The new racism?

I just read the New York Times article “Blacks Debate Civil Rights Risk in Obama’s Rise;”  perhaps its time to stop managing public policy just on race, but instead start focusing on how to help poor people have better lives, regardless of whether they are in Appalachia or inner city Detroit.

Perhaps Barack Obama’s nomination should signal a slow winding down of racially-motivated aid programs and the rise of programs to help all poor people in this country.

I hope however that we’ll still remember the civil rights struggle and not loose the ground we’ve so painfully gained.


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  1. lostlo
    3:27 pm on August 25th, 2008

    I think it’s more complicated than it may seem on the surface. Our society has become so segregated that many well-meaning white people do not believe that racism exists anymore. If you asked them “does racism exist?” they’d doubtless say yes, but in practice they don’t account for racism because they don’t see it.

    A disproportionate number of minorities, particularly blacks, are poor/incarcerated/etc. The percentage under the poverty line or in prison is much higher than the percentage of blacks in society at large. Therefore the conclusion is that they are disproportionately lazy, or criminal, etc. If you don’t consider institutional racism a factor, that’s the only conclusion.

    The problem is that once you start thinking that poverty is the fault of the poor, you are much less likely to want to help. When society as a whole starts to consider programs designed to help the poor as handouts rather than necessary moral help, it goes away.

    The simple reality is that blacks have never had equal status, success, or freedom in American society. This isn’t just a magical way things are, it’s because we violently brought a lot of people here against their will, rather than making it right we just freed them and gave them a lower status in society. Over time, they’ve fought for more equality, but such a massive shock to a group of people inherently takes time to correct.

    If you’re poor and grow up in a terrible neighborhood, your kids are likely to be poor and be exposed to (or participate in) illegal behavior. While it’s certainly true that a child without opportunity can fight to achieve and attain success as an adult, it’s a pipe dream that every child can do this.

    Once racism is dismissed as a myth from politics, there will be fewer programs designed to assist these urban areas, which then hurts all the poor – as you said, there are poor white people too, and they will also be hurt by this.

    I know this may sound a little crazy, but in my experience it’s all true. I’m as white as white can be, but have spent an unusually large amount of time in around black people (for a white person) – I’ve lived in crack neighborhoods, been friends with guys in the Nation of Islam, had a cross burned in my yard. On more than one occasion, I’ve been stunned at the racism that is still around, but also at the denial of many people that racism is really a factor. When every claim of racism is dismissed as “playing the race card,” the valid complaints are dismissed along with those that really are frivolous.

    Is there racism in the black community? Oh definitely! Those Nation of Islam guys wouldn’t give me the time of day on the street. But does that mean that they’re all crazy and we’re really in a harmonious post-racial America? Absolutely not!

    It’s very compelling, because it’s real and yet so few people are aware of/acknowledge it. As much as I love Obama, him being elected will make it worse. The good he does should outweigh the bad, but it’s still a factor.

    You’re right, we should just help the poor. The reality is always more complicated than that, unfortunately.

  2. alephnaught
    7:58 am on August 26th, 2008

    I feel we’ll always have racial bigotry – that’s all about learning (and remembering) to bypass those feelings. Just look at Europe – racism there is alive and well. So, I don’t agree with dismissing racism as a myth (that’s why I mentioned remembrance of the civil rights struggle, for example).

    One reason I’d prefer to move to working on poverty instead of racism is that I see a lot of poor people that aren’t black – for example, I now live in California, just guess how many poor hispanic people I see. Poverty crosses all racial lines; I agree it varies proportionally, but reducing poverty would improve the lives of lots of people in this country.

    And I don’t know how to go after poverty, and I agree that giveaways don’t do the job. What would?

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