Opinion

The Great Debate

Fighting discrimination, as inequality grows

By Bill Schneider
August 28, 2013

I grew up in the segregated South. I tell students the story of how, as a young boy, I went with my mother to Bloomberg’s Department Store on High Street in Portsmouth, Virginia. There was a stack of doilies on the ladies’ hat counter and I asked my mother what they were for. She explained that a black woman had to put a doily on her head before trying on a hat, because a white woman would not purchase a hat that had been on a black woman’s head.

My students think I am making all this up. They refuse to believe such things were true. It is too absurd, they insist.

In his “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” While the problem of discrimination has not been fully resolved, the country has made great progress since King spoke in 1963, which was before passage of the Civil Rights Act.

King also addressed the problem of economic inequality, saying, “The Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” In many ways, the problem of economic inequality has gotten worse. And not just for African-Americans.

In his speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, President Barack Obama focused on economic inequality. “It’s along this second dimension — of economic opportunity,” he said, “the chance through honest toil to advance one’s station in life — where the goals of 50 years ago have fallen most short.”

Obama is the first national African-American leader who did not come up through the civil rights movement. He came up though the progressive political movement. Race has never been at the top of Obama’s agenda, and he has addressed race only occasionally as president. Obama’s big causes have been economic and anti-war. His coalition is not racial but multicultural, united by a commitment to diversity and inclusion. I call it the New America.

Many years ago, I did some research in Northern Ireland. It bears the burden of centuries of hatred between Protestants and Catholics. But a casual visitor could not tell much difference between them. They look the same, talk the same and economically, the two groups seem roughly equal. Nonetheless, the religious divide is deep and rigid and often violent.

Every summer, Ulster Protestants march defiantly through Catholic neighborhoods to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, when King William of Orange defeated Catholic King James and ensured the continuation of the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland. I asked one marcher what he had against Catholics. “Are ye daft?” he replied. “Their religion, of course.”

In Northern Ireland, the problem is discrimination more than inequality. In the United States, inequality has become the bigger problem.

Both whites and blacks in the United States believe civil rights has changed the country for the better in their lifetime, according to this summer’s Gallup poll. Most whites say it has “greatly improved.” Most blacks say “somewhat improved.”

The area where both blacks and whites see the least improvement: dealing with the police and the courts. The Trayvon Martin case shined a harsh light on that problem. The area where there has been the greatest improvement: voting rights. Since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, the turnout of black voters has moved closer and closer to the turnout of white voters until, last year, the black turnout rate actually surpassed the white rate for the first time.

At the same time, economic inequality has gotten worse. The Pew Research Center reports that the wealth gap between blacks and whites has increased since the 1960s. The huge and widening gap in household wealth is truly shocking. In 2011, the median net worth of white households was $91,405. The figure for black households was $6,446.

Whether government can or should do something about that kind of inequality is a central problem on the political agenda. According to Gallup, 54 percent of blacks believe government should play “a major role” in improving the economic and social welfare of minorities in this country. Only 22 percent of whites agree. The role of government is at the core of the partisan division in this country. It’s a racially charged issue — but it’s a lot bigger than race. Obama wants to commit the federal government to reducing economic inequality. It’s a way of addressing the race problem without talking about race.

Republicans are terrified by the demographic changes in the country that brought Obama and the New America to power. So what have Republicans done? As soon as the Supreme Court ruled in June that the Voting Rights Act was out of date, Texas and North Carolina moved to impose tougher restrictions on voting. Those restrictions are a threat to the New America’s political survival. The Obama administration is responding aggressively by suing to block the Texas restrictions.

In defending the decision to strike down the core of the Voting Rights Act, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “Our country has changed.”

Maybe not so much.

 

PHOTO (Top): Martin Luther King Jr. and other members of the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. REUTERS/Rowland Scherman/U.S. National Archives

PHOTO (Insert): President Barack Obama speaks during a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, August 28, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Comments
7 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Really, it is the Republicans. Interesting.

Check out this story

http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/08/27/b ank-executive-admits-to-using-bailout-fu nds-to-buy-condo/?_r=2

Steal the money, get a year or less in jail.

Democrats.

Just keep building jails for the poor.

. By the way, have you not noticed the current
administrations policies have increased economic inequality
for all races. . .

Why do you discriminate by only saying blacks have been effected ?

.

Posted by Alexaisback | Report as abusive
 

Really, it is the Republicans. Interesting.

Check out this story

http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/08/27/b ank-executive-admits-to-using-bailout-fu nds-to-buy-condo/?_r=2

Steal the money, get a year or less in jail.

Democrats.

Just keep building jails for the poor.

. By the way, have you not noticed the current
administrations policies have increased economic inequality
for all races. . .

Why do you discriminate by only saying blacks have been effected ?

.

Posted by Alexaisback | Report as abusive
 

Really, it is the Republicans. Interesting.

Check out this story

AUGUST 27, 2013
Bank Executive Admits to Using Bailout Money to Buy Condo
BY PETER LATTMAN

Darryl Layne Woods, a bank executive in Missouri, applied to the United States Treasury for bailout money. His bank received $1 million.

Just days later, Mr. Woods used $381,000 of that money to buy a waterfront condominium in Fort Myers, Fla.

The investigation was led by the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or Sigtarp.

Under the terms of his plea agreement, Mr. Woods must desist from any further involvement in banking. Under federal law, he is subject to a sentence of up to a year in prison.

Steal the money, get a year or less in jail.

Democrats. Just keep building jails for the poor.
A poor person steals $ 500. and goes to jail

. By the way, have you not noticed the current
administrations policies have increased economic inequality
for all races. . .

Why do you discriminate by only saying blacks have been effected ?

.

Posted by Alexaisback | Report as abusive
 

The government can try to provide equal opportunity and I think our country does an admirable job of that. What government cannot provide is equal outcomes. The outcome is up to the individual.
All affirmative action accomplishes now is to diminish the prestige of a degree for a black that really did earn their way into school and really did earn the job they interviewed for. The cloud of “they only got the job because of affirmative action” always hangs over their head and that really stinks.
When will everybody simply stand on their own two feet like the Italians, Irish, Polish, Germans, Scandinavians, Czechs , Greeks, Arabs, and Jews did when they got off the boat so many years ago. Go to work and prove yourself, don’t rely on government making me hire you to meet some quota and then you will have earned “equal respect” for a job well done.
I watch movies like Glory and versions of the Tuskegee Airmen and think of how hard those folks worked to get a simple fair chance …..not a handout…… don’t diminish their sacrifice by asking for a handout to make things “even”

Posted by EarlofFlorida | Report as abusive
 

By the way, you really missed the boat on your
little story about Ireland.

You do not know what you are talking about.
While there are a few fanatics that march and may express the opinion you received, most DO NOT follow that belief.

Most Catholics in Northern Ireland do not hate Protestants, and vice versa.

You take the opinion of one marcher and put that on a population. What a shame.

I have been in Northern Ireland (Belfast) many occasions beginning in the early
1990′s the “troubles” I witness quite a few explosions to say the least. I will take my opinion over yours.

. It is economics my friend. Economics.
Historically Protestant British were given better jobs and earned more. That is changing.

.

.

Posted by Alexaisback | Report as abusive
 

Fifty years, right?

Why can’t the Negro/black/person of color/African-American begin a bit of self-actualizing? Why can’t they start taking responsibility, and independent directed actions, to ameliorate their circumstances? Why haven’t they risen above violence? Why are they so involved in crime? Why haven’t they taught their children to be motivated citizens, not victims?

I think it’s well past time for so-called “black America” to take responsibility for its present and its future.

Posted by LoboPreto | Report as abusive
 

The great difficulty with race is separating what is racial from what pertains to individuals. Take the 100m -when last was a white man the fastest in the world. When will there next be an Indian race sprinter as the fastest in the world? Perhaps the fastest Indian in the world trains harder than smarter than Usain Bolt and is the most deserving of the title but due to his genetic makeup simply cannot compete. It gets more awkward when we speak of black and whites in the realm of economics. White people seem to have the knack of making money. It does not matter which country in the world you look at – it contains whites they are richer than the other races. I am going to say it – whites are racially superior at making money (and racially inferior at running the 100m). Note that this is on average only. Individuals always defy the norm. So what do we do in a country where whites’ value is 12x the average black person’s financial value? It is a question of morality, no doubt. And whites have failed the morality question even in relatively recent history – doilies for hats, apartheid, minimum wage, no free medical for the poor. Was this failure of morality the cause of the hardship for blacks? No – that is mostly of their own construction. Does the lack of morality continue on today – kind of, through using the ‘poor’ as a proxy for blacks. So what needs to be done – only two things: Whites need to stop with immoral behavior towards the poor (i.e. the blacks). The logic of “I worked hard for my money” falls flat when you realize minimum wage people work just as hard, or harder, for virtually nothing. On the other hand, blacks needs to take a long look at their social norms in the mirror. Let your kid listen to Tupac? Don’t be surprised when he ends up with a tag on his toe or in an orange jumpsuit. Turn a blind eye to crime in your community? Don’t be surprised when it boils over into the schools or your home. In essence – take a stand – and not in some sort of protest a la MLK – take a stand in your community, in your family and amongst your friends. When whites stop hiding their morality behind ‘euphemistic arguments’ and blacks take a stand – then we will see some real change – until then it is going to continue to be a finger pointing exercise and racial mistrust will perpetuate.

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive
 

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