Tuesday, February 06, 2007

More Thoughts On Race

This is just a follow up to the past few week's discussion on race, mainly in regards to the racially insensitive party held by UCONN law students. My undergard friend, A Fan For All Seasons, made several comments that I felt were worth addressing:

Here's post number one, on the UCONN incident,

I just posted on your race and affirmative action blog, but this is the same deal. What Maurice Headley describes is another example of what I'm learning in "white racism", it's actually how we defined the term. You comparing the party to MTV or BET is exactly the point Headley is trying to make: That this "racism" is there and yet we don't see it as racist. To go more in depth...first read what I wrote in your other post, then to take it a step further, because poverty stricken neighborhoods are mainly made up of minorities and because the school systems are so bad that there is no real hope for these kids, a culture develops where blacks may think the only way out is through drug dealing/sports/rapping/pimping. Nowadays, sports/rapping and rapping/pimping have become inter-twined. So what we see on MTV or BET are black people acting like "pimps", dancing around with "hoes" and this becomes our representation of black culture. When white law students dress as pimps and hoes, holding machine guns and 40s, they aren't imitating rappers, they're imitating their image of blacks. I think that about covers your question.

And here is post number two, on affirmative action,

Currently, I am taking a class at the University of Connecticut entitled "White Racism". The Lonely Lib asked what I'd be learning in that class, and he has actually touched on one issue that has come up.

"The real problem though is not race, but poverty. Poor kids go to inferior schools and then have trouble getting into (and paying for) college."

In class, we were taught that this sort of reasoning is the basis of a "white racism" class. It's not about individual acts of racism, but covert, institutionalized privalegs "whites" recieve. White is not about color in this class, but about status. For example, when the Irish immigrated to America, they weren't "white", but now they are. Anyway, back to the issue at hand.

This class argues that race is the problem behind poverty. The reason school systems in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven are in such poor condition is because of "white flight" and "red lining". A neighbor in Hartford may have started out as white, with varied income. As members of a different race or ethnicity moved in, whether it were blacks, latinos or even Italians, the prominent white members of the neighborhood would move out (white flight). This would, in turn, lead to property values declining, and an even greater increase in non-whites moving in. The prominent white members of society would then "red-line" neighborhoods, which would lead to re-districting and less funding for non-white neighborhoods.

I have been known to space-out during class, but I think this is the gyst of it all. Whether you want to believe it or not, there is at least a little truth to this.

After a family trip to New York this summer, we dropped my sister off at the botanical gardens in the Bronx. While in the process of getting lost and finding the highway, we drove through pre-dominantly black/latino neighborhoods, which made my dad (born and raised in Yonkers) think back to a time when these Bronx neighborhoods were Italian and Jewish, and in much, much better shape. You could probably hear stories like this in every city in America, (even West Hartford, think Elmwood).

I just wanted to show you a differing view, and what I'm learning.

My first comment would be in regards to the word racism- I think many of the problems in debates regarding race stems from different applications of the word. Racism in terms of negative attitudes and actions taken against a certain racial group is different from racism in terms of power and privliges. People may use the same word, but they're talking about very different ideas.

I always had a problem with notions of institutionalized privliges when I took sociology classes back as an undergrad. Is there such a thing as white privlige? There certainly is, but my complaint is that such a privlige is one of any number of privliges that exist in our society. To assume that modern urban poverty actually stems from institutionlized racism is an interesting assumption, but one not based on any real facts. In fact, these sorts of race theories tend to start out with the assumption that race is the issue- the rest of such theories are built upon this foundation. But the foundation itself should be called into question and should be supported by evidence.

Our home town of West Hartford is actually a perfect example to call into question the entire notion of "white flight." If you trace white flight back, you'll find it goes back to the 60's, the exact time the government was beggining the war on poverty. (I think you'll also find a connection between such flight and the war on drugs, which began in the early 70's, but that's a subject for another day.) The war on poverty meant subsidized housing, housing projects, and the welfare boom. It was at this time that crime increased and American cities really started to decline (despite the fact that poverty had been present in cities for, well, forever.) It wasn't until this point that you saw white flight from the cities. White people didn't leave because black people moved in, white people left because the cities were becoming places people didn't want to live.

White flight was not so much white as it was green. That is, those with the money got out while the going was good. If you look at West Hartford today, the neighborhood where I grew up is now over 50% minority- many of these minorities have come from Hartford, leaving the crime and problems of the city the same way white people did decades ago. When they have the money, they leave to make a better life for themselves, and their children.

In my neighborhood by the way, housing values have increased with the increase in minority population, and crime has decreased. Part of the decrease in crime is, in all liklihood, from the destruction of the public housing projects only a 1/2 mile from where I went to elementary school. Again, it's hard to see how a theory of institutionalized racism fits with these facts. More importantly, it shows the multitude of factors that play into every social change.

Similarly, think back to my Green Power, Black Death post of a few weeks ago. There's plenty of evidence to support the racially disparate impact environemtalism has had on blacks, Africans in paticular. And in actuality, this plays right into notions of privlige and power- after all, it's the wealthy, white enviornmentalists manipulating the poor, black third world. Of course, calling environemtalists racist sounds funny to some people, because it doesn't fit many preconceived world views. When the government's handling of Katrina was a disaster, it's easy to look sinisterly upon George Bush and his administration's views on race, but somehow the same doubt isn't cast upon those who succeeded in banning DDT use in African countries for over 40 years.

Casting these sorts of issues in racial terms may be an interesting sociological exercise, but as a practical matter, looking to race provides no hint of a solution to very real problems.


Blogger A Fan For All Seasons said...

If race and poverty aren't inter-related, than why is the white poverty rate lower than every other racial rate? What's worse is, white's make up most of the people in poverty and yet, the rate is still lower. Using 2003 material, 8.2% for whites, 24.4% blacks, 22.5% hispanic and 11.8% asian.

Here's the thing, we can trace all of this back to slavery. Slave owners profited greatly from slave ownership, and so did people in the north (via trade, commerce). Even some of our most notable founding fathers were slave owners. Slaves weren't freed until 1863, and the war didn't even end until 1865. In 1875, Jim Crow laws came about and until 1965 we had our "separate but equal" era, but let's be real, things weren't equal.

Now, we must remember 2 things here. 1 - A lot of money was made off of slaves and 2 - wealth has been a constant in American society. This means, white men were profitting from slavery, and those profits have been passed along throughout time. When a wealthy person dies, that money doesn't just disappear, it's passed along to family members.

Obviously, there were some wealthy black men up until 1965, none really held too great of power and without the numbers, no real power could be grabbed. So, since 1965, we've been equal. 42 years in our history. That's not very long at all, not long enough to erase decades of oppression and poverty. And that's not to say we've really been "equal" during this time period. When you keep hearing stories about how so and so was the first black person to do this, or the first black person to do that, that just proves we're in the very early stages of erasing that privilege.

I know I have been bouncing around a bit, but I do have a point. We all like to think that we live in an equal society today, but we don't. Not even close. I didn't, and you don't want to think of yourself as being a part of the system because we don't act like that. You have to dig deep and look past what you want to see. That's what I'm doing.

Now I don't mean to put you or family down here, while your neighborhood is a nice one, it still is right next to Hartford, and compared to other neighborhoods in West Hartford, it's not as nice. Go to the Hall side of town or the more affluent neighborhoods and see if you see the same integration. It won't be anywhere close to your neighborhood. In fact, the nicer the area, the more closed off it seems from the outside world. That isn't a coincidence. It's called fortification.


It's a long link but it has test scores from CT schools. Remind you, CT is a wealthy state in the Northeast. I searched by which schools had a population of 50% or more black. Look at where the schools are located and then look at the results? Maybe it's just a coincidence or maybe it's just the results of years of years of white privilege. You're call.

3:42 PM  
Blogger QU 3L said...

Just to broaden your horizons a bit and maybe provide an alternative point of view more well-articulated than my own, allow me to recommend some brief readings by Thomas Sowell on race-

Democrats, Republicans, and Blacks

Blacks and Bootstraps

Victimizing Blacks

The Reparations Fraud

The Reparations Fraud II

Black History Month

Race Rationales Versus Results

The Equality Dogma

The Inequality Dogma

A Half Century After Brown

Black Rednecks and White Liberals

Recycled Racism

Myths of Rich and Poor

Myths of Rich and Poor

Race and Economics

I realize that this is a long list, but at least give a few of them a read. I've included several pieces that deal with economic inequality because of the invariability that most discussions of race will include a discussion of poverty.

Dr. Sowell would argue that race does matter- but race as it relates to culture. After all, we have a legal system today which is not discriminatory, nor has it been discriminatory for well over 40 years. Are some wealth disparities connected to past discrimination? Certainly- but the question becomes whether you're talking about aggregate disparities in society or individual disparities. Clearly there are individual cases where past discrimination accounts for wealth disparities. But in advocating a race based theory for aggregate disparities you put aside cultural influences and you put aside the individual.

Were blacks kept poor on account of their race in the past- of course. But that doesn't imply what policy should be today or how income disparities should be regarded today. I would argue that legal equality is enough- the alternative is some form of corrective justice. And that raises the question of the desirability of income equality in the first place. You discuss wealth disparities by race and assume that these disparities must be somehow connected to race- but why is it that the only way we would have these disparities is because of race? And why is it that income would be distributed evenly amongst various races in the first place- think of all that goes into what determines your income- your parents, your family, where you grew up, where you went to school, and all the choices you made along the way to choosing your occupation. If you think about it scientifically, it actually makes little sense that income would be evenly distributed among any group.

You can talk about the unfairness of being born in an inner city ghetto, and yes, it is unfair. But you can't hope to even out all the circumstances that may give one individual an edge over another. At some level you're talking not about justice in the usual sense of the word, but cosmic justice (to borrow the term from Dr. Sowell) You say we don't live in an equal society and you're right- we don't. The question is, can anything really be done about the the inequalities you're talking about.

12:09 PM  
Blogger QU 3L said...

And just to briefly respond to your local comment- you're absolutely right about my neighborhood. It's not as nice as some of the other neighborhoods in West Hartford- but it's a hell of a lot nicer than Hartford and provides access to the West Hartford school system. So people- white, black, Asian, Hispanic, and whatever else all move out of the cities and into affordable neighborhoods like the one where I grew up.

When I was young, the neighborhood was predominatly white - now it is very mixed. I find it hard to beleive that race played much of a role in the choice to leave by that white people that left. I think it's much more likely that the people that moved did so to move into bigger houses in nicer neighborhoods.

Again- hosuing values have gone up in my neighborhood- and the neighborhood is just as nice as it was twenty years ago- what's changed is the white people who used to live there have gotten richer- and the people from the city who moved into West Hartford have gotten richer- in other words, this is economics, not race.

12:20 PM  

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