Resolved:

In terms of their general experience, African Americans exist in an economic and social down-draft; white Americans exist in an economic and social updraft.

Discuss.

About Matt Talbot
  • http://johnspizziri.wordpress.com john spizziri

    It is a self imposed exile due to cultural rejection of Christianity

    • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

      John – African American communities are among the more pious in America. I would say that the “downdraft” has much more to do with history than piety or lack of it.

      • http://johnspizziri.wordpress.com john spizziri

        Piety and culture are two different things—

        • LM

          Black culture is extremely god-soaked. A common greeting is “Have a Blessed Day.” Gospel music is played non-stop in black businesses. It’s virtually impossible to publicly critique the black church. Hip hop and R&B are full of religious references, and the Tyler Perry empire is devoted to churchy morality tales. There are churches on every corner in black neighborhoods, from Methodist to Baptist to Holiness and even Catholic. Ministers are considered to be the de facto leaders of the community. If you’re looking for a culture steeped in Christianity, there’s no better place to look than black America.

          It appears that you make the common error of assuming that religiosity correlates with ethical behavior, and it doesn’t. Take the example of Whitney Houston, who was raised in the church and remained a devoted Christian until her untimely death. She loved to read the Bible and listen/sing gospel music. The problem is that she liked to read the Bible and listen to gospel music while on drugs. The fact that Houston loved Jesus with all her heart and soul was not incompatible with the fact she was also a raging drug addict. Similarly, those young men with the sagging pants that you may be looking down on almost certainly have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. However, having such a relationship does not really mean anything in terms of real-life ethics and morals, other than the fact that you live in a culture where being a Christian of some flavor is considered to be the norm.

          • http://johnspizziri.wordpress.com john spizziri

            Make assumptions about me if you wish; perhaps if I said it is the fault of white men, we would be friends. I was merely trying to start a dialog that would eliminate race from the equation. This is always impossible , as I see— so if it merely race, than our only option is War. No need to reply– I concede defeat to the forces of hate.

        • LM

          Frankly, I’m not sure what your assumptions are. You seem to be saying that the problem with black America is that it isn’t Catholic. Yet, as I mention in another comment, there are substantial numbers of black Catholics and even an indigenous Creole Catholicism in Louisiana. But few people would consider Louisiana to be a exemplar of good governance and ethical behavior, despite the Catholicism and religiosity that state exhibits. The only point I was trying to make was that piety, religiosity, and ethical behavior are not related. Maybe you could explain more clearly what it is that you’re trying to say.

    • LM

      You’re kidding, right? Blacks are the most religious demographic in America:

      http://www.pewresearch.org/daily-number/blacks-are-the-most-religious-americans/

      In many black circles, the first thing they ask you is what church you attend. I would say the opposite, that part of the problem with the black community is that we are too religious. Rather than waste time going to multiple church services every week and reading the Bible, we should be be studying math and science, and coming up with ways to become politically empowered. If it weren’t for the domesticating power of Christianity, I think the black population would be much more militant, rather than waiting around for Jesus to make everything better.

      • http://johnspizziri.wordpress.com john spizziri

        The CULTURE of Christianity, not piety; there is a difference. Congregationalism does not promote culture– I am speaking as a Catholic. America as a whole has gone the same way ; individualism begats the modern lifestyle; the destruction of the family for starters and then the dependence on the state for ultimate redress. We are all in the same boat now .

        • LM

          Okay, so apparently only Catholicism counts. Much of Louisiana, especially the southern part, is heavily Catholic. I would go so far to say that Louisiana Catholicism is the only true indigenous Catholic culture in the United States.

          http://www.louisianafolklife.org/LT/Articles_Essays/CulturalCatholicism.html

          Southern Louisiana is also heavily black and/or Creole. There are also large numbers of black Catholics in cities like Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Once again, most of these people are highly religious, but that doesn’t nessesarily translate into worldly success or ethical behavior. Some are, of course, but being a practicing Catholic in Catholic culture is not the same thing as being an ethical person.

    • http://emmasrandomthoughts.wordpress.com emmasrandomthoughts

      This makes no sense. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is far more Catholic than Saudi Arabia, and yet Saudi Arabia is far wealthier than the Congo. Are we to conclude that Catholicism causes crippling poverty and Islam brings excessive wealth?

      • http://johnspizziri.wordpress.com john spizziri

        For the last time I meant CULTURE, not piety… What did Catholic culture develop? Health care, education, scientific inquiry, engineering, art: what pray tell does an animist or Moslem culture produce? The objectification of women, social stagnation, tribalism, ignorance- since we are bringing Africa into this, lets us observe the destruction of infrastructure since the disappearance of ” western” that is Cathplic culture. Anarchy and nihilism follow whenever the disappearance of classical midieval culture, nurtured by the Cathloic Church is discarded. Look at Europe, look at this country; read the demographic information that shows the dissolution of civilization . American blacks are just the canary in the coal mine. Once you are flushed down the toilet, it matters little who went first– everyone ends up on the same place.

        • LM

          @John

          I’m not sure why you think that Catholic culture leads to such a superior outcome. Until recently, Catholic Europe was woefully behind Protestant Europe in every measure of well-being and cultural and scientific achievement. Latin America had slavery just like the USA, and it existed on an even grander scale and with a higher rate of mortality:

          http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3044

          Even today, the indigenous populations of Central America live in a state of quasi-serfdom.

          Polytheist and animist cultures can and have accomplished a lot. Pharonic Egypt lasted for more than 6,000 years. The pagan Romans conquered most of the Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East and the roads they built are still in use today. The Chinese invented gunpowder, paper, the printing press, the compass, and countless other things. Even with the collapse of the bubble economy and the economic slowdown, the Japanese are still some of the top manufacturers and innovators. Muslim Spain was considerably more advanced that Christian Spain. I’m not sure where you’re getting the notion that non-Christian cultures don’t produce any culture worthy of note, because that’s objectively false.

          I think the problem that contemporary Islam has is similar to the problem the Catholic Church has, namely that it can’t accept the fact that they aren’t the prime influence in society any longer. In both cases the assumption is that it was great because of religion when in fact the reason why Islamic and Catholic cultures were great in the past was because they were more open to outside influences and experimentation. In both cases, this openness disappeared when they felt to be under attack (the Reformation and the French Revolution in the case of Catholicism, colonialism and the emergence of Western technology for Islam) and it has put them in a defensive stance ever since.

          • Ronald King

            LM, In support of your comment I would add a book written by Charles C. Mann entitled 1491 The Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.

          • http://johnspizziri.wordpress.com john spizziri

            I truly believe I am being misunderstood most likely to my failure to define my thoughts adequately. For this I am most sorry. This is not a good venue as I am 70 miles from a key board and can’t iPhone very well. Perhaps later on I can persuade that I am not the monster I appear to be( however I am sure I am still a fool) . May God bless you all

    • Ronald King

      John, I think you should explore the neuroscience of racism rather than rejection of Christianity.

  • JenniO

    Nah, all groups are in a down-draft. Except for a small elite (which is indeed mostly white and Asian) enjoying an updraft. But most whites are on the loser side, too.

  • Thales

    I’m not sure that whites are on an up-draft, because I think most whites are stagnant or on a down-draft themselves, but I think it’s probably fair to say that blacks are on a worse down-draft than whites. It’s the break-down of the family, which appears to be worse in black communities than white.

    • Melody

      Thales, I think you’re right that “,,,most whites are stagnant or on a down-draft themselves, but I think it’s probably fair to say that blacks are on a worse down-draft than whites.” It stands to reason that those who didn’t have as secure a foothold on the slope to begin with are going to slide faster. The breakdown of the family undoubtedly has something to do with it, but this is a feedback loop. The elephant in the living room is that the economic down-draft has been going on for at least thirty years, even during times that were considered by some to be booming. Families don’t thrive because they can’t; they are expending ever-increasing energy just to stay even. Case in point: I grew up on a farm in the 1950’s and 60’s. The farm supported my mom and dad, five kids, my grandma, and a full time hired man. Mom didn’t work outside the home. Now the same farm supports my brother and sister in law, and their adult daughter, who is the 4th generation to farm there. They can’t afford any hired help. My sister-in-law works at an outside job. Will a 5th generation be able to stay on the farm? It’s doubtful. Women entering the workforce helped save the bacon for a lot of families, but now that that has already happened, there aren’t a lot more tricks in the bag. A lot of peoples’ adult children still live at home, because the jobs they can find, even with a college degree, don’t pay enough for them to live on their own. Let alone establish their own families. My husband has been through 3 plant closings, and 2 reductions-in-force.
      Thank God he is now retirement age and can draw social security and work some part- time jobs that he actually enjoys. I am praying my job lasts another 3 years.
      It’s useless to argue over who is doing worse, whites or blacks. Most people are only a few paychecks away from crisis.

      • http://emmasrandomthoughts.wordpress.com emmasrandomthoughts

        This is very true. I think that the general economic situation for all races is bad. We are witnessing the decline of the middle class. This is why I cannot entirely agree with the statement above. I would rephrase it as “the white middle class is being extinguished, whereas blacks were rarely members of the white middle class.”

        However, it is now almost impossible to find jobs that pay jobs that will support a family, especially at the lifestyle that Americans view as a birthright, the white house with the picket fence and the dog.

        There were these memes going around two years ago called “Old Economy Steve.” They were not funny; they were infuriating.

  • Agellius

    Thales:

    I don’t disagree with you, but I believe the breakdown of the family is worse among the lower classes generally — most certainly including lower-class whites — than among the upper classes, and this harms the lower classes of all colors to no end.

    Upper-class blacks are doing just fine, just like the upper classes of any ethnic group.

    • Thales

      Agellius,
      Fair point. I’m not knowledgeable about this at all, but I’m just always struck by the high rates of children out-of-wedlock, being fatherless, etc., in the black community versus other races.

      • Agellius

        I think the proportion probably is higher among blacks, but I suspect that’s because a higher proportion of blacks are in the lower classes.

        But I think the real point is that it’s not a matter of race, but of culture. Lower-class whites, latinos, etc., raised out of wedlock will do just as poorly as lower-class blacks raised out of wedlock, and their poverty will be just as surely perpetuated.

        Meanwhile the upper classes enjoy much lower rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births and therefore are better able to perpetuate their prosperity.

        What’s needed, in my view, is to make an effort to somehow change lower-class culture. It’s not likely that you’re going to convince the lower classes that they must not divorce and have kids out of wedlock, while they watch movie stars and politicians divorce and fornicate at will. Still, the effort should be made.

        • Thales

          Agellius,
          Again, nice point. I don’t know if you read First Things, but your point is reminding me of RR Reno’s frequent comments about culture — that the effects of poor culture don’t affect the upper class the way they effect the lower class.

  • Alexandra

    It’s interesting that in most surveys, the majority of whites see little racism. Might that be because racism does not impact the lives of white people in the same way?

    • Agellius

      Alexandra:

      I think it’s because most whites are not themselves racist, and don’t knowingly associate with racists. So their perception is that racism is not a big problem.

      • http://gravatar.com/hazemyth hazemyth

        That presumes that racism is something found only in racists, in which case it wouldn’t be much of a problem, really. Others might argue that racism is more of a structure that overdetermines our lives and shapes our views and our behavior, without requiring us to subscribe to a particular racist ideology. Which isn’t to say that we aren’t culpable for how we engage with it.

  • http://emmasrandomthoughts.wordpress.com emmasrandomthoughts

    There’s a book that I was skimming through recently, A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne. One thing that is notable in the book is the fact that in the “culture of poverty” there is a sense of determinism and fatalism in these communities. Ruby Payne even argues that this is evident in the disciplining of children. For impoverished mothers, Payne argues, discipline is about “penance and forgiveness,” not reforming the child’s behavior, because behavior cannot change.

    Of course, it’s a self fulfilling prophesy.

    • Agellius

      “One thing that is notable in the book is the fact that in the “culture of poverty” there is a sense of determinism and fatalism in these communities.”

      I think that sense is reinforced among poor blacks by their constantly being told that their continuing problems are due to continuing white racism. I think that, to the extent that they believe it, this would tend to make them feel that there is nothing they can do about it, and also that they bear no responsibility for their own plight.

      • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

        Agellius – I think you’re being too definitive in your assertions that racism is no longer an appreciable contributor to black disadvantage. There is 400 years of very sad history, from which blacks still suffer and whites still benefit. Progress has been made – significant progress, in fact – but there is still far more work to be done to be able to ismiss racism as a problem of the past.

        • Agellius

          “I think you’re being too definitive in your assertions that racism is no longer an appreciable contributor to black disadvantage. There is 400 years of very sad history, from which blacks still suffer and whites still benefit.”

          Oh no. I most definitely think that historical racism is an appreciable contributor to black disadvantage. There’s no question about it.

          But I think the main problem *currently*, which continues to hold black people down, is not external racism but poverty culture, and the difficulty in breaking out of it.

          Those who have broken out of the culture of poverty generally do fine. There are plenty of opportunities for qualified black students and workers. Companies and top universities, and the media, bend over backwards to enroll and hire qualified black applicants. That’s no longer the problem.

          The problem is the lack of qualified black applicants, and the cause of that lack (IMHO) is poverty culture. Again I’m not saying that it’s the fault of poor blacks themselves that they are stuck in this culture. But I’m saying that it’s the culture that needs to change.

          As I said before, the same goes for poor whites, latinos, etc. They stay poor generation after generation because they don’t know how to break out of poverty, meaning mainly, that their parents don’t know how to raise them to do well in school, and don’t know how to teach them the values and skills they need to progress educationally and economically. The schools try to teach them, but that doesn’t help them if they don’t know how (or why) to take school seriously in the first place.

          As has been shown again and again, the biggest predictor of educational success is family involvement [http://www.governor.wa.gov/oeo/educators/research.asp]. This is because the family has a much bigger impact on the child’s development than the school.

        • LM

          @Agellius

          One thing that I’ve noticed about low-income blacks is that they have practically no contact with whites or even middle class blacks, because they are so physically segregated in highly concentrated areas of poverty. This is particularly troublesome because 1. they have no concept that life could be any different than it is. 2. they lack the social skills to interact with white people as equals. Point number 2 is very important, but it is seldom discussed. Being the only minority in a room of white people is something that happens often in academic or educational settings, and it’s an experience you have to be socialized into at a young age. This is also why the re-segregation of schools is so troubling. When a school is designated as being “for those people” (however that’s defined) it will always be considered inferior. Schools that have a mix of races and socio-economic levels help ameliorate this to some extent. However, based on my own experiences and the continuing impulse to re-segregate schools, I am not optimistic about the future.

          For example, when I was younger, I was able to go to the best public elementary school in my city through something the Minority to Majority program. However, in the last twenty years, the white parents have made a concerted effort to double down on making this school a “neighborhood school” (i.e., purge the school of blacks, including teachers). This actually started when I was in first grade (circa 1990). Several years ago, I found an old directory and I noticed dots next to all the black students’ names. I ask my mom about it and she said that she could tell that a purge was going on and she confronted the principal about it. She may have gone further than that, but I don’t recall. This I why I think “school choice” is a ruse, because when black students choose to attend white schools, the white parents will either flee to private schools or find other ways to get rid of them.

      • Andrew

        I think it is too facile to relegate white racism as some illusion that prevents minorities from taking on responsibility, just as it is probably too facile for minorities to blame it as the sole source of their problems.

        I was very struck by your earlier comment that “most whites are not themselves racist, and don’t knowingly associate with racists”, because I think that what even constitutes racism can vary a lot depending on which side of the divide one is looking from. I think the concept of “white privilege” plays a significant role in this regard:

        http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html

        My own personal experience as a minority in the West Coast of America is that most whites are not in any way explicitly racist, which is what I think you mean by your statement above, but a great many of them enjoy white privilege and take it for granted, even though its cumulative influence affects minorities of all kinds negatively.

        You may not agree with the link, or even the idea of white privilege in general, but what I do hope to convey is that there is a big difference in perception between whites and minorities about the continuing effects of racism, a difference that is real and which deserves to be addressed and not dismissed out of hand.

  • Kurt

    Lower-class whites, latinos, etc., raised out of wedlock will do just as poorly as lower-class blacks raised out of wedlock, and their poverty will be just as surely perpetuated.

    Meanwhile the upper classes enjoy much lower rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births and therefore are better able to perpetuate their prosperity.

    What’s needed, in my view, is to make an effort to somehow change lower-class culture.

    Having the Church present in the lives of working class people might be a start. Over the past generation we have seen a pastoral abandonment by the Catholic Church of the American working class. Parishes closed. Apostolates terminated. Schools shuttered. While almost every new parish erected in recent decades has been for upper middle class pcommunities.

  • Agellius

    Andrew:

    I appreciate the tone of your comment. I don’t dismiss claims of the continuing effects of racism “out of hand”. My views on racism are the result of my background and much thinking and pondering over the course of my life.

    I am white, but was raised from around the age of 5 by a black man, whom my mom married after she and my dad were divorced. I grew up in a blue-collar area where whites were a minority. Every girlfriend I had before adulthood was non-white, and my wife is also non-white. My kids are of mixed race.

    Having grown up in a lower-class area, I never finished college and work a more-or-less menial job, though I’m grateful that it enables my family and I to meet our needs.

    There are at least as many non-whites as whites in my close circle of family and friends. My best friend is of Mexican descent, and makes about 50% more money than I do. My black stepbrother also has a fairly high position in the local branch of a state government department, and makes at least 50% more than I do. My half-Mexican cousin, with a Mexican surname, also out-earns me by about the same amount.

    My wife’s family are non-white immigrants, all of whom make comfortable livings and are conservative Republicans.

    My personal experience has taught me two things, economically speaking: That being white and relatively smart does not guarantee you economic success if you don’t work hard at it; and that being non-white does not deprive you of economic success if you do work hard at it.

    Also, that being raised in a lower-class environment results in educational and economic disadvantages, whether white or otherwise, because you lack the positive peer pressure, mentoring, and high expectations that a middle-class (or higher) environment provides. This is what I refer to as “poverty culture”. Poverty culture can happen to anyone, and I believe affects people of all races in the same way. Thus, I believe changes in culture are the main way to overcome the poverty suffered by minorities due to past racism, as well as that suffered by poor whites.

    There’s no doubt that a higher proportion of blacks are stuck in poverty culture than whites, and that it’s mostly due to past racism. But that doesn’t change the fact that that culture is the thing holding people back, and is the problem which needs to be addressed. I’m not saying that poor blacks need to pull themselves up out of poverty culture. The whole point of my argument is that people raised in poverty culture simply don’t know to get out of it. They certainly do need help, but it needs to be the kind of help that addresses the real problem.

    I know some people disagree, but it’s hard not to be persuaded by what I’ve seen with my own eyes and the experiences of people I know personally. That being said, race issues are not like science or math, where there are definite right and wrong answers. it’s a big world and I don’t know everything. I’m just doing my best with the information at my disposal, as I’m sure you are as well.

    • Andrew

      Thank you for an honest and forthcoming response.

  • Agellius

    LM writes, “One thing that I’ve noticed about low-income blacks is that they have practically no contact with whites or even middle class blacks, because they are so physically segregated in highly concentrated areas of poverty. This is particularly troublesome because 1. they have no concept that life could be any different than it is. 2. they lack the social skills to interact with white people as equals.”

    I agree.

    It’s difficult for kids from poor families of any color, to know exactly how to interact with kids from richer families. For example, how do you come right out and admit that your father is a mechanic or a bus driver, when your classmates’ fathers are doctors and lawyers? (This is something my kids had to deal with when they started attending a private school with a lot of professional-class families.) Or when your friends spend their summers on trips to Europe and all you’ve done is spend a weekend camping. Certainly, there’s a lot of awkwardness. (This is one area where school uniforms are a big help.)

    One thing that I imagine magnifies this awkwardness in the case of black kids attending primarily white schools, is that it’s often drummed into the blacks kids’ heads that the white kids hate them and secretly want to lynch them from the nearest tree. As a result, a lot of them might be intimidated, and others, determined not to be pushed around, might adopt an attitude of defensiveness and hostility. Neither of these can be helpful in this kind of situation.

    Thus, if we want to promote an easier transition for poor black kids interacting with richer white kids in school and social settings, I think it would be a good idea to tone down the racism rhetoric quite a bit. The economic differences are hard enough to deal with. Is it more important to prove that white people are conniving and evil and black people their hapless victims, or it is more important to help them get along together? It seems to me that poor blacks are not going to accept the role of being helped and guided out of poverty culture, by well-off whites, so long as they’re convinced that white culture only wants to oppress and degrade them. IMHO, we’ve got to think less about who’s to blame and more about what’s actually going to help.

    • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

      One thing that I imagine magnifies this awkwardness in the case of black kids attending primarily white schools, is that it’s often drummed into the blacks kids’ heads that the white kids hate them and secretly want to lynch them from the nearest tree. As a result, a lot of them might be intimidated, and others, determined not to be pushed around, might adopt an attitude of defensiveness and hostility. Neither of these can be helpful in this kind of situation.

      Thus, if we want to promote an easier transition for poor black kids interacting with richer white kids in school and social settings, I think it would be a good idea to tone down the racism rhetoric quite a bit. The economic differences are hard enough to deal with. Is it more important to prove that white people are conniving and evil and black people their hapless victims, or it is more important to help them get along together? It seems to me that poor blacks are not going to accept the role of being helped and guided out of poverty culture, by well-off whites, so long as they’re convinced that white culture only wants to oppress and degrade them. IMHO, we’ve got to think less about who’s to blame and more about what’s actually going to help.

      Have you read Ta Nehisi Coates’ case for reparations? He makes a very persuasive case that the key to healing the divisions I’ve discussed in this space involve an honest appraisal by whites of an enormous system of privilege-protection that still pervades American society, and a determination to undo the damage done by a long and sad history of discrimination.

      The foundation of any permanent alleviation of the problems of our ghettos is economic opportunity. Lots of the problems that are typically ascribed to personal and cultural defects in poor blacks would evaporate in the context of a political and economic program that offered comprehensive employment training and then jobs that pay middle-class wages to those poor blacks.

      The blunt truth is that such a program is going to be vehemently opposed by lots of whites because the consequence of such a program is that those (no longer) poor blacks will be able to buy houses in their neighborhoods. That situation is what needs the most attention.

      • Agellius

        We certainly can discuss the best ways in which to alleviate poverty culture, and surely there will be disagreement as to which methods are best. What doesn’t help, in my opinion, are statements such as yours, implying that anyone who disagrees with a particular proposal simply doesn’t want people with dark pigment living in his neighborhood.

        I just don’t believe that most white people are like that. If they were, I don’t think civil rights could have come as far as it has. MLK’s policy of non-violence worked because the vast majority of Americans found unprovoked violence against black people repulsive. Housing, employment and educational discrimination are illegal for the same reason. I’m confident that most Americans would be totally behind programs that they thought would actually work.

        Similarly, pretty much everyone here on VN agrees that abortion is wrong, yet we disagree as to the best way to combat it. Can we not at least assume that those we disagree with have good motives?

        Besides, it’s not as though we haven’t been trying to alleviate poverty in some of the ways you mentioned. Employment training is in fact available. There are all kinds of vocational schools that offer government financial aid to those who can’t afford tuition. The problem for many poor blacks is that they can’t do the work in these schools because they haven’t mastered basic reading, writing and math, instruction in which is already provided to all children free of charge.

        This is what I mean when I say that culture is the problem, and the biggest part of culture is the family. We’ve got to change the way poor kids are raised, so that they can then raise their kids in a way that breaks the cycle of poverty.

        How to do this is not an easy question to answer. But I strongly dispute that we as a society have not been trying.

    • LM

      @Agellius

      Racism in majority white schools these days, whether private or public, tends to be passive-aggressive, rather than the kind of blatant hostility that existed in the past. This NYT article does a good job of explaining this phenomenon:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/22/us/as-diversity-increases-slights-get-subtler-but-still-sting.html?ref=us&_r=0

      “Toning down the racism rhetoric” isn’t helpful advice, particularly if there are legitimate concerns that need to be address. Based on the personal experiences that I related above, it’s seem obvious that for all of the talk about how blacks need to change their habits and show more of an interest in education, that many whites don’t really want that to happen. By all means, work hard and keep your nose clean, just don’t do it around us, that’s the message they were sending. This is something else that low-income blacks (and really all people regardless of race) need to know, namely that education is a kind of game that you need to know how to play if you want to be successful. It’s not enough to just go to a good school, you have to know how to compete and stand up for yourself in a shark tank environment, not just at the K-12 level, but college and the workplace as well.

      I don’t think that poor black kids are told that the white kids hate them and want to lynch them. Rather, they feel like the system (however that’s defined) is rigged against them, a feeling that is amplified by the fact that they are geographically and economically segregated. This leads to a sense of fatalism, especially if they live in dangerous neighborhoods where the value of life is cheap and the police are not considered to be particularly trustworthy.

      • Agellius

        The whole micro-aggression thing may be valid or it may not. Frankly when I remember being punched in the chest by a black kid as he walked by, for no apparent reason; or being jumped by a gang of latinos after a school dance, I think that I would have been happy if those guys had limited themselves to “tone-deaf inquiries into my ethnic origin”.

        (I’m wondering, how far down will we have to dig to continue finding racism once even micro-aggressions have been eradicated. Will we then start scanning people’s brainwaves in order to detect it? “Keep looking!! It’s gotta be in there somewhere!!”)

        But in any case, I don’t see how dwelling on things like this helps to solve the main problem, which is poverty.

        • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

          Agellius – Racism is subtler than it used to be, but still very common.

          The Republican Party’s core base is southern whites – after the Civil and Voting Rights Acts were passed, LBJ said “we’ve [Democrats] lost the south for a generation.” It is currently 3 generations and counting, and lots of that has to do with Republican exploitation of racial anxiety in Southern whites. To deny this is requires an implausible blindness to the evidence in front of you.

        • Ronald King

          Agellius, If you look up the neuroscience of racism you will see the dynamics of unintended racism.

  • Agellius

    Matt writes, “Racism is subtler than it used to be, but still very common.”

    I won’t argue the point. Racism, to the extent it still exists — among what proportion of the population would you say? — now feels forced to go into hiding since it’s no longer socially acceptable. Good. That means that whatever racists still remain, will have to work twice as hard to implement any kind of a racist agenda, since they’re forced to do it in a way that remains undetectable, because as soon as they show their true colors, the weight of public opinion is going to come down on them hard. Just ask Donald Sterling.

    I think that under these circumstances, IMHO, it won’t hurt to tone down the racism rhetoric a bit so as to increase feelings of goodwill between whites and blacks, to enable them to work more effectively together in working to eliminate poverty culture.

    • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

      I think that under these circumstances, IMHO, it won’t hurt to tone down the racism rhetoric a bit so as to increase feelings of goodwill between whites and blacks, to enable them to work more effectively together in working to eliminate poverty culture.

      Even better is to bring the remaining iterations of racism fully into view, rid our society of its consequences, and heal the divisions permanently and fully.

      • Agellius

        Matt writes, “Even better is to bring the remaining iterations of racism fully into view, rid our society of its consequences, and heal the divisions permanently and fully.”

        Yes, and better still would be to eliminate all evil from the face of the earth. But we can only do what we think will bring about the most good in our actual circumstances.

        In theory it might seem best to browbeat and criticize and condemn people for indulging in, tolerating or inadvertently showing any sign of racism, no matter how slight.

        Likewise, there are some in the Church who would have us take that tack with regard to heterodox opinions in the Church; whereas others think it’s better to tolerate error and sin to some extent, for the sake of peace and goodwill, rather than reinstitute the Inquisition. This doesn’t mean that they approve of sin and error, but as a prudential matter, they don’t think zero tolerance is always the best approach.

        But again, this isn’t an exact science and it’s not surprising that a range of opinions exist.

        • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

          Yes, and better still would be to eliminate all evil from the face of the earth. But we can only do what we think will bring about the most good in our actual circumstances.

          Well, then it’s a good thing that healing racism is a goal far short of “eliminating all evil from the face of the earth” then, isn’t it?

          Racism is deeply embedded in American history and society. To eliminate its influence and consequences is going to be a long and difficult struggle. “Stop talking about it” is a bad way to continue that fight.

          In theory it might seem best to browbeat and criticize and condemn people for indulging in, tolerating or inadvertently showing any sign of racism, no matter how slight.

          Where is that coming from? Pointing out that racism still exists and needs to be dealt with is not “browbeating.”

          • Agellius

            Matt:

            I’m sorry we can’t agree on this but thanks for the interesting discussion.

        • LM

          “Yes, and better still would be to eliminate all evil from the face of the earth. But we can only do what we think will bring about the most good in our actual circumstances.”

          Racism isn’t just something that we have no control over or an aspect of nature that that just crops up, like tornadoes or earthquakes (and even with natural disasters there are steps humans can take to make themselves safer). It takes rational thinking humans to craft and carry out racist acts and legislation, and rational humans can defeat such things as well. We as individuals and a society can fight against racism, but not if we ignore it. Even just educating yourself about these issues is a step in the right direction.

          Racism isn’t just a mild inconvinence, it kills. As we speak, people are being slaughtered because of their race and/or ethnicity in countries like Iraq, the Central African Republic, Myanmar/Burma, Nigeria, and countless other countries. Roughly 2 million Africans died during the Middle Passage of the Atlantic Slave Trade, and many more died once they reached the New World from mistreatment and illness. If anything demonstrates the impotence of the Church in the modern world, it’s its inability (or unwillingness) to fight against racism and antisemitism. The Church said nothing against the evils of the Atlantic slave trade; how could it when many religious orders, priests, and “Princes of the Church” were slaveholders? Pius XI was more interested in complaining about the length of women’s dresses than preventing Italian Jews from being stripped of their rights. In Germany, the bishops weren’t even willing to defend the Jews who had converted to Catholicism because they were more interested in ingratiating themselves with the Nazis and showing the regime that they were “good Germans.” The Catholic clergy, particularly the Franciscan order, was intimately involved in the Croatian Utase, and were so brutal against their perceived enemies among the Serbs, Jews, and Roma that even their Nazi patrons were shocked. Churches, both Catholic and Protestant, were responsible for fanning the flames during the Rwanda genocide in 1994. In all of these cases, forceful action on the part of the Church could have averted these disasters, but the prelates preferred their power to taking a difficult stance.

        • Thales

          Just a quick comment on the Matt-Agellius back-and-forth, and one that I hope doesn’t stir too much trouble (and I’m not expecting a response, and I haven’t thought about it long enough to have a developed theory about it all): it occurred to me that perhaps Agellius’s caution against Matt’s “rooting out all racism” position is that while Matt’s position is extremely laudable and worthy, in practice, it risks the danger of making false accusations or false assumptions about someone/something being racist when it’s really not.

          • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

            it risks the danger of making false accusations or false assumptions about someone/something being racist when it’s really not.

            Yep – the thing is, to battle racism, you’ve got to fight it where it is, and not where it isn’t.

        • Thales

          Matt,
          Absolutely. The sticking point is that, in practice, far too often people (whether inadvertently and innocently, or sometimes knowingly and maliciously) assume/accuse of racism where there isn’t.

          • Ronald King

            Sometimes there is unintended racism even though a person may not be a racist

    • LM

      “I think that under these circumstances, IMHO, it won’t hurt to tone down the racism rhetoric a bit so as to increase feelings of goodwill between whites and blacks, to enable them to work more effectively together in working to eliminate poverty culture.”

      But if actual racism is occurring, shouldn’t that be addressed as well? Refusing to think or talk about an unpleasant issue doesn’t make it go away, however tempting the thought might be. In fact, I would say that hundreds of years of refusing to think about racism has made the problem might worse than it would have been if it had been properly dealt with during Reconstruction. Conservatives were telling black people back in the 1950s and 1960s to stop talking about racism, saying that 1. integration was a communist idea that shouldn’t be up for debate 2. blacks needed to be more respectable 3. blacks were just inherently inferior and needed to accept it 4. being relegated to segregated facilities was in black people’s own best interests (as defined by whites).

      As I’ve said before, none of the members of the Cold War-era conservative establishment supported the Civil Rights Movement, since they believed that integrated lunch counters were a slippery slope to the gulag (you might think this is hyperbole, but it’s not). People like William F. Buckley, Ronald Reagan, and Barry Goldwater thought that mandating minimum levels of car safety was an unpardonable abridgement of liberty, but thought that the state had a deep and abiding interest in legislating which door or water fountain black people should use. There’s never a good time to talk about racism, because many white people would prefer it if racism was never talked about at all. This is precisely why so few blacks are attracted to movement conservatism, because it doesn’t consider their concerns to be legitimate.

      • Agellius

        LM:

        I find that all I can do is repeat what I’ve said before. I’m sorry we can’t come to an agreement on this but again, I hope we can at least assume each other’s good intentions.

        • Alexandra

          I think that the best way to increase feelings of goodwill between blacks and whites is to work to eliminate racism. Making believe that racism doesn’t exist, because there are no longer “colored” water fountains and because the word “n..r” is unacceptable simply does not accomplish the desired end — getting rid of racism.

  • Agellius

    Alexandra writes, “Making believe that racism doesn’t exist, because there are no longer “colored” water fountains and because the word “n..r” is unacceptable simply does not accomplish the desired end — getting rid of racism.”

    I agree.

  • Agellius

    Thales:

    I hadn’t really thought of that, though it’s a valid point.

    My position is really several things intertwined, which I don’t think I’ve made clear all in one place:

    That the root cause of black poverty is poverty culture; that it has its roots in white racism, but that white racism has now been defeated — note that being defeated is not the same as being completely wiped out; racism is now like an enemy army so weak that whenever it mounts any kind of an attack, it’s immediately met with overwhelming force; that the primary way to prevent black poverty from continuing to be perpetuated from generation to generation, is to change poverty culture (which also applies to poverty among people of any race); that to change poverty culture will require a willingness on the part of poor black parents (or parents of any color) to allow themselves to be influenced in the manner in which they raise their children; that they won’t allow themselves to be so influenced if they are convinced that the white establishment secretly hates them; therefore, let’s tone down the racism rhetoric so as to build an environment of trust, so that the root cause of black poverty can be directly addressed in an effective manner.

    In the meantime, by all means let’s continue meeting actual manifestations of racism with overwhelming force. (And hey, we may as well do the same with manifestations of heterodoxy among Catholics, right? : )

    My feeling is that people who oppose this kind of a program, think that poverty culture is not the real problem, and that the real problem is some kind of an ingrained mystical, invisible force called “institutional racism” or some such, which manages to keep black people down even though no one actually intends it, and even though companies and schools are bending over backwards to hire and admit black candidates. Personally I don’t put much stock in this idea, I want to know specifically what the cause and effect are and attack the cause directly. And I think poverty culture is it.

    I think black families (and families of other colors as well) need help overcoming poverty culture, and I would favor government (or church) programs to combat the problem, so long as they address it directly, i.e. not just giving money but addressing the *culture* that leads to perpetual lack of money, so that kids grow up knowing how, and having the habits which make them able, to prosper economically.

    • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

      Agellius – I would say that you have the order of things reversed. The primary, glaring need in the parts of this country that are urban, poor and black is economic opportunity. If we commit as a nation to train and employ – at middle-class wages – everyone in my childhood home town of Richmond, California, absolutely everything else gets way easier. Right now, drug users in Richmond are typically thrown in jail and must do whatever rehab is available there. Middle class white kids go to rehab in residential treatment centers, followed by lots of support from a community that sees them as people with a problem than as a problem.

      Lots of the problems besetting Richmond are directly related to the lack of opportunity there. Given the choice between a job at a place that pays, say, $25 or $30 per hour, and dealing drugs for (typically) way less than that, any kid that can do math is far more likely to make the right choice.

      Doing this would cause an explosion on the American political right, I believe. There’s that line from an old Bob Dylan song:

      The south politician preaches to the poor white man,
      “You’ve got more than the blacks, don’t complain,
      You’re better than him, you were born with white skin,” they explain;
      While the Negro’s name
      Is used it is plain
      For the politician’s gain
      While the poor white remains
      On the Caboose of the train
      But it ain’t him to blame
      He’s only a pawn in their game.

      Agellius, consider: If you are poor and black, every way of improving yourself is situated across a minefield of hazards. To get help for your addiction, you need to go to jail, where you may be brutalized, causing psychological pain that can make relapse into drugs a temptation that is not faced by the white middle-class kid in the ‘burbs. And so on, and so on, and so on.

      This country is so blind to the suffering in our ghettos. A mother in Oakland had her baby shot out of her arms a couple years ago – and outside of a quick mention on the local news, no one heard about it. If the same thing happened to a white woman in Chevy Chase or Walnut Creek, there would be (probably literally) an Act of Congress in response.

      • Agellius

        Matt:

        Isn’t it fair to say that we’re both desirous of solving the problem, even if we would take different approaches?

      • brian martin

        “This country is so blind to the suffering in our ghettos. A mother in Oakland had her baby shot out of her arms a couple years ago – and outside of a quick mention on the local news, no one heard about it. If the same thing happened to a white woman in Chevy Chase or Walnut Creek, there would be (probably literally) an Act of Congress in response.”

        Just a reminder, many people, not just people of color live in “ghettos”
        The rural poor may not face as much violence (although meth may well be changing that) but face many other obstacles that in many ways are very similar to the issues of inner cities…inadequate shelter, lack of transportation, lack of access to healthy food…and the plight of a child of a poor rural white person would likely get less notice than that of an affluent urban or suburban family of whatever racial background.

        If you are poor, white and addicted to meth, you likely will only get help by going to jail.
        The country is so blind to the suffering of the poor.

  • brian martin

    In regard to Andrew’s comment about “white privilege” on July 25. Yes, one can look at things through the lens of White Privilege, but there is a part of that which requires shutting ones eyes to numerous other, often equally important, or more important variables. When talking about Power and Privilege, one has to factor in things like gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, physical disabilities, experienced persecution because of religious beliefs, mental illness, education level etc. When I was in grad school for Social Work at the University of Minnesota a few years ago, we did an exercise that had interesting results. There were all of the above categories plus others, and stacks of monopoly money $100 bills by each. It went something like this. You walk past each one, and “If you are a white male, take $100, if you had both parents, take $100, If you are heterosexual, take $100, if you have a college education take $100, if your parents are college educated take $100, If you have no physical disabilities take $100 etc.
    At the end, you add up the number you have. We then compared it to others. It quickly illustrated that power and privilege have to do with more than just race. There were a number of African American students who clearly had been raised in situations of more power and privilege than I had, and it sparked interesting discussions. That being said, I will point out, before Matt or others do, that this exercise weighted all factors the same, and depending on one’s placement in the country, different factors would likely weigh heavier. The exercise does not intend to deny the harm of racism, but point out that there are indeed other factors playing into power and privilege.
    Matt, we may not always agree, but I absolutely admire your fervor on issues of social justice and race.