Saturday, March 04, 2006

Civil Rights and Wrongs

Forty years after the Selma marches and the Watts riots, Americans are still perversely intrigued by stories of racism. As the best in a bad lot of Oscar candidates for best picture, “Crash” has only a single theme, one which it hammers away at from its first moment until its last: racism. In the money scene, Matt Dillon’s sad excuse for a police officer cops a feel from a black female suspect whose husband has been pulled over for driving while black. “Crash” is a crash course in unmasking the racial divisions in American society.

Racial strife is so popular that I can see the sequel to “Brokeback Mountain” featuring two urban cowboys, one black, one Hispanic, finding love amidst the racial strife at the LA County jail. Then there is “Black.White,” the FX Network reality show debuting this Wednesday that is hyped as a provocative and insightful documentary examining race relations in America.

Of course reality sometimes raises its ugly visage as when TV showed us day after day of the racial tragedy unfolding in the aftermath of Katrina. Blacks in New Orleans had devolved into a state of savagery that was forced upon them by white oppression. Never mind that the reports of debasement and mayhem were mostly untrue, America seemed to eat it up.

But there is a serious side to the racial issue that deserves our attention. Many of the Great Society social programs are reaching a stage where they need to be honestly evaluated.

A good example is the Food Stamp Program (FSP) that was originated during the Great Depression when the unemployment rate was 25 percent and ended in 1943 when it was no longer needed. Note that the FSP was revived in 1961 by President Kennedy at a time of unprecedented prosperity and full employment. The FSP became a cornerstone of President Johnson’s Great Society programs, not in response to an economic crisis but as part of a grand utopian vision to end poverty itself. And the FSP has been a stayer, rising to 25.7 million participants in 2005, at an annual cost of $31 Billion. As with other entitlement programs its rate of growth far exceeds inflation.

At a time when the poor in America have a far greater health risk due to obesity than from malnutrition, is it not a good time to look at the efficacy of a program designed to feed millions of poor people? And after forty years of the war on poverty, isn’t it a reasonable time to see how we’re doing? Or do we all know the answer? We fought a war on poverty and poverty won.

And does poverty mean black? Some statistics are truly frightening. Did you know, for example, that 30 percent of high schoolers do not graduate, and for black teenagers the number is between 50 and 60 percent? Bill Cosby has been saying that and getting lambasted by black writers like Eric Dyson in the pages of the New York Times. The education cartel misleads the public by hiding the actual rate, reporting as dropouts only those who enter senior year but do not finish (17% of blacks). They ignore all those who drop out before then, amounting to more than fifty percent. This is a national tragedy. How the hell did it happen?

I believe that there is a race problem in America, and that it is serious. But unlike the past it is no longer a problem of bigotry and racism. In its new form it may be even harder to fix. Tomorrow I’ll look at the origin of this problem.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw on TV that Blacks and the "black world" are more middle class than Hispanics. The Black environment is worth billions! And for your information - when I ask my college students if they have experienced racism - they reply NO.


12:14 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Thanks for this Helen. I agree that the black middle class is booming and, among middle class students like yours, racism is not experienced. I contend that it is gone entirely but that the black underclass is in big trouble as a consequence of social policies that have undermined their families and communities. More to follow.

12:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, we subsidize that black people too much. That's why they're so poor.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

You are brilliant! It's pithy and true. Well done. Read more to follow.

6:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Bill. If it were up to me, we'd just take away all their foodstamps/welfare checks and baby formula so that they can learn to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

11:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Bill, your last comment, "In its new form it may be even harder to fix" really hit the nail on the head. Too many people would lose their means of making a living if the proverty situation were "fixed." Keeping the downtrodden down is big business and it really fries me to see it.

Bill Cosby's message is lamblasted by the very hierarchy that claims to want to fix the problems of certain minorities. Bill's message is messing with their livelihoods!

Being a minority myself I know the value of pulling one's self up by the bootstraps. My mother did that as a single parent raising 4 kids with only a 9th grade education. Except for 6 months or so in her life, she never depended on welfare. I am thankful for the example.


10:07 AM  

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