This morning I met Luciferus for an ungodly early morning cup of coffee. Well, at least it was ungodly early for my night-owlish self (9:30 am! I didn’t know anybody was even allowed on the streets at that hour!).
The conversation turned to politics and the crummy state of the union. During our talk, I mentioned that I have been having a hard time responding to last week’s dreadful 5-4 Supreme Court decisions without sounding rancorous – Well, without sounding more rancorous than usual.
Reading a variety of left-leaning blogs, there’s seemingly a general feeling of nausea over the court’s ruling. Most are also imagining it as a symbolic statement about the direction of the nation.
For those who don’t know, last week the Supreme Court severely limited the ability of public schools to consider race as a factor to achieve racial integration. The actual case before the court centered on Seattle, Washington and Louisville, Kentucky. The New York Times noted that Seattle has long been a severely segregated city. Efforts to integrate have been slow and hard fought. This new ruling allows the city to simply stop trying. Indeed, Seattle actually stopped taking race into consideration in school decisions in 2002. District officials, therefore, have claimed that the Supreme Court decision endorses their current practices.
We are already seeing the rapid effects of these changes in Seattle. Sixty percent of all school-aged children in Seattle are non-white. The Times reported that the gentrified community of Ballard, however, saw its high school enrollment drop from having a 43 percent nonwhite student body in 2002 to a 37 percent nonwhite student body today (and those numbers will likely continue to decrease). Whites in Ballard don't appear particularly concerned that their school doesn't reflect the reality of the city's school-aged population. The new rhetoric of a "color-blind" society seems to imply that they simply don't want to see people of color.
Of course, those of us living in Boston shouldn’t be smug at all. The Northeast has the highest levels of racial segregation in the nation. Even in zones considered “liberal” like the Pacific Northwest or the Northeast, de facto segregation is becoming the norm once again.
Chief Justice John Roberts glibly promised that pretending that race doesn’t matter in this nation will make it so. “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race,” he wrote, “is to stop discrimination on the basis of race.” Wow – That’s brilliant! With such astounding powers of logic, it’s easy to see how such a brainiac became the Chief Justice of our nation’s highest court.
This reminds me of an AP poll conducted last year for Martin Luther King, Jr Day that triumphantly reported that three-quarters of respondents believed that racism was basically a thing of the past. Well, until the AP started asking African Americans. Surprise, surprise – Two-thirds of African Americans (you know, one of the groups of people who actually suffers under racism) said that racism is still a major problem for the nation.
Historically, the majority of whites have never considered racism a problem in this nation (even during the days of race-based slavery). When one has always been in a privileged position, it doesn't seem like privilege. It just seems like reality. To achieve the changes that occurred required a collation between African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and a minority of whites willing to fight for change.
It’s not unexpected that Roberts confidently ignores that race already plays a major factor in where students attend school. Well, at least race plays an important role in deciding where one goes to school if one is not white (despite the fact that most of the media attention and court cases involve parents of entitled white kids who feel that depriving others of equal opportunity will somehow improve their own lot in life (which it doesn’t)).
For me, the court ruling merely institutionalized what has already been happening in this nation for over a decade. Whether or not the Supreme Court made this ruling, the reality is that we are already living in a more segregated society now than we did fifteen years ago.
According to research accumulated by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, 73 percent of African American and 77 percent of Latino students attend predominantly minority schools, or schools where more than half of students are nonwhite, in the U.S. Moreover, over a third of African American (38 percent) and Latino students (39 percent) attended racially isolated minority schools in which less than ten percent of students are white.
Many people ask why this matters? Among many other reasons, it matters because race and class are intimately linked in this nation. Because school funding and resources are often proportional to the tax base of their local communities, minority-dominated schools often receive less funding and often have difficulty recruiting or retaining teachers.
Given these trends, it’s also little wonder that the Congress failed to pass immigration “reform” last week. Congress and the Court made the nation’s message clear: The U.S. can’t possibly consider granting citizenship to more Mexicans. After all, the U.S. isn’t finished oppressing the African Americans and Latinos who are already citizens. The U.S. likes to finish what it starts – When it has sufficiently harassed its own citizens, it will consider making new ones. Hey, it’s only one nation. It has to focus its efforts.
While I thought the proposed immigration bill had many, many problems (like ignoring the best interests of the actual immigrants), it didn’t take an extra eye to see that the immigration “debate” really focused on questions of race. There was little, if any, discussion of white Canadians or Europeans taking skilled jobs away from U.S. citizens. Instead, the media and right-wing Republicans whipped up a frenzy. One has to only catch a few seconds of Lou Dobbs to imagine that Mexicans are invading the nation, spreading disease, and draining the healthcare system. Under the rhetoric, Mexican immigrants are not individuals who seek their basic human needs in a new nation. Instead, Mexicans become a menacing horde who threaten the fabric of [white] society. Single Mexican women scale fences while eight months pregnant just to drop their babies at U.S. taxpayers’ expense.
Time and time again, all of these claims have been refuted with research (from a variety of sources and political leanings). Under the most generous estimates, undocumented workers in this nation number between three to five million people. That is less than 2 percent of the total population in the United States. Somehow, I don’t think that the problems of 98 percent of the people in this nation derive from this single group.
Undocumented workers are also less than a third of all the immigrants entering the U.S. (Contrary to the notion that most immigrants are “illegal”). Moreover, immigrants generate a net tax surplus (local, state, and federal taxes) of $25 to $30 billion. In other words, immigrants pay more taxes than they actually use in civic services (schools, health care, etc).
Life in the United States is getting worse for most Americans. Yet, the American public allows itself to be distracted with scapegoats. Since the Reagan-80s, the federal government has increasingly cut funds for civic services while also granting major tax breaks to corporations and the extremely wealthy. Because federal funds are stretched tight, everybody is feeling the effects. We should all also be very, very frightened by the way that the Bush government has handled the economy (the U.S. dollar has become increasingly devalued in the world scene. A British pound sterling, for instance, is now worth over $2 US (an exchange rate that has not been seen in 26 years). The Euro, similarly, is close to surpassing its all time high against the rapidly declining U.S. currency).
Whites have a right to be angry and dissatisfied with a government that has failed to provide guaranteed access to a quality education, health care, and security. Yet, the majority of whites are buying into a heavy mythology that promises all will be solved by a “color-blind society” (that simultaneously keeps out Mexican immigrants). They don’t question that their own lives are impacted by the unfair distribution of wealth in this nation. Rather, the blame is placed on the backs of the nation’s minorities and immigrants. Until this nation recognizes that depriving others of their rights does nothing to improve one’s own life, the U.S. is lost.