Tuesday, April 28, 2015

America's Invisible Economic Crisis

Though police brutality was the precipitating cause of the events in Baltimore, an important background is economic. Conditions that would be described as an economic depression, crisis, and emergency if they existed in the White mainstream are the norm for poor people of color. If White Americans faced these conditions all the levers of government and society would be activated to try to fix the crisis. (Just look at the massive spending packages passed by the Bush and Obama administrations in 2008-2009, when the White unemployment rate began to creep toward what the Black unemployment rate always is.) America glances at the same conditions for African Americans and says, "I guess you'll deal."

And African Americans have battled this economic crisis not for six months or a year or a decade, but for generations. Globalization, deindustrialization, automation, mass incarceration, White flight, and racial discrimination in housing and employment have squeezed poor people of color from both ends, hollowing out job opportunities and making them less employable for the few jobs that remain.

The economic injury to African Americans is compounded by the insult the rest of the country's indifference implies. In fact, it's more than indifference, if social media is any guide. It's contempt. When African Americans dare to treat the American state's immiseration of its citizens as a crisis rather than the accepted norm, many Americans are indignant. How dare we invade their bubble with news of oppressed people in America? Don't we know that patriotism is more important than Black lives? Don't we know that our investment in Whiteness is not to be named out loud?

Many Americans seem to take economic crisis in Black communities as evidence of racial or cultural failure. The same conditions in White communities would only signal the urgent need for reform. The conditions in Black communities are constituent parts of an economic system in which tens of millions of Americans are invested. Millions of Americans attend some of the best schools in the world. Millions of Americans have amazing jobs. But there are not decent schools for everyone who wants to learn. There are not decent jobs for everyone who wants to work. We've been on this neo-liberal turn for decades. It is time to admit that it's not working.

No comments:

Post a Comment