Monday, January 31, 2022

The Sum of Us

The title "The Sum of Us" is in contrast to a common underlying feeling many racists have of a Zero Sum relation by which they mean any advantage given to other races is at their expense.  Heather McGhee feels that racial harmony is beneficial to all races.  In fact the book outlines many instances where whites have hurt themselves with their hatred and indifference of blacks.

This book aligns with my belief that racism will not end until we all understand that it hurts EVERYBODY.  Most of us privileged ones are unaware of the costs of racism.

 One early example was an identified racist who studied librairies in different states before the American Civil War.  He discovered that in slave states there were significantly fewer librairies than were in non slave states.  He reasoned that wealth was concentrated among slave owners who were able to restrict funds spent on the poorer white citizens.  This pattern has continued into modern times with less public expenditures in the former slave states.

The Republicans and their 1% supporters have an economic plan that involves paying less taxes and having less regulations.  This will allow them to exploit the less fortunate.  Stated bluntly, most voters would not accept this, so another strategy has emerged.  Stir up natural prejudices and cast blame elsewhere.  Racism and homophobia are effective tools. 

We are somewhat aware of many methods of suppressing black votes, but the voting process was set by the Constitution that was decided by wealthy white men.  They allowed only propertied men to vote.  Various political and economic factors forced an expansion to include all white men, black men, women and even lowered the voting age.  The wealthy white men are still trying to control who votes which hurts other whites.

In the 20th century many American cities built public swimming pools, but many whites objected against blacks being so close.  They tried various maneuvers to oust the unwanted blacks, but in many cases the swimming pools ended up being closed and filled in with dirt.  

Americans have had a few attempts to offer a public health program to provide health security for all its citizens, but early attempts were thwarted primarily by vested interests with racist strategies playing a role.  When finally Barrack Obama was able to implement such a plan, often referred to as Obamacare it was met with fierce opposition and it became evident that a racist strategy was a key.  The Democrats were forced to use a state by state implementation with southern States resisting, even refusing to accept federal money.  The tragic reality for the voters in these states was it would have benefited more whites than blacks, but of course everyone lost out.   Check:

Unions have been a force for improving working conditions, but many kept blacks out, with the blessing of the white owners.  But when unions are unified they have more power.  

Climate Change is getting more attention, but again many whites were against efforts to deal with it, partly because wealthy whites had vested interests, but also because Obama crusaded for it.  When Trump got power he automatically tried to undo Obama's legacy.

Housing has historically been how most people develop wealth.   After many years of building equity in a house, the next generation starts off with an advantage.  Blacks were deliberately restricted in obtaining affordable housing.  They ended up living in the poorer parts of town which further limited educational opportunities.   

What can be done?  There are many informal efforts and some progress from natural relations, but there is need for faster actions. that only Government can provide. 

Reparations is a very touchy subject, but the author suggests one tool might be to allow blacks (who can be traced to enslaved ancestors) be given grants to help with down payments.  The mortgage interest deduction gives an advantage to those who have qualified for a mortgage, but it means everyone else is subsidizing it.   It will take at least a generation to give blacks a chance to accumulate wealth the way many whites have had for over a century.

 Misinformation abounds as does fear.  CRT (Critical Race Theory) is actually greatly needed, as much for ignorant whites as for anyone and should be protected as free speech.  There has been a white view taught in American history.  One study showed that only 8% of high school students knew that slavery was a primary cause of the American Civil War.  Social media as been an effective platform for racists beliefs with one example being in June 2020 seven out of ten Facebook shared posts were anti Black Lives Matter.   One retort to Black Lives Matter was that "All Lives Matter" ignoring that in fact black lives had not really been acknowledged.

Education is mainly a state responsibility and in Canada it is controlled by the provinces.  The federal government can offer incentives and guidelines which although likely to be resisted need to be made as enticing as practical.  Eventually students will learn, but it will take at least a generation to be sufficient. 

Social media is a key element and there are concerns of censorship.  Hateful ignorant communication needs to be monitored and contested.  Legally there are limitations, but the government has a responsibility to promote truth.  

The Supreme Court nomination is happening and we have been promised a black woman, who will also have to be excellent.  Already critics are claiming the decision should not be based on demographics.  They over look that over 120 Supreme Court justices  have been, with the vast majority white men and no black women.  Of course demographics matter as everyone has a different perspective. 

The establishment always has the advantage over minorities, but as the minorities are gradually increasing in numbers their leverage will increase.

As a Canadian I have been smug looking at all the racial turmoil in the United States, however looking deeper we are not so different.  In fact it is human nature to emphasize the differences, but we do better when we focus on the similarities.

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