Monday, February 15, 2010

Imagine a Country (Racism in America)

As some of you know, I grew up in San Diego. Growing up in southern California gave me the opportunity to be surrounded by plenty of different types of people and races (even though whites actually made up 74% of the population of the city I lived in). I never really thought of racism or anything along those lines since I wasn’t raised in a manner in which it ever mattered.
To be honest, I think this has more to do with being poor then anything else though. When you’re poor you just don’t have the option to seclude yourself from certain races or refuse much needed employment. When I think back to my old apartments, there was a kind of camaraderie amongst most of us who lived there. When everyone’s just trying to get by, the other things seem to fade away. (Of course this is only my perspective on my experiences. I’m sure in other places the daily grind actually inflames racial tension.)

The reason I’m bringing this is up is because I want to make it perfectly clear that when someone claims that they don’t need to be concerned with race because they live in a “melting pot” where everyone is judged for the value of their character rather then the color of their skin and blah bah blah, that I actually know what I’m talking about when I call them on their bullshit. I don’t think anyone would argue San Diego isn’t a melting pot and there are definitely some racist asshats there (not that this is ultimately my point as you'll see).

Here’s the thing some people are ignoring though, racism is not just calling another person a slur or refusing to give minorities a job. If it was those simple things, then political correctness and non-discrimination laws would have essentially eradicated the problem. But it’s not just those things. Racism is a system of inequality in which one race dominates over another race (or races) in order to benefit from it. The reason people are uncomfortable with this definition is because it basically means that all white people benefit from a racist system. This is not the same thing as saying all white people are racists or all white people are bad people. It just means that if you’re white, you are probably going to make more money at your job then someone who is equally qualified but black. Because of gender inequality, it also means that a white man will earn more than a white woman. (And that unearned benefit is part of what makes up that white person’s privilege.) Racism is not just something that puts some people at a disadvantage, but also puts some people at an advantage.

The greatest privilege of being white is to never have to think about one's own privilege in my opinion.

Now in my mind, pay inequity alone clearly shows that there is a problem in this country. But in case that’s not enough, I also wanted to share part of this article titled “Imagine a Country” by Holly Sklar. This was one of my required readings in my Race, Class and Gender psychology class and it really made me see things in a different light. We do have to keep in mind that this was published in 1997 and therefore the facts may not be completely accurate. I also had to shorten the text since it is quite long, but you can find the full text here.

Imagine a country where one out of four children is born into poverty, and wealth is being redistributed upward. Since the 1970s, the top 1 percent of families have doubled their share of the nation's wealth-while the percentage of children living in extreme poverty has also doubled.

Imagine a country where the top 1 percent of families have about the same amount of wealth as the bottom 95 percent. Where the poor and middle class are told to tighten their belts to balance a national budget bloated with bailouts and subsidies for the well-off.

Imagine a country where for more and more people a job is not a ticket out of poverty, but into the ranks of the working poor. Between 1979 and 1992, the proportion of full-time workers paid low wages jumped from 12 percent to 18 percent-nearly one in every five full-time workers.

How do workers increasingly forced to migrate from job to job, at low and variable wage rates, without health insurance or paid vacation, much less a pension, care for themselves and their families, own a home, pay for college, save for retirement, plan a future, build strong communities? Imagine a country where after mass layoffs and union-busting, less than 15 percent of workers are unionized. One out of three workers were union members in 1955.

It's not Canada.

Imagine a country where more than half of all women with children under age 6, and three-fourths of women with children ages 6-17, are in the paid workforce, but affordable child care and after-school programs are scarce. (Families with incomes below the poverty line spend nearly one-fifth of their in comes on child care.) Apparently, kids are expected to have three parents: Two parents with jobs to pay the bills, and another parent to be home in mid-after noon when school lets out-as well as all summer.
Imagine a country where women working year round, full time earn 71 cents for every dollar men earn. Women don't pay 71 cents on a man's dollar for their college degrees or 71 percent as much to feed or house their children.

Imagine a country where instead of rooting out discrimination, many policy makers are busily blaming women for their disproportionate poverty. Back in 1977, a labor department study found that if working women were paid what similarly qualified men earn, the number of poor families would decrease by half. A 1991 government study found that even "if all poor single mothers obtained [full-time] jobs at their potential wage rates," given their educational and employment background and prevailing wages, "the percentage not earning enough to escape from poverty would be 35 percent." Two out of three workers who earn the miserly minimum wage are women. Full-time work at minimum wage pays below the official poverty line for a family of two.

Imagine a country where discrimination against women is pervasive from the bottom to the top of the payscale, and it's not because women are on the "mommy track." In the words of a leading business magazine, "at the same level of management, the typical woman's pay is lower than her male colleague's-even when she has the exact same qualifications, works just as many years, relocates just as often, provides the main financial support for her family, takes no time off for personal reasons, and wins the same number of promotions to comparable jobs. "

It's not Japan.

Imagine a country where violence against women is so epidemic it is their leading cause of injury. So-called "domestic violence' accounts for more visits to hospital emergency departments than car crashes, muggings, and rapes combined. About a third of all murdered women are killed by husbands, boy friends and ex-partners (less than a tenth are killed by strangers). Researchers say that "men commonly kill their female partners in response to the woman' s at tempt to leave an abusive relationship. " The country has no equal rights amendment.

It's not Algeria.

Imagine a country where homicide is the second-largest killer of young people, ages 15-24; "accidents,” many of them drunk-driving fatalities, are first. Increasingly lethal weapons designed for hunting people are produced for profit by major manufacturers and proudly defended by a politically powerful national rifle association. Half the homes in the country contain firearms, and guns in the home greatly increase the risk of murder and suicide for family members and close acquaintances.

Informational material from a national shooting sports foundation asks, "How old is old enough?" to have a gun, and advises parents: "Age is not the major yardstick. Some youngsters are ready to start at 10, others at 14. The only real measures are those of maturity and individual responsibility. Does your youngster follow directions well? Would you leave him alone in the house for two or three hours? Is he conscientious and reliable? Would you send him to the grocery store with a list and a $20 bill? If the answer to these questions or similar ones are yes then the answer can also be yes when your child asks for his first gun."

It's not Australia.

Imagine a country whose school system is rigged in favor of the already-privileged, with lower caste children tracked by race and income into the most deficient and demoralizing schools and classrooms. Public school budgets are heavily determined by private property taxes, allowing higher income districts to spend much more than poor ones. In one large state in 1991-92, spending per pupil ranged from $2,337 in the poorest district to $56,791 in the wealthiest.

In rich districts kids take well-stocked libraries, laboratories, and state-of-the-art computers for granted. In poor schools they are rationing out-of date textbooks and toilet paper. Rich schools often look like country clubs-with manicured sports fields and swimming pools. Poor schools often look more like jails-with concrete grounds and grated windows. College prep courses, art, music, physical education, field trips, and foreign languages are often considered necessities for the affluent, luxuries for the poor.
Wealthier citizens argue that lack of money isn't the problem in poorer schools-family values are-until proposals are made to make school spending more equitable. Then money matters greatly for those who already have more.

It's not India.

Imagine a country where Black unemployment and infant mortality is more than twice that of whites, and Black life expectancy is seven years less. The government subsidized decades of segregated suburbanization for whites while the inner cities left to people of color were treated as outsider cities-separate, unequal, and disposable. Recent studies have documented continuing discrimination in employment, banking, and housing.
Imagine a country whose constitution once defined Black slaves as worth three-fifths of whites. Today, median Black per capita income is three-fifths of whites.
It's not South Africa.

Imagine a country which pretends that anyone who needs a job can find one, while its federal reserve board enforces slow growth economic policies that keep millions of people unemployed, underemployed, and underpaid.

Imagine a country with full prisons instead of full employment. The prison population has more than doubled since 1980. The nation is Number One in the world when it comes to locking up its own people. The bureau of justice statistics reports that in 1985, 1 in every 320 of the nation's residents were incarcerated. By the end of 1995, the figure had in creased to 1 in every 167.

Imagine a country where prison labor is a growth industry and so-called "corrections" spending is the fastest growing part of state budgets. Apparently, the government would rather spend $25,000 a year to keep someone in prison than on cost-effective pro grams of education, community development, addiction treatment, and employment to keep them out. In the words of a national center on institutions and alternatives, this nation has "replaced the social safety net with a dragnet." Imagine a country that has been criticized by human rights organizations for expanding rather than abolishing use of the death penalty-despite documented racial bias and numerous cases of innocents being put to death.

It's not China.

Imagine a country that imprisons Black men at a rate nearly five times more than apartheid South Africa. One out of three Black men in their twenties are either in jail, on probation or on parole. Meanwhile, one out of three Black men and women ages 16-19 are officially unemployed, as are nearly one out of five ages 20-24. Remember, to be counted in the official unemployment rate you must be actively looking for a job and not finding one. "Surplus" workers are increasingly being criminalized.

Imagine a country waging a racially biased "War on Drugs." More than three out of four drug users are white, but Blacks and Latinos are much more likely to be arrested and convicted for drug offenses and receive much harsher sentences. Almost 90 percent of those sentenced to state prison for drug possession in 1992 were Black and Latino.
A study in a prominent medical journal found that drug and alcohol rates were slightly higher for pregnant white women than pregnant Black women, but Black women were about ten times more likely to be reported to authorities by private doctors and public health clinics-under a mandatory reporting law. Poor women were also more likely to be reported.

It is said that truth is the first casualty in war, and the "War on Drugs" is no exception. Contrary to stereotype, the typical cocaine user is white, male, a high school graduate employed full time and living in a small metropolitan area or suburb," says the nation's former drug czar. A leading newspaper reports that law officers and judges say, "Although it is clear that whites sell most of the nation's cocaine and account for 80 percent of its consumers, it is blacks and other minorities who continue to fill up [the] courtrooms and jails, largely because, in a political climate that demands that something be done, they are the easiest people to arrest."

Imagine a country which intervenes in other nations in the name of the "War on Drugs," while it is the number one exporter of addictive, life-shortening tobacco. It is also number four in the world in alcohol consumption-the drug most associated in reality with violence and death-and number one in drunk driving fatalities per capita. Those arrested for drunk driving are overwhelmingly white and male and typically treated much more leniently than illicit drug of fenders.

It's not France.

Imagine a country abolishing aid to families with dependent children while maintaining aid for dependent corporations.

Imagine a country slashing assistance to its poorest people, disabled children, and elderly refugees to close a budget deficit produced by excessive military spending and tax cuts for corporations and the rich. Wealthy people-whose tax rates are among the lowest in the world-not only benefited from deficit spending and tax breaks, they earn interest on the debt as government bond holders. Imagine a country with a greed surplus and justice deficit. According to a former secretary of labor, "were the tax code as progressive as it was even as late as 1977," the top 10 percent of income earners would have paid approximately $93 billion more in taxes" than they paid in 1989. How much is $93 billion? About the same amount as the combined 1989 government budget for all these programs for low-income persons: aid to families with dependent children, supplemental security income, general assistance, food and nutrition benefits, housing, jobs and employment training, and education aid from preschool to college loans.

Imagine a country that ranks first in the world in wealth and military power, and 26th in child mortality (under five). If the government were a parent it would be guilty of child abuse. Thousands of children die preventable deaths.

Imagine a country where health care is managed for healthy profit. In many countries health care is a right, but in this one 42 million people have no health insurance and another 29 million are underinsured, according to the nation's college of physicians. Lack of health insurance is associated with a 25 per cent higher risk of death.

Imagine a country where descendants of its first inhabitants live on reservations strip-mined of natural resources. Life expectancy averages in the 1940s-not the 1970s. Infant mortality is seven times higher than the national average and a higher proportion of people live in poverty than any other ethnic group. An Indian leader is the country's best known political prisoner.

Imagine a country which has less than 5 percent of the world's population, but uses 25 percent of the world's oil resources. Only 3 percent of the public's trips are made by public transportation. It has felled more trees since 1978 than any other country. It is the number one contributor to acid rain and global warming.

It's not Brazil.

Imagine a country where half the eligible voters don't vote. The nation's house of representatives is not representative of the nation. It is overwhelmingly male and disproportionately white. The senate is representative of millionaires.

Imagine a country where white men who are "falling down" the economic ladder are being encouraged to believe they are falling because women and people of color are climbing over them to the top or dragging them down from the bottom. That way, they will blame women and people of color rather than the system. They will buy the myth of "reverse discrimination." Never mind that white males hold 95 percent of senior management positions (vice president and above).

Imagine a country where on top of discrimination comes insult. It's common for people of color to get none of the credit when they succeed-portrayed as undeserving beneficiaries of affirmative action and "reverse discrimination"-and all of the blame when they fail. A study of the views of 15-to-24-year-olds found that 49 percent of whites believe that it is more likely that qualified whites lose out on scholarships, jobs, and promotions because minorities get special preferences" than "qualified minorities are denied scholarships, jobs, and promotions because of racial prejudice." Only 34 percent believed that minorities are more likely to lose out.

Imagine a country where scapegoating thrives on misinformation. The majority of whites in a national 1995 survey said that average Blacks held equal or better jobs than average whites. Survey respondents also wrongly estimated the white share of the population to be under 50 percent-rather than 74 percent.

Imagine a country where a former presidential press secretary boasted to reporters: "You can say anything you want in a debate, and 80 million people hear it. If reporters then document that a candidate spoke untruthfully, so what? Maybe 200 people read it, or 2,000 or 20,000."

It's not Germany.

It's the dis-United States.
Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there.

Some links:
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
How Prejudice and Bias works
A Concise History of Black-White Relations In The USA (a cartoon)
Privilege Is Driving a Smooth Road And Not Even Knowing It

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