There’s what we believe, and there’s what is true. Sometimes those two things align; often, unfortunately, they don’t.
Most of us have yet to sink to Trumpian levels–in fact, it never ceases to amaze me that Trump can tweet out some nonsense, or make an idiotic statement at a news conference, then blandly deny that he said any such thing. It takes a certain type of mental illness to forget that there is actual evidence rebutting you.
We may not approach Trumpian levels, but most of us do cling to certain “truths” that we desperately want to believe. I’m no different–it took me a long time, well into adulthood, before I realized that my view of America’s past was seriously deficient–heavy on the Founders’ ideals, light on some of their slaveholding behaviors, and pretty much void of what was done to Native Americans, among other things.
Then there were my fond beliefs about America vis a vis other countries. Social mobility. Equality. Rule of law.
I now know–unfortunately–that our once-vaunted social mobility is worse than that of many countries. This helpful infographic shows us 27th--not dead last, but not exactly in bragging rights territory.
In the Age of Orange, I’m not even going to talk about the rule of law; as a concept, it’s beyond Trump’s limited intellect, and as a principle, it has apparently been abandoned by the Mitch McConnell wing of the Supreme Court.
And then there’s equality.
Now, as I tell my students, there are a lot of different ways to think about equality: genuinely religious people will say that we are all equal in the eyes of God; our constitution requires government to treat equally-situated people equally, irrespective of the color of their skin or the beliefs they embrace.
And clearly, we don’t come into the world equally talented or beautiful or intelligent…
But about civic equality as a goal: Another visualization I stumbled across recently–this one from Time Magazine– made me aware of just how unequal Americans are. It uses neighborhood data to pinpoint metropolitan areas with high and low levels of equal opportunity, by searching for areas with relatively small gaps between the highest- and lowest-ranked neighborhoods. (It didn’t help my frame of mind that my own city, Indianapolis, was represented by a dark red dot indicating highly unequal neighborhoods.)
As the text explained:
This information is useful because, even when places have the same opportunity level overall, actually living in those cities can be a very different experience. For example, Colorado Springs and Detroit both score an overall opportunity level of 55. But in Colorado Springs, a typical high-opportunity neighborhood scores an 87 and a typical low-opportunity one scores 24. That might seem like a huge gap. But Detroit’s high is 95 and its low is 2: a much less equal city.
The problem was, when we found areas with small gaps between neighborhoods, those cities tended to be racially homogenous. In other words, children in Provo, Utah, and Boise, Idaho, have access to comparatively equal opportunities, regardless of which neighborhoods they live in—but those cities are more than 80% white.
When combined, in all 100 metro areas covered by the study, neighborhoods where white children lived had a median score of 73. The median neighborhood score for Asian children was 72. It was 33 for Hispanic children and 24 for black children. Black and Hispanic kids live with considerably less opportunity than their white and Asian peers almost without exception.
The disparities are especially wide in certain parts of the country. Milwaukee and its surrounding area has the widest racial disparity in the U.S., despite having a high overall opportunity score. A white child there lives in a neighborhood with a median opportunity score of 85. For a black child, the median neighborhood score is 6.
Once this pandemic is over, there is a long “laundry list” of situations in our country requiring attention and repair. That list needs to be based on facts, not beliefs.
Add equalizing children’s prospects to that list–and put it near the top.