Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Money of Color

... as in skin color.

I read the text of Barack Obama's speech on race-- I thought he did a great job confronting a difficult topic. I couldn't help noting, of course, that one of the main things he cites as dividing the races, as well as one of the main things that can unite them, is, basically, money.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

***

Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense.

***

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

***

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.
For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man who's been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family.

I'm glad he talked about these things so clearly. So often, I think people politely (or not) sweep issues of race under the rug and want to pretend we're all totally past it. I don't often blog about this issue but when I touched on it in one of my early posts, "What Color is Your Millionaire," there were some fairly heated comments. Somewhat later, I was interviewed and talked a little bit about the controversy that post generated. That part of the interview-- which included a comment along the lines of "I didn't say the author of The Millionaire Next Door was a racist, I just said he was ignoring the issue of race in a disingenuous way, and the statistics supporting his message make it absurd"-- was completely edited out, and as far as I could tell it was the only part that was edited out! Whoa, guess that got a little too divisive and controversial!

So I'm glad a politician has managed to frankly acknowledge that we have a legacy of an uneven playing field, and that we need to work together on the common economic goals and aspirations that unite us.

[In case anyone's wondering, this isn't meant as a "run out and vote for Obama" pitch. I am still undecided as to who our best future president would be. Also, though my family is ethnically mixed, my experience is that of a white person.]

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post. I was blown away by his speech. I have not been a huge Obama supporter so far (like you, I am undecided) but I was so impressed by the way he handled this issue. I felt it showed actual *leadership*. Race is a topic that does not get talked about honestly -- people dig in and take sides and don't talk openly about race in mixed-race company. I felt he opened things up, did not cave in to political correctness, and set an example of seeing things in shades of gray, so to speak, not just black and white. I too live in a racially mixed family and it was a relief to hear these issues aired in a mature way.

Adrienne said...

Exactly! I think he is the one and only candidate that can force us to look at our race issue squarely in the face and deal with it...not by force, but by default. So yes, it's because he's black. But it's something that desperately needs addressing...if only so we can move past it.
Our problem is that, like you said, we tend to ignore it and hope it will just go away. But as long as that keeps happening, it will continue being a problem...and not just for whites and blacks, but for all of us.

Bigotry in all it's forms is a problem that keeps us from focusing on real issues in this country like healthcare, Iraq, and the economy.

tea said...

I just want to remind everyone that Barack Obama is bi-racial. As a person of mixed race, as well, I was really happy to finally hear him talk about his other half. The fact that he's constantly referred to as a black candidate, and is both considered not black enough (at least early in his bid for the nomination) and not white either is an interesting commentary on how the US still follows the old one drop rule.

cloudy said...

Though I thought this was a good speech and necessary, I am saddened by the reason it was made in the first place. I also had hoped he would have better addressed Wright's comments on how white women don't have to try twice as hard to accomplish things. One of things that I've come to realize this Primary season is how prevelant racism and sexism still is in our soceity. As someone who is both mixed race and female, I understand what it's like from both sides of the isle. Aslo, in my opinion, I think that though this speech was lauded and well recieved, a similar speech by Clinton on sexism would probably have been railed against and seen as "shrill". It frustrates me that our political process has come to this instead of focusing on the issues, like healthcare and the economy.

That Saddity Chic said...

I am so glad Obama spoke on this. As a black woman I've never experienced being held back because of my skin color but I do know it happens. But we also have to stop placing blame. I get sick to my belly when I hear "the white man is holding us down". Then I look at the pictures of the Jena6 boys laying in a bed full of money and showing off the new shiny bling they bought with sympathetic peoples donations that was supossed to go to their legal case. Or I see my old assistant who just bought a merecedes she can't afford and is behind on her payments as well as her rent.

It's mental slavery they keep themselves in and continue to wonder why they are broke and will never be able to provide a financial stepping stone to their future generations.

I wish more people had our mindset. Maybe one day.

Anonymous said...

" . ... as to who." should be ... 'as to whom.'

tsk tsk ... for one who works in publishing!

Anonymous said...

No, Anonymous, "as to who" is correct! The sentence is:
I'm undecided as to who our next president will be." The "who" fills in the hole in: our best next president will be ____. The nominative case goes there (who), not the accusative (whom). True, most people today would say: It's me (accusative), technically it should be: It is I (nominative).

All that said, I really don't think it matters much whether you use "who" or "whom" as long as we all understand each other.

Madame X said...

I'm not sure, anon 10:52-- normally, you'd say "to whom" but in this case, "who our next president should be" is the thing I am "undecided as to." Maybe "undecided as to" isn't great usage to begin with, but I don't think you'd say "whom should our next president be?" You'd say "who should our next president be?" If the sentence had been "I'm undecided about who our next president should be" I don't think "who" would seem incorrect.
There's also a good rule of thumb: he= who, him=whom. Hmm, but then would you say "He should be our next president" or "Our next president should be him?" Oh geez, maybe you're right! :)

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to see a financial blog be about racism...

:(

finance girl said...

Please don't yell at me, but I am really, really, really weary of the race issue.

Do injustices happen? Yes.

Is it still up to each individual to overcome those injustices and perservere, without giving up, and with a whole lot of hard work (even if it seems "unfair")? Yes.

I don't care what one's sex or color is.

Set your goals and go for them.

If you get discouraged find folks around to inspire you and just stop with any excuses (by you I mean everyone on the planet, not you Miss MOW).

Anonymous said...

Too little, too late. Obama's speech, nice as it may be, cannot make up for his extremely close relationship with an anti-American anti-white preacher, a man who has been his spiritual mentor FOR TWENTY YEARS.

As a mother, I can't forgive Obama for taking his daughters to that church and letting that preacher poison their impressionable young minds with his filth. Obama said he wouldn't want his daughters to hear Imus's garbage, but what Wright said was OK for their ears?

He has absolutely lost my vote.

VixenOnABudget said...

I too agree with you, Madame X, and commend you on putting up this post. I'm white, but have grown up in a very ethnically mixed environment. Many people pretend the race issue doesn't exist anymore when it's right in front of our eyes. Latinos and African-Americans are literally rioting against each other in high schools because they are fighting for the same meager resources. The cycle of poverty prevents many from being able to get out of that environment. If from the very start you are given a poor education, watch your parents work multiple jobs at minimum wage and have no one to tell you where to go for a better life... it's not suprise that the new generation ends up working a minimum wage job or something comparable. Or worse, they go for something more lucrative, like the drug trade.

On the other hand, white people hold bitter resentment that many jobs are being transported overseas. They blame it on so many factors (like immigration) when the real problem lies within our own nation's policies. It was the US who pushed for NAFTA which enables big corporations to go down to Mexico, exploit cheap labor and then ship them back without tariffs. Corporations like Wal-Mart are ruining our economy.

Oh, my, I'll stop myself now before I write a full essay.