In the wake of the events of the past week – the seemingly inexplicable killing of blacks by police and the slaughter of innocent policemen in Dallas, it’s important to draw attention to a dimension of all of this that has gone completely unnoticed. As a white guy who has spent the better part of seven decades living in America, I feel I can attest with some authority to the progress that has been made in race relations, at least in regards to the attitudes of whites toward blacks.
As a kid I heard racial slurs all the time, from other kids and from adults alike. Today, I virtually never hear such things. As a kid, I witnessed all sorts of discriminatory practices – segregation in housing and schools, discrimination in hiring practices, etc. But in the decades since the civil rights movement, virtually all of these practices have been purged from society. Back then, you never saw blacks in professions or in positions of authority. Today, you hardly give it a second thought.
Some years back, I was cured of cancer by a black doctor. The color of his skin sure as hell didn’t matter to me in that circumstance. Today, I live in an association of 135 homes, only one of which is occupied by a black family. Why not more? I don’t know, but I can tell you this: I’ve never heard one word of ill will toward that family. They’re nice people. They maintain their property as well as any of the other homeowners, and that’s all we really care about.
While traveling through Mississippi last month, my wife and I stopped for dinner at a Chili’s restaurant in Jackson – an island of relative prosperity, thanks in large part to a massive Nissan plant there – in what is otherwise the poorest and the blackest state in the union. The restaurant was virtually all black – black waiters, black kitchen staff and, with only a couple of exceptions, black patrons. But those patrons were predominantly families, nicely dressed and no one seemed to even take notice of this white couple that had just walked in. Our waiter was probably one of the better waiters we’ve had at a restaurant in some time. My wife and I felt totally comfortable there.
That being said, I can also tell you that exactly the opposite is true on those rare occasions when I need to venture out of the suburbs into the heart of Detroit. Like most major cities, downtown Detroit has come a long way, but venture a few blocks beyond the center, beyond the sports arenas, convention centers and hotels, and you’ll quickly find yourself in the midst of the worst urban blight you can imagine – a place that’s downright scary. The great Motor City, America’s arsenal in World War II is now a hollowed-out shell, a bankrupt black enclave that plods through a zombie-like existence, too poor to educate its children and to provide basic services to its residents.
I’m ashamed to say that I’m scared to be in Detroit, and breathe a sigh of relief when I cross 8-mile Road on northbound I-75. I’m ashamed because what I’m feeling seems to smack of racism. Then again, I’m not ashamed because I know that it’s not racism that I’m feeling. Rather, it’s something I’ll call “poverty-ism.” America has made great strides in improving race relations. But we fear poverty as much as ever, and all that goes with it – drugs, gangs, car-jackings, drive-by shootings and more. The evening news can barely keep pace with the body count. As I continue north and breathe that sigh of relief, I can’t help but think of all of the poor people – good people too, most of them – who are trapped in that environment.
In my previous post, I wrote of some “ugly” statistics buried in the June jobs report. Here’s another one that I didn’t mention. While the unemployment rate for whites was 4.4%, it’s 8.6% for blacks – by far the highest of any racial minority. For young blacks, the rate is far higher. We’re all aware of the toll this has taken in the black community – especially in the inner cities where unemployment is rampant: the hopelessness, despair, anger, drugs, crime, the destruction of family values, and so on. Who can blame the people forced to live in these conditions if they’re angry at their plight and feel victims of racism? I’d be mad as hell too.
There are a lot of reasons for this situation and I won’t pretend that there aren’t still some remnants of racism at play here. But a big factor that no one is talking about is the fact that the middle rungs of the economic ladder, the rungs that people need to climb out of poverty, have been cut away and used by proponents of globalization to improve the economic plight of the people of other nations. I’m talking about the millions and millions of well-paying manufacturing jobs that have been shipped overseas thanks to misguided trade policy.
One of the reasons that I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 was the fact that he was black and promised to fix our trade policy. As a black man, I figured he’d be eager to follow through and make real, meaningful improvement in the plight of black Americans by breathing life back into the middle class sector of the economy. Without those manufacturing jobs, even whites are struggling. What chance does a black man have?
Instead, Obama quickly fell in line with the free trade globalists and has only made matters worse with his trade deal with South Korea and the Trans Pacific Partnership deal he’s now pushing so hard. He had a huge opportunity to help black America. Instead, his eight years have been wasted.
Making matters worse, black Americans are even pushed off of the lowest rungs of the economic ladder by a tidal wave of illegal immigrants. Why pay black Americans a minimum wage and benefits when you can pay an illegal immigrant who’s eager to do the job for even less? The president seems far more concerned with the plight of illegal immigrants than that of his fellow black Americans.
Over the past few decades, virtually every public policy has been scrutinized for its effect on racial minorities, and those found to impact minorities in a negative way have been deemed discriminatory and have been banned. Where is the same scrutiny of our trade policy and immigration policy? These have clearly hurt blacks more than whites. One could make the case that if there is any racism that still persists in the U.S., it’s racist trade policy that forces blacks in disproportionate numbers to bear the economic brunt of the loss of manufacturing jobs, and racist immigration policy that gives a break to illegal immigrants in spite of the harm to the black community.
Trade and immigration policy have divided this nation into two classes of “haves” and “have-nots,” the very income inequality that has gotten so much attention, but which also grows worse with each passing day. While great strides have been made in eliminating racism, the “poverty-ism” that this divide has fostered is getting worse. The group of people charged with maintaining order in this divide – the police – are not immune to poverty-ism. They know all too well the risks they face when they try to maintain order in poverty-stricken inner city areas. I won’t deny that some police are probably racist and some of the killings we’ve seen have been racially motivated, but I suspect the majority are more a matter of the police fearing for their own lives and, consequently, erring on the side of caution for their own safety.
The main thrust of my theory, my book and this blog has been to emphasize that poverty will grow worse along with worsening overpopulation and as trade with overpopulated nations persists. Economists and government leaders can try to mask this with statistical gimmicks that make things look better than they are, but they can’t hide the effects. The result is an electorate that grows ever more dissatisfied with the direction of our country and with our political leaders, and worsening anger and lawlessness in the hardest-hit areas of our inner cities.
Instead of addressing these root causes, we get more “programs” to try to paper over the problems. Just this week Hillary Clinton proposed more federal money to provide for better training for police. This is a perfect example. Trade away our jobs, sell bonds to draw the dollars back to the U.S., and then put that deficit spending to work in more “programs” – more welfare, more government-subsidized health care, more job training programs, more federal aid for schools, more federal aid for police and fire departments – “better training for police.”
Until we stop trying to portray this problem as a racial divide instead of the poverty-fueled class divide that it really is, no amount of talk, hand-holding and hugging are going to make a bit of difference.