Race as a Distraction

In college, way back in the dark ages of the 1980s, I had a roommate from Scotland who was intrigued with the racial discord he observed in America. To him it made no sense that people would hate each other based on their race, but of course it made total sense to him that the Catholics and Protestants back in Scotland were in a constant state of discord. He'd say, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Why do you Americans hate each other for what you are? At least in Scotland we hate each other for what we choose to believe."

Whenever race comes up as a topic I think about those words. Indeed, it's totally illogical for us to hate one another for something we have no control over. In fact it's probably the most absurd reason for people to hate and distrust each other. On the other hand, probably the most logical reason for any group of people to dislike another is if one group has disproportionately more of anything – wealth, food, opportunity, etc. – than the other, particularly if the group with less feels that the other group has gotten it off of their backs.

That's why the new data about the true nature of poverty in America, and the plight of working class whites in particular, should scare the bejeezus out of this country's power structure. Once all of the poor and struggling working class folks from every race realize they have more in common with each other than with the wealthy of their own race they will form a formidable body to deal with. From the article linked above:

As nonwhites approach a numerical majority in the U.S., one question is how public programs to lift the disadvantaged should be best focused — on the affirmative action that historically has tried to eliminate the racial barriers seen as the major impediment to economic equality, or simply on improving socioeconomic status for all, regardless of race.

Hardship is particularly growing among whites, based on several measures. Pessimism among that racial group about their families' economic futures has climbed to the highest point since at least 1987. In the most recent AP-GfK poll, 63 percent of whites called the economy "poor."…

While racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 1970s, census data show. Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in the government's poverty data, engulfing more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge being published next year by the Oxford University Press.

There's another important societal component contributing to the economic struggle of millions of individuals in this country, and it's one we need to deal with head on: the breakdown of the traditional family. Again from the article:

–For the first time since 1975, the number of white single-mother households living in poverty with children surpassed or equaled black ones in the past decade, spurred by job losses and faster rates of out-of-wedlock births among whites. White single-mother families in poverty stood at nearly 1.5 million in 2011, comparable to the number for blacks. Hispanic single-mother families in poverty trailed at 1.2 million…

Marriage rates are in decline across all races, and the number of white mother-headed households living in poverty has risen to the level of black ones.

As a man who has been happily married for a long time I'm obviously a fan of the family structure. However, whenever the topic of single parent homes comes up for public debate we get pulled into the moral/religious rabbit hole and never address the economics of single parenthood. Why do we insist on approaching this problem from a moral standpoint, haranguing young men and women about their sinfulness and almost guaranteeing they'll tune us out, and not instead concentrate on developing societal structures that will help deal with a very real problem? I'm not smart enough to have a solution here, but it doesn't take a rocket science to realize that the answer is not browbeating people back into church and insisting that they live they way great-Grandma and Grandpa did. 

Our leaders, whether in industry or government, need to begin to deal with the reality that is portrayed in this new data or our country will soon be in even deeper doo-doo. They can no longer hide from the reality that our middle class is disappearing and that our "land of opportunity" could quickly become an empty slogan if they don't change things, and fast.

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