Thursday, September 22, 2005

Being Black Does Not Equal Being Poor

Crossposted at the Moderate Republican:

As we all saw the black faces trapped in New Orleans, I started to hear talk about race in America.

And that's when I started feeling funny.

There is talk again about the topic of race in America and how we need to do more to help African Americans. What's interesting about this talk is that it is interwoven with a talk on poverty in America. Witness this column by Washington Post writer, David Broder. Broder seems to mix the issues together. I have a problem with this. For one thing, yes, race is still an issue in America (witness the Rodney King verdict and subsequent LA riots), but let's face it, the America of 2005 is not the America of 1955. I can eat in a restaurant and sleep in a hotel and very few would bat an eye. That wasn't the case with my Dad fifty years ago. He moved to Michigan from his native Louisiana in the early 50s. When he went to visit his Mom back home, he had to sleep in the car and eat meals packed for him because he couldn't sleep in a hotel or get a good meal at a diner.

What also bothers me is that most often when we talk about blacks and whites, blacks are always portrayed as poor and whites are all well to do. This is malarkey. There are blacks who are firmly in the middle class and whites who are poor. I have relatives who make six-figure salaries and I've met white people who are very poor. It's a little frustrating to when people see blacks and white as monolithic groups and not diverse communities.

I think the civil rights revolution of the 60s did a lot to remove the racial barriers that kept Black Americans from being full members of society. It helped lift a fair number of blacks out of poverty and into the middle class. But there were a lot of blacks that lacked the basic resources and remained mired in poverty. Those were the faces we saw in the Big Easy. Was race involved? Maybe. But it seems the bigger issue here is that there is a little opportunity for these people to get out of poverty and better themselves, their families and their communities.

I tend to believe all the talk about race tends to sidline poverty. There will be calls for more conversation and some blacks will talk about how hard it is to be black in America. But that talk tends to focus on middle class blacks and not about how to help the poor.

Let's also not forget that there are huge numbers of poor people who are whites as well. For some reason, they tend to be forgotten.

It's time for America to have a conversation, NOT on race, but on poverty. No one wants to talk about this. Liberals don't want to talk about poverty because it doesn't fall into their view of indentity politics. Conservatives don't want to talk about it because it means questioning their worldview that there is a class system in American society.

We need a government that would develop programs to give people a hand up. Affirmative Action should not be soley racial based (it only helps the black middle and upper classes) but based on economics,to help those who are economically behind as well.

We need to ask why we ignore the poor or condemn them. We need to ask what makes people poor. And we might even have to ask the poor to stop doing behavoir that could keep them mired in poverty.

Booker Rising quotes Vanderbuilt professor Carol Swain on how to solve this issue:

“The best strategy for racial and ethnic minorities to adopt, therefore, is one that minimizes identity politics and instead focuses on the attainment of policies and programs that will address common needs. Fortunately, many of the problems affecting poor minorities are common among poor whites as well. A political strategy that deracializes issues is more likely to succeed than one framed around race. Surveys have shown that a large percentage of Americans support job creation, universal health care, education reform that expands parental choice, a minimum-wage increase, and immigration reform. On some of these issues the political parties are not responsive to the will of the people. It should be encouraging to minorities that the majority of white Americans, while opposing racial preferences, support outreach, nondiscrimination, and equal opportunity. We are in trouble, though, unless Americans move away from narrowly defined identity politics. Strategies that ensure more support for race-neutral policy agendas should be preferred over those geared toward enhancing the perceived needs of any single racial or ethnic group. Indeed, beyond a certain point, a focus on narrowly defined group interests can become counterproductive. When leaders are responsive to the needs of the people, the race of the legislator becomes less important.”

So, let's talk about poverty and class. Not to blame, but to find solutions. I don't have time to rehash and argument that was mostly (but not totally) settled 40 years ago. I'm ready for the discussion. Are you?


At 6:41 PM, Blogger Black Ambition said...

I think it is impossible to deal with the issue of black poverty without talking about race. There is a reason that blacks are overrepresented among the impoverished. It has to do with the way white America was allowed to pass down "assets" for generations, while laws where put in place to prevent blacks from doing so. I use the word "asset" instead of "wealth" because people usually jump on the term wealth in order to point out that most whites are not wealthy. This is an obvious misunderstanding of the issues.

Simple things, like the ability to attain a good education, own property, own a business or benefit from racially biased govermnet policies and racially based social policies--- these things translated into real economic benefits for white families. They were allowed to pass the benefits on to their children and their grandchildren.

How can race be ignored? The idea that there is a black middle class does negate the fact that America's racial history caused real negative economic consequences for blacks.

Of course, I believe that only blacks will repair the damage of the past when all is said and done. And I agree that being black does not mean being poor.

However, that doesn't mean the issue of race doesn't intersect with class. Because of our very recent history, it does.

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