Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Let's Talk About Race...(Part 1)

Y'all can either thank or blame Grace for about half of my blog entries. She and I were discussing the whole Jeremiah Wright flap at Shuck and Jive the other day, and I started typing and couldn't stop.

One thing I have learned---when I start writing novels in the comment section of other people's blogs, it's time to move it back over here, so...here we are. I'm sure that the good Reverend Shuck will be relieved that I showed some self-restraint in his comment box... ;-)

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Race is a tough thing to talk or write about. People are rarely honest about the issue, in my experience. The issue of race cuts to the heart of everything we believe about ourselves as individuals and about this nation as the pinnacle of human governance.

Talking about race forces us to recognize things we don't really want to know. Most of us don't want to admit that the very structure of our society condemns whole groups of people to begin, live, and end their lives in a subordinate position. Or that some of us benefit disproportionately from that social structure, whether we want to or not.

The toughest issue of all is our unwillingness to admit that we WANT to continue to reap those unfair benefits...certainly more than we want to level the playing field. We dress our desire to succeed at the expense of others in language about hard work and ambition, and we lie to ourselves about our own merits--because to do otherwise would require us to give up things we want for ourselves and our children.

In the end, we choose our own success and desires over what is right or fair. It has ever been thus, but to people who call themselves Christians, I believe it is one of the most glaring and reprehensible of sins.

The issue of race reveals in us the worst of human selfishness and a deeply rooted unwillingness to be honest with either ourselves or others. That, I believe, is why we don't like to talk about it.

But never let it be said that Doxy shies away from controversy! Let's put on the asbestos underwear and get started...

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I started this post in reaction to some things that Grace was posting in the thread referenced above. I don't quote her to pick on her specifically. Her opinions on this issue are quite common among middle-class Whites:

As far as I know, I've never discriminated, or held someone down in my life based on race.

I think the power of pervasive discrimination in our country has been broken. I think it's more the exception for folks to be denied an education, or viable employment based in race.
From my perspective as a trained social scientist and historian, there are so many problems to these statements that I barely even know where to start.

First, it really doesn't matter if you, as an individual, have ever discriminated. Our entire social structure has been built on discrimination of one sort or another. The economy runs on the unpaid or underpaid work of minorities and women.

(Imagine how things would be different, for example, if women were paid for their labor in the home and with children! A subject for another post...)

If you are White, you are, quite simply, the beneficiary of 400 years of slavery and discrimination. Whether you've ever had a prejudicial thought in your life, you reap the benefits of the color of your skin. All you have to do is breathe.

How do I know this? Because I can look at the data that shows things from the other end of the spectrum.

Every single indicator I know of shows African Americans in a less favorable position than Whites.

Every. Single. One.
  • Infant mortality
  • Education
  • Income
  • Home Ownership
  • Health
You name it, and African Americans do worse. (I'd give you cites for all of these, but it's taken me too damned long just to write this post as it is. If you want the data, Google is your friend. I do suggest you check out the Pew Foundation's report on social and demographic trends.)

You could argue that these statistics are based on class, rather than race. But given that African Americans have remained in the lower socioeconomic strata because of persistent discrimination in education, housing, etc.--discrimination enforced for a long time by the laws of our own government---I contend that the onus is on you to prove that race is not a factor.

If fact, I will go even further and ask: How can you (collective "you") possibly believe that racism is not a major cause of those disparities?

Or will you come out and admit that you believe Black people are stupid and lazy and choose to be poorer, less educated, and sicker?

Because you've really only got two options there---African Americans face an uphill battle in life because of discrimination or they are inherently inferior to Whites. Logic (and the data) demands that you choose one.

(To be continued....)
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I will be posting this reflection in sections, because it grew so large that I knew no one would read it in one sitting! I'll probably post a new section every other day or so, in order to give time for comments.

Because I've been around the Web a time or two, I know what kind of comments a post like this is likely to draw. Therefore, I'm putting all comments on moderation for a while. Civil disagreements are great, and I encourage them---but as Father Jake says, this blog is the equivalent of my living room. If you say something here that would cause me to show you the door in my home, you can expect that I will delete your comments---so save us both the trouble. Thanks, Doxy.