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A crippling social malady

Melvin B. Miller | 4/12/2017, 10:48 a.m.
America’s racism is complex and confusing. Toni Morrison, the prize winning author, in an interview with Charlie Rose some years ...
“Who are we going to be better than now?” Photo by Dan Drew

America’s racism is complex and confusing. Toni Morrison, the prize winning author, in an interview with Charlie Rose some years ago, stated its nature quite simply: “Don’t you understand that people who do this thing, who practice racism, are bereft? There is something distorted about the psyche. It’s a huge waste and it’s a corruption, and it’s a distortion.”

The confusion is that the conditions which are supposed to establish blacks as inferior also fall heavily on whites. For example, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 17,981,400 whites live in poverty, a number substantially higher than the 9,561,100 impoverished blacks. While poverty afflicts a higher percentage of the nation’s black population, whites are by no means immune.

White conservatives complain about government entitlements for blacks, but 40.2 percent of federal food supplements went to whites in 2013, compared to only 25.7 percent for African Americans. It seems the criticism that benefits are primarily for blacks is a subterfuge to use racial hostility as a strategy to deny assistance to everyone.

Conservatives have asserted that the shooting deaths of blacks by the police are a result of blacks’ criminality. The Washington Post has been maintaining a record of police shooting deaths, and according to their count there were 963 fatal police shootings in 2016. Quite surprisingly, 465 of the victims were white, 233 were black and 160 were Hispanic. The number of white deaths by police was twice the number of African Americans killed. Again, blacks were disproportionately victimized, but the number of white deaths was also substantial.

A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that was published in December 2016 found that 8.2 million of those who gained health insurance from 2010-2015 under the Affordable Care Act were white (43 percent) and 2.8 million (15 percent) were black. Clearly whites were the greater beneficiaries of the ACA, which was described by conservatives as being a boon for blacks.

Some whites who have achieved the American Dream might assert with some supporting evidence that they are racially superior, but scientists have removed that possibility. It is now well established that race is an unscientific social construct. At any rate, an assertion of racial superiority would be vitiated by the record of the many whites who are unable to thrive in America.

While Americans boast that “we’re number one,” countries in Europe have provided universal health care for all their citizens, and very rarely are citizens of any race gunned down by the police. Also, public policy prevents the wealth and income gaps from being as great as in the U.S. So what is it that prevents working class whites from uniting with blacks and Latinos to create those benefits in the U.S. that are common in Europe?

Perhaps as Toni Morrison suggests “there is something distorted about the psyche” of many whites that prevents them from crossing the race barrier to form a political bloc to improve their own conditions. They have been deceived about so-called Obamacare by conservative politicians who were supposed to be their friends. It is time for the racists to form new alliances to achieve the benefits that the citizens of European countries take for granted.

As Ms. Morrison points out, “If you can only be tall because somebody is on their knees, then you have a serious problem.”