Category Archives: Racial Equality

So What Can We Do?

There was a favorite example I used in my classroom when we were discussing the challenges posed by living in a country whose citizens increasingly occupy wildly different realities: if I say this particular piece of furniture is a table, and you insist it’s a chair, how do we have a productive exchange about its use?

Americans are continually having that maddening–and worthless– conversation. But it has taken a long time for the people who live in the reality-based community to recognize the basis of the problem.

In the wake of the 2016 election, well-meaning observers grasped for rational, evidence-based reasons to explain votes for a man who exemplified everything those voters claimed to detest. It was economic distress. It was an effort to “blow up” a system that wasn’t working for them. It was an inability to cross party lines.

Some of us suspected what has since become too obvious to ignore: Trump’s racism resonated with Americans whose chosen reality was being threatened by the increasing intrusion of “uppity” women and people of color. In Trump voters’ reality, White Christians enjoyed an obvious entitlement to cultural dominance, and that dominance–the position of “real” Americans– was being eroded.

Most of my friends are liberals (although many of them would have been classified as conservatives before the political spectrum lurched so far to the right that sanity is now a “liberal” marker…), and many of them are simply too nice to believe what the data so clearly confirms: America is split between those who live in a world where people are people, no matter their gender, skin color or religion, and those whose worldview assigns worth solely on the basis of those categories.

The data is unambiguous. Just look at this recent report by Alan Abramowitz from Sabato’s Crystal Ball. The article was about the prospects of Democrats winning back White voters without college degrees, and Abramowitz concluded that appealing to the economic interests of White non-college voters wouldn’t be enough for Democrats to win back their support, because the realignment among those White voters isn’t being driven by economics.

If the increasingly obvious argument is correct– that “economic discontent has little to do with the flight of white working class voters from Democrats”– economic policies aren’t going to prompt their return. As Abramowitz notes, the research strongly suggests that the “main factor behind the shifting party allegiance of these voters is the success of Republican leaders like Donald Trump in appealing to the racial resentments and grievances of non-college white voters.”

In this article, I use evidence from the 2020 American National Election Study to examine the effects of various political attitudes on the candidate preferences of college and non-college white voters in the 2020 presidential election. In line with the arguments of racial resentment theorists, I find that economic insecurity had very little impact on white voter decision-making in 2020. However, I find that the rejection of the Democratic Party by white working class voters goes beyond racial resentment alone. Instead, I find that support for Donald Trump among white working class voters reflected conservative views across a wide range of policy issues including social welfare issues, cultural issues, racial justice issues, gun control, immigration, and climate change. In other words, the rejection of the Democratic Party by white working class voters is fundamentally ideological. This fact makes it very unlikely that Democrats will be able to win back large numbers of white working class voters by appealing to their economic self-interest.

Those “conservative views,” of course, are also driven by racial bias. Sociological research has demonstrated, for example, that negative views on social welfare are connected to the belief that (“lazy”) Black Americans will primarily benefit. In the body of his analysis, Abramowitz notes that non-college whites “leaned to the right in every issue area but especially on social welfare, racial justice, and immigration issues.”

Abramowitz applied a regression analysis to the data, and found that

Racial resentment and party identification are by far the strongest predictors of conservative ideology. Evangelical identification has a significant impact as well, but its effect is not nearly as strong as the effects of racial resentment and party ID. Family income has almost no effect on ideology and economic insecurity has a negative effect.

So–back to that argument over whether the furniture is a table or chair. How do we talk to (never mind debate) people who occupy a wildly different reality–not just the looney-tunes who take horse de-wormers and/or accept QAnon fantasies, but the seemingly normal Americans who harbor stubborn hatreds and resentments untethered to fact or evidence (or for that matter, the Christianity they proclaim)?

I’m stumped.

 

 

We’re Number Eleven…

The problem with living at a time when there are so many problems–and so many truly major ones, at that–is that our focus gets splintered. Climate change. Vote suppression. White Supremicists. Rightwing domestic terrorism. Guns. Government gridlock. The pandemic. Continual wars and the growth of the military-industrial complex …The list is endless.

But a recent report in the Washington Post reminded me of one of our most long-term and shameful problems–America’s perverse refusal to follow the lead of other wealthy (and  plenty of non-wealthy) countries and provide universal access to health care. The negative consequences of our refusal to allow anyone to opt in to Medicare (Medicare for those who want it), or just to broaden the scope of the Affordable Care Act, have receded from prominence.

We may be distracted by other policy failures, but the problem remains–and it is as acute as ever, if not more so.

Researchers at the Commonwealth Fund compared the health-care systems of 11 high-income countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The United States has the worst health-care system overall among 11 high-income countries, even though it spends the highest proportion of its gross domestic product on health care, according to research by the Commonwealth Fund.

“We’ve set up a system where we spend quite a bit of money on health care but we have significant financial barriers, which tend to dissuade people from getting care,” said Eric Schneider, the lead author behind the findings and senior vice president for policy and research at the Commonwealth Fund, which conducts independent research on health-care issues.

The researchers identified five metrics of a well-functioning health care system: access to care, the care process itself, administrative efficiency, equity and overall health-care outcomes.Norway, the Netherlands and Australia were judged to be the top-performing countries overall.

The high performers stand apart from the United States in providing universal coverage and removing cost barriers, investing in primary care systems to reduce inequities, minimizing administrative burdens, and investing in social services among children and working-age adults, the Commonwealth Fund found.

The latter is particularly important for easing the burdens on health systems created by older populations, according to Schneider. “These sort of basic supports throughout younger age groups reduce, we think, the chronic disease burden that’s higher in the U.S.,” he said.

Since I have a son who lives in Amsterdam, I was particularly interested in the description of the Netherland’s high-performing system. The researchers found that it was a “well-organized system of locally placed primary care doctors and nurses who provide care on a 24/7 basis”–a system that keeps minor problems from turning into major ones.

The U.S. doesn’t come close. (As a former graduate student, a hospital administrator, told me years ago, we don’t have a healthcare system in the U.S.; we have a healthcare Industry.)

The United States was rated last overall, researchers found, ranking “well below” the average of the other countries overall and “far below” Switzerland and Canada, the two countries ranked above it. In particular, the United States fell at the end of the pack on access to care, administrative efficiency, equity and health-care outcomes.

The article noted that the inequities in America’s healthcare, together with our inadequate primary care, put the country in a much weaker position when it came to confronting the pandemic. That fact–together with the GOP’s advocacy of vaccine denial–may account for the fact that the U.S. has the second-highest COVID death rate among the eleven countries in the study.

America’s healthcare industry is costly in both lives and dollars.

Spending on health care as a share of GDP had grown in all of the countries the Commonwealth Fund surveyed, even before the pandemic. But the increase in the United States has “greatly exceeded” those of other nations. The United States spent 16.8 percent of its GDP on health care in 2019; the next highest country on the list was Switzerland, at 11.3 percent of GDP. The lowest was New Zealand, which spent roughly 9 percent of its GDP on health care in 2019.

Meanwhile, health care in the United States is the least affordable.

I hate sounding like a broken record, but this is what happens when racism drives decisions about the social safety net. Political scientists and sociologists confirm that–in addition to the profit motives/special interests of insurance companies and Big Pharma–the fact that White Americans don’t want “their” tax dollars spent on medical care or other social benefits for “those people” has prevented us from installing a less-costly and vastly more effective medical system.

We keep filling in that swimming pool…

 

Bigotry: A Cost/Benefit Analysis

There are fairly obvious reasons that posts and comments to this blog have increasingly centered on bigotry–well-meaning individuals are (reluctantly) facing up to the extent of the tribal animus that continues to fester in far too many of our fellow Americans.

Much of the reaction to that animus is expressed in moral or religious terms– the belief that racial and religious hatreds are immoral or sinful. Others point to the destabilizing, anti-democratic consequences of such bias, and still others point to the human costs to individuals who suffer from discrimination or may even be prevented from pursuing their life goals for no reason other than their religion, gender or the color of their skin.

But bigotry has economic costs as well, and they are substantial, as a Brookings Institute paper points out.

The research concludes that racial and ethnic disparities in the United States–disparities resulting from official and social discrimination–haven’t simply hurt the people who experience that discrimination. They’ve hurt us all, by depressing U.S. economic output by trillions of dollars over the past 30 years.

The researchers controlled for five variables: 

employment (the percentage of people with jobs); hours worked; educational attainment (the level of education completed); educational utilization (the extent to which people are in jobs that fully use their education); and earnings gaps not explained by those factors.

Then they calculated how much larger the U.S. economic pie would be if opportunities and outcomes had been more equally distributed by race and ethnicity. Their answer?  $22.9 trillion over the 30-year period.

When we fail to utilize the talents of millions of people, we shouldn’t be surprised that the result is lower prosperity for everyone. (We began to recognize that reality when large numbers of women finally entered the workforce and we were no longer failing to use the smarts and talents of fifty percent of the population.)   

As J.P. Morgan & Co.–hardly a socialist enterprise– has documented, Black people represent 12.7 percent of the U.S. population, but only 4.3 percent of the 22.2 million business owners in the country. A significant reason for that disparity is the difficulty minority business-people encounter when they are trying to raise capital; Black entrepreneurs are almost three times more likely to have business profits negatively affected by access to capital.

Furthermore, barely six percent of small businesses in majority-Black communities and 11 percent of small businesses in majority-Hispanic communities have more than 14 days worth of cash on hand, compared to 65 percent of businesses in majority-white communities. Similar disparities are found in comparison of first-year business revenues: Black-owned small businesses earned 59 percent less and Latino-owned small businesses earned 21 percent less in first-year revenues than white-owned counterparts.

The J.P. Morgan report noted the effect of these disparities on the overall economy:

Closing this racial wealth gap could grow the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by an estimated four to six percent by 2028, adding an additional $1 to $1.5 trillion to the economy, according to McKinsey. An economy that works for more people could break down barriers to opportunity and improve how people live, from life earnings to life expectancy.

As I read the research documenting the various ways in which ostensibly neutral financial decisions reflect bias–the extent to which decisions by investors and banks are influenced by attitudes about race and gender– I keep coming back to the episode recounted by Heather McGhee, about the town that filled in its swimming pool rather than share it with Black people.

Hard as it is for me to get my head around, it’s obvious that there are a lot of Americans who choose to go without–who choose to be poor, or poorer than necessary–if the alternative is that some of their Black or Brown neighbors succeed. 

If the “benefit” in that cost/benefit analysis is an outcome ensuring that Whites and people of color are equally denied an otherwise available asset, then the costs of bigotry are massively disproportionate to the benefits.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Always About Race

Tomorrow’s blog accidentally published early. So nothing in the morning…

It was finally the election of Barack Obama that signaled the end of my comforting naiveté. 

I came to that election with the very incomplete history education that–I now understand–was fed to pretty much every White kid for more years than I can count, and I was delighted: America was overcoming the pockets of racism that still lingered.

I’ve been wrong about a lot of things in my life, but rarely have I been as wrong as I was about the implications of that election.

True, the fact that America elected a biracial President was evidence of considerable progress, and we should definitely celebrate that progress. But what I totally missed was the hysterical backlash and the re-animation of the racism that remained–a racism far more pervasive than I had ever imagined.

Since that election, I’ve read lot of the history I hadn’t been taught, and I’ve followed the increasing amount of social science research that is “unpeeling the onion” and demonstrating the extent to which ostensibly race-neutral policies are actually based on racial animus.

Take the “pro-life” movement. Most Americans believe that the genesis of anti-abortion politics was Roe v. Wade. I have previously cited Randall Balmer–an eminent scholar of Evangelical Christianity–for the actual history of that movement.

Balmer reiterated that lesson in a recent essay for the Guardian.

Although leaders of the religious right would have us believe that the Roe decision was the catalyst for their political mobilization in the 1970s, that claim does not withstand historical scrutiny. What prompted evangelical interest in politics, in fact, was a defense of racial segregation.

Evangelicals considered abortion a “Catholic issue” through most of the 1970s, and there is little in the history of evangelicalism to suggest that abortion would become a point of interest. Even James Dobson, who later became an implacable foe of abortion, acknowledged after the Roe decision that the Bible was silent on the matter and that it was plausible for an evangelical to hold that “a developing embryo or fetus was not regarded as a full human being”.

Balmer writes that he first began researching the origins of the religious right after a meeting he attended in 1990. The meeting included what he identifies as a “veritable who’s-who of the religious right,” –he notes Ralph Reed of Christian Coalition; Donald Wildmon from the American Family Association; Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; Ed Dobson of the Moral Majority; Richard Viguerie and Paul Weyrich. (He notes that no women were present–not a surprise.)

Weyrich reminded the group that the religious right had not come together in response to  Roe v. Wade. Instead, the motivation was the IRS effort to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policies.

Balmer later questioned Weyrich to be certain he’d heard correctly.

He was emphatic that abortion had nothing whatsoever to do with the genesis of the religious right. He added that he’d been trying since the Goldwater campaign in 1964 to interest evangelicals in politics. Nothing caught their attention, he insisted – school prayer, pornography, equal rights for women, abortion – until the IRS began to challenge the tax exemption of Bob Jones University and other whites-only segregation academies.

Indeed, in 1971 the Southern Baptist Convention had passed a resolution calling to legalize abortion. When the Roe decision was handed down, some evangelicals applauded the ruling as marking an appropriate distinction between personal morality and public policy. Although he later – 14 years later – claimed that opposition to abortion was the catalyst for his political activism, Jerry Falwell did not preach his first anti-abortion sermon until February 1978, more than five years after Roe.

As Balmer notes, it wasn’t until the early 1980s that opposition to abortion became an evangelical battle cry. As a strategy, “it allowed leaders to camouflage the real origins of their movement: the defense of racial segregation in evangelical institutions.”

It isn’t only abortion, of course. Scholars have linked the right’s constant drumbeat against “socialism” and its adamant opposition to efforts to strengthen America’s social safety net to that same tribalism; in order to prevent “those people” from benefitting from programs like national health insurance, significant numbers of White people are willing to go without those benefits. It’s like the episode reported by Heather McGhee in The Sum of Us, about the Southern town that filled in its municipal swimming pool rather than integrate it. And so nobody got to swim.

Un-peeling onions makes me cry.

 

 

Texas Is About Much More Than Abortion

The angry blowback against Texas’ assault on reproductive rights is eminently justifiable–but as I explained previously, most of the criticism of the law misses the even more ominous threat it poses.

In her newsletter last Saturday, Heather Cox Richardson brought a historian’s perspective to that more ominous reality. She traced the nation’s legal trajectory after WW II, and the resistance to efforts by FDR to use government to regulate business and provide a basic social safety net. And as she reminded readers, racist Southern Democrats furiously fought government’s efforts to ensure racial equality. 

After World War II, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, a Republican appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower, and Chief Justice Warren Burger, a Republican appointed by Richard Nixon, the Supreme Court set out to make all Americans equal before the law. They tried to end segregation through the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision prohibiting racial segregation in public schools. They protected the right of married couples to use contraception in 1965. They legalized interracial marriage in 1967. In 1973, with the Roe v. Wade decision, they tried to give women control over their own reproduction by legalizing abortion.

The Supreme Court used  the Fourteenth Amendment to apply the Bill of Rights to state governments as well as to the federal government; among other things, that kept state and local government officials from denying certain individuals the same rights enjoyed by other citizens

From the beginning, there was a backlash against the New Deal government by businessmen who objected to the idea of federal regulation and the bureaucracy it would require. As early as 1937, they were demanding an end to the active government and a return to the world of the 1920s, where businessmen could do as they wished, families and churches managed social welfare, and private interests profited from infrastructure projects. They gained little traction. The vast majority of Americans liked the new system.

But the expansion of civil rights under the Warren Court was a whole new kettle of fish. Opponents of the new decisions insisted that the court was engaging in “judicial activism,” taking away from voters the right to make their own decisions about how society should work. That said that justices were “legislating from the bench.” They insisted that the Constitution is limited by the views of its framers and that the government can do nothing that is not explicitly written in that 1787 document.

This is the foundation for today’s “originalists” on the court. They are trying to erase the era of legislation and legal decisions that constructed our modern nation. If the government is as limited as they say, it cannot regulate business. It cannot provide a social safety net or promote infrastructure, both things that cost tax dollars and, in the case of infrastructure, take lucrative opportunities from private businesses.

It cannot protect the rights of minorities or women.

The Court’s refusal to enjoin the Texas law is a truly terrifying omen. If the law is ultimately upheld, the precedent would threaten far more than a woman’s right to control her own reproduction. As Richardson notes, such a result would “send authority for civil rights back to the states to wither or thrive as different legislatures see fit…there is no reason that this mechanism couldn’t be used to undermine much of the civil rights legislation of the post–World War II years.”

In 1957, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower used the federal government to protect the constitutional rights of the Little Rock Nine from the white vigilantes who wanted to keep them second-class citizens. In 2021, the Supreme Court has handed power back to the vigilantes.

I am old enough to remember the billboards demanding “Impeach Earl Warren.” The rage of rightwing White Nationalists at decisions that they (correctly) believed would curtail their ability to deny equal rights to Blacks and other disfavored minorities hasn’t abated. Much of it went underground: into the establishment of “think tanks” devoted to justifications of “originalism”and rollbacks of federal regulations, the (now successful) effort to pack the federal courts with ideologues and capture the big prize: the Supreme Court.

Logically, under the last fifty years of legal precedent, Texas’ effort to “outsource” its abortion ban to vigilantes–its effort to avoid “state action”– should fail. The state’s legislature created the law. Enforcement of its punitive and dangerous scheme requires participation by the state’s judicial system. 

What too few of the people arguing for and against this assault seem to recognize is what is truly at stake right now: the entire edifice of current Constitutional law, which rests on the premise that the Bill of Rights applies to all levels of government–that it sets a civil liberties floor below which states may not go.

This fight is about more than Roe v. Wade.