Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Tea Pretense, P.2: Yes, It Is About Race

     Apparently the Tea Party is going to hold a summit on race July 31st in Philadelphia.
The rally, called Uni-Tea, will feature white and black Tea Party supporters in all-day event that will feature live music, a web cast and plenty of Obama bashing.
The site for the event features 13 speakers, with at least 8 speakers being persons of color.

    I’d like to see the Tea Party spend even a small amount of time addressing steps to end poverty in America and the achievement gap in our schools.

    I may be wrong, but my general impression is that they believe that A) poor people are the only ones to blame for their poverty, and B) the only way to “help” them is to leave them alone and let them solve their own problems, and C) any government help is only making things worse by creating a sense of grievance and dependence. Further, any attempts to point out racism are just a natural outgrowth of the politics of victimization, and the only racism that really exists any more is by angry minorities and the organizations that advocate for them.

    Is that about right? Well, its sickening, and wrong on multiple levels.

A) Poor people are the only ones to blame for their poverty 
    This is true to a degree. But there are structural problems that created it in the first place. Poverty tends to be generational. This means kids are getting poor parenting and education: having more kids: repeat. Geography isolates low property values, creating ghettos of dysfunction and distress. This means neighborhoods of kids with dads in prison, moms on drugs, no supervision, no college education or training, etc. Environmental hazards, such high lead content, have been found to reduce cognitive development in poor children. The educational system is no equipped to make up for what are essentially very low levels of human and social capital.

B) The only way to “help” them is to leave them alone and let them solve their own problems 
    This is clearly not true. From a safety net standpoint, absent health services and food stamps, people will be sick, starve, and die at higher rates. Charity has never been able to handle everything on its own. Talk to the charities out there today and they’ll tell you there is x, y, z they could do with more resources. From a skills standpoint, there is much we can do to increase human and social capital. From nurse home visits for young mothers, to early childhood education and parenting classes, to jobs programs and better city college funding, to health services that allow people to be productive, to nutritional help for kids and parents to learn how to take better care of themselves… none of this is possible without help. It’s mostly a matter of education on how to be successful.

C) Any government help is only making things worse by creating a sense of grievance and dependence.
    This has been a problem in the past – and arguably still is to a degree. But the vast majority of social programs do nothing to create dependence. What they are designed to do is to increase personal agency so that people are able to get their lives on a productive track. No one involved in social programs wants people stuck relying on government help. They are obviously so much more happy and productive when they can do things for themselves. It is no coincidence that the Tea Party is largely made up of people who have little contact or understanding with minority poverty – or any poverty – in the US. Because they are that much less likely to have witnessed first hand how social programs can help change peoples lives. This also explains how people can seem so out of touch and unconcerned with the real-life travails that people in this country are facing, people that the programs they disparage are designed to help.

    The Tea Party is conceptually built around the diminishment of government spending on social programs, specifically for poor minorities they feel are only “leeching” off the rest of America. Race is at the very core of their anger. It may or may not be directly, consciously or unconsciously, motivating them – as in, “I don’t like black people so I don’t support health care subsidies”. But to the extent that they are specifically motivated by a sense of injustice at having to pay for social programs that are disproportionately used by poor minorities, their stance takes a certain racial perspective. And it is one that actively delegitimizes the sense of grievance that minorities feel in seeing their communities continuing to fail disproportionately. It is no wonder then that the movement has been attractive to racists.
    One last thing on race: people are not either “racist” or “not racist”. People are mostly operating from unconscious impulses. Our intelligence and wisdom allows us to peek our heads into consciousness and control our lives. The percentage of people who are admitted racists is very small. But even they don’t understand why they don’t like minorities. They just do. It’s mainly unconscious response. Then there is the rest of us who, to varying degrees, are conscious of patterns of thought that are racist and wrong. We learn to control them and adjust our thinking accordingly. We never really escape it, but we can be on guard for it.

    To me, the scariest “racist” is the one who thinks he isn’t racist at all, yet hold all kinds of creepy unconscious biases and allows them to corrupt his thinking without any attempt at self-reflection. Many people are often indeed quite full of racist ideas. And they would recoil from the thought. But because they’re so afraid of being labeled a “racist”, they never have the opportunity to grow. It feels like that’s where we got stuck post-civil rights. There was so much confusion and acrimony, that we never learned how to have an honest and forgiving dialogue about unconscious bias.

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