Tearing The Scab Off

MONDAY’S POST–INADVERTENTLY PUBLISHED EARLY…(Every once in a while, I hit the wrong button…)

It has taken nearly 150 years–since the end of the Civil War in 1865–for America to face up to our most consequential deviation from the sentiments expressed in the Declaration of Independence. During most of that time period, we have engaged in various kinds of denial–the most widespread and egregious being the oft-repeated assertion that the war was fought over “states’ rights.”

That description was true, as far as it went. The war was fought to defend the “right” of some states to authorize and enforce the enslavement of black human beings.

Although very few school history classes have taught the realities of slavery, reconstruction and the various horrifying efforts to thwart the civil rights movement, we find ourselves at a point where the reality and extent of racial animus can no longer  be ignored. Over the last four or five years, members of what the late Molly Ivins used to call “the chattering classes” have focused more honestly on the extent to which racial grievance permeates our politics and distorts American public policy.

I posted a few days ago about the eruption in the Indiana General Assembly, but the verbal expressions of incivility certainly weren’t the only metric of racial bias: the assault on Indianapolis by more suburban and rural lawmakers–displayed this session in a number of truly offensive bills–is driven in large measure by disdain for the racial diversity of urban life. Legislative support for Indiana’s costly voucher program, which aims to “privatize” (and not so incidentally, resegregate) education, has its roots in that same disdain.

The under-appreciated problem with policy grounded in racial and ethnic bias is that such policies don’t hurt just the people who are targeted; they also hurt those who support them, as a new book makes very clear.

Michelle Goldberg described that book–“The Sum of Us” by Heather McGhee– in a recent column for the New York Times.

McGhee’s book is about the many ways racism has defeated efforts to create a more economically just America. Once the civil rights movement expanded America’s conception of “the public,” white America’s support for public goods collapsed. People of color have suffered the most from the resulting austerity, but it’s made life a lot worse for most white people, too. McGhee’s central metaphor is that of towns and cities that closed their public pools rather than share them with Black people, leaving everyone who couldn’t afford a private pool materially worse off.

One of the most fascinating things about “The Sum of Us” is how it challenges the assumptions of both white antiracism activists and progressives who just want to talk about class. McGhee argues that it’s futile to try to address decades of disinvestment in schools, infrastructure, health care and more without talking about racial resentment.

She describes research done by the Race-Class Narrative Project, a Demos initiative that grew out of her work for the book. McGhee and her colleagues, she writes, discovered that if you “try to convince anyone but the most committed progressives (disproportionately people of color) about big public solutions without addressing race, most will agree … right up until they hear the countermessage that does talk, even implicitly, about race.”

There is a widespread zero-sum approach to social justice–a deep-seated fear that equality for “them” will diminish dominance/status for “us.”

McGhee’s book shifts the focus from the ways in which racism benefits white people to the substantial costs it imposes on them.

 Why is student debt so crushing in a country that once had excellent universities that were cheap or even free? Why is American health care such a disaster? Why is our democracy being strangled by minority rule? As the first line of McGhee’s book asks, “Why can’t we have nice things?” Racism is a huge part of the answer.

An unhealed wound will form a scab; a healed wound will leave a scar.  Racism is America’s wound. There will always be a scar, but it won’t heal until we recognize and acknowledge the ongoing, significant damage it causes to all of us.

As Goldberg says, counting on altruism will only get you so far.

23 thoughts on “Tearing The Scab Off

  1. Absolutely right. That zero-sum assumption [zerosumption?] leads over and over to cutting off our nose to spite our face – just because that face comes in different shades, and always has

  2. Same here Peggy. Great essay. And I’m glad Prof. Kennedy finger-flubbed as I’ll be busy tomorrow. I’ve read some selections from leading POC writers of the day: Saad, Xandi and Wilkerson (her book Caste left me speechless). I guess I consider myself an anti-racist-in-progress but just reading is not qualifying – we must “do the work”.

  3. Ironically, whenever legislators slash budgets for welfare programs, they hurt white families more than any others, because in some (several?) states there are more white families in the programs than “others.” So racism has more of an effect than is admitted by the “movers and shakers,” who have no regard for the poor, regardless of their race.

  4. Very interesting today Sheila!

    One of the biggest problems we have is the blending of politics and religion.

    What we have now is a Amoral morality! Politicians have used religion to promote racial animus. To promote the superior race theory, and have manipulated Scripture to prove their beliefs. Myself, I am a believer in God, but I have a great disdain for organized moneymaking, politics dipping, religious groups. And that probably counts almost all! The morals and morality that are actually discussed in Scripture, are supposed to be taught in the churches. Tom Paine said so, so did Joseph Priestley, so did John Locke, so did Thomas Jefferson, so did Viscount Bolingbrook!

    They recognized the hypocrisy of politicians and of religious leaders for the most part. Joseph Priestley and Viscount Bolingbrook took the insiders view, because they were involved with organized religion. They had a huge effect on Thomas Jefferson. That being said, they were aware of the lies that were told claiming those that they were enslaving were cursed by God because they were the descendents of Canaan. Therefore slaveowners and slave traders did their business with a clear conscience, since they were doing the Lord’s work.

    We can extrapolate this racist trend from millennia back. And since history is cyclical and takes a cyclical tack always, what would be the difference between then and now? Has mankind become more enlightened? No! You had people who despised and roiled against slavery over the millennia, it didn’t do any good! If there is an opportunity to change that cyclical part of history in the future, what would those in charge be willing to do? We saw what those who want to continue that cyclical history would do, is that a step too far? This government we have is a failed experiment, and it will continue to fail because there are those that will never be convinced they can coexist with anything other than what they see in the mirror.

    Is this really a democracy? A democracy is: an organization or group controlled by the majority of its members. Well, we don’t have that! So why is there such a self-delusion?

    You are right, the scab has to be torn off, and those who have been fomenting this hatred need to be held to account! That’s fair, and that is moral. Anything other is just lip service that won’t change anything because those ideologues will never stop unless they are forced to. And they will just tear down what has been attempted in this administration and many others.

    Most people will find that repugnant, but, what’s the alternative? How many times through history are we going to say the same thing over and over again until we finally have a fascist dictator leading this country? We were real close, but, this isn’t the matrix, and you can’t keep dodging bullets like Keanu Reeves!

    The 1st step would be to ban organized religion, the 2nd would be to freely fund the press! The 3rd would be to penalize anyone trying to bring a religious bent in the politics. There are more, but it’s a start.

  5. Right you are, Pascal, and cuts in welfare adversely affect small business owners in both black and white neighborhoods, reduce demand in our economy, profits to business, and when added to wage inequality add to those in poverty as well. Reduction of wherewithal leading to loss of demand in the economy doesn’t help any of the economy’s players. They need more Keynes and Stilitz and less Friedman theories on which to base economic policy.

  6. I am one of the “lurkers” that read your blog and am on the Coordinating Committee of the Indiana P.P.C.
    The theme of “The Sum of Us”, that racism hurts whites and blacks alike, seems closely aligned with the ideas behind the “Poor People’s Campaign – A National Call for Moral Revival”. The Campaign, led by Reverend William Barber and Dr. Reverend Liz Theoharis is a racial fusion movement, based on the idea that poverty in the United States is systemic, and rooted in several intertwined injustices of racism, environmental degredation and militarism which in turn, are rooted in an economic system which is based on greed and exploitation. The PPC wants this narrative to replace the old moral narrative that the poor are to blame for their poverty. The goal of the campaign is to lift up and politically mobilize the poor to address the real problems they face. The latent power of this coalition can transform politics in this country. This I think is why (I think) many politicians are working so hard to keep people from voting. I will be checking out McGhee’s book and I invite you all to check out poorpeoples campaign.org if you have not already done so.

  7. Robert, I like your idea, but am put off by the “moral” in moral revival, as it has the scent of religiosity, which has been used to support slavery, and so much more awful things. Reagan called for a “spiritual” revival, and paved the way for the Evangelicals to move deeply into politics.
    It would be a “nice thing” to have a movement based on ethics, and the recognition that we are all “Human, Simply Human,” to borrow a phrase from Nietzsche, who was not an anti-semite, as his sister portrayed him, after his demise.

  8. I will be 84 years old on April 27th; I have been white the entire time and have never understood why white people believe themselves to be superior on all levels to all other races.

  9. The problem is JoAnn, you were never a poor white woman who needed someone to look down upon to boost your fragile ego.

    Coming from Middletown, USA, it’s fascinating how the treatment of people of color is different based on your economic status. Those who can afford to, simply distance themselves from people of color. They can afford to segregate and spend lots of money to ensure integration isn’t possible.

    You will see them spin out of control when talking about reparations which are what MLK, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign was all about. MLK told a white congregation in deep Mississippi that he was going to Washington to “collect his check.” He never made it to Washington.

    While the wealthier classes can afford to legally segregate, the poor whites and working-class can’t do so. They live in the same neighborhoods as POC and their kids attend the same schools.

    Do you think there might be some resentment or grievance?

    When blacks came to Middletown USA from the south, they competed for the same jobs as immigrants and resident whites. Do you think that fostered resentment or grievance?

    Sadly, when you talk about taking action to fight against systemic racism and support reparations, the indoctrinated POC also bristle up because they have established “standing” in the community and don’t want to lose it. The reining Oligarchy would black-ball them in a heartbeat if they saw them leading a protest for reparations.

    Robert Dodson – you can send me an email with what you’re doing. I support Rev. Barber’s efforts: todd@middletownmedia.com.

    One last comment to Mitch…I posted a black and white picture from the 1940s this weekend of a large church where congregants were elbow to elbow with the KKK in full regalia with the bold large font behind stage reading, “JESUS SAVES.”

    #Facebook took down the post and banned me for 24 hours for violating their community standards. I despise being censored with historically correct information.

  10. Actually, Todd, I was raised in a racist, staunch Republican family and neighborhood and told all my growing up years to look down on “colored people”. Never given a reason and it wasn’t until high school in the early 1950’s that I had any contact with “colored people”; I found no reason to look down on the friends I made but white former friends looked down on me; that continued into my adult years and included family members and remains so today.

    You have again figured it all out from your lofty position in Muncie and Middletown, IN, and missed the mark. You don’t fight systemic racism by supporting reparations; you fight it in your home by having black friends who share your life; you are in and out of one another’s homes sharing meals and supporting one another in times of need. Racism can be found at times in some strange places; I was married to Earl Kennedy (black) for over 6 years, lived in a primarily black neighborhood with wealthy white families 1/2 block away. One day the next door neighbor Betty (black) called me out for some over-the-fence gabbing and handed me a slice of watermelon. Earl looked out the back door and yelled at me, “JoAnn Kennedy, you get in this house with that!” When Betty and I stopped laughing, we returned to our gabbing and spitting watermelon seeds.

  11. Wow… I read this “white America’s support for public goods collapsed” and I realized how true this holds for the Indiana legislatures continued attacks on public transit in Indianapolis.

  12. Love all this talk about whites v/s blacks and every thing is race – tinged. While this all goes on, the rich and/or powerful (of all colors) are laughing all the way to the hedge fund. The more talk and division, the more they get!

    Some folks need to check the science. There are no pure races. We are all a mix of one sort or another.

  13. Dan; funny there is no information on the current status of the Red Line, its rider numbers or future extension at either end. Public transit in Indianapolis has been deteriorating for decades and driving on the Red Line during construction or having to travel on those streets once it was open for use was a nightmare of start and stop behind the regular Indy Go buses in the one traffic lane in either direction. No left turns allowed even for emergency vehicles, so living along the route meant altered leaving and returning to homes for jobs or shopping or availing one’s self of the businesses on the route.

    Indianapolis public transit, once a viable source of transportation, has been running in reverse and of little use to those who need it most. And yes; I did use public transit for years and my grandson lived in the 3000 block of North Meridian so had first-hand experience with that highly published progress.

  14. The Oligarchy (1%) no matter what their race or ethnic origin have allegiance to one thing wealth, the preservation of their wealth and obtaining more.

    The Oligarchy (1%) is happy to stir up divisions of any sort to keep people divided.

    The sword of economic inequality falls heavy on all the Proles. The Oligarchy has it down to a science they can keep The Proles fighting among themselves.

  15. Interesting article from The Guardian. It explains a lot about extremist thought processes and actions:

    Our brains hold clues for the ideologies we choose to live by, according to research, which has suggested that people who espouse extremist attitudes tend to perform poorly on complex mental tasks.

    A key finding was that people with extremist attitudes tended to think about the world in black and white terms, and struggled with complex tasks that required intricate mental steps, said lead author Dr Leor Zmigrod at Cambridge’s department of psychology.

    “Individuals or brains that struggle to process and plan complex action sequences may be more drawn to extreme ideologies, or authoritarian ideologies that simplify the world,” she said.

    She said another feature of people with tendencies towards extremism appeared to be that they were not good at regulating their emotions, meaning they were impulsive and tended to seek out emotionally evocative experiences. “And so that kind of helps us understand what kind of individual might be willing to go in and commit violence against innocent others.”

    Participants who are prone to dogmatism – stuck in their ways and relatively resistant to credible evidence – actually have a problem with processing evidence even at a perceptual level, the authors found. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/feb/22/people-with-extremist-views-less-able-to-do-complex-mental-tasks-research-suggests

    My side bar: “people with tendencies towards extremism appeared to be that they were not good at regulating their emotions, meaning they were impulsive” This would explain the mob that invaded the Capitol.

  16. Sorry JoAnn, I disagree completely with your assessment about reparations and so does a growing contingency in the USA, including Brookings Institute.

    You see, it didn’t take long to locate who constructed or engineered racism in Middletown USA even though the famed Middletown Studies were whitewashed in the 30s by the Ball family.

    Before long, neighborhood association documents began to rear their ugly heads, and guess who’s name was all over them?

    Guess who restricted “Negroes, Chinese, and Jews” from white neighborhoods being developed away from the industrial neighborhoods?

    The same oligarchs who still dole out millions annually and run the town from their ivory tower. So, for Middletown, reparations for racist policies preventing POC from partaking in wealth building through homeownership and equity growth are in order. However, acknowledgment by the Ball family should come first versus using their wealth for generations to whitewash the truth.

    The problem is we have AA “leaders” who have reached a place within the community, some of them are paid by the Ball family funds to their nonprofits, who are frightened to take a stand.

    Oppression takes on many forms.

  17. What many wealthy white people seem intellectually unable to grasp is that the bigger the economic pie, the bigger their share of America’s prosperity becomes. If minorities were encouraged to maximize their education and allowed full participation in the workplace, department stores, supermarkets, car sales, computer companies, home prices, GDP, stocks, restaurants and nearly every other metric of the economy would rise.

    Capitalism works so that those at the peak of the pyramid prosper disproportionately, thus the rich would grow richer even faster. So not only those with little appreciation of economics misread what’s happening, but to their detriment whites work against their own self-interest by allowing their biases to lead them to make bad choices.

    Isn’t it ironic that by better serving the interests of racial minorities we serve our own goals as well.

  18. Here’s the good news to be mixed with all of the bad. As is done a lot in industrial chemistry we have concentrated the offenders by the actions of the GOP to assemble a near majority of voters. Now we can use democracy, our republic, to move the offenders to the sidelines politically. What we have to work at continuously is to defend the Constitution and our political traditions and employ them to return to competent government for all of the people.

  19. Yes, we have to base our actions on upholding the Constitution — and behaving in civilized manners. We must “take the high road” and act not with knee-jerk emotion — though our emotions run high when attacked irrationally — but with moral, civil, dignified response. We have experienced four years of a leader who let the dogs out. People feel free to act ugly these days because we had a model for that kind of behavior. We WILL return to civility and consideration for differing opinions, but it will take time. Unfortunately, Indiana has regressed in the past decade with a segment of our population coming out of the shadows and behaving like hooligans. We CAN be better. We CAN have courteous discourse. And it needs to start with the most public figures behaving in a more civilized manner. We have lost SO MUCH ground in terms of behaviors. MORE SIMPLY PUT…WHERE ARE YOUR MANNERS? Educated leaders can have differences of opinion and discuss them for clarity and resolution without exercising uncouth behaviors. WE CAN BE BETTER THAN BEHAVING LIKE RUFFIANS. Be positive role models for your constituents, our state, and ultimately for the country.
    There are so many issues that need attention in Indianapolis– public transportation being one major one. I could write a lot of words about my assessment of the Red Line, Purple line, and all the talk that Indygo fed us over the past 4 years. I attended every meeting I could during that pre-construction period, and I felt all along it was empty promises. I am so very disappointed in our city for being focused on the wrong issues for improving our city. As an example, all the building of apartments or condos is not improving the LIFE of the city; it’s simply making money for developers temporarily. We are so very misguided, it’s pitiful.
    I’ve said enough…

  20. Well said Marcella; and so many of those developers making money are from out of state and are receiving tax credits and abatements to gentrify older neighborhoods while evicting residents and businesses whose tax dollars built those areas and tried in vain to maintain them sans infrastructure maintenance from this city. A working public transportation system would be of major benefit before that happens. The majority of those evicted are low-income, seniors and disabled who get no assistance with their displacement. Then there are those from out of state who buy blocs of abandoned homes and businesses and leave them to further deteriorate and finally write them off as a tax loss while the neighborhoods become more derelict and crime ridden. And no one can argue against the fact that our black neighborhoods are our biggest failures. One Democratic Mayor cannot resolve these problems with the Republican Legislature working against the betterment of the city and its people. And one organization such as the Ten Point Coalition cannot save all problematic neighborhoods. There is always the issue of those working in Indianapolis but living in other counties and putting their paychecks into that county’s economy as prices on everything and our property taxes are raised to make up the difference.

    Thank you Lester, 10:17 a.m. “Some folks need to check the science. There are no pure races. We are all a mix of one sort or another.” This is why I find reparation to NOT be the solution to racial problems in this country; the mixing of races which was so feared by the Jim Crow era and fight against civil rights cannot sort out those descended from slaves or slave owners. Sorting all of them out is an impossibility; reminds me of something I read years ago to people wanting to research their ancestry. They were told to contact the LDS (Mormons) for information; they apparently were or are trying to trace every human being back to Adam and Eve. That should keep them busy.

  21. Racism is a huge part of what underlies much policy-making – there’s no doubt of that. So is outright hostility to the poor and middle class.

    We had a Governor in this century who thought people who didn’t make much money – people like teachers or social workers or nurses or state and local public employees like police and fire fighters – couldn’t be very smart of they would be doing something that made much more money. So the ‘helpers’ in society are stupid because they aren’t rich or presumably are not ‘takers’.

    In many instances, those poorer are also racial minorities, but the antagonism extends far beyond race to anyone who can’t afford to live in affluent, gated communities and take advantage of poorer folks if necessary to get there. The Texas example of uility companies price-gouging suffering homeowners with bills of thousands of dollars just reminded me. So does the Indiana budget bill which will authorize private school vouchers for wealthy families whose kids have never attended a failing public school but whose voucher is financed by cutting funds for public schools which serve the poor and middle class as well as the wealthy students.

    Those who rob the poor to benefit the rich are the poorest of all.

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