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“When Whites Just Don’t Get It”: After Ferguson, Race Deserves More Attention, Not Less

Many white Americans say they are fed up with the coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. A plurality of whites in a recent Pew survey said that the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.

Bill O’Reilly of Fox News reflected that weariness, saying: “All you hear is grievance, grievance, grievance, money, money, money.”

Indeed, a 2011 study by scholars at Harvard and Tufts found that whites, on average, believed that anti-white racism was a bigger problem than anti-black racism.

Yes, you read that right!

So let me push back at what I see as smug white delusion. Here are a few reasons race relations deserve more attention, not less:

  • The net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to 2011 census data. The gap has worsened in the last decade, and the United States now has a greater wealth gap by race than South Africa did during apartheid. (Whites in America on average own almost 18 times as much as blacks; in South Africa in 1970, the ratio was about 15 times.)
  • The black-white income gap is roughly 40 percent greater today than it was in 1967.
  • A black boy born today in the United States has a life expectancy five years shorter than that of a white boy.
  • Black students are significantly less likely to attend schools offering advanced math and science courses than white students. They are three times as likely to be suspended and expelled, setting them up for educational failure.
  • Because of the catastrophic experiment in mass incarceration, black men in their 20s without a high school diploma are more likely to be incarcerated today than employed, according to a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Nearly 70 percent of middle-aged black men who never graduated from high school have been imprisoned.

All these constitute not a black problem or a white problem, but an American problem. When so much talent is underemployed and overincarcerated, the entire country suffers.

Some straight people have gradually changed their attitudes toward gays after realizing that their friends — or children — were gay. Researchers have found that male judges are more sympathetic to women’s rights when they have daughters. Yet because of the de facto segregation of America, whites are unlikely to have many black friends: A study from the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that in a network of 100 friends, a white person, on average, has one black friend.

That’s unfortunate, because friends open our eyes. I was shaken after a well-known black woman told me about looking out her front window and seeing that police officers had her teenage son down on the ground after he had stepped out of their upscale house because they thought he was a prowler. “Thank God he didn’t run,” she said.

One black friend tells me that he freaked out when his white fiancée purchased an item in a store and promptly threw the receipt away. “What are you doing?” he protested to her. He is a highly successful and well-educated professional but would never dream of tossing a receipt for fear of being accused of shoplifting.

Some readers will protest that the stereotype is rooted in reality: Young black men are disproportionately likely to be criminals.

That’s true — and complicated. “There’s nothing more painful to me,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson once said, “than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery — then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

All this should be part of the national conversation on race, as well, and prompt a drive to help young black men end up in jobs and stable families rather than in crime or jail. We have policies with a robust record of creating opportunity: home visitation programs like Nurse-Family Partnership; early education initiatives like Educare and Head Start; programs for troubled adolescents like Youth Villages; anti-gang and anti-crime initiatives like Becoming a Man; efforts to prevent teen pregnancies like the Carrera curriculum; job training like Career Academies; and job incentives like the earned-income tax credit.

The best escalator to opportunity may be education, but that escalator is broken for black boys growing up in neighborhoods with broken schools. We fail those boys before they fail us.

So a starting point is for those of us in white America to wipe away any self-satisfaction about racial progress. Yes, the progress is real, but so are the challenges. The gaps demand a wrenching, soul-searching excavation of our national soul, and the first step is to acknowledge that the central race challenge in America today is not the suffering of whites.

 

By: Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 31, 2014

September 1, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Racism, White Privilege | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Our Country Is Rapidly Becoming Militarized”: America Is Nervous; We Must Lay Down Our Arms

There are far too many loose guns floating around the United States of America. What are we doing? This is not the world our forefathers conceived when they wrote the Second Amendment. Violence begets violence, and with no reasonable measures for arms control — our country is rapidly becoming militarized. The police are reacting to threats. Every angry or troubled soul could be carrying a concealed weapon and usually is. Yeah, yeah, yeah we have the right to bear arms ala the Second Amendment, but that was signed into law way before assault rifles were even a glimmer on the horizon. We are at an impasse in our country, society and culture, and must find a way to resolution.

Indeed guns are part of large sectors of our country often passed down through the generations – father to son. But it seems that our reality has changed. Too many novices are running wild and getting access to high powered weaponry. Last week, another young, white, mentally impaired woman was killed by the police right in San Jose, California. The weapon she was brandishing turned out to have been a power drill that had been painted to look like an assault weapon. Maybe, if the culture wasn’t running wild with illegal guns, the murder rate and gang activity so high in this locale — the police would have reacted differently. Yikes we sure don’t know and thank goodness don’t have to make those decisions every day.

Look the economy is still in the toilet for many Americans. Times are tough and income inequality still prevails. Funds have been cut from mental health services in many states, and unfortunately many are going untreated – proverbially falling through the cracks. Americans are nervous in this world of troubles. What’s going to happen to them? Is the US going back to war? And if so where – Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, or even Russia? Will folks be able to afford gasoline if this happens? Why are hybrids so expensive? Is the next airplane going to fall from the sky and where? What does it take to stay safe and keep your family safe? Sadly, this is the environment that allows racism and prejudice to fester and get a toe hold to dig in. Certainly, we know that we have got tough choices coming down the road. Turning the police into soldiers is not the answer as evidenced in Ferguson, Missouri; nor is denying generational family traditions. But maybe there’s just an opening big enough to consider enacting the simplest of laws that control the supply chain of weapons in this country. You know, we lived through Prohibition, and now track liquor and its sale. Marijuana is leaning toward legalization around the country. Can’t we step back from the random acts of violence in our streets, towns and cities? This might be the time to take action on gun control safety, and really turn a search light on what’s become of our public safety officers. We have to do better than this.

 

By: Michelle Kraus, The Hufington Post Blog, August 18, 2014

August 19, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Guns, Militarization | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Suburbanization Of Poverty”: Tensions In Ferguson Have Been Simmering Below Surface For Decades

The police shooting of Michael Brown was the spark.

But the tinder fueling the anger and resentment that has exploded in Ferguson, Mo., has been building for decades.

The town has seen many middle-class homeowners who eagerly moved to St. Louis’ northern suburbs after World War II to buy brick ranch homes with nice yards leave, replaced by poorer newcomers. Good blue-collar jobs have grown scarce; the factories that once sprouted here have closed shop. Schools have struggled.

And local governments — slow to evolve – often now look little like the people they represent. For the black community, it creates a sense of lost opportunity in a place much like other aging suburbs in the Rust Belt and across the country.

“For a young black man, there’s not much employment, not a lot of opportunity,” said Todd Swanstrom, a professor of public policy at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. “It’s kind of a tinder box.”

The seething tensions prompted Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to declare a curfew in Ferguson on Saturday, one week after a white police officer shot and killed Brown, an 18-year-old black man. The declaration followed another night of looting.

Critics say an initial heavy-handed response by police using tear gas and rubber bullets touched off the unrest, with mainly white officers facing off against mainly black crowds.

Since Brown’s death, race and police tactics have dominated the headlines blaring from this town 12 miles northwest of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch. But that’s only part of the story.

From jobs to schools to racial transition, Ferguson and its neighboring towns — where many protesters came from — have undergone sweeping changes in recent years. Some places have become pockets of poverty, comparable to the poorest spots in St. Louis.

Others, like Ferguson, remain more mixed, with middle-class subdivisions alongside run-down streets and big apartment complexes like the one where Brown lived. Either way, Swanstrom said, the area highlights the growing challenge of the “suburbanization” of poverty.

“This was a catalyst for something much deeper, the lack of economic opportunities and representation people have,” said Etefia Umana, an educator and board member of a community group called Better Family Life. “A lot of the issues are boiling up.”

It’s been boiling for decades.

St. Louis’ jumble of suburbs — there are 91 municipalities in a county of about 1 million people ringing the city — has long been sharply segregated. Until the late 1940s, restrictive covenants blocked blacks from buying homes in many of them.

Well into the 1970s, tight zoning restrictions and other rules, especially in places near the city’s mostly black north side, kept many largely white, said Colin Gordon, a University of Iowa professor who’s studied housing in St. Louis.

That began to change by the 1980s, when middle- and working-class white families began leaving north county — as the area around Ferguson is known — for newer, roomier housing further out in the exurbs. In their place came a flood of black families from St. Louis in search of better housing and schools.

“When black flight out of the city began, this was the logical frontier,” Gordon said. “It became what the city had been, a zone of racial transition.”

In Ferguson, the change happened fast. In a generation — from 1990 to today — the population changed from three-fourths white to two-thirds black. Even as the area’s demographics shifted, good blue-collar jobs sustained many of these towns, said Lara Granich, a community organizer.

“Everyone in our parish was a brick layer or a letter carrier or something. I didn’t know anyone who had gone to college, but they all made a decent living,” said Granich, who grew up in nearby Glasgow Village, another neighborhood on the decline. “The people who live there now tend to work at McDonald’s.”

The recession hurt, too. This part of the St. Louis region took the brunt of the foreclosure crisis, with subprime loans turning bad, and investors scooping up cheap houses to rent. Auto plants that had sustained a black middle-class shut down.

Since 2000, the median household income in Ferguson has fallen by 30 percent when adjusted for inflation, to about $36,000. In the Census tract where Brown lived, median income is less than $27,000. Just half of the adults work.

Fr. Steven Lawler, rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ferguson, really saw the change in 2008, when visits to his food pantry spiked. They haven’t gone down since.

“I know there are places where an economic recovery’s happening,” he said. “But in the places where people are most stressed, there hasn’t been a recovery.”

Still, as Lawler and others note, Ferguson has some things going for it. Its pleasant, old downtown has seen a revival in recent years, with a busy Saturday farmers market and a new craft brewery. It still has middle-class neighborhoods of historic homes. The headquarters of a Fortune 500 company — Emerson Electric Co. — sits on a serene campus just up the hill from the gas station looters burned a week ago Sunday night.

Gail Babcock, program director at Ferguson Youth Initiative, was quick to note her town still has a strong sense of community — and every morning last week volunteers have poured in to clean up from protests and looting. The challenge is in connecting its poorer residents – especially younger ones – to it.

“It’s very hard for them to find jobs,” said Babcock, who runs a community service program for youth convicted of minor criminal offenses. “That sets up a situation where they tend to get in trouble, and they probably wouldn’t under other circumstances.”

Then there are the schools, one reason why many families moved to these suburbs in the first place. Two north county districts – including the one where Brown graduated from high school in May — have lost their state accreditation in recent years. The district Ferguson shares with a neighboring town remain accredited but scores low on state tests.

That was a big reason why John Weaver took the morning off work Friday, drove his plumbing truck to Florissant, and asked the visiting Gov. Nixon what he planned to do about the problems that have plagued these neighborhoods for years.

Nixon acknowledged there’s “a lot of work to do.” Weaver was not impressed.

“All these politicians say they’ll fight for our education. I feel cheated,” he said in an interview later. “And if I feel cheated, how should these kids feel?”

These issues are all tied together for Shermale Humphrey, a 21-year-old who joined the protests last week. She plans to enlist in the Air Force, but right now works at a McDonald’s near where Brown was shot. She’s something of a veteran activist – helping to organize strikes by fast-food workers in St. Louis — and sees race and local politics and economics here as closely intertwined.

“It’s a shortage of everything,” she said. “It’s a shortage of jobs. Of African Americans on the police force and in government. Of people not being able to get a good education.”

Adding to the frustration, many protesters say, is that the people still running many of these downs don’t much look like the people who live there now. Just three of Ferguson’s 53 police officers are black. Six of seven City Council members are white. So are six of the seven school board members, who run a district with a student body that’s 78 percent black.

Many of these towns are still run “like little fiefdoms,” said Umana, who moved to Ferguson eight years ago, by remnants of their old white middle class that may not share the concerns of newcomers.

“The numbers flip-flopped, but the power structure remained the same,” he said.

It has been hard to build black political leadership in these fast-changing suburbs, said Mike Jones, a black veteran of St. Louis’ political scene. Indeed, it’s been harder than in St. Louis, which has long been racially mixed.

But a more diverse set of voices at Ferguson City Hall, Jones said, might have avoided the heavy-handed police response that only inflamed protests.

“The question is how — in a city that’s 67 percent African-American — do you have absolutely no African American political representation?” Jones asked. “That’s what leads you to a police force that could become involved in this sort of incident.”

It’s an issue more communities will have to face, Jones predicts, as traditionally “urban” issues of poverty and racial change migrate to suburbs often less-equipped to deal with them. And not just in St. Louis.

A study last month by the Brookings Institution found the number of poor people living in high-poverty suburban neighborhoods nationwide more than doubled in the last decade, growing much faster than in big cities.

Chris Krehmeyer, who runs St. Louis-based community development nonprofit Beyond Housing, says he knows colleagues around the country dealing with a lot of the same issues as he is in north St. Louis County, tackling housing and jobs and schools all at once. The key, he said, is to build trust with residents before the community blows up.

Ferguson is a bellwether, he said. “This story could happen in lots of different places, all over this country.”

 

By: Tim Logan and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, The Los Angeles Times; The National Memo, August 18, 2014

August 19, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What ‘War On Whites’?”: The Myth Of White Victimhood Is Not Just Ahistorical, But Obscene In Its Willful Ignorance

If there really were a “war on whites,” as a Republican congressman from Alabama ludicrously claims, it wouldn’t be going very well for the anti-white side.

In 2012, the last year for which comprehensive Census Bureau data are available, white households had a median income of $57,009, compared with $33,321 for African American households and $39,005 for Hispanic households. The white-black income gap was almost exactly the same as in 1972; the gap between whites and Hispanics actually worsened.

According to an analysis by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, the average white family has six times as much accumulated wealth as the average black or Hispanic family. Other authoritative data show that African Americans and Hispanics are far more likely than whites to be unemployed, impoverished or incarcerated.

Yet Rep. Mo Brooks feverishly imagines that whites are somehow under attack and that the principal assailant is — why am I not surprised? — President Obama.

Asked whether Republicans were alienating Latino voters with their position on immigration, Brooks said this to conservative radio host Laura Ingraham:

“This is a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else. It’s a part of the strategy that Barack Obama implemented in 2008, continued in 2012, where he divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare, all those kinds of things.”

Ingraham, who makes her living as a rhetorical flamethrower, actually told the congressman that his “phraseology might not be the best choice.” But Brooks stuck to his appalling thesis in a subsequent interview with AL.com, saying that “in effect, what the Democrats are doing with their dividing America by race is they are waging a war on whites and I find that repugnant.”

Brooks is from Alabama, where public officials used fire hoses and attack dogs against black children who were peacefully trying to integrate the whites-only lunch counters of Birmingham. Where terrorists acting in the name of white supremacy bombed a historic African American church, killing four little girls. Where demonstrators marching for voting rights were savagely beaten by police and vigilantes as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Brooks is 60, which means he lived through these events. Surely he knows that it was white-imposed Jim Crow segregation — not anything that black or brown people did — that divided America by race. At some level, he must realize that his overheated blather about a “war on whites” is not just ahistorical but obscene in its willful ignorance.

But maybe not. Maybe Brooks has fully bought in to the paranoid myth of white victimhood that gives the opposition to Obama and his policies such an edge of nastiness and desperation.

I do not believe it can be a coincidence that this notion of whites somehow being under attack is finding new expression — not just in Brooks’s explicit words but in the euphemistic language of many others as well — when the first black president lives in the White House.

The myth of victimhood is not new. Long after it was understood that slavery was morally wrong, Southern whites justified its perpetuation by citing the fear that blacks, once liberated, would surely take bloody revenge against those who had held them in bondage. Jim Crow laws and lynchings had a similar purpose. In the minds of his assassins, 14-year-old Emmett Till was tortured and killed to protect the flower of Southern womanhood.

The myth surfaces whenever Obama comments on race. When he spoke about the killing of Trayvon Martin, nothing he said was inherently controversial. But the mere fact that Obama expressed sympathy for Martin was taken by some as an attack on the forces of law and order, or an apology for hip-hop “thug life” culture, or an indication that his real agenda is to ban all handguns, or something along those ridiculous lines. When Obama was running for president, I wrote that to win he would have to be perceived as “the least-aggrieved black man in America.” He has tried his best, but for some people it’s not enough.

There are other reasons why the myth of white victimhood is gaining strength — economic dislocation, rapid immigration from Latin America, changing demographics that will make this a majority-minority country before mid-century. But I can’t help feeling that Obama’s race heightens the sense of being under siege.

Congressman Brooks, you’re talking pure gibberish. But thanks for being honest.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 7, 2014

August 11, 2014 Posted by | Racism, War on Whites, Whites | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Who Wants A Depression?”: The Rich Believe That What’s Good For Them Is Good For America

One unhappy lesson we’ve learned in recent years is that economics is a far more political subject than we liked to imagine. Well, duh, you may say. But, before the financial crisis, many economists — even, to some extent, yours truly — believed that there was a fairly broad professional consensus on some important issues.

This was especially true of monetary policy. It’s not that many years since the administration of George W. Bush declared that one lesson from the 2001 recession and the recovery that followed was that “aggressive monetary policy can make a recession shorter and milder.” Surely, then, we’d have a bipartisan consensus in favor of even more aggressive monetary policy to fight the far worse slump of 2007 to 2009. Right?

Well, no. I’ve written a number of times about the phenomenon of “sadomonetarism,” the constant demand that the Federal Reserve and other central banks stop trying to boost employment and raise interest rates instead, regardless of circumstances. I’ve suggested that the persistence of this phenomenon has a lot to do with ideology, which, in turn, has a lot to do with class interests. And I still think that’s true.

But I now think that class interests also operate through a cruder, more direct channel. Quite simply, easy-money policies, while they may help the economy as a whole, are directly detrimental to people who get a lot of their income from bonds and other interest-paying assets — and this mainly means the very wealthy, in particular the top 0.01 percent.

The story so far: For more than five years, the Fed has faced harsh criticism from a coalition of economists, pundits, politicians and financial-industry moguls warning that it is “debasing the dollar” and setting the stage for runaway inflation. You might have thought that the continuing failure of the predicted inflation to materialize would cause at least a few second thoughts, but you’d be wrong. Some of the critics have come up with new rationales for unchanging policy demands — it’s about inflation! no, it’s about financial stability! — but most have simply continued to repeat the same warnings.

Who are these always-wrong, never-in-doubt critics? With no exceptions I can think of, they come from the right side of the political spectrum. But why should right-wing sentiments go hand in hand with inflation paranoia? One answer is that using monetary policy to fight slumps is a form of government activism. And conservatives don’t want to legitimize the notion that government action can ever have positive effects, because once you start down that path you might end up endorsing things like government-guaranteed health insurance.

But there’s also a much more direct reason for those defending the interests of the wealthy to complain about easy money: The wealthy derive an important part of their income from interest on bonds, and low-rate policies have greatly reduced this income.

Complaints about low interest rates are usually framed in terms of the harm being done to retired Americans living on the interest from their CDs. But the interest receipts of older Americans go mainly to a small and relatively affluent minority. In 2012, the average older American with interest income received more than $3,000, but half the group received $255 or less. The really big losers from low interest rates are the truly wealthy — not even the 1 percent, but the 0.1 percent or even the 0.01 percent. Back in 2007, before the slump, the average member of the 0.01 percent received $3 million (in 2012 dollars) in interest. By 2011, that had fallen to $1.3 million — a loss equivalent to almost 9 percent of the group’s 2007 income.

That’s a lot, and it surely explains a lot of the hysteria over Fed policy. The rich are even more likely than most people to believe that what’s good for them is good for America — and their wealth and the influence it buys ensure that there are always plenty of supposed experts eager to find justifications for this attitude. Hence sadomonetarism.

Which brings me back to the politicization of economics.

Before the financial crisis, many central bankers and economists were, it’s now clear, living in a fantasy world, imagining themselves to be technocrats insulated from the political fray. After all, their job was to steer the economy between the shoals of inflation and depression, and who could object to that?

It turns out, however, that using monetary policy to fight depression, while in the interest of the vast majority of Americans, isn’t in the interest of a small, wealthy minority. And, as a result, monetary policy is as bound up in class and ideological conflict as tax policy.

The truth is that in a society as unequal and polarized as ours has become, almost everything is political. Get used to it.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 10, 2014

July 12, 2014 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy, Monetary Policy | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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