For a web site dedicated to raising awareness of the economic consequences of population growth, this topic may seem “off the mark.” But bear with me.
The “Black Lives Matter” movement has evolved beyond protesting the brutal tactics used by some police when dealing with the black community to include “systemic racism” in broad terms. Exactly what “systemic racism” is can be difficult to pin down and varies depending on who you ask. There was a time when racism was codified and blatant. Blacks were barred from voting in many places prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Segregation was practiced openly throughout society, limiting black access to virtually everything.
But all of that has changed. The right to vote is secured. Discrimination is now illegal everywhere, but I won’t deny that it still exists. There are still subtle ways in which anti-discrimination laws are skirted, and this is the “systemic racism” that is the target of protesters. I recently heard a protestor say (or perhaps I read it on a sign at a protest – I can’t remember exactly) that “we’re not just here to change laws, but to change attitudes and eliminate all sytemic racism,” or words to that effect.
Good luck with that. Whatever “systemic racism” still exists is because people are prejudiced, and admonishing people for it won’t change them. It’s likely to have the opposite effect. People only change their prejudices out of necessity.
Take World War II for example. Perhaps nothing, at least up to that point, did more to begin the process of changing minds and integrating blacks into society than the war. It was an “all hands on deck” event. Every last male of fighting age was needed in the service. Every woman was needed to man the factories. Even school-age kids were needed to collect scrap metal, rubber and even to glean the fields for milkweed to stuff life jackets for sailors. Winning the war was far more important than silly prejudices. Sure, there were still some segregated units like the Tuskegee airmen, but blacks could fight as well as whites and they all bled the same color. A lot of attitudes began to change.
In 1970, in spite of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, the state of Alabama was still highly segregated and the University of Alabama football team was no different. Bear Bryant had been head coach there since 1958 and steadfastly refused to recruit black players. Every player on the Alabama team was white. That year, Alabama took on the University of Southern California, a team that was fully integrated with many black players, led by Sam “Bam” Cunningham, a bruising fullback who led USC to a humiliating 42-21 lopsided win over Bryant’s team. Like any good coach, Bryant hated losing and he could see the handwriting on the wall. Afterwards, Bryant was overheard to say, “I want some players like those.” He could see the folly of not recruiting the best players regardless of whether they were white or black. The following year, Alabama fielded its first black player. By 1973, one third of the team’s roster was black. Bryant had changed out of necessity. He wanted to win.
The “systemic racism” that persists today and all of its effects – chronic poverty, low wages, lousy schools, drugs, gangs, high rates of incarceration and hopelessness – won’t change because of protests against it. It will only change out of necessity. It will only change when every single person who wants to work is needed to make the economy function. Instead, today, what the Federal Reserve defines as “full employment” – typically somewhere in the range of 4-5 percent – still leaves millions of Americans out of work, and those unemployed are disproportionately black. Of those who are employed, few have any upward mobility – held back by a substandard education.
There is absolutely nothing that has hit the black community harder than America’s trade policy. I don’t believe it was intended to be racist, but the results speak otherwise. Aside from the vestiges of the automobile industry, American manufacturing has been totally decimated, shipping millions of high-paying manufacturing jobs overseas and putting millions of people – disproportionately blacks – out of work. (It’s worth noting that virtually all of those jobs have landed in Asia and Europe. Africa has been left completely out of the picture.) Imagine if that were reversed. Imagine if manufacturers had to scour the country to find workers to staff their production lines. It’d take every last worker left in America to satisfy the demand. Companies wouldn’t give a damn if those workers were black or white or purple, or if they came from Mars. All they care about is making money. Petty prejudices would quickly fall by the wayside, just like they did in World War II and like they did at the University of Alabama. Every black person – hell, every person, regardless of race – could find a job making good money and good benefits. It’d quickly break the back of the cycle that has kept blacks trapped in poverty.
America’s trade policy is racist. Protesting loosely-defined notions of “systemic racism” is off the mark. If protesters want to make real headway in putting an end to “systemic racism,” they need to begin taking on America’s trade policy and the politicians who do the bidding of their corporate benefactors by sustaining this totally unfair system. It doesn’t matter if those politicians are Democrats or Republicans because both parties have been complicit. Only when a balance of trade is restored and our manufacturing jobs are brought back home will they see any meaningful improvement.