Racism A (in a pic) and B (in a memo)
Here are a couple of stories in the news today, September 20, 2016. A black man, Terence Crutcher, was killed by the police because his car broke down. Google it or here. The Guardian reports on a study showing that the gap between black and white Americans increased from 1979 to 2015. Here is one line from the article: “The median household income for white Americans in 2015 was $63,000. That’s 70% more than the median household income of black Americans, which was $36,898.” And this stat is worse than it was in 1979.
Also, last night I happened to list to This American Life podcast on segregation in St. Louis, mostly from 2013 to 2015. Short version: desegregation works to improve black educational outcomes but white people fight it tooth and claw.
After discussing the legal history of segregation and desegregation in the St. Louis metropolitan area, the episode becomes shocking: hearing white parents saying outrageous racist things to thunderous applause. Really, listen to that. I mean, really, 2015?
These parents were facing an increase in one year in their district as black students moved in from a neighboring district that had been de-accredited. The heartwarming parts were school staff and students in one school making sure the new black arrivals felt welcome.
A key message from this episode are: overwhelming evidence that integration works and nothing else works. Because better teachers, infrastructure, etc. goes to white schools and always will, separate will never be equal. Black students who are bused to white schools do better academically and there is no evidence of any drop off for white students. The white parents talked about violence, as inner city black kids moved in. But there was no increase in violence.
But the state of Missouri jumped through many hoops to kill integration even as evidence emerged that it was working. Then the kicker, the summer that the black families got the letters saying they could not go to the white schools any more is the same summer Michael Brown was shot by police.
Next, I have been following stories about the wealth gap. The median white family has a net worth about ten times more than the median black family. Here is one article explaining some of this. Black wealth has fallen and this gap has grown substantially during the Obama administration.
A few comments on the wealth gap: wealth is something passed from parents to children, so this statistic depends as much on current earning and passed discrimination. Redlining, for example, legal through 1974 and continuing now although illegal, meant that many black households were late to home ownership. Thus the housing crash in 2008 hurt black households far more than white households.
Some of the wealth gap that appears to be white versus black is actually 1% versus 99%, as most of the very rich are white and that drives up the white asset numbers. But even excluding the very rich, the gap is still over 500%.
Obama’s response to the crisis in 2008 contributed the relative lack of wealth of black families. He didn’t intend to impoverish black Americans, but by bailing out the banks instead of bailing out the homeowners, he did more to reduce black acquisition of net worth than any single policy ever did.
School segregation, housing discrimination, wage and wealth gap: where is the progress? I also listened to a lecture that included a 1955 speech by Martin Luther King during the bus boycott, keeping everyone together and focused. He said:
And as we stand and sit here this evening and as we prepare ourselves for what lies ahead, let us go out with the grim and bold determination that we are going to stick together. We are going to work together. Right here in Montgomery, when the history books are written in the future, somebody will have to say, “There lived a race of people, a black people, ‘fleecy locks and black complexion’, a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and of civilization.” And we’re going to do that. God grant that we will do it before it is too late. As we proceed with our program, let us think of these things.
The history books have been written and they do say exactly what King predicted they would say, “new meaning” and “moral courage,” all of that.
Despite saying, “segregation now, segregation forever” Jim Crow actually collapsed fairly quickly and only a few years later, it was dead. We recently had a confederate flag controversy where I live in upstate New York. I assume that this flag migrated into northern areas after the Civil Rights laws of the 1960s. It was a transitional period, as we went from legal racism to a new structure. Urban renewal, redlining, school districts. I think that flag went north as Jim Crow went south.
Legal discrimination in law is still around. Why do local school district boundaries matter more than access to a decent education for all citizens? School districts are laws, just as Jim Crow separation was law. The government could change what school district means and end segregation. But most people are white and most white people don’t want to do it. That’s all that’s holding that problem up.
Following Freddy Gray’s death in Baltimore in 2015, peaceful protest turned into riots, as reported in some sources, police crowd mis-management. I have never been to Baltimore but when you talk about a “bad” neighborhood that is predominantly black, I know what you mean. We have them all over and they were created and maintained by government policy. If we didn’t want such neighborhoods to exist in that form, they would cease to exist in that form. Fixable.
Trump is the racism that you can see that has been around a long time:
Of course there is the racism that is harder to see, type B. Letter from a Birmingham Jail in 1963 is one of America’s great documents. In it, MLK said:
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
He called it again. Exactly. Negative peace. I gave racism A to Trump and I’m giving racism B, “lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection” to the Democratic National Committee. Right in their laps with this leaked memo.
Give them a point person, not any legislation. A pat on the back is nice. But that’s it.
So, if we spent 1/10th of what we spent to ruin Iraq on building infrastructure and creating incentives for white and black parents to integrate our schools, we’d be pretty far.
In 2008, I was pretty estatic when Obama won. Hudson, NY looked great. But, hey, as King said, “…a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and of civilization.”