Of course it is. That's the conventional wisdom, anyway, among millions of Americans--that societal institutions like education, housing, and employment have baked-in barriers to black and Latino opportunity. These barriers are often described as unintentional remnants of the Jim Crow era, "deeply entrenched historical legacies ... produced through interactive networks of individuals and institutions." Recently, though, a friend of mine has been doubting this scenario. His point is that in the year 2011, opportunity is there for whoever wants it. So what, he says, if you're poor or go to a lousy school--work hard and you can succeed.
But does the poor kid stuck in a lousy school have an equal opportunity to succeed as the middle-class kid in an average school district? If not, does that disparity fit the definition of structural racism? And what data is there on structural racism in general? I had to admit that I have not looked closely at the primary evidence. I tend to believe in the concept, but I'm operating on a lifetime of absorbed statistics, logical arguments, books, articles, anecdotes, and the experiences of my friends, family, and myself. I need to examine some hard numbers. So I've decided to go on a data quest.
Why bother? Well, I'd like to win the debate with my friend. If I can convince him, that's one more person who could help eliminate structural racism. I will have built a set of statistics to use in my work. Also: I believe it's important to challenge my own beliefs, because race is such a subjective subject to write about. And if I can't convince my friend, because the data shows something other than what I thought--well, then I'll have with a greater understanding of the forces affecting black and brown people in America. I will have learned something new.
So let the journey begin. I'll report back along the way. Suggestions welcome--especially from sk
Talking with some of my more conservative friends, I have discovered the common view that Obama is trying to "destroy America." This will happen, the thinking goes, by creating more dependency on more social welfare programs until these programs bankrupt the country. Then, they believe, Obama will be able to transition into some sort of socialist state.
The other day a reporter asked Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, whether he thought Obama is trying to "destroy America." Coburn's response:
"No, I don’t . . . He’s a very bright man. But think about his life. And think about what he was exposed to and what he saw in America. He’s only relating what his experience in life was. . . . His intent isn’t to destroy. It’s to create dependency because it worked so well for him. I don’t say that critically. Look at people for what they are. Don’t assume ulterior motives. I don’t think he doesn’t love our country. I think he does. As an African American male, coming through the progress of everything he experienced, he got tremendous benefit through a lot of these programs. So he believes in them. I just don’t believe they work overall and in the long run they don’t help our country. But he doesn’t know that because his life experience is something different. So it’s very important not to get mad at the man. And I understand, his philosophy — there’s nothing wrong with his philosophy other than it’s goofy and wrong [laughter] — but that doesn’t make him a bad person."
This comment was called to my attention by an outraged Yale friend of mine, a black doctor. He sees Coburn looking at a successful black man and assuming that a) he achieved his station in life through affirmative action, not talent and hard work, and b) he must have been on welfare, food stamps, or some such. My friend called it a case of "these mediocre oblivious white men slip(ping) into this overtly racist thinking."
The doctor emailed the quote to me and two other Yale friends. One of them, a black foundation director with a Stanford MBA, had this to say:
"The GOP is simply a modern day version of the KKK. You get shouted down for saying these sorts of things, but it's true. They are white supremacists. Coburn merely reflects the unmuzzled philosophy of the GOP. Fellas, they are extremists, plain and simple. I've been complaining about Obama's approach to the GOP since Day 1, because he's approached them as if they are rational people. They are not. They are religious and cultural extremists."
I'd say that comment uses a pretty broad brush. But I found it quite significant, because the person who said it, a man I have known for 25 years, is an extraordinarily intelligent, friendly, and just plain decent person, who has many white friends and colleagues. He is not one to see an anti-black conspiracy hiding behind every bush. But when he cuts to the essence of what he hears from the GOP, he hears racism. There's an enormous perception gap when it comes to what is or is not racist behavior, something we have to solve in order to move forward. Call this Exhibit 4,080.
Perry was in Rock Hill, SC, when a reporter mentioned that this year was the 50th anniversary of a historic lunch counter sit-in. The Texas governor responded:
Black America’s righteous revolt against a century of post-emancipation oppression could have gone in many bitter and destructive directions. It did not. This was largely the work of one man’s leadership, moral imagination and strategic genius. He turned his own deeply Christian belief that “unearned suffering is redemptive” into a creed of nonviolence that he carved into America’s political consciousness. The result was not just racial liberation but national redemption.'
I never thought I'd be blogging. But things done changed, and now I'm looking forward to having a place to write about all the interesting stuff that does not rise to the level of a full-fledged AP story. Kind of thinking out loud. I doubt anyone will be reading this, which makes it even more like thoughts, although strange and good things can happen when the fingers hit the keyboard. OK. I shall...proceed...and continue......
Jesse Washington is a Senior Writer for ESPN's TheUndefeated.com