Becoming a Global Citizen: Applied Feminist Ethics

The following excerpts come from the documentary Examined Life (2008), in which the filmmaker Astra Taylor interviews eight influential contemporary philosophers in their own environments to discuss the practical application of their ideas in our modern world. In the interviews below, both Peter Singer and Kwame Appiah discuss ethics in our increasingly global world:

PETER SINGER

 

KWAME APPIAH

Education Theft and the Policing Image of the Welfare Queen

In 2011, Kelly Williams-Bolar, a young, Black mother of two daughters living in Akron, OH, was jailed and convicted of a felony for sending her daughters to a well-to-do private school in her father’s better neighborhood. The court’s decision ultimately jeopardized her job as a teacher’s aid and her future career as an educator. Watch ABC’s news coverage of the story:

However, this isn’t an isolated incident; it may be the beginning of a new trend. Last year, another woman, Tanya McDowell of Bridgeport, CT, was sentenced to 5 years in prison for “education theft.”

The Feminist Wire asks: “…when does American Dream seeking, innovation, motherly ‘instinct,’ and creative problem solving get celebrated and when does it get criminalized? Which mother’s children deserve the best, and which mothers are demonized for asserting their children’s worth?”

To begin to answer this question, we first need to determine what these two women have in common. Let’s go back to Adair:

“…systems of power produce and patrol poverty through the reproduction of both social and bodily markers” (233).

In other words, Adair, like the French Philosopher Michel Foucault whom she cites, understands that the body of a citizen becomes “written on,” or like a text that we all read meanings onto; and some bodies, like those of the poor and of minorites become texts we read, in particular, as warning signs. This, Foucault asserts, is how such systems of power discipline the rest of us to behave or think in certain ways. Consider, in particular, the image of the welfare queen (see Adair, p. 234 and p.240).

Here’s Adair analyzing how our culture “reads” the body of the welfare queen:

The welfare queen’s body is portrayed as “the embodiment of dependency, disorder, disarray, and otherness. Her broken and scarred body becomes proof of her inner pathology and chaos, suggesting the need for further punishment and discipline. In contemporary narratives welfare women are imagined to be dangerous because they refuse to sacrifice their desires and fail to participate in legally sanctioned heterosexual relationships; theirs is read, as a result, as a selfish, ‘unnatural,’ and immature sexuality” (240).