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Did Inequality Make Dasani Homeless?
City Journal ^ | Winter 2014 | Kay Hymowitz

Posted on 01/11/2014 4:37:07 PM PST by BfloGuy

Dasani Coates, the 11-year-old homeless child profiled in Andrea Elliott’s highly praised five-part New York Times feature, arrived on stage at Wednesday’s inauguration ceremonies to serve as a poignant symbol of—in Mayor de Blasio’s words—“the economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love.” But far from providing a window into inequality, the Times series, “Invisible Child,” is better understood as a beautifully reported but muddled revival of decades-long evasions about underclass poverty.

Dasani’s story is moving but hardly new. Anyone who lived in New York—or D.C., Detroit, or Chicago, for that matter—in the 1980s and early 1990s or who has dipped into books like Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family knows the general outline. Chanel, Dasani’s mother and herself the daughter of a welfare-dependent drug addict in Brooklyn, has six children by three different men, a long history of debilitating drug use, an explosive temper, and numerous arrests. Her husband, Supreme, has brought his own drug addiction and two more children by a deceased wife into the mix; Elliott makes vague reference to previous children as well. At some point, Supreme worked as a barber, but as far as we can tell, Chanel has never held a job. In truth, she isn’t much of a mother, either. She is often “listless from methadone”; the family’s room is filled with “piles of unwashed clothes.” Dasani appears to be the primary caretaker of her seven siblings. She wakes up early to change and feed her baby half-sister and get the other children ready for school; understandably, though her school is only two blocks from the shelter, she is chronically late. What role, if any, her parents play in this morning chaos known to every mother and father, rich and poor, is left unsaid.

Elliott is an honest enough reporter to admit “parental dysfunction.” But, as she told Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, she wanted to center her story on a child in order to avoid “the politics of blame”—referring, presumably, to those who have found fault with Chanel and Supreme’s many precursors. True to the progressive spirit, Elliott implies that the structural forces arrayed against Chanel and Supreme are so great that the two are powerless to help their children. (It should be mentioned that in Elliott’s nearly 30,000 words, she makes not a single reference to Dasani’s genuinely invisible father.)

But on several occasions, “Invisible Child” unwittingly reminds us that there might be ways out of the family’s misery. Chanel inherits $49,000 on her mother’s death; within a short time the money is gone, and she can’t figure out where it went. A local charter school, the lifeline for many other poor parents and children, advertises its “rigor and excellence”; Elliott sniffs that it sounds “exclusive.” In the wake of welfare reform—howlingly protested by the New York Times, by the way—Chanel’s mother, Joanie, “turned her life around,” landing a $22,000-a-year job cleaning subway cars. Calling her first day of work the “the happiest day of her life,” she was able to save enough for “a cozy apartment in Bedford Stuyvesant” and to earn a pension that would be inherited—and apparently squandered—by Chanel.

Like most progressives, Elliott seems immune to the lessons of Joanie’s success. If Chanel and Supreme both worked full-time at minimum wage, she tells us, their combined salaries would come to only $2,300 per month—just enough to cover “the average rent for a studio in Brooklyn.” Not only does she wildly exaggerate rental costs (the New York City Department of Housing and Preservation reports median rent for all vacant apartments, not just studios, in 2011 as $1,100), but her calculations also don’t take into account the Earned Income Tax Credit; Social Security; food stamps; nutrition programs for women, infants, and children; and Supreme’s widower benefits, among other public sources of aid. It might not add up to much, but it would mean giving life to what Elliott calls “abstractions like . . . self-reliance.”

Elliott is less equivocal in casting blame when it comes to problems outside the personal control of her impoverished subjects. In the case of the Auburn Family Residence, where Dasani, her seven siblings, and her parents sleep on six decaying mattresses, she makes a successful case for outrage. Leaking pipes, armies of mice, and creeping black mold add the finishing touches to the freezing 520-square-foot space. The women and children use a communal bathroom, with toilets frequently clogged with vomit and feces; sometimes strange men come around peeping, or worse. Security guards and caseworkers keep busy by humping their clients while food workers serve rancid meals. The contrast between the horror of the Auburn shelter and Dasani’s own spirited intelligence and guileless devotion to her family explains the understandable outpouring of sympathy that has followed the series’ publication.

Elliott’s other target—inequality, or “a neighborhood’s profound divide,” as she calls it—reveals the ideology that guides her project. She often refers to Brooklyn’s growing affluence with barely disguised distaste: the gleaming residential towers, the wine store with its sommelier tastings, and “the whims of the wealthy.” The reality is that inequality is a mixed blessing for Dasani. It’s true that before gentrification, Fort Greene was more equal: everyone was poor. Many residents also faced the chronic threat of violence—one scourge, at least, from which Dasani and her family appear relatively free. More important, underclass poverty of the sort that threatens Dasani and her siblings preceded incoming mayor Bill de Blasio’s “tale of two cities” by decades. Ironically, by blurring Bloomberg-era inequality with the perpetual carelessness of Chanel and Supreme, the Times diminishes those workers who are genuinely struggling with stalled median wages, working poverty, and poor skills.

The reason for this confusion is clear: in the progressive mind, there is only one kind of poverty. It is always an impersonal force wrought by capitalism, with no way out that doesn’t involve massive government help. Progressives blame lack of compassion—and the city’s failure to provide more services—for tragedies like Dasani’s, but they’re mistaken. It in no way excuses the appalling conditions at Auburn or the incompetence of Homeless Services to note that, even if she were living in a four-bedroom apartment, Dasani’s situation would remain awful. The shelter did not cause her mother’s drug problems, violent temper, or indifference to her children’s development and education. Living in an apartment, Dasani will still be late for school because she’s busy feeding and clothing her seven siblings while her jobless parents nod off on methadone.

What Dasani’s story really proves is what progressives don’t want to admit: how tough it is to free a child from the “choices” of her parents. “When they’re happy, I’m happy,” the remarkable Dasani says. “When they’re sad, I’m sad. It’s like I have a connection, like I’m stuck to them like glue.” That’s the thing about kids. Even the best social services cannot unglue them.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Government; News/Current Events; Philosophy
KEYWORDS:
The reasons for poverty are simple and easily understood. As the saying goes, poverty is the natural state of living beings. Rabbits and squirrels are famously poor.

A much more interesting story lies in how people rise above it.

1 posted on 01/11/2014 4:37:07 PM PST by BfloGuy
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To: BfloGuy

Not income inequality-—parental stupidity.


2 posted on 01/11/2014 4:42:22 PM PST by freeangel ( (free speech is only good until someone else doesn't like it)
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To: BfloGuy

bttt


3 posted on 01/11/2014 5:00:06 PM PST by NonValueAdded (It's not the penalty, it's the lack of coverage on 1 Jan. Think about it.)
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To: BfloGuy
Chanel, Dasani’s mother and herself the daughter of a welfare-dependent drug addict in Brooklyn, has six children by three different men,
a long history of debilitating drug use, an explosive temper, and numerous arrests.  Her husband, Supreme ..


any of you detectives spot a clue or two ?

4 posted on 01/11/2014 5:10:15 PM PST by tomkat
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To: tomkat

5 posted on 01/11/2014 5:13:35 PM PST by fieldmarshaldj (Resist We Much)
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To: BfloGuy
How can we afford any of these options?

All the medicaid enrollies are going to financially kill that program. We can't afford a health insurance bail out and we certainly can't afford single payer.

6 posted on 01/11/2014 5:15:18 PM PST by Robert357 (D.Rather "Hoist with his own petard!" www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1223916/posts)
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To: tomkat

SUPREME? how did I miss THAT in the article.

which supreme was he named for DIANA ROSS?

“let me go why dontcha babe....”

a black SUPREME-IST?

I wonder if Chanel MIGHT be named after Chanel Number Five?


7 posted on 01/11/2014 5:15:29 PM PST by MeshugeMikey ( Help fight The Neo Stalinists! Donate to your Free Republic)
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To: fieldmarshaldj; MeshugeMikey
And people wonder where stereotypes come from, and why they'll NEVER go away . . .

<facepalm>

8 posted on 01/11/2014 5:21:56 PM PST by tomkat
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To: BfloGuy
did Inequality Make Dasani Homeless?

Because her parents were / still are drug addicts that's why - end of story, period.

9 posted on 01/11/2014 5:32:39 PM PST by capydick (''Life's tough.......it's even tougher if you're stupid.'')
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To: BfloGuy
Dasani’s mother and herself the daughter of a welfare-dependent drug addict in Brooklyn, has six children by three different men, a long history of debilitating drg use, an explosive temper, and numerous arrests.

“the economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city"?

Is Diblasio a nut?

10 posted on 01/11/2014 5:33:46 PM PST by BenLurkin (This is not a statement of fact. It is either opinion or satire; or both.)
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To: tomkat
Chanel, Dasani’s mother and herself the daughter of a welfare-dependent drug addict in Brooklyn, has six children by three different men....

The other kids names are Perrier - Deer Park - Crystal Springs - Fiji and San Pellegrino

11 posted on 01/11/2014 5:38:51 PM PST by capydick (''Life's tough.......it's even tougher if you're stupid.'')
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To: BfloGuy

*bump*


12 posted on 01/11/2014 5:46:27 PM PST by Yardstick
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To: capydick
d:^)  Would it surprise you ?    It'd be laughable if it weren't so endemic . . .
13 posted on 01/11/2014 5:47:29 PM PST by tomkat
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To: MeshugeMikey

Set me free, why doncha, babe ? Get outta my life, why doncha, babe ? You just keep me hangin’ on...


14 posted on 01/11/2014 5:52:32 PM PST by fieldmarshaldj (Resist We Much)
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To: BfloGuy
sounds more like a morals, ambition and intelligence inequity to to me...
15 posted on 01/11/2014 5:53:59 PM PST by Chode (Stand UP and Be Counted, or line up and be numbered - *DTOM* -vvv- NO Pity for the LAZY - 86-44)
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To: BfloGuy

When you pay women to have children they wouldn’t otherwise have, you get unwanted children. Only a mother who doesn’t love or want her children would treat them like Dasani’s mother treats her.


16 posted on 01/11/2014 5:58:32 PM PST by sportutegrl
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To: MeshugeMikey

Dasani after a brand of bottled water.


17 posted on 01/11/2014 6:11:16 PM PST by Myrddin
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To: Myrddin
hmm slightly better than RIPPLE...or Boones Farm...i suppose

Jim Beam would'nt work...

Perrier?

amazing people! COLT 45?


18 posted on 01/11/2014 6:24:57 PM PST by MeshugeMikey ( Help fight The Neo Stalinists! Donate to your Free Republic)
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To: fieldmarshaldj
Peace Love and Soul!! ....




19 posted on 01/11/2014 6:25:45 PM PST by MeshugeMikey ( Help fight The Neo Stalinists! Donate to your Free Republic)
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To: tomkat
enchanté...might have worked for the kid.... well it is continental...ya know. better than fat free homogenized ...


20 posted on 01/11/2014 6:28:26 PM PST by MeshugeMikey ( Help fight The Neo Stalinists! Donate to your Free Republic)
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To: MeshugeMikey
When I read the post, I recalled a tale of how indians name their children. A young indian boy approaches his father and asks, "Father, how do you choose names for your children?". The father replies, "It is our custom to name a child after the first animals we observe following their birth. When your brother was born, I stepped out of the teepee and observed a flying eagle. He is thusly named Flying Eagle. When your sister was born, I stepped out of the tent and observed a deer running past the camp. Your sister is named Running Deer, What prompts the question Two Dog F****ing?"

Apparently the family in the post uses a similar technique with bottles of water, perfume and beer.


21 posted on 01/11/2014 8:42:21 PM PST by Myrddin
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To: BfloGuy

Wow. ANOTHER piece dumping on unmarried mothers. TWO op-eds in the New York Post today yakking about it today. Usually there’s only one. Where are Heather Mac Donald and Nicole Gelinas? Come on, y’all, join the pile-on.

We all know the statistics. But these women did not abort their our children. Give them a bit of credit for that. They chose a hard road rather than kill someone.

Sick of it.


22 posted on 01/11/2014 9:12:10 PM PST by firebrand
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To: firebrand

our = own


23 posted on 01/11/2014 9:13:10 PM PST by firebrand
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To: Myrddin

woop there it be!

imagine naming a children using “the Fast Food naming convention”

Big Mac

Whopper

Dorito


24 posted on 01/12/2014 7:03:31 AM PST by MeshugeMikey ( Help fight The Neo Stalinists! Donate to your Free Republic)
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To: firebrand
We all know the statistics. But these women did not abort their our children. Give them a bit of credit for that. They chose a hard road rather than kill someone.

Yes, we can give them credit for not aborting, but, nonetheless, there are altogether too many single mothers and single fathers in this country. It's a terrible trend.

Now, sometimes, it can't be helped. Often, it can't be helped. But you know as well as I do [or the NYP editorial staff] that it often can and is the result of gross irresponsibility and ignorance. You sound sensitive on this subject. I suspect that if you even participate on this board, you have no reason to.

25 posted on 01/12/2014 3:20:41 PM PST by BfloGuy ( Even the opponents of Socialism are dominated by socialist ideas.)
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To: BfloGuy
Imagine my surprise to find that this wasn't a post about a poor little, unrecycled bottle.


26 posted on 01/12/2014 3:24:59 PM PST by workerbee (The President of the United States is DOMESTIC ENEMY #1!)
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To: BenLurkin
Is Diblasio a nut?

Oh, that's a big, fat "yes". Imagine what that says about about the 75% of the voters who chose him.

As an aside, only 1 million people voted in that election. 25% turnout. Amazing. We will die of apathy.

27 posted on 01/12/2014 3:26:19 PM PST by BfloGuy ( Even the opponents of Socialism are dominated by socialist ideas.)
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To: BfloGuy
25% turnout. Amazing. We will die of apathy.

With local heartthrob Carlos Danger sidelined, you can understand the lack of enthusiasm...

28 posted on 01/12/2014 3:29:37 PM PST by nascarnation (I'm hiring Jack Palladino to investigate Baraq's golf scores.)
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HERE is an interesting piece on the economic causes of inequality that does not forbid the poor to be born.
29 posted on 01/12/2014 7:22:57 PM PST by firebrand
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I’d like to add one last comment to this discussion, now that Ari Fleischer has chimed in in the Wall Street Journal, saying the exact same thing that has been said so many times before with no new insights:

We are all responsible for the culture that has people sleeping around as if marriage doesn’t even exist. We go to the movies, read the books, watch the TV shows where affairs are obligatory. We allow our kids to go to schools that are amoral, if not immoral. We’re part of it.

So I guess I figure it’s unfair to blame the blacks and Hispanics who make up the majority of the “out of wedlock” births. The people who were here first started this libertine culture, and now the poor and the newcomers are being blamed for following in our footsteps. They have fewer resources to combat this evil at its roots. The poor schools and the poverty and the despair that leads to alcohol and drugs feed upon one another.

That’s all. If we want the poor folks to be responsible, then let’s start being responsible ourselves. Stop patronizing the merchants of fornication.


30 posted on 01/13/2014 10:42:52 PM PST by firebrand
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