Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

'Cross the gap' on income inequality

By John D. Sutter, CNN
October 29, 2013 -- Updated 2314 GMT (0714 HKT)
Lake Providence largely separates rich from poor in rural Louisiana.
Lake Providence largely separates rich from poor in rural Louisiana.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The rich-poor gap in the United States has been widening since the 1970s
  • John Sutter asks readers to help narrow the gap
  • Sutter: Take a photo of something that divides your community
  • Upload the images to CNN iReport or to social networks with the hashtag #crossthegap

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and head of CNN's Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at ctl@cnn.com.

(CNN) -- Every American community has its borders.

Manhattan, for example, has East 96th Street. It divides, in a squishy and always-changing sort of way, East Harlem, the poorest neighborhood on the island, from the Upper East Side, which is among the wealthiest. Stand on the street and you'll see people crossing from one world to the other in both directions. But the boundary does have real meaning for some.

This summer, I met Giovanni Classen, a young father and college student who was living in one of the public housing projects in East Harlem. He told me he once took a girlfriend on a date on the Upper East Side. The questioning stares of richer New Yorkers tainted the experience. His date's interest in window shopping didn't help either.

Across 96th, he felt different. Or was made to feel that way.

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter

The river, the highway, the tracks.

All of these unspoken lines have shaped American consciousness. This is increasingly true in the age of income inequality.

As the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, so does the gulf in understanding between the classes.

We're not helped by the fact that, as Harvard's Michael Norton put it to me, the ends of the income spectrum are mostly invisible. We don't see billionaires picking up their morning papers. The extremely poor are among the most stigmatized groups in the United States. We see past them, as one man who works in Chelsea, the ritzy-poor Manhattan neighborhood, told me recently. We pretend they're not there, that these divisions don't exist in the richest country in the world.

Maybe one way to help shrink the gap between rich and poor, then, is simply to stare these divisions right in the face -- to remind ourselves that these boundaries were created and can be erased.

To that end, I'd like to invite you to participate in a collaborative storytelling experiment called "Cross the Gap."

Here's how to participate:

1. Take a photo of something that divides your community.

2. Upload the image to CNN iReport or to an online social network.

3. Include the hashtag #crossthegap with your submission.

4. In the caption, write why this particular thing -- it could be a highway, a sign, a language barrier, a park, a building, whatever -- divides your community. Say a little bit about yourself or your hometown. Which side of the gap do you inhabit? And what could you do to help make that barrier less formal or significant?

I'll give a few examples to help clear things up. In Oklahoma City, where I used to live, the Oklahoma River and Interstate 40 broadly split the community in two. Everyone asks whether you're from the north side or the south. The social circles are pretty different.

In Lake Providence, Louisiana, where I traveled recently to report a story on income inequality, a beautiful, cypress-lined lake largely separates rich from poor.

And New York is a maze of shifting and unspoken dividers. Go to Chelsea and you'll find blocks where the rich and poor stare at each other out of their windows.

I'm excited to see what you come up with for this assignment. As you take the photos, I'd ask you to think about the economic and cultural forces that keep us apart -- and what each of us could do to bring everyone, regardless of income, closer together.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of John D. Sutter.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 30, 2013 -- Updated 2142 GMT (0542 HKT)
Columnist John Sutter journeys to the place with the highest level of income inequality in the United States.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1514 GMT (2314 HKT)
East Carroll Parish, Louisiana, has the highest income inequality of any county or parish in America. But that can change.
October 30, 2013 -- Updated 0220 GMT (1020 HKT)
Meet a storeowner, a nun and a missionary who are trying to bring people together in the most unequal place in America.
November 1, 2013 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
One reader called in tears. Dozens sent e-mails. The overwhelming message: What can we do to help?
October 29, 2013 -- Updated 2314 GMT (0714 HKT)
What does inequality look like where you live? iReport would love to see.
October 30, 2013 -- Updated 2306 GMT (0706 HKT)
Meet the man who wanders Lake Providence carrying an American flag.
October 30, 2013 -- Updated 0059 GMT (0859 HKT)
You might assume New York is the American capital of income inequality. You'd be wrong.
October 30, 2013 -- Updated 2143 GMT (0543 HKT)
Policies that favor the rich keep the gap wide, John Sutter writes.
October 29, 2013 -- Updated 2342 GMT (0742 HKT)
Income inequality is going up, up, up in America. In Brazil, meanwhile, it's been dropping for years.
October 29, 2013 -- Updated 2318 GMT (0718 HKT)
President Obama called it "the defining issue of our time" in his 2012 State of the Union, but he did so without ever uttering the phrase "income inequality."
Learn whether you're a member of the 99% or the famous 1%.
If wages kept pace with productivity, most of us would be richer. But by how much?
The answer may depend partly on your income. Find out their odds with this calculator.
August 23, 2013 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Earlier this week, John Sutter asked readers of his column to submit ideas for a list of "99 must-reads on income inequality." Here's the list.
October 30, 2013 -- Updated 1537 GMT (2337 HKT)
Economic justice, as President Obama argued, is the unfinished business of the Civil Rights movement.
August 7, 2013 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
I'll spare you the stats and simply ask one question that's not considered nearly often enough in the post-Occupy era: Is America's current income distribution fair?
September 17, 2013 -- Updated 1132 GMT (1932 HKT)
We've turned the rich into caricatures.
July 25, 2013 -- Updated 2148 GMT (0548 HKT)
It's getting harder to shock people with stats about income inequality. Maybe the debate should focus on morality.
ADVERTISEMENT