TikToker offers a simple, clear metaphor for systemic and structural inequality

When we talk about systemic, structural, or institutionalized inequality, it can be hard for some to understand what those terms even mean. In a racial context in the U.S., the idea is that oppression like slavery and Jim Crow laws, racist policies like redlining, and the racism in scientific, medical, and educational and other fields erected various barriers for Black Americans. The laws or policies may have changed, but those changes didn't automatically dismantle all the barriers that went along with them.

Such barriers are invisible, though, and when you aren't impacted by them you might not even see them at all, or understand what it's like to be on the other side of them. That's where analogies come in handy.

TikTok creator @tavitalkstrash shared a video skit that illustrates how systemic inequality works with a metaphor of a fence and fruit trees.


Watch:

@tavitalkstrash

The fence #fyp

Many commenters pointed out that the analogy works for all kinds of issues, from racial inequality to wealth or class inequality. Those who have the power and advantage are often blind to the barriers that exist for those who don't, and even if they do see a barrier, they may actually end up reinforcing it. After all, that barrier isn't hurting them; in some ways, it actually makes life easier for them.

The video also highlights how bias and prejudice can result from such barriers. "You should just come over here!" As if it's that simple. "Lazy AND impatient," as if the challenges posed by the barrier aren't real.

A person recognizing the barrier and exercising empathy would listen to the person on the other side and try to see their perspective. A person exercising compassion would toss over some fruit and then help tear down the fence.

The tradition of having the fence there wouldn't matter as much as the harm it's causing on the other side. The fact that an occasional person manages to get over the fence wouldn't matter, since the majority aren't able to. Telling the person to plant their own trees or tear down the fence themselves would be recognized as a cruel response, not a helpful one, considering the lived reality on the other side. The idea of what's "fair" would take the full reality and history into account.

One key takeaway here is that the person on the fruit tree side needs to listen to the person limited by the barrier when they tell them how it has affected them and what they need to remedy the situation. The solutions offered from the fruit tree side might not make sense from the other side of it. Such solutions might not be possible, or they might not actually be as helpful as they sound.

Another point made in the comments is that the hungry person's ancestors were probably the ones who planted those fruit trees in the first place. That works whether you look at the metaphor through a historical racial lens (so much of the foundation of this country's wealth was built on the backs of unpaid, enslaved Black people) or a wealth inequality lens (underpaid working class laborers being exploited by obscenely wealhty business owners in the name of capitalism).

Some might argue that such barriers don't actually exist anymore, that this is the land of opportunity and equality where we're all on equal footing. But statistics do not bear that out. As of 2016, the average white family's net worth was ten times that of the average Black family in the U.S. What is the explanation for that?

If you argue that it is not because structural or systemic racial barriers have made it more difficult for Black Americans to build wealth, then what explanation are you left with? That Black Americans are consciously choosing to live with such a wide economic disparity? Why would they choose that? If they aren't choosing it, do you think there is some inherent quality that makes Black people unable or unwilling to do whatever it is white people do to build wealth? Isn't that idea just blatantly racist?

Hopefully, this analogy makes the concept of systemic, structural, and institutionalized inequality easier for people to unpack. Complex social realities aren't easily simplified, so when someone manages to make a clear visual metaphor, it deserves to be celebrated.


Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Cipolla's graph with the benefits and losses that an individual causes to him or herself and causes to others.

Have you ever known someone who was educated, well-spoken, and curious, but had a real knack for making terrible decisions and bringing others down with them? These people are perplexing because we're trained to see them as intelligent, but their lives are a total mess.

On the other hand, have you ever met someone who may not have a formal education or be the best with words, but they live wisely and their actions uplift themselves and others?

In 1976, Italian economist Carlo Cipolla wrote a tongue-and-cheek essay called "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" that provides a great framework for judging someone's real intelligence. Now, the term stupid isn't the most artful way of describing someone who lives unwisely, but in his essay Cipolla uses it in a lighthearted way.

Cipolla explains his theory of intelligence through five basic laws and a matrix that he belives applies to everyone.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."