As tragic as the COVID-19 pandemic was and continues to be, it ironically provided a unique opportunity for the display of urban privileges and the lack of social justice. Although there are many ways that neighborhoods such as my own, often described as Super-, or otherwise Gentrified (Halasz 2018) are privileged, the fact remains that many of its residents fall on the liberal and left-leaning spectrum of American politics. It is also a place that has been an area accurately described as exhibiting Super Diversity (Vertovec 2007). Although the area is “diverse,” People of Color, mostly a diverse collection of Latino residents, tend to dominate in sections that are slowly undergoing displacement pressures as the rapid construction of high-rise “luxury” apartments continues unabated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This situation creates opportunities for visual conundrums to appear on the streets. Since I had stayed close to home during Phase I of the New York State Lockdown (March -April 2020), I limited my Visual Sociological explorations of urban neighborhoods to a few streets near my home that are close to Brooklyn’s largest park, Prospect Park, which has been an assembly point for several major Black Lives Matter marches and protests, some of which I participated in until they became, for me, even with universal masking, “too crowded.” What follows are a few photographs I took of those events. Each has a brief description, and some ask an important question about how images might be interpreted. Given the racial and economic privilege of the neighborhood in which these events took place, the background question I ask is “Is the social justice demanded by the BLM Movement possible without economic justice?”
This and other important questions of social justice are discussed in greater detail in COVID-19 in Brooklyn: Everyday Life During a Pandemic. In it, Judith N. DeSena and I closely examine the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the lives of ordinary people living in the super-gentrified Brooklyn neighborhoods of Park Slope and Greenpoint/Williamsburg. In comparison, and using a distributive social justice perspective, we used our own privileges as foils to point out the racial and economic inequities that affected the lives of other less advantaged Brooklynites who often were considered "essential workers." These disparities included public health measures and lack of access to basic necessities of urban living during the lockdowns. The book also addresses the cultural and economic shifts that took place at the start of the pandemic and contemplate how those forces will impact on future urban life, asking what the "new normal" of business, entertainment, education, housing, and work will look like locally and globally.
For more information on the book see: https://www.routledge.com/COVID-19-in-Brooklyn-Everyday-Life-During-a-Pandemic/Krase-DeSena/p/book/9781032295534
On June 1, 2020 a large crowd of Black Lives Matter marchers assembled at the 9th Street entrance to Prospect Park. They then filed, about a mile long, to join many more others at Grand Army Plaza. These photos show its middle and end.
On June 7, a much very boisterous “Defund the Police” March paraded down the street in front of my house. The irony was the presence of those “to be defunded” leading and bringing up the rear of the mostly young marchers.
On June 8, there was a Family Black Lives Matter March which also assembled at the 9th Street entrance to Prospect Park. Children and carriages were in great evidence. One particular photo is of a child on the shoulders of an adult holding a sign which reads “Is MY Daddy Next?”
Supportive sentiments about crimes committed by law enforcement officials against Black Americans could easily found on my block. These few were especially poignant.
All photos were taken by the author.
Halasz, J. R. (2018). “The super-gentrification of Park Slope, Brooklyn,”
Urban Geography, DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2018.1453454. (https://doi.org/10.1080/02723638.2018.1453454 accessed June 19, 2020)
Vertovec, S. (2007). “Super-diversity and its Implications,” Ethnic and Racial Studies Vol. 30 No. 6 November 2007 pp. 1024_1054
Janine Schipper, Professor, Northern Arizona University
Personal Reflexive Statement:
My approach to humanistic sociology has been largely shaped by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. His essential teaching, to use the insights of mindfulness to inspire social change, has impacted my teaching, research, and writing. I assign Nhat Hanh’s books as the final reading in most of the courses I teach. Whether teaching Introductory Sociology, Social Problems, Environmental Sociology, Medical Sociology, or Consciousness and Society, Nhat Hanh offers deep insights and tangible approaches to addressing our deepest social problems. My research and writing have also been strongly influenced by Nhat Hanh. In 2018 I co-published a book entitled, Teaching with Compassion: An Educator’s Oath to Teach from the Heart (Rowman and Littlefield). The book was heavily influenced by Nhat Hanh and one reader remarked that reading it was like taking a walk in the park with Thich Nhat Hanh. I can’t imagine a greater compliment.
Reflecting on Thich Nhat Hanh
Respectful of countless Buddhas,
I calmly light this candle,
Brightening the face of the Earth (1)
Thich Nhat Hanh, affectionately known as Thay by his students, passed away last week. I want to honor his life, pay tribute to him, and share how my life has been deeply impacted by his. I light a candle as I recite one of Thay’s gathas (mindfulness versus). I surround myself with his books, feeling that in doing so, I’m bringing him closer to me.
I feel overwhelmed. It’s hard to put into words 32 years of learning from this gentle Zen monk from Vietnam, whose dedication to alleviating suffering through present moment awareness has touched countless lives. How do I begin writing about someone who Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967, whose Engaged Buddhism influenced the American Peace Movement, and who has been described as a gift to humanity? I wonder what Thay would say. How would Thay advise me to begin?
Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.
Breathing in, I dwell deeply in the present moment
Breathing out, I know this is a wonderful moment (2)