21 September 2020

Focusing on the wrong issue (PART 3) (Part 1 of a series on race based on emails to my family)

In cases of child abduction, terrorism, serial killers, plane crashes, because any one event is shocking, horrifying, and overwhelmingly covered by news media, extreme rare events are given the impression of being a significant threat. Fear and outrage don't care at all about facts or statistics or data, and once people have settled on a narrative, they will tend to find ways to hold onto it the same way someone who has picked a religion can rationalize away all contradictory evidence.

When the issue is polarizing, it becomes a matter of which of the people are you: the good guys (us) or the bad guys (them)?
Plane crashes, while dramatic, don't have a clearly identifiable "bad guy", and so aren't polarizing. They can cause fear, but not outrage. Because we are social, we tend to focus disproportionately on things which some other human does deliberately. We need a “bad guy” in order to have strong feelings, and that bad guy has to be someone we can consider "them".

If you subscribe to one political narrative, you see a tiny handful of antifascists commit violence, and label the entire movement as terrorists.
If you subscribe to the opposite political narrative, a few individual examples of police brutality is sufficient to condemn the entire profession.

Black people also support the narrative because it makes them blameless victims, and doesn't require any self reflection or correction within the community.


White people support the narrative for basically the same reason: focusing on cops takes all the attention away from the real root of the disparity: the distribution of wealth, particularly between the lower and middle classes, (and education, which is a consequence thereof) - and that the reason for that disparity is overwhelmingly due to the personal choices made by individual white middle class people – in other words, themselves.

Every white person who picks a neighborhood to live in based on getting their kids into the best schools, every white person who pays for some or all of a child's education including college, every white person who provides a down payment for a house for an adult child, gives thousands or tens of thousands to help their adult children get started, or leaves an inheritance of property, cash, or a business, and every adult who accepts these privileges, is directly keeping the status quo intact for another generation.  Those transfers of wealth, whose whole purpose is to give certain individuals a head start in life, are the primary defining feature of “privilege”.    

There is no level playing field as long as people who are born to parents who have more get a head start.  As long as every individual parent rationalizes themselves as “just one individual”, not “rich”, and says “of course, I just want what’s best for my child”, the wealth gap that started 400 years ago will continue to play out as is from generation to generation indefinitely.

But how much easier is it to go out and protest the police than to say "my child is no more deserving than any other, so I'm not going to give them any privilege other than a good upbringing"?  How much easier to make the “bad guy” someone you can compartmentalize as “other”, like a cop or a politician, than to donate that college savings plan investment to a public scholarship fund, or leave the house to charity in your will, to deliberately move into the worst neighborhood and then become an active parent at the bad school to help make it better?
It isn’t enough to talk about or be conscious of privilege.  In order to actually change anything, you have to actually give up that privilege!


There is enough evidence, from history and from country comparisons, to say conclusively that high relative crime and violence rates are due to exactly two things:

1) Wealth inequality within a society – it is not the absolute levels of poverty that matters.  Poor countries do not necessarily have especially high crime rates.  It is the level of inequality that is the key factor.  What this means is that no measure to address “poverty” will actually help change things.  The reality is that
America is such a wealthy country that even the poor have incredible luxuries.  People with no income live in houses with running water and heat and cooking and refrigerators. People below the poverty line own cars; even homeless encampments have solar panels to charge internet enabled phones because the absolute poorest of us can still afford computers that fit in a pocket!  Someone living at the US “poverty” line has 4.4 times more income than half the people of the entire world. 

Our problem is not poverty per say; it is disparity, which is to say, distribution.  It’s easy to point at the super rich and blame them for their greed (and of course that is totally valid as well), but there are only a few billionaires; the middle class collectively holds more wealth than the top 1%.

2) Cultural segregation (whether on lines of race, religion, tribe, or other).  People who can be defined by a particular demographic, living concentrated together and separately from other people, with their own set of cultural features, from language to collective self-identities.  All forms of cultural separation, for example the very concept of “cultural appropriation”, is essentially saying two things: different people shouldn’t mix, and people should be defined by their demographics.  It’s the new form of “separate but equal”.

Throughout history and throughout the world, the degree to which an outsider group has overcome prejudice and poverty is directly proportional to the degree it is willing and able to integrate, from the Roma of Europe and Koreans in Japan to the Irish, Italians, and Chinese in America.  A movement that calls attention to and encourages differences and separateness, which calls for identity along those cultural lines, a movement which not only insists the world is not in fact colorblind, but also that virtual colorblindness is a deplorable goal, is one that is actively discouraging the one thing which effectively reduces the problems of segregation, which is integration.

Addressing these issues, the real roots of inequality, would require changes that no one in this country, conservative or liberal, black or white, actually wants to do.

It would require a complete end to all forms of inheritance, as well as significant financial, property, (including educational) gifts, within families, with any significant transfer of wealth being taxed into insignificance.
It would require not just prohibiting enforced segregation, but mandatory integration.
That means of course an end to fighting against so called "gentrification" (which is already really a code word for "integration"), nor even merely encouraging gentrification, but requiring neighborhoods to integrate,  probably via a quota, affirmative action style, just like some schools and workplaces once were.
”Separate but equal” is not a valid concept; it wasn’t during Jim Crow, and it isn’t today.

Throughout history marriage has been the primary means of bringing together rival communities. It would perhaps be going too far too start having government arrange marriages, but a social campaign of shaming all monoracial couples as consisting of probable racists and labeling same-race relationships as borderline incestuous might go a long way…

Obviously all schools need to be fully integrated, with as much bussing as necessary (although with mandatory neighborhood integration much fewer buses will be necessary). Private schools eliminated, turned into charter schools, or covered 100% with vouchers.  Preschool made free and mandatory, junior college made free, private tuition capped at public school levels and scholarship grants that will cover advanced education available to all - and parental support and gifts banned for those over 18 above a nominal level, so that money does not factor into the quality of school anyone goes to. This needs to apply not just the rich, or the top 1%, but to everyone, all the time.  A level playing field means every single person has an equal shot, which means no one person has any advantage that they didn’t directly earn for themselves. The playing field has to be actually level to have equality, and giving up privilege isn't about protesting or gestures or acknowledgement; it is about making actual, tangible, personal and financial sacrifices, including letting go of the universal desire to ensure what's best for your own child.

Whoever you are, and especially if your partner shares your race, your child shares your race. Therefore, helping your own child get ahead, doing what's best for them, is an inherently racist act.
It is tiny, and not deliberate, but it is still a racist act, and hundreds of millions of those tiny individual acts are what results in the status quo of racial inequality that has persisted for half a century after explicit formalized racism became a crime.

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