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The Other Wes Moore Literary Analysis

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In the book, The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore, there are issues of institutionalized oppression, internalized oppression, power and privilege, race, human rights, social justice and economic justice. All throughout this book each and every one of these topics were portrayed at one point or another. These issues shaped the two Wes Moore’s as well as their family and friends which made them into the people they are today.

Oppression usually comes from individuals that are part of a group that share characteristics. These characteristics could be either race, class, gender, sexuality, age, ability, nationality, or ethnicity. Each and every one of these groups have specific attributes, stereotypes, and norms that go along with them But, we need to keep in mind that these groups most of the time are not entered voluntary by the individual. Most of the time, they just happen because of the people they are associated with. No matter their color, age, race or gender.

There are five different forms of oppression. These include, exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural dominance and violence. Exploitation is the use or utilization, especially for profit (dictionary.com). Exploitation creates unjust power relations. This occurs when workers’ energies and capacities are controlled by and appropriated for the benefit of other people. Exploitation interferes with class, race, and gender (Hinson & Bradley).

Marginalization has to do with participating in the labor market on a daily basis. This means that some individuals do not have the skills that are needed that employers are seeking for an employment opportunity (Hinson & Bradley). These individuals may also not possess certain characteristics or attributes that the employer is seeking. Some of these individuals can include but are not limited to, the physically and mentally disabled, mentally ill, elderly, and individuals that have missed out on education and occupational skills-development. This then leads to them being shut out of the work force but involuntarily (Hinson & Bradley). These are the main groups of people that are experiencing marginalization first hand. Many individuals that are shut out of the work force can be considered to not be productive or to depend on others in society. This leads to them being treated as second-class citizens, when in reality, most of the time this is not their fault (Hinson & Bradley).

Powerlessness plays a major role when it comes to oppression. It brings about the important dimension of status. Status and class work together hand in hand (Hinson & Bradley). When people feel like they don’t have power, it can affect their lives greatly. For example, at a job if an individual can’t help make decisions about something important this can become an issue. Whether it be because that person is a different gender or race. When it comes to females, and people of a different race, respectability plays a major role. Unfortunately these groups have to earn respect, it isn’t just given to them. Generally, a white man more than likely is easily granted respect. This translates into the white male receiving more power than other groups in society (Hinson & Bradley).

Cultural dominance is a term that refers to the way that a group experiences, cultural expressions and history are defined as superior to all other groups’ experiences and histories (Hinson & Bradley). If certain individuals are from a group where they are not deemed “normal” because of certain things that their culture practices, it could make them feel different. This causes certain groups and individuals to struggle with stereotypes that are placed on them (Hinson & Bradley). In one part of the book it discussed how Wesley’s neighborhood was becoming worse with drugs as time went on. It was saying how police were treating black folks differently and they were beginning to crack down on the drug dealers, gangs and crack heads.

Violence plays a major role in society. Several people live with the fear of being attacked just because they are members of a certain social group. This has happened many times in the past, especially with racial segregation. A few examples are attacks on Muslims after 9/11. This happens because now people perceive them to all be terrorists regardless if they are US citizens or not. There are several hate crimes against gays, lesbians, and transgendered people that happen everyday. Not because these individuals did anything wrong, just because certain people in society have a problem with it and feel they are inferior for being a different race. Those are just two examples of horrific crimes that happens everyday just because of the social group that these individuals belong to.

Both Wes and Wesley saw and experienced violence throughout their lives. One part from the book that sticks out to me the most is when Wes was with that girl that he met at his house. It was 1 o’clock in the morning and she was going to leave and her boyfriend, Ray was outside questioning why she was there. Ray spotted Wes and started beating him mercifully. Wes finally got up went inside and got a gun and started chasing with it. Then, while he was chasing the guy, his partner in his drug operation joined in to help.

It said, “when he saw Wes standing in the night air, face bloodied, with a gun in hand, he had his cue to join the fight” (pg. 104). Ray was shot by one of the boys but neither of them knew who was the one that hit him. This is a first hand experience that Wes had to experience in his life. It shows how normal violence was in his neighborhood and people knew to have each others back. If one of them fought alone, someone else joined in and helped.

Internalized oppression does the most damage as a subconscious belief in negative stereotypes about one’s group. It also causes individuals to subconsciously act in a way that fulfills the stereotype as well as projecting stereotypes onto other members of one’s group. I feel like throughout the book, internalized oppression played a major role. Especially in the neighborhoods that both families grew up in. Wesley grew up in the Bronx where the cops were always trying to get people in trouble.

Institutionalized oppression comes in a few different forms. These forms include, racism, sexism, classism, ageism, adultism, heterosexism, ableism and ethnocentrism. Throughout the book almost every single one of these forms was portrayed in one of the Wes’ life. These forms of oppression and how these individuals were treated shaped what happened to these individuals later in their lives.

Adultism is one of the first forms of oppression that all people experience throughout their lifetime (Harris & Holdt, 1997). This comes into play when parents take charge of their children and their relationship with their children. This is also one of the very first forms of oppression that we see in the book in both of the Wes Moore’s stories. They are both very involved with their mothers and afraid of them because they were strict and told them what they can and cannot do. Unfortunately both of their fathers weren’t around. Wes’ father was an alcoholic and never cared to have a relationship with him. Even the few times Wes did see his father, he just laid there passed out drunk. One time Wes saw him at his grandmothers house and Wes went up to him and he woke up and said “Who are you?”. This shows that Wes and his father had absolutely no relationship because his own father didn’t even know who he was. Sadly, this wasn’t Wes’s fault, it was his fathers.

Mary did all she could to try and prevent Wes from living the life he ended up living, she was always there reprimanding him when he did something wrong. For example, the time when she found all of the drugs stashed in his room, she flushed it down the toilet and told him she never wanted to see it again. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop Wes from continuing to sell these drugs. Even though adultism is the relationship between a child and their parent, I feel that Wes’s brother was a father-figure in his life. When Tony, Wes’s brother found all of the Nike boxes in his room he knew that something had to be going on in his life. He confronted Wes by saying “Dude, I am going to ask you one more time. Where did you get the money from” (pg. 69). After Tony continuously asked and Wes continued to lie to him he finally cocked back and punched him right in his face. Tony told him time and time again to not sell drugs because he was involved in that and didn’t want his little brother to be involved in it. It is very unfortunate that Wes didn’t listen to Tony.

Wesley’s father died when he was very young. But, even when Wesley was a child, he always remembered his father being his goto guy. When his mother would get angry and yell at him he knew his father would protect him. Wesley’s mother was very stern with him and by sending him to military school she helped to keep him safe and out of jail. Even though Wesley was completely against going to military school and hated it, if he didn’t go, his life would probably not have ended up the way it did.

Another part where adultism played a role in this book is when Wesley’s mother had to decide where to send her children to school. She didn’t want Wesley, Shani, or Nikki going to public school because she was afraid. She used to attend these schools and when she came back and saw them, she saw how much they have changed. They were run down, paint was faded and it only 50 percent of students made it out of that school in four years. She had to make the decision as a parent to send her children to a school where she felt they had a better chance at graduating and succeeding. Even though she had to work several jobs in order to support her family, she did all she could in her power to give her children the best life she could provide to them.

Power and privilege played a major role in this book as well. Power is the possession of resources and/or a position in the social order that enables an individual todo something independently or to exercise influence and control over others. Privilege is the unearned advantage that comes from one’s position in the social structure, often unconscious, not visible to privileged. In the beginning of the book it discusses how Wes’ mother, Mary would no longer be able to attend college because the federal budget for Basic Educational Opportunity Grants also known as Pell Grants were being taken way from her.

This was happening because Ronald Reagan was cutting education budges in half during his eight years in office. I think that this happening shows the lack of privilege that Mary had to live with. Since she didn’t have the privilege to afford college herself and depended on this grant, since it was taken away she was unable to finish school and graduate. This was very upsetting to her because she was the only person in her family to ever even attempt to go to college and now it was ripped away from her.

Another part of the book where power is shown in a different sense is when Wesley’s friend, Shea asked him if he wanted to graffiti the wall with him. Wesley said “I couldn’t say no. First off, Shea was one of the most respected young hustlers in the neighborhood” (pg. 80). After Wesley “tagged” the wall, police officers appeared and handcuffed him. By Shea having power in the neighborhood and being friends with Wesley, it caused Wesley to get into trouble because he was afraid to say no to Shea. A lot of the time, when an individual in a neighborhood has power it seems that the people around them are more afraid of them which causes them to do whatever it is that person wants them to do.

Wesley’s grandparents immigrated from Jamaica and Cuba. This part of the book showed power and privilege by living in America, it stated “when my grandparents moved to the United States, their first priority was to save enough money to buy this house on Paulding Avenue. To them a house meant much more than shelter; it was a stake in their new country. America allowed them to create a life they couldn’t have dreamed of in their home countries of Jamaica and Cuba” (Pg. 39). This part shows how just by living in America you have power and privilege as opposed to living in a third world country. Wesley’s grandparents knew that they would not be able to have the life they wanted in their home countries and America would fulfill their dreams. Just by them just living in America gives them power and privilege to succeed and have a better life.

There are so many different ways that a social worker would have an impact in this narrative. To start of with, when Wesley was having trouble in school at a young age and hated it, a social worker could have stepped in to discuss why he didn’t like it or why he was struggling with school and then they could have taken it from there. That would have been a better approach then making Wesley hate school because he felt he wasn’t good at it. When Wes first began his drug problems and his mother found out and all she did was flush them down the toilet she could have gotten a social worker involved to help him with drug counseling instead of just asking him to do bring it into her house again. Another part where a social worker could have helped would be with Wes’s father. I feel like he had a serious drinking problem and was an alcoholic.

I think that Wes’s grandmother could have helped by stepping in and referring him to a social worker or to go to AA meetings to help with his problem. When it comes to being culturally competent and mindful of these clients the social worker would need to step outside of the neighborhood they come from. One important concept to remember is to not be bias. Explicit bias is a conscious preference (positive or negative) for a social category (Marsh, 2009). Implicit bias is a preference (positive or negative) for a social category that operates outside of awareness (Marsh, 2009). Schemas are mental “maps” by which we process routine information with little or no conscious thought (Marsh, 2009). These are so important to remember because if you automatically judge someone from where they come from then it messes up your whole thought process when the main reason you are there is to try to make their issues better.

The current CSWE Educational Policy and Accreditation Stands identifies sources of client diversity that social work students should be aware of in practice (Schiele). These include, “preparing social workers to practice without discrimination, with respect, and with knowledge and skills related to the clients’ age, class, color, culture, disability, ethnicity, family structure, gender, martial status, national origin, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation” (Schiele). These different sources are so crucial and in order for a social worker to do their job, they have to abide by these rules no matter what. Social workers also need to keep a close eye on themselves and the perspectives that they use. Also, that they don’t co-op by the jobs and privileges that they have been given in the non-profit industrial complex. When a social worker goes to do their job everyday their mind needs to be ready to help whomever it is they encounter that needs help, no matter what their preference is on the situation (Kivel, 2006).

There is no way possible to wipe out just one oppression completely. No one is free from oppression as long as there is one person oppressed in the world (Harris & Holdt, 1997). This book highlighted several different forms of oppression and showed how bad it could truly be in real life situations for some individuals. Even if they have an adult figure growing up trying to guide them to do the right things in life, not everyone stays on the right path or is able to stay out of trouble. This is where the social worker comes in, to help guide the individual off the negative path they might be on.

Harris, T., & Holdt, J. (1997). Insights about opression. doi: http://online.iona.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=/webapps/blackboard/execute/launcher?type=Course&id=_17994_1&url=

Hinson, S., & Bradley, A. (n.d.). A structural analysis of oppression. 5. Retrieved from http://online.iona.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-564131-dt-content-rid-569023_1/courses/SOW2220EA.FS12/structural_analysis_oppression.pdf

Kivel, P. (2006). Social change or social service. 39. Retrieved from http://online.iona.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-564126-dt-content-rid-558695_1/courses/SOW2220EA.FS12/Social service or social change.pdf

Marsh, S. (2009). The lens of implicit bias. Retrieved from http://online.iona.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-564132-dt-content-rid-558684_1/courses/SOW2220EA.FS12/Implicit Bias.pdf

Schiele, J. H. (n.d.). Implications of the equality-of-oppressions paradigm for curriculum content on people of color. Retrieved from http://online.iona.edu/courses/1/SOW2220EA.FS12/content/_564129_1/Equality of Oppressions Paradigm.pdf

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