Monday, July 02, 2007

We Were Never Blind, But When Will We See?

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.


Anonymous said...

Agreed with your piece, but have not completely bought into your notion that only a minority of whites traditionally support social change/diversity initiatives. To say "To achieve the changes that occurred required a collation between African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and a minority of whites willing to fight for change," is stating the truth in some instances, but denies other historical evidence.

For example, I'd agree with you that a minority of white Americans believed in integrating troops in WWII, and that it took leadership to affect that change. In contrast, today's polls reveal that most Americans believe don't ask/don't tell is invalid, and that we should have armed forces who do not discriminate against gender preference. Clearly, a minority is ruling in a different fashion here.

In comparison, I don't think that the Civil War could have been waged successfully if the North was not committed (if not in the spririt of equality, in the spirit of the economy of the period) to ending slavery as an economic system.

Treating people equally comes from within ourselves, and can be either a groundswell or an individual act. It's not just a minority viewpoint.

All, however, is naught when the bottom line is what was wrought by the SCOTUS last week. It really is not about majority or minority views in this country, it's about who's in power.

And all is even more depressing with today's news about Scooter Libbey's commuted sentence that keeps him out of jail. The irony of not being totally pardoned, by a President acting out of an expression of judicial integrity; yet leaving the guy with a destroyed/flawed political and professional future. That's some version of integrity.

I guess I have to make a final point in all this, don't I. That is: Somehow, we all see the color differences, the orientation differences, the differences in wealth, but are blind to the fact that we're all just people.

Charles Céleste Hutchins said...

There's two things I'd like to see you adress in a future post:

1. Worst court ever? Or was the 1920's worse?

2. Would it be possible to resurrect Earl Warren and put him back on the court?

Earl Cootie said...

We live two blocks away from Ballard High, which was irritating before because of all those damn noisy kids, but now . . . it makes me so sad, weary. But Seattle - even Ballard - is growing ever more racially diverse, and those damn noisy kids seem to be overall more accepting of differences than those damn noisy kids of my generation were, so I do have hope for the future. The SCOTUS decision, however, has made it a lot harder to find that optimism.

Anonymous said...

Just saw I missed your birthday.
'Happy Brithday!'. Too late, I know.
so, no matter what people say the web is like real life, where I regularly draw a blank on birthdays, too (luckily, this runs in the family, so it's mutual).
Anyway, good to read something about the race/integration ruling rather than the bong/freedom of speech one. I still remember the 'busing' lesson from my 7th grade English book..anyway, the John Roberts quote is stunning, I haven't come across it before. So, actually according to this logic, if I act like I have cleaned my flat, this will automatically make it clean? Would be great, and I'll sure give it a try, but hey, my mathematician senses tell me that my pretending will actually cause zero change.
Scenario a) Flat is actually clean -> strategy works. I am super housewife, not unlike Julianne Moore's character in 'the hours'.
Scenario b) Flat is, well, let's say, slightly grimy -> strategy might work...until the first person to come here picks up ebola. Then I'll get sued and things. I am not unlike the birthday cake in the bin's character in 'the hours'.

vuboq said...

Although I recognize the importance of attending diverse schools and everyone receiving equal educational opportunities, I wonder what the best way to achieve that is. I grew up being bused all over creation so our schools would be integrated. I did not look forward to the hour-plus bus rides twice a day. Busing is not a good answer, imho.

gwoertendyke said...

i agree with you that segregation has been in play for at least the last decade, of course much longer, as we consider red-lining, etc. i think for me the difference is the transparency with which Roberts et al excercise their racist policies. twenty years ago there was some naive pretense that an attempt should be made and was realizable to create a more racially (among other oppressed groups) egalitarian society. that naivete no longer exists, but rather than propose this as something worth fighting for, we dismiss it is outdated, "liberal," against capitalism, choosing instead to solidify through law racism, in this case. what makes it historically trenchant is its direct usurpation of a law put in place when we *did* in fact believe our actions and those of our leaders had the potential to better the collective.

and the icing is that nobody (except the the few) seems to give a fuck. there is no collective outrage. there is no collective recognition. just the so-called "balanced and fair" media coverage that gives voice to lies and stupidity under the label of realism, pragmatism, even truth.

and on a final last rant, because i really have to prepare my final class for this term and i'm getting livid, is the poor white-man's burden crap. the entitlement you speak of, gp, people feeling picked on for not quite getting enough of the pie, not quite getting the attention other people get, it makes you want to vomit. that children become the ultimate rationalization for this lends credibility to edelman's _No Future_, despite its lack of direct political engagement and overly-seductive prose.

sorry, i'm kind of pissed.

Anonymous said...

It's ticked me off the only solution today's gop can give to any problem they see - say a system that could work more efficiently or something that could maybe be done differently with an even greater and more beneficial effect - is to simply destroy that thing. No solutions ever, just elimination of the thing that offends them.

People think quota systems (or variations on that theme) are a dead-end solution to addressing inequalities? Well, do they brainstorm and come up with better ideas? Of course not. They just make everything go back to the way it was --- a way that was the very reason for the system they don't like to exist in the first place.

No solutions. Just a repetition of the same crap. Or worse.

Cause they're frakking lazy. And that's the best-case scenario.

I generally like to (idealistically) think of this country as being a land of ingenuity, creativity, bold and fresh, new ideas.

Unfortunately, the crew with which we're forced to deal today has none of those traits.

Basically, they're a party whose thinking is something like: "Flibbidy-floo! In MY day, we didn't have to THINK about all these problems. Something's wrong in our country? Well, if I can't see it, it's not my problem! And that's what we're going to bring back. Every man for himself!"

So I guess it's not a surprise that those folk likely wouldn't help their own neighbor's grannie cross the street, let alone give a crap about any people that were "different".

Yeah... so it makes me sick too... for overlapping reasons.

Marius said...

You know, people like Lou Dobbs drive me nuts. I'm an objective person who is willingly to entertain different perspectives or ideas if they're backed by some kind of evidence (i.e., data). Lou claims to be a champion of the American working class, which includes the children and grandchildren of illegal immigrants. And, as you mentioned, even illegal immigrants in this country contribute to the economy.

Lou and others like him are just so narrow-minded. The effects of illegal immigration on the US economy are quite complex, which these people seem to ignore. Even economists can’t seem to agree on whether illegal immigrants are helping or hurting the economy. In fact, some economists believe that immigrants are vital to our economic stability. I’m not suggesting that Lou Dobbs is racist, but I think he’s (inadvertently?) spreading fear among working class Americans. And it just bothers me that he rarely if ever talks about the other side of the debate. All I ask for is a little more objectivity. Is that too much to ask for?

Great post!

Roger Owen Green said...

The thing about Lou Dobbs, in this 60 Minutes piece, is that he suggests that he can't POSSIBLY be anti-Hispanic because his second wife is Mexican-American. (Which is sort of like Clarence Thomas claiming he's not racist because he's black.)

GayProf said...

Marlan: I take your point. Perhaps to say a "minority" implies too small a portion of whites.

Still, I am not sure that most whites (including Abe Lincoln) conceived of the Civil War as being about the end of slavery in the first couple years of the war. Plus, race-based slavery had been going on for centuries before that war. Moreover, I meant to suggest that it takes a small, active group to convience the majority (who can eventually be persuaded (and have been persuaded in the past)).

As for Libby, I can't stomach that Bushie is claiming that 2 years in prison is just "too harsh" for Libby after overseeing numerous executions while governor of Texas.

Les: 1. I am not a legal scholar, but I will take a stab and say that the late nineteenth-century court was the worst (not only did they give us Plessy v. Ferguson, but also declared "The U.S. Constitution does not follow the flag," meaning that he U.S. could act as a colonial power without regard to civil rights).

2. I'll work on my powers to raise the dead.

Earl: I am not sure if teenagers today are "more accepting" or simply indifferent.

LisaLogic: If your flat is giving people ebola, I suggest that you invite Justice Roberts over for dinner.

VUBOQ: Busing as a solution is complicated (Remember that somebody in Boston got stabbed by a flag pole because of the busing issue). It reflects a larger problem, though, which is that whites are consciously choosing not to live in areas where they would have minority neighbors. Segregation in schools today is resulting from the larger segregation of society. Schools are either 80 percent white or 80 percent minority because the people living around those schools are 80 percent white or 80 percent minority.

My impression is, though, that the Seattle case had less to do with busing and more to do with who had access to the "better" schools in the city.

Adjunct-Whore: I am willing to bet large sums of money that Clarence Thomas is probably the first African American peer with whom Roberts has had any type of serious longterm contact.

Atari: I agree that this is totally about evading solving complicated issues. Instead, they want to pretend like there was never a problem at all.

Marius: Lou Dobbs is making a lot of money off of that shtick. It bothers me that so many people find his message appealing (while totally ignoring how they are being screwed by their own government).

ROG: I have never understood why some people imagine that people of color can't also be crazy (Condi Rice, Clarence Thomas, Linda Chavez, etc., etc.).

Elizabeth McClung said...

Good points and ones which frustrate me simply because unlike most european nations who have open issues about ethnic diversity being debated due to the influx of new immigrants (or as UK man said; "15-20 years ago I would go with the lads and smash up an indian resturant, but nowdays, nothing hits the spot like a curry"), the US has ever maintained there is no problem while effectively making sure there is no solution. Busing was only supposed to last until economic integration occured so that suburbs would be integrated naturally. Except an MIT study showed last year that your chances of getting an interview with a "black" name were 50%-100% harder than with a "white" name. And that's likely subconscious predjudice.

I grew up in a prodominantly minority LA neighborhood and went to a prodominantly minority school and was very upset when my parents yanked me to go to private school (with a white/minority ratio of 30-1). I lost contact with my friends, and then moving closer to the school, moved away from their neighborhood. Admittedly, our local grocery store (pre move) had two guys with shotguns standing in front of it but hey, that was normal. I guess I am the product of affordable deintegration.

As for immigration I have repeated pointed out in forums high and low that .5 to 1 million illegal immigrants can be ejected by simply raiding big cities night clubs, resturants, etc and getting rid of all the UK, Canadian, NZ, Australian and other white illegals - but then turfing 21 year old girls who serve drinks with a sexy accent has never been high on the vendetta list.

gwoertendyke said...

you are no doubt right, gp, and they are both pretty squarely against the poor of any color.

wd said...

All I will say right now is great article and disturbing well backed up points. Your post has haunted me all day.

(HUGE bear hug) ...b

Arthur Schenck said...

When people in America (people I know well) have started complaining about "Mexicans", by which they mean illegal immigrants, I've made many of the same points as you have here (though not nearly as well as you have). I invariably get the same response: "You don't live here anymore. You don't know how it is." How can I argue with THAT kind of blindness?

Roger Green mentioned the "60 Minutes" profile of Lou Dobbs. What I found fascinating was that they called Dobbs on one of his show's distortions, claiming that illegal Mexican immigrants had brought 7,000 cases of leprosy into the US in the past three years. Lesley Stahl reported that the figure was actually 7,000 cases of leprosy in the past THIRTY years (and, by the way, not all of that could be attributed to illegals). When Stahl cornered Dobbs, his response was, basically, his staff doesn't make mistakes--despite one having just been pointed out to him.

So there are people like Dobbs with a reckless disregard for the truth followed by ordinary people who are eager to believe him and those like him. Am I the only one who thinks this sounds too much like classic fascist scapegoating technique?

Population One said...

Even a melting pot needs to be stirred.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy the obvious passion that you have for this subject, but I think that segregated schools reflect racial segregation in society, and large scale social experimentation, enforcing the attendence of particular kids at particular schools to enforce ethnic representation is damaging because it breaks the relationship between school and neighbourhood.

Surely the pursuit of an equality of opportunity, by the breaking of the link between school resources and the resources of their locality, would enable poorer people to become as educated as their peers, and to allow them to live wherever they wanted, breaking down class and neighbourhood segregation, therefore brekaing down school segregation? That was a long sentence.

Also, I challenge your implication that a majority of African Americans, Latinos and Asians have been willing to fight for change. That statement is massively generalised, I don't think can be backed up by facts and despite being pretty emotive does not refer to any concrete event or time span. I'd also like to know the racial distinction between latinos and whites. By whites I assume you mean caucasians? Ethnic Europeans? Spaniards? I think that race exists independent of culture.

GayProf said...

Elizabeth: I agree with you about everything except maybe the bit about Europe. France, in particular, does not seem to be having a particuarly productive discussion about race.

WD: Well, if you are going to be haunted, GayProf is your best option.

Arthur: What type of fear do these people express about Mexicans?

B: And sometimes the chef in charge of that pot needs to be fired.

Dan: I agree that I probably gave the false impression that all Latinos and African Americans worked/work for social change. Fair enough. It is always a minority of every group who actually do the hard work of bringing about social change. Still, unlike poor whites, the majority of Latinos and African Americans don't vote for candidates or political parties that are explicitly hostile to their best interests.

As for the question of Latinos' racial identity, I think all racial categories are socially constructed. In the U.S., Latino racial identity has most often been imagined as some type of "in-between" space of white/not-white. This has been used in some circumstances to divide Latinos from African Americans or other minorities in order to maintain the status quo. The U.S. census has categories "non-Hispanic white" and "Hispanic." So, it both implies that Latinos are white, but also racially different than other whites.

Whether arbitrarily classified as "white" or not, it doesn't seem to really matter in the day to day lives of Latinos in this nation. It doesn't change, for instance, the fact that Latino students are attending segregated schools.

If you are interested in reading more about Latinos' racial identity in the United States, consider reading Suzanne Oboler's Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives: Identity and the Politics of Representation in the United States; David Gutiérrez Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity; or Neil Foley's White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture.