By Brielle Lord and Dr. Christina Jackson
Malcolm X always said that the most disrespected person in America is the black woman. Though he references respect, the devaluing of their lives can be seen through the quality of their lives in the Atlantic County region where both gender and race create dire experiences for families headed by black women. On Saturday, October 15th, the Black Lives Matter Atlantic City chapter held its second to last forum in their 12-month series entitled “Beyond the Slogan: Conversations on Race, Privilege and Power.” The focus of our October forum was health and well-being with the core question: How do race, gender and the economy impact the health and well-being of women? We sought to use research and life experiences to look at work that can be done around dismantling patriarchal practices that put black women’s health and well-being in jeopardy. This forum hosted Stockton professors, Dr. Betsy Erbaugh and Dr. Kristin Jacobson, and members of the Atlantic County Advisory Commission on Women. In conjunction with student researchers, Jess Brown and Mariam Majid, they presented their report on the Status of Women in Atlantic County.
The team presented on what it is like to be a woman in the Atlantic county region through basic demographics, political participation, employment and earnings, social and economic autonomy, reproductive health and rights, and health and well-being. The picture painted was a bleak one as Atlantic County women face disproportionate rates of health problems and unemployment, even though many other counties contain cities larger or equivalent to Atlantic City. This brought up a major discussion question regarding why Atlantic County has much higher rates of breast cancer, heart disease, and mortality. Women also make up a small percentage of elected officials in the county. The data illustrate the feminization of poverty in the county. Both gender and race are clear indicators of families in poverty, showing that black families are disproportionately affected by it.
The impact of Atlantic City’s tourist based casino economy on the region’s health and well-being was brought up by community residents. Jess Brown noted that Atlantic City is different than most cities due to the presence of an entertainment driven economy, which promotes a transient population that is difficult to separate in crime and other data from data specific to city and county residents. Atlantic City’s identity offers tourist-based opportunities for indulgence that is marketed as often inexpensive and easily accessed. The ease of access to entertainment-based amenities in an economically depressed area can open up opportunities for unhealthy lifestyles (smoking, drinking to excess), which are then normalized. Mariam Majid also noted that the dire statistics around health and well-being for the region alarmed many county officials while researching the topic. However, the alarm was for the concern of scaring tourists away and addressing some but not all of the disparate issues facing our population. Additionally, even when Atlantic City was in its “heyday,” it was not a heyday for everyone. Certain groups were ignored, exploited, or disregarded for the profit of tourism. Dr. Erbaugh agreed, saying that priorities are often set around the well-being of the tourist-transient population, and not around those that reside in the city and the county. Even residents may not vote or push for their own interests when fears of losing businesses and jobs arise.
During the panel discussion, Dr. Erbaugh and Dr. Jacobson emphasized the importance of getting the information in their research out into the public. Looking at this problem through the lens of race, ethnicity and gender is important to understanding the impact of disparities, but also why they persist. Read the full Report on the Status of Women in Atlantic County 2015 here – prepared by Stockton University faculty members and students for the Atlantic County Advisory Commission on Women.
The Black Lives Matter Atlantic City chapter will be hosting its last forum of the 12-month series on Saturday, November 19th from 2pm to 4pm. We will be reviewing the work we have completed over the last few months and defining the ways in which we would like to grow our chapter. Join us.
About the Authors:
Brielle Lord is a graduating senior Sociology and Anthropology major at Stockton University, working with the Office of Service-Learning as a Bonner Leader. She is from the southern New Jersey town of Atco, and a current resident of Galloway. Previously, she has worked with Dr. Nazia Kazi, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Stockton University, to bring a documentary film screening on immigration in the United States and a dialogue to Stockton University for community members. She has also worked on a project for the oral history of Stockton students and alumni, creating a space for undergraduate students to mentor incoming and new freshmen. Brielle has also worked with the South Jersey Syria Reflief Project and the Narenj Tree Foundation to coordinate funds and donations at the University through the Office of Service-Learning. She is now completing an internship and fieldwork under Dr. Christina Jackson, Assitant Professor of Sociology at Stockton University, working with Black Lives AC and integrating service-learning into the classroom.
Dr. Christina Jackson is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Stockton University who participates in community work in both Atlantic City and Philadelphia. She is also a core team member of the Black Lives Matter Atlantic City chapter helping to facilitate monthly forums with community residents. Dr. Jackson teaches classes and conducts research on inequality, urban places, gender, social movements and the politics of redevelopment and gentrification. She is an avid supporter of integrating service learning into her teaching pedagogy. She is a board member of a girls’ leadership camp and year long program called Camp Sojourner based in West Philadelphia.
About Black Lives Matter AC:
Black Lives Matter AC was organized by a coalition of community organizations in and around Atlantic City that meets monthly at Asbury United Methodist Church in Atlantic City to bring together people across lines of race, religion, age, gender, economic & educational levels, in order to learn and listen to one another. We honor the future through our youth, creating space for arts, culture, and local ministry to guide youth away from gangs and toward the arts. Various speakers present on topics, so we better understand the underlying systems of oppressions which people of color have inherited and which white Euro-Americans have often taken for granted. Since November, we have covered areas such as domestic violence, the prison industrial complex, housing, the current state takeover of Atlantic City, and more. We provide safe and facilitated space for people to begin listening to one another’s stories, to build trust, and to foster relationships that lead to organizing and building projects for change. Our goal is to create relationships where none existed, and then to allow the process of creativity and cooperation to flourish for good, so that the future of Atlantic City and Atlantic County is enhanced for as many people as possible, starting with our children.