The net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to 2011 census data. The gap has worsened in the last decade, and the United States now has a greater wealth gap by race than South Africa did during apartheid. (Whites in America on average own almost 18 times as much as blacks; in South Africa in 1970, the ratio was about 15 times.)That is the first of the reasons Nicholas Kristof gives in this column for the Sunday New York Times at what he sees as "smug white delusion" of the kind offered by the likes of Bill O'Reilly and others, who seem to think anti-white racism is a bigger problem than anti-black racism.
He lists a lot of additional problems -
- the growing income gap
- the shorter life expectancy
- disparities in schooling, both as to quality of offerings and application of discipline
- incarceration, noting here that
Nearly 70 percent of middle-aged black men who never graduated from high schoolhave been imprisoned.He then puts it bluntly:
All these constitute not a black problem or a white problem, but an American problem. When so much talent is underemployed and overincarcerated, the entire country suffers.Please keep reading.
There is much more to this very strong column. Kristof reminds us that minds can be changed when we know people (or are related to people) who are affected by attitudes - look at how minds are changing on the matter of marriage equality for example.
He addresses stereotypes, including the greater likelihood of black males being arrested for criminal acts (although here I would note the historic tendency of many middle class white males not getting arrested for acts that for working class white and blacks of all classes does result in arrest).
We still have disparity of treatment.
We still have inequality of access - to jobs, to educational opportunities beginning in childhood, to funds to start business, to health care, and now increasingly to the political system (the new voter id requirements will more disproportionally disenfranchise those of color).
Kristof gives examples of programs that have been shown to make a difference (you can read the column for those). What goes unsaid is that these programs lack the financing to be applied on the necessary scale. What is only implied and not stated bluntly is that there is the unwillingness by many to raise the taxes to support such program because who is benefited thereby, at least directly, even though the long-term overall benefit would be to lower the tax burdens of those who oppose such programs:
- we would save the high costs of incarceration, and of crime
- those who would benefit from such programs would be more employable at higher incomes, thereby spending more and paying more in direct taxes, both of which would serve to benefit society at large, including those who complain the loudest about the non-existent anti-white racism (which miraculously seems to have begun at the same time of the election of our first non-White President).
But here I am picking at minor points. There is after all only so much even a two-time Pulitzer winner can cram into one column.
And his final column is so powerful I am willing to ignore any possible weaknesses in the column.
Read that final paragraph, and perhaps you will understand why I say that. Kristof writes:
So a starting point is for those of us in white America to wipe away any self-satisfaction about racial progress. Yes, the progress is real, but so are the challenges. The gaps demand a wrenching, soul-searching excavation of our national soul, and the first step is to acknowledge that the central race challenge in America today is not the suffering of whites.No it is not.
And unless and until we heal this oldest and deepest wound to the American polity, the words of Langston Hughes about the dream deferred withering like a raisin in the sun will continue to serve as warning about what could be happening to all of us.
Peace? Not now, not yet, even though I still hope for it.