is flawed is that workers do have the option of returning home– but only at their own expense. While this seems plausible, “Interviews with government officials, recruiters, and migrant workers alike revealed that many could not afford to pay the deployment costs (which amounted to almost a year’s salary) and were forced to resume work and finish the length of their contracts.” This is known as prohibitive deployment cost, a vile act that traps migrant workers from leaving by exploiting their economic status.

The Desecration of the Beautiful Game for Now

Qatar’s population has exploded in the last decade. At the end of 2009, its population was listed at 1.7 million, just before their World Cup bid was accepted by FIFA. Ten years later, the population reached 2.4 million. By 2013, migrant workers already dominated Qatar’s labor force, comprising 94 percent of all workers and 86 percent of the country’s total population of nearly 2 million, the world’s highest ratio of migrants to citizens. Qatar’s own population could not build the infrastructure that was required by FIFA’s standards. Under provision III, clause 2 of FIFA’s standards it is stated that “All Team Delegation Members shall comply with the Laws of the Game and the FIFA Statutes and all applicable FIFA regulations (including these Regulations), in particular the FIFA Disciplinary Code, the FIFA Stadium Safety and Security Regulations, the FIFA Anti-Doping Regulations, the FIFA Code of Ethics, the FIFA Media and Marketing Regulations and the FIFA Equipment Regulations as well as all circulars, directives and decisions of FIFA bodies, unless these Regulations stipulate otherwise, and all further FIFA guidelines that have any significance regarding the FIFA World Cup.” 

They instead diverted to exploiting immigrants to work in vile conditions, a blatant violation of  FIFA’s code of ethics and the UN’s constitution. Since Qatar won the right to host this World Cup in 2010, there have been 5,927 deaths of migrant workers. These deaths come from the collapse of the Qatari government to protect them from the abuse by actively ignoring the issue at hand of abuse of these agencies toward migrant workers. There was a story in February 2021 where a 29-year-old migrant worker from Bangladesh passed away in his room via electrocution from flood water coming in contact with loose electric cables. Allowing nearly 6,000 people who had families back home to die in such a manner simply to build playgrounds for our entertainment should never be allowed by FIFA or the UN.

Where Do We Go From Here?

How do we remedy the loss of life in this grueling process? Does Qatar and/or FIFA provide restitution to the affected families? How about reforming the system altogether? These questions have been asked for years, yet FIFA and Qatar have been silent up until 2017 when the Qatari government proposed reforms to the flawed kafala system.  In 2018, Qatar ended the ‘exit permit’ requirement for most workers which allows them to leave the country without needing to pay prohibitive deployment fees to their employer’s before leaving. And recently in 2020, Qatar ended the No-Objective Certificate requirement which allows workers to change their jobs without needing the permission of their employer and they also created a new mandatory minimum wage for workers. 

These reformations have restored faith in the upcoming tournament for many American viewers who have been concerned about the ongoing abuses. Projected viewership for the cup as of April 2021 is around 30% in America. It’s time to boycott the tournament. Migrant workers are unable to call strikes, let alone boycott due to Qatar’s strict policies on unions. And while it may be too late to propose a new host country with less than a year to go, it’s not too late to boycott the tournament. Nearly 12% of Americans strongly support boycotting the tournament. This number must increase. The lives that have been lost in the making of the tournament should not be in vain. 

The 5,927 who died had families back home to which they can never go back to. We may not have the ability to bring them back, but we can honor them by boycotting the tournament. Lives should never be lost for our personal entertainment. If history has taught us something, it is that boycotting works. We can look at the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted over a year in response to segregation in busing. There was a mass hold out which resulted in the city losing money before they decided to revert their decision. We can look at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin where numerous Jewish athletes boycotted the games due to the anti-Semitic rhetoric of Hitler and the Nazis, and it was a successful movement that would provide structure for boycotting future sporting events. The U.S. has one of the highest viewerships of the World Cup across the world in recent years, and a boycott would send a strong message to the football governing body that we will not place our entertainment over people’s lives. As tough as it is for all of us football fans, I urge you to join me in boycotting the World Cup. For the sake of the 5,927 lives that were lost.

Photo by Fauzan Saari

Take a Chance on Betting in the Bluegrass State

The Kentucky Derby is known as “the most exciting two minutes in sports”. The mint juleps, derby hats, firework shows, and of course the main race itself all contribute to this excitement, but the real thrill for many is found in betting on the race. Horse racing and the wagers placed on it not only define Kentucky culture, but also provide a powerful engine of economic growth. The Commonwealth is home to five major horse racing tracks, and the Kentucky horse industry alone provides over sixty-thousand jobs and brings in $5.2 billion annually.

Despite the current success and celebration of horse racing in Kentucky, there is a strong opposition to an expansion of gambling. This opposition is found mostly within the Kentucky General Assembly, rather than the general public and the market for gambling. It was found that 78% of adult Kentuckians gamble, both legally and illegally. In addition to that, 66% of Kentuckians support a change in state law to expand gambling through a legalization of sports betting. So, what’s keeping Kentucky from going all in on gambling?

Progressive Era Prohibitions in Kentucky

In order to understand why Kentucky has lagged behind its neighboring states in expanding gambling, we need to go back and examine the Commonwealth’s complicated history with the matter. In 1875, Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark opened the Churchill Downs horse racing track in Louisville, drawing in tens of thousands of attendants to place wagers on their horse of choice. Just a few decades later though, Kentucky and the rest of the nation became swept up into the prohibitionist “progressive movement” of the 1890s to the 1920s, which set its sights on crushing the markets for alcohol, drugs, and gambling.

The Kentucky General Assembly gathered in 1890 for a convention to draft and ratify the state’s 4th constitution, which is still in use today. Within the final draft of the constitution, there is a section that targets the practice of gambling, reading, “Lotteries and gift enterprises are forbidden”. All pool houses and poker games faced the threat of legal punishment because of this provision, while betting on horse racing was largely exempt by its classification as a “game of skill” rather than a “game of chance” or a “gift enterprise”. In the 1900s, the progressive mayor of Louisville, Robert W. Bingham, made it a priority to execute this provision of the Kentucky Constitution, instituting a swift police crackdown on gambling. Bingham’s administration authorized the police raiding of countless pool rooms, poker games, and lottery operations. 

The mayor and city council then went after horse racing bets through an ordinance banning the practice of bookmaking in 1908, involving a determination of odds and taking of bets, primarily used at Churchill Downs. Matt Winn, the manager of Churchill Downs at the time, found a way to get around this prohibitionist attack on horse racing by implementing the pari mutuel wagering system in which the odds are not fixed and you are betting against other betters in a pool of funds rather than a bookmaker. Horse racing did not yet escape the threat of a gambling crackdown, though. By the 1920s, Kentucky was just one of three states that allowed legal bets at race tracks, and in 1924, the Kentucky General Assembly was gearing up to reduce that to two states. The bill to outlaw pari mutuel wagering easily passed in the state house, but fell short of passage in the Senate by just a few votes.

Historical Horse Racing Machines and the State of Gambling in Kentucky

As the prohibitionist progressive era came and went, attitudes towards gambling slowly started to change. Amendments to the Kentucky Constitution were passed allowing for a state lottery and certain charitable exceptions, and innovations were made in the horse race gambling industry. In the early 2010s, a device known as a historical horse racing (HHR) machine was introduced to Kentucky. HHR machines are very similar to slot machines except the bets are placed on past horse races under somewhat of a pari mutuel betting system. This loophole in the law allowing for expanded gambling, however, did not come without its share of challenges and opposition.

The use of HHR machines was unanimously deemed unconstitutional by the Kentucky Supreme Court in 2020, leading to the introduction of a bill in the Kentucky General Assembly to amend the definition of pari mutuel wagering to include historical races. The bill was passed and signed by Governor Andy Beshear, but the vote of 55 to 38 in the Kentucky House and 22 to 15 in the Senate shows a divided Republican caucus, indicating a difficult road ahead for gambling expansions through constitutional amendments, as it takes 3/5ths of each house and a majority vote of the people of Kentucky to change the Constitution. Legislators in opposition derided HHR machines as “slot machines” that tear apart families and cause “many heartbreaks”. This passionate opposition by socially conservative legislators is likely to be even more fierce when it comes to gambling outside of the horse racing tracks.

Along with horse racing, Kentuckians love their basketball. Our state’s background in gambling via horse races and our passion for college sports all pointed towards a legalization of sports betting following the 2018 Supreme Court decision striking down the federal ban on the practice. However, bills introduced to legalize sports betting in Kentucky continue to go nowhere in the Kentucky General Assembly. An estimated $2 billion is wagered illegally on sports in Kentucky each year. In addition to that, many Kentuckians, especially those that live near the state’s borders, simply drive over to a neighboring state to place a bet on a sporting event, as five of the seven states bordering Kentucky have already legalized sports betting. 

The ban on sports betting is nonsensical. It doesn’t end the practice of sports betting, it merely assures that the state of Kentucky won’t reap the benefits of greater tax revenues and economic output. Legalizing and taxing sports betting has led to states raking in tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenues. New Jersey has the largest sports betting market in the nation, and it brought in $49.4 million in new sports betting tax revenue in 2020. And while the tax rates vary in each state, Kentucky’s neighboring states bring in between $5 to 20 million in annual sports betting tax revenues. 

Going All in on Legalizing Gambling

One consistent opponent to all proposed expansions of gambling in the Commonwealth is The Family Foundation, a socially conservative public policy organization that plays an active part in stalling gambling legislation and combating favorable court decisions for gambling. The Family Foundation, along with many other socially conservative interest groups and legislators, assert that an expansion of gambling would perpetuate poverty, addiction, and crime. The prohibitionists of the progressive era often made the same argument. Despite the good intentions of both groups, the reality is that a ban on gambling is counteractive, as it exacerbates the very societal ills it aims to heal through its prohibition, all while limiting the potential economic benefits and infringing upon individual liberties.

There are at least 9,000 Kentuckians dealing with the great burden of gambling addiction. It truly is an addiction that requires treatment, as many gambling addicts face the effects of insomnia, headaches, and chills upon withdrawal, similar to the experiences of alcoholics and drug addicts. Furthermore,  approximately half of all gambling addicts commit crimes, typically involving theft or fraud to continue feeding the gambling addiction.

Opponents of gambling expansion might point to these concerning statistics to justify the prohibition, but with the ease in which people can gamble illegally online or simply travel to another state in which gambling is legal, it hardly does anything to address the real issue at hand: aid for gambling addicts. More than half of all Kentuckians believe that a portion of gambling revenue should be set aside to fund addicted gambling services and educational prevention programs. Under our current system in Kentucky this doesn’t exist, even though thirty-nine other states with legalized gambling have implemented this helpful measure in addressing addiction. By pushing prohibition instead of legalization and regulation, Kentucky wouldn’t be accomplishing anything other than a decrease in competitiveness with other states and a preservation of the status quo of addiction without aid.

Gambling is a vital part of Kentucky’s economy and culture. Whether it be through live horse races, historical horse racing machines, or another form of gambling not yet legalized, the benefits that are brought from gambling through tourism, jobs, and tax revenues are undeniable. Sooner or later, the Kentucky General Assembly will have to join the people of Kentucky in embracing the Commonwealth’s connection to gambling and finally take a chance on legalizing all gambling.

Photo: Heather Gill

How Racism is Built into Louisville’s Infrastructure

Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961)

The true dynamism of American cities comes from the connectedness of its institutions and the people within it. Considered one of the most residentially segregated cities in the United States today, Louisville lags far behind most American municipalities in regards to the relationships between the communities that comprise it. Though segregation policies in cities across the United States were implemented during the same time period and ultimately for the same reasons, Louisville has not been as successful as other cities in “un-doing” the ramifications of residential segregation and reconnecting its communities. This is due to decades of explicitly racist infrastructure policies created by White urban planners and politicians. It is these infrastructure decisions that have quite literally left a lasting impression on Louisville and allowed segregation in the city to persist today.

The State of Residential Segregation in Louisville Today

Residential segregation is no secret in Louisville. Most Louisvilians are well aware of the “Ninth Street Divide,” which essentially divides the city into Black and White residential areas. However, it is the origins of residential segregation in Louisville that many people are unfamiliar with. 

The city is starkly segregated; according to data from the 2020 U.S. Census, neighborhoods in West Louisville are almost entirely populated by Black families, and likewise, most areas of East Louisville are exclusively populated by White families. If you travel to the East side of the Ninth Street Divide, you will see lively cultural mainstays of the city like Bardstown Road, NuLu, downtown, and Waterfront Park. Property values are higher, the economy is flourishing, there are lower crime rates, and median income is higher. On the other hand, if you travel to the West side of the Ninth Street Divide, you will see communities plagued by poverty, lack of economic development, low property values, crime, and pollution.

However, it wasn’t until the last couple decades that the city has been as segregated as it has. Up until the 1960s, the population of Louisville was relatively racially heterogeneous in the downtown area, and many White people lived in neighborhoods in the West End. Starting in the mid-1950s, though, the construction of massive infrastructure projects like I-65, Spaghetti Junction, and other modes of urban renewal caused a drastic shift in the city’s demographics.

Demographic Changes by Race in Louisville, 1940-2010. The dark blue represents areas with high concentrations of White residents, and the light blue represents areas with low concentration of White residents. Source: Develop Louisville.

Racism Was Built into Infrastructure

Though June 29th, 1956 seemed like an inconsequential day to the American public at the time, the events that took place that day would come to radically alter their way of life and propagate segregation in cities. On that Friday 65 years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act into law. This project would ultimately become the largest public construction undertaking in U.S. history, with the expansion of U.S. interstates to 41,000 miles and authorization of $25 billion that would be disbursed to the states between 1957 and 1969 for their construction.

Though the legislation was intended to connect U.S. cities to one another with interstates and in some ways did that − oftentimes racist, White urban planners would design the interstates to be jammed through cities. This, in turn, chopped cities into pieces, creating disconnected areas and isolating people from one another at a time when public transportation was not widely available. 

The decision by these racist urban planners to have highways cut right through inner-cities was by no means accidental. At the time, one of the primary goals of interstates was to spread wealth to White people that were living in suburbs on the outskirts of the metropolitan area. In order to do so, city planners and government officials often saw bulldozing through majority-Black neighborhoods as the path of least resistance for their ambitious infrastructure projects, with absolutely no thought of how it would impact these communities. Though intended to spread prosperity and create economic opportunity, these interstates really only did so for White people.

Racist urban planners and policymakers justified wiping out Black neighborhoods and businesses with a discriminatory practice known as “redlining”. This is where bank lenders, insurers, and government agencies—most notably the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation—would draw red lines on maps to indicate neighborhoods with minority occupants, deeming them “high-risk for mortgage lenders.” Federal regulators would only back mortgages and subsidized housing in neighborhoods designated “low-risk” (usually White neighborhoods), while low-income, Black, and immigrant neighborhoods were often designated “high-risk” explicitly on the basis of race. This was a prominent practice in the mid-20th century in Louisville and many other urban areas throughout the country.

This ultimately led to lower property values in majority-Black neighborhoods. As a result, these areas were considered “blight” and were the first to go during construction of the interstates during the late 1950s. Predominantly Black neighborhoods designated as “hazardous” on redlining maps were three times more likely than the best-rated neighborhoods to be subjected to interstate highway placement. Building these interstates through redlined neighborhoods, in turn, forced the majority of Black families and Black business owners to relocate. This was intentional on the part of the people who designed them.

Urban renewal also came about as a result of redlining. Urban renewal consisted of clearing out of blighted areas in inner cities to create opportunities for higher class housing, businesses, and more. This was driven by the idea of bringing White businesses into downtown and White customers along with them, and primarily included the building of stadiums, shopping centers, and entertainment districts. Urban renewal ultimately intensified housing shortages and perpetuated segregation by pushing entire communities of Black citizens away from downtown and westward in Louisville, further away from downtown and the White neighborhoods on the East end of town.

Construction of these major highways and urban renewal both forced the relocation of Black families and thus contributed to segregation.

How Does this Pertain to Louisville?

If you look at a road map of Louisville today, you will notice it is chopped into several pieces by Interstates 64, 65, 71, and the Watterson and Gene Snyder expressways. Most notably dividing the city is Interstate 65. Built in late 1956 just following the passage of the Federal-Aid Highways Act, I-65 runs North to South right through the heart of downtown Louisville. 

Redlined Map of Louisville, 1938. Source: Mapping Inequality

In the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation map of Louisville in 1938 above, note that areas D3 (Smoketown) and D5, which are colored red and deemed “hazardous,” are where I-65 runs through today. These were predominantly Black communities at the time.

One of the hardest-hit by the construction of I-65 was the Black community of Smoketown. Located just slightly east of where I-65 sits today, Smoketown housed the majority of Black businesses and neighborhoods in Louisville prior to the 1960s. This area was once densely populated and served as a focal point for Black Louisvillian culture. However, with the construction of I-65 in Louisville during the late 1950s, much of Smoketown had to be cleared and its residents relocated to the West end. By the 1960s, Smoketown saw a massive population loss, as most of the shotgun houses located there had been demolished for urban renewal projects. During the late 19th century, Smoketown had a population of roughly 15,000, however, as of 2000, the population of Smoketown was 2,116, a decrease of nearly 85%.

And it wasn’t just the residents of Smoketown that had to be relocated, but also many of the businesses in the heart of the Black business district. Located on what used to be formerly known as “West Walnut Street” (now known as Muhammad Ali Boulevard) stretching from 6th to 13th Streets, the Black business district dated back to the late 1800s and included over 150 businesses. This included restaurants, banks, news and printing services, barber shops, theaters, and even some nightclubs. The area thrived from the 1920s up until the 1950s, and served as a business, social, and cultural gathering place for Black Louisvillians during this time. However, in the 1960s, most of the businesses and resident homes were demolished for the sake of urban renewal and other infrastructure projects. Today, if you drive down Muhammad Ali Boulevard just west of the Ninth Street Divide, you see will little but parking lots, a car dealership, a senior citizen apartment complex, and a couple old abandoned buildings. All of this area used to be the Black business district.

West Walnut Street in the Black business district, 1942.
Source: UofL Archives.

What Can be Done to Combat Decades of Intentional Residential Segregation?

Racist infrastructure, redlining, urban renewal, combined with the private actions of prejudice and discrimination, has kept the two halves of Louisville segregated for decades now. But how do we develop equally effective government actions to reverse this residential segregation?

When public schools were officially desegregated, as long as the ruling was enforced, the next day, children could go to the school in their neighborhood. When buses were desegregated, the next day, Black Americans could sit wherever they pleased. However, residential segregation like we see in Louisville is a much more of a difficult problem to solve; we can’t just up and move people from the West End to the suburbs of East End where many Black Louisvillians were once excluded from buying homes.

What we can do ─ and what we need to make sure policymakers can guarantee ─ is that any current or newly developed zoning policies don’t reinforce segregation patterns. Land use policies that limit new multifamily development, like large-lot zoning and historic districting, commonly perpetuate segregation. If we barred these kinds of exclusionary zoning policies, this would permit developers to build modest apartment buildings or single-family homes in predominantly White suburbs that currently prohibit all of those things and encourage desegregation.

And though urban interstates serve the rapid movement of suburban and inter-city bus and truck trips, such roads are not as useful for the short urban trips of locals. Instead, their purposefully discriminatory placement decided on decades ago has kept cities like Louisville segregated. Many advocates argue that cities should remove their tangled mess of interstates, or at least have the interstate bypass the downtown area to where it does the least harm to communities. However daunting highway teardown projects may seem, many U.S. cities like Portland, San Francisco, and Milwaukee have actually completed such undertakings with success. 

And advocates have considered doing just that here in Louisville; starting in 2005, a grassroots citizen group called 8664 (“ax 64”) campaigned to remove I-64 along the waterfront and replace it with a smaller parallel parkway. The four-lane parkway would be designed with pedestrians in mind, with frequent crossings, street trees on both sides, and a green median along its center. Although able to handle vehicle traffic, its primary goal would be to facilitate access to the waterfront to those who live, work, and visit downtown. The idea was popular; more than 11,000 people signed the group’s petition supporting I-64’s removal downtown. In 2007, the Louisville Metro Council began to hold committee hearings on the plan; however, nothing ever came of the interstate’s removal.

Many engineers and urban planners have actually found that it is more cost-effective, in some cases, to extract interstates and highways when they reach the end of their life rather than replacing or repairing them. When the Federal-Aid Highways Act was implemented in the 1950s, nearly 90 percent of the construction costs were covered by the federal government, leaving only 10 percent of the states to pay. However, today, diminished federal funding and a growing reliance on private financing has driven cities to reconsider such costly investments. Thus, the cost of repair or replacement of highways can be a compelling reason for cities to decide to remove them. 

Though we can take initiatives to reverse the racist policies that created residential segregation in the first place, there will indefinitely be scars left on the Black community in Louisville and in cities throughout America. These still-felt, deeply embedded infrastructure decisions are the values of past eras that have kept cities like Louisville disconnected for decades. Thus, it is imperative that we first recognize the structural racism that has created residential segregation and allowed it to persist, and use that knowledge to create substantive, effective policy solutions to create a more connected Louisville.

A Carefree Vaccine is a White Privilege

As I begin to write this article, my arm is still sore from the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine I received only two days ago. The muscle soreness is an uncomfortable nuisance, yet it is a persistent reminder that I have finally faced my fear of being injected with a novel substance at the behest of societal and governmental pressure. 

I had delayed getting the vaccine for months. When the shots were first introduced to the public, I set a specific number of Americans that needed to be vaccinated before I would. First, it was 100 million, but that came and went. Then it was 150 million, and that milestone was reached too. Finally, when the United States hit the benchmark of 50% of its population fully vaccinated, and after observing the health of peers who had already been vaccinated, I could no longer find a reason to neglect receiving my shot. 

For me, and for many other Black Americans, facing this fear was no small feat. I am 6’3, 190 pounds, but I have never felt tinier than I did in Walgreens signing paperwork and discussing with the pharmacists what specific vaccines they offered at their location. I’ve never felt smaller than when I was waiting in the lobby, increasing my anxiety by reading articles detailing the troubled history Black Americans have been subjected to by American medical institutions. Finally, I entered a small room to be vaccinated. Although the whole ordeal lasted thirty minutes, it felt like hours had passed by the time I left. 

A Sick History of Medicine in the United States

The fear of preventative medicine in Black culture is not illogical, nor is it unreasonable. It is the result of centuries of abuse and oppression at the hands of physicians, researchers, and other medical professionals — whose efforts were frequently funded, directed, and supported by the federal government. 

The most prominent manifestation of medical malpractice against Black Americans is the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service. This study, which began in 1932, was so impactful that many Black people, including myself, mention it first when explaining why they refuse to be vaccinated. 

The experiments at Tuskegee were not the first to study the effects of untreated syphilis in a community. Similar studies were conducted in Oslo, Norway between 1890 and 1910. The key difference between Oslo and Tuskegee, though, is that the Oslo studies were founded before the discovery of any effective treatment for syphilis, and were ended immediately after the discovery of arsenic therapy (an effective yet somewhat risky treatment). Tuskegee, on the other hand, was founded after the discovery of arsenic therapy and further continued after penicillin became the widely used cure that nearly eradicated syphilis. 

How could researchers justify not treating the test subjects despite knowing the risks of untreated syphilis and possessing treatment for it? Simply put, their test subjects were Black. Dr. Taliferro Clark, the initiator of the Tuskegee experiments, wrote this: “The [prevalence of syphilis] is due to the paucity of doctors, rather low intelligence of the Negro population, depressed economic conditions, and the very common promiscuous sex of this population group [that leads to] indifference with regard to treatment.” Clark and the other researchers believed that since Black people were too dumb, too poor, and too horny to ever seek treatment for themselves, they were simply observing the natural course of syphilis in Macon County, Alabama. 

Viewing Black Americans as simpleminded, inferior, and carnal was not a sentiment unique to Clark and his researchers; in fact, in the words of historian Allan Brandt, it was the prevailing scientific thought. Fueled by a misguided form of Darwinism, scientists theorized that Black people “could not be assimilated into a complex, white civilization.” This led to the prediction that the Black population in America would go extinct in the 20th century. Scientists believed that slavery was actually assisting the survival of Black people, and their newfound freedom would put them in mortal danger. 

It is also undeniable that scientists viewed Black Americans as hypersexual. One doctor wrote, “The Negro springs from a southern race, and as such, his sexual appetite is strong; all of his environments stimulate this appetite… and his emotional type of religion certainly does not decrease it.” Immoral, promiscuous, and unfazed by the spread of venereal diseases: that was medicine’s view of Black people. This view was so strong and widespread that one doctor actually estimated that 50% of Black people had syphilis. 

After receiving approval, Clark sent Dr. Raymond Vondelehr to Macon County to gather test subjects for the experiment. Because syphilis was perceived to be more common than it actually was in the Black community there, it was difficult for Vondelehr to find men to participate in the experiment. To persuade men to participate in the study, the researchers told subjects they were receiving a series of free treatments for “bad blood”, the rural Southern term for syphilis. In reality, the researchers were observing the subjects’ health as syphilis progressed in them, and they were not treated for syphilis for the duration of the experiments.  The Tuskegee test subjects were NOT voluntary participants in the experiments, they were lied to for decades in order to obtain their “consent.” 

Black people have lacked bodily autonomy since slavery. Slaves were routinely raped by their owners. Some of these women were married, and their husbands had no power to protect their wives from this brutality. Additionally, slaves who attempted to escape bondage were proclaimed to be mentally ill. Drapetomania, a conjectural mental illness, was the diagnosis given to slaves who desired freedom. The importance of Drapetomania cannot be overstated. To believe that a people are so far below oneself that their mere thought of freedom or equality is a diagnosable mental illness (one with a cure of “severe whipping or amputation of the toes”) is to believe that those people are not people at all. And if they are not people, then gaining their consent to medical treatment is irrelevant. 

Freedom did not bring Black Americans control over their bodies either. The early 1900s saw the rise of eugenics (literally “good birth”), a pseudoscience that focused on improving society by restricting those with “genetic deficiencies” from freely reproducing. In tune with the spirit of Tuskegee, being Black was frequently considered a genetic deficiency. Eugenics was so popular and widespread that it became enshrined in state laws across the country. Black women bore the brunt of these laws. In North Carolina, for example, 65% of the forced sterilizations conducted there were on Black women. 

Involuntary sterilizations were not limited to adults. Mary Alice and Minnie Lee Relf, 12 and 14 years old respectively, were two sisters from Montgomery, Alabama. One day, their mother, who was illiterate, took them to a reproductive health clinic so her daughters could receive their latest round of birth control shots. The clinic was no longer offering those shots and instead informed the mother that they could give the girls a procedure that would have the same effect as the shots. They did not explain that these effects would be permanent and irreversible. At the guidance of medical staff, she unknowingly checked a box on her paperwork that resulted in the  two young girls having their reproductive autonomy stripped from them.

Tuskegee is a lightning rod: it is an ultra-dramatic and unforgettable account of medical abuse uncovered by the American public. But it is critical to know that the sickness of American medicine is deeper than just one study, more widespread than one group of researchers, and has always presented a tangible danger to Black people. Although Tuskegee is just one example, it is a perfect example. The formulation, execution, and longevity of the experiment paints a beautifully twisted portrait of the American medical apparatus and its sentiments towards Black Americans.

Effects of Past Abuses are Still Present Today 

The Tuskegee experiments continued unabated for forty years. They were not officially ended until the American public found out about them in 1972. As recently as 1969, a group of doctors at the CDC had decided to continue the study. Four decades: in those years, America suffered the Great Depression; World War II was fought; a cure for syphilis was discovered; the Civil Rights movement came and went; a man even walked on the moon. Society, relative to 1932, had become more equitable, more progressive, and more open-minded. Still, the experiments continued. Society has continued to improve and progress since the end of the experiments. Do those improvements make it illogical for a Black person to be wary of a new vaccine? 

Not when that wariness is based in the brutally-twisted history that is American medicine. And not when, today: Black people are nearly twice as likely to have high blood pressure; not when Black people receive mental health treatment at half the rate of White people; not when Black people have the highest mortality rates for every type of cancer; and not when Black infant mortality rates are twice the national average. 

American medical institutions have not earned the trust of Black America. In fact, at every juncture of history, they have violated the little trust that existed. And instead of acknowledging that lack of trustworthiness and validity of fears within the Black community, the CDC and many of those in government have instead touted the vaccines as “safe and effective”, organized campaigns for celebrities to be vaccinated in public, and have derided those who remain unvaccinated. In other words, instead of addressing their past sins, their current shortcomings and attempting to build trust anew, they have engaged in superficial, sometimes divisive, public relations campaigns to pressure people to be vaccinated. 

Contrary to what they have implied, this is not an issue of a group of selfish people refusing to be vaccinated for ridiculous reasons and putting others in danger by doing so. The truth is, because of the oppressive functions of American medicine, protecting oneself and others (with peace of mind, at least) by taking the vaccine is a white privilege. Because of the aforementioned history, Black Americans cannot afford to blindly trust the same institutions that perpetrated so many horrors on their population. And it should not be their responsibility to face their fears, it should be the responsibility of the perpetrators to help absolve them. 

If a person is white, they should get vaccinated. Research has shown the vaccines to be the strongest weapons in the fight against the coronavirus. If a person is Black, they too, should get vaccinated. But they should also ensure their decision to be vaccinated is made from an informed and comfortable place, not from a place filled with fear, peer pressure, or guilt. 

Your anxiety is reasonable. Your fears are understandable. You are not selfish, uncaring, or inconsiderate of others. Research the vaccines as best you can and when you are comfortable, the vaccine will be there for you to take it. 

Why We Need this Publication

Spend your leisure time cultivating an ear attentive to discourse, for in this way you will find that you learn with ease what others have found out with difficulty.

-Isocrates

Growing up in a family with different politics than my own, I remember attempting to make every night at the dinner table a debate. I was convinced my politics were on a moral high ground, and I was determined to convince my family of this. I thought it was my duty to “convert” my family to believers of the values that my political party championed. I remember my mom used to tell me, “Something you’ve got to realize about politics is, Democrats and Republicans may think differently, but they don’t really act all that different.”

The idea that both sides of the political spectrum share fundamental traits, despite having differing morals, has always lingered in my mind, and it is something that I have come to find very true. Neither side is on higher ground behaviorally, although both sides believe they are. You are probably thinking, “well of course Democrats and Republicans act the same, all humans act the same at their core,” but no, I mean how each side hates the other specifically for things that they themselves do. Neither side trusts the other, both sides fear one another, and most importantly, both have a flawed perception about what the other believes.

Research has shown that there is an ever-widening “Perception Gap” growing in American politics as we speak. A study conducted by More in Common found that the Democrats they surveyed believed 53% of Republicans to hold radical views on topics like immigration, women’s rights, and climate change, despite only 34% of Republicans actually doing so. And while only 29% of Democrats hold radical views on these issues, Republicans estimated that number to be 56%.      

So what does this tell us, and what does it have to do with this publication? Well, for one, it tells us that people on opposite sides of the political spectrum aren’t speaking to one another, a phenomenon driven by hyperpartisanship. It isn’t necessarily that Democrats or Republicans now have a stronger allegiance to their parties more so than ever before; it is that there is a stronger antagonism between the two parties unlike that of the past. Most importantly, with this antagonism comes assumptions that someone believes a certain way about something because of their association with a particular political party. 

This antagonism has become so strong that nowadays many Democrats and Republicans chose partners and friends not based on personality or level of intimacy, but on the political party they identify with. We’ve even had people quit writing for LPR because we’re too liberal, too conservative, or somewhere in between. It is this perception gap and unwillingness to attempt to understand other perspectives that is particularly dangerous to our society, and that is where we come in.

We at the Louisville Political Review are dedicated to closing that perception gap and to helping people understand one another. We are not necessarily seeking to change anyone’s mind about a particular issue, but open it to perspectives different from their own. Rather than filtering ideas to suit the beliefs of our readers and what we think they would like, we want to encourage our readers to challenge themselves to learn about an idea from a viewpoint dissimilar from their own.

Having a venue that challenges oneself to understand different perspectives is just as important for our readers as it is for our writers and editors. The makeup of our staff is incredibly diverse, and as a result, the articles we produce are inherently varied politically, socially, and intellectually. This indirectly exposes our writers and editors to a new and wide array of concepts and perspectives. Moreover, we actively encourage our writers to evaluate their beliefs, asking deeper questions like why they think the way they do, and to always consider other perspectives when writing. We believe actively creating this space for our readers, writers, editors to articulate their ideas and spark humble discussions around often contentious topics is crucial to closing the perception gap.

We hope this is, and remains, a publication the University and community of Louisville is proud of: a diverse display of the extraordinary writing and research by undergraduate students. Niccio Machiavelli once said, “Politics have no relation to morals.” At the Louisville Political Review, we vehemently disagree. Instead, we insist on elevating respectful and informed dialogue in a political climate where conflict, ruthlessness, and boldly shrewd attempts to gain power are glorified. In other words, we strive to be a light in an oftentimes dark profession; we strive to provide clarity in the convoluted. We reject Machiavellian tendencies, and instead look to another great philosopher, Dr. King. In his words, we at LPR have decided to stick with love; for hate is too great a burden to bear. 

Thus, we do not engage in ad hominem attacks on others, we do not tolerate hateful rhetoric from our members, and most importantly, we always recognize our intellectual inability to speak to every possible view of an issue. 

In order to achieve transparency between our writers, editors, and our audience, it is important to share the following information to highlight the necessity of our publication.

A couple months ago, a former writer of the Louisville Political Review shared posts containing slurs on their personal social media accounts that one could view as homophobic. That member was confronted in a private meeting, where they were informed that posts of hateful and offensive nature would not be tolerated on social media accounts that are associated with an active member of LPR. This was not an arbitrary or novel standard. In fact, we have severed ties with a writer before for breaching this standard. It is important to note that this meeting, though, was not set with the intention of terminating the member that breached the Code of Conduct, only to warn them against sharing further inflammatory posts. 

Instead of accepting that warning and committing to displaying more acceptable behavior, the former member instead initiated an impassioned tirade against members of the editorial board that was disrespectful and unprofessional. At the end of the meeting, the member resigned from the Louisville Political Review. 

We believe the issue is now resolved, and we want to ensure our readers that the entirety of the LPR staff remain fully committed to the continuance of this publication despite these events.

From Our Phones to the Polls: How TikTok is Cultivating a New Era of Political Engagement

Before COVID-19, the end of summer would have signified packed back-to-school gatherings and campuses across the country bustling with their usual crowd. Now, students are tuned into their lectures behind their webcams, replacing classrooms and lecture halls with their own dorms and apartments. In exchange for face-to-face study groups, Hangout and Facetime have replaced visits to Starbucks and the library.

With social distancing guidelines, the Internet has become essential for learning, working, communicating, and a source for fast, accessible news updates. And now more than ever, people are getting involved in the political process through the one forum that is highly accessible, somewhat unregulated, and can reach millions of people in seconds: the Internet, and specifically, an app called TikTok. But where did it come from, and what exactly is it?

The Rise of TikTok

In 2017, ByteDance, a technology company operated out of Beijing, China launched the short-form video app called TikTok; the next year, the widely popular application became available to the US market. Since 2018, TikTok has grown exponentially, with over 2 billion downloads on the App Store and Google Play as of earlier this year. The platform serves  91.9 million monthly active users in the United States as of June 2020. In essence, TikTok is a short form video sharing platform, where users can film themselves in 15 to 60 second clips, typically accompanied by audio files or music, and share them with their network of followers to view, share, and duet with.

What makes TikTok so addictive and intriguing is the advanced machine-learning capabilities of the algorithms that the platform utilizes to select content based on user data, such as location and videos that they have interacted with, to provide a feed specifically tailored to each individual. Many users have found ways to employ these algorithms to work in their favor, liking and engaging with certain content to curate their feed to whichever “side” of TikTok they wish to be on, whether it’s the odd subgenres of “Alt TikTok” or the newer, politically oriented side.

As a result of the app’s heavy reliance on individual ideas and engagement, its users have begun utilizing it as a platform to express political views, fact-check candidates, and form ideological coalitions, thus making TikTok one of the most prominent new mediums for political participation. One 17–year-old user stated, “I feel like I am making an impact on the election even though I can’t vote.” Within these political coalitions, known as “hype houses,” users are encouraged to contribute information and personal views, some in the form of making fun of opposite party candidates, in addition fact-check candidates on both sides of the aisle. Two of the largest hype houses on TikTok are @thedemhypehouse, which has amassed over 140,000 followers, and @therepublicanhypehouse, which holds a staggering 850,000-plus follower base.

Some of these coalitions have gained such a significant amount of momentum, that they have expanded to additional platforms. The Republican Hype House (RHH) has created a website where other users can become affiliates, shop merch, and learn more about RHH and it’s affiliated hype houses for conservative women and men respectively, “The Republican Girls” and “The Republican Boys.” The Democrat Hype House has used their TikTok platform to disseminate information on various social issues, post online petitions, and link users to sites where they can register to vote. However, the politics of TikTok has taken on a life of its own through clashes of the technology company, ByteDance, with the United States government.

In the Interest of National Security: The Politics of TikTok

In June of this year, a social media campaign on the app made national headlines. The Trump Campaign had reported that about 1 million people had registered to attend a rally in Tulsa, controversial due to the blatant disregard of CDC recommendations on large gatherings and the fact that the rally was planned to be held on Juneteenth, amid Black Lives Matter protests. When the day came, the 19,000 seat occupancy arena stood mostly empty. Due to an underground trend on TikTok, thousands of users registered for free tickets for the rally, and then just never showed. Users deleted these videos after 24-48 hours to keep their plans from making it to the “mainstream internet.”

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in response to the Trump Campaign, “Actually you just got ROCKED by teens on TikTok who flooded the Trump campaign w/ fake ticket reservations & tricked you into believing a million people wanted your white supremacist open mic enough to pack an arena during COVID.” This is one of the first demonstrations of TikTok’s power to mobilize people politically, and many believe the source of backlash against the app from the Chief Executive.

Aboard Air Force One in early August, President Trump stated, “As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States.” On August 2, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited national security risks that warranted action from the President against TikTok, associated with user data being transferred to the Chinese Communist Party. A spokesman from the consulting firm, Special Counsel, who conducted a review from July to October of 2019 on where TikTok sent their user data, concluded that there was no way TikTok had been sending data to China during that time period. One of TikTok’s heads of public policy, Theo Betram, stated “The suggestion that we are in any way under the thumb of the Chinese government is completely and utterly false.” On August 4, President Trump released an executive order that would ban the Chinese-based app on September 20, unless they sell all U.S.-based business to a U.S.-based company within 45 days.

Throughout the month of August, American companies such as Microsoft, Walmart, and Oracle all submitted bids to ByteDance to get their shot at owning the booming social media platform, but it remained unclear whether a front-runner would emerge, or if a deal could be achieved at all. On Friday, it was announced that TikTok and WeChat, two applications owned and operated by Chinese companies, would be pulled from the app store on Sunday, making it unable to download for potential users and software updates unavailable for current users.

However, in a shocking development Saturday evening, one day prior to the ban going into effect, TikTok announced that it would partner with Oracle Corp. and Walmart Inc. to become a new, U.S.-based company. Trump has stated that he agreed with the deal “in concept,” and has pushed back the deadline another week before the apps get pulled from U.S. stores due to the positive developments regarding the sale. Although the acquisition of the app has become more concrete, the parameters of the ban are still unclear, leaving TikTok to a questionable future.

The Road Ahead

The threat of TikTok being banned has already caused many users to turn to alternative social media platforms, such as Byte. However, 41% of Generation Z state that the Executive Order had no impact over their use of the app. This is a positive sign that the political commentators of TikTok are here to stay, but there are concerns over what the future of the app is in the hands of new owners. Some believe that bias may have played a role in the deal between ByteDance and Oracle; the company’s chief executive served on the president’s transition team following the 2016 election, and co-founder and chairman Larry Ellison hosted a fundraiser for Trump earlier this year.

Trump stated in August that Oracle was a “great company” that “could handle buying TikTok, but refused to comment on preference between Oracle and Microsoft as buyers. The situation of the sale has been unprecedented and unusual, as the president is demanding payment to the Treasury for the role that the U.S. government has played in orchestrating the deal.

The unexpected clash of the government with the popular social media app may have an impact on the November presidential election. Prior to November, an estimated 14 million young people will have turned 18 since 2016, being eligible to vote in a presidential election for the first time. New voters will be critical in deciding the outcome of the 2020 election, with voter turnout rates of adults age 18-29 reaching record highs in recent years; in 2018, this demographic experienced a 79% jump in overall voter turnout for the midterm elections.

In a national poll, individuals within this age category oppose the TikTok ban at a 52% rate. Ashleigh Hunniford, a 17 year-old creator on TikTok told the New York Times it “is an outlet for a lot of protest and activism and people talking about their political beliefs. Banning that would not carry well among people my age.” The youth of TikTok have already demonstrated their ability to organize en masse, but only time will tell if the digital activism of today can translate to the poll box in the future.

By: Jada Csonka