5 More Revelations following Ferguson

Ferguson protestors1Tensions remain high in the wake of the Grand Jury’s report released on Monday which declared that charges would not be brought against the white police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown on the streets of Ferguson, Mo. last August.

In August I composed a blog addressing 4 Disturbing Revelations in the Wake of Ferguson where I discussed the events of Ferguson within the larger context of persistent levels of racism, discrimination, and police action against American blacks.

The four points made and discussed in detail in that article were that:

  1. Blacks continue to be excluded from mainstream America
  2. Being Black makes one look ‘suspicious’ in America
  3. The police and the courts treat Blacks far differently than Whites and
  4. Local and state police have become excessively militarized.

As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently stated,

Ferguson is not just about systemic racism – it’s about class warfare and how America’s poor are held back.

Now, with the nation’s attention once more fixed on Ferguson it is time to add to this list and present 5 More Disturbing Revelations in the Wake of Ferguson. This time they place the events of Ferguson within the larger context of widespread racial discrimination, segregation, poverty, and exclusion.

Here they are:

  1. Ferguson protestors2Most white people in America don’t understand the real effects of racial discrimination. 

As Paul Waldman recently wrote in The American Prospect,

My privilege as a white man is to be unnoticed if I choose, because when I step into an elevator or walk through a store or pass a cop on the street, I’m an individual. No one looks at me and says, “Hmm—white guy there,” because I’m the default setting. I’m not suspicious, I’m not a potential criminal, I ring no alarm bells in anyone’s head.

Similarly, Nicholas Kristof, writing in “Sunday Review” for the New York Times, observes that most whites are benignly unaware of the harsh realities of racial inequality in American society. He says,

The greatest problem is not with flat-out white racists, but rather with the far larger number of Americans who believe intellectually in racial equality but are quietly oblivious to injustice around them. Too many whites unquestioningly accept a system that disproportionately punishes blacks and that gives public schools serving disadvantaged children many fewer resources than those serving affluent children. We are not racists, but we accept a system that acts in racist ways.

  1. American communities are more racially segregated today than they were 60 years ago. 

The failure of many white Americans to understand the stark realities faced by most black Americans is largely due to whites having a very separate social experience from blacks.

Studies have shown that the vast majority of white people simply do not mix with blacks. Most have few if any black acquaintances. A 2013 American Values Survey found that the social networks of whites contain on average only one black and one Hispanic person, with 75% of whites having social networks that contain no racial minorities.

white - black friendsAs a result, white people simply do not share the same experiences as black people, and most whites have difficulty even imagining the challenges blacks face on a daily basis.

  1. Black Americans do not enjoy the same economic opportunities as white Americans 

This racial segregation is intimately tied in with economic segregation. Blacks (and Hispanics too) do not enjoy the same economic opportunities that white people – particularly middle class whites – take for granted.

As Jamelle Boule recently reported in Slate,

Median income among black Americans is roughly half that of white Americans. But a narrow majority of whites believe blacks earn as much money as whites, and just 37 percent believe that there’s a disparity between the two groups.

However, the following information from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals the true picture. It shows the average net worth of American households, adding together “all assets including money in checking accounts, owned homes, rental properties, 401ks, stocks and vehicles” and deducting “liabilities like mortgages, student loans, and medical and credit card debt” to arrive at a family’s “net worth.” Here are the results divided into quintile groupings:

average net worthYou can view these numbers in an interactive bar graph here. The figures for middle 20% group (highlighted above) are the most telling. Statistically, they show there is essentially no “middle class” among Black and Hispanic families.

  1. Richer Americans tend to see the poor as undeserving of help. 

Most poor people (and most black Americans) do not want to remain poor. That is not their desire. Rather, most lack the financial means and life skills to escape the cycle of poverty they are trapped in.

But couldn’t they escape their poverty if they really wanted to? Despite widespread and perhaps a naïve faith in “the American dream,” the fact is, America ranks far below most other developed countries in economic upward mobility. While other countries invest considerable resources in programs to stimulate upward mobility, the vast majority of Americans who are born into poverty will never escape it.

US RankingThe campaign to vilify poor people, to treat them as lazy and undeserving of aid, to limit their access to social support services, and to make it increasingly difficult to receive adequate levels of support is, to me, racist at its root. (Click here for more on this.)

Such a policy disproportionally targets black and Hispanic minorities; it keeps them mired in poverty and systematically denies them the necessary opportunities to exit the situations that entrap them.

  1. The majority of Americans oppose “wealth redistribution” to help the poor. 

Of course, the poor could be given the means of upward mobility. If America wanted to, it could use its resources to reinvest in public education, implement job-training programs and provide loans to small start-up business ventures. It could expand public health care, institute a living wage for all workers, expand low-cost public housing, and create sustainable inner city communities.

But that would constitute a major shift in priorities. It would entail diverting some wealth away from “deserving” individuals to help the “undeserving” poor.

Recently one of my relatives enclosed the following picture in a Facebook post.

Hitler : ClintonIt seems to make a social policy of caring for one’s neighbour into some sort of dangerous a Fascist ideal. That strikes me as rather strange, since I’m pretty sure that ensuring the welfare of one’s neighbor is deeply enshrined in both Jewish and Christian Scripture.

The appropriate course of action is at once both simple and difficult. As Nicholas Kristof pointed out above,

We are not racists, but we accept a system that acts in racist ways.

Therefore, two things are necessary:

  • First, we need to first be aware of the current power structures that perpetuate racial injustices against blacks and other minorities in American society.
  • Then, we need to implement new social and economic structures that grant all people dignity, treat all people fairly, and promote equal opportunity for all.

That is what the Founding Fathers had in mind, after all, when they enshrined “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as fundamental and unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence.

Photo credits: Adrees Latif/Reuters; Jeff Roberson, AP

About politspectator
Edward Clayton grew up in the US but has lived in Canada for the last 4 decades. He is a long time peace activist and committed to issues of social justice and good government. He reports on Canadian, American, and global politics from a Canadian perspective.

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