May 9, 2009

The Myth of a Post-Racial Society

There’s still this murmur out and about – especially in race-based political discussions – that because Barack Obama is the President of the United States that all of our issues with race are behind us. That somehow on November 4th, we wiped the slate clean and America doesn’t have race issues, especially between White Americans and Black Americans of any heritage. It’s not true, and it’s worrysome not because there are actually people out there who believe it, but because there are young people out there who – while hopeful of a post-racial society – believe it’s actually come to pass. There’s still a lot of work to be done for us to get anywhere near there, and it’s going to be a long, difficult road regardless of recent successes and the hope they bring us.

While “post-racial” may mean less overt racism, the idea that we have moved into a post-racial period in American history is not merely premature – it is an act of willful denial and ignorance. Paul Ortiz puts it well in his comments on the myth of post-racialism:

The idea that we’ve moved to a post-racial period in American social history is undermined by an avalanche of recent events. Hurricane Katrina. The US Supreme Court’s dismantling of Brown vs. Board of Education and the resegregation of American schools. The Clash of Civilizations thesis that promotes the idea of a War against Islam. The backlash facing immigrant workers. A grotesque prison industrial complex. [Moreover] … [w]hile Americans were being robbed blind and primed for yet another bailout of the banks and investment sectors, they were treated to new evidence from Fox News and poverty experts that the great moral threats facing the nation were greedy union workers, black single mothers, Latino gang bangers and illegal immigrants.[3]

Missing from the exuberant claims that Americans are now living in a post-racial society is the historical legacy of a neoconservative revolution, officially launched in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan, and its ensuing racialist attacks on the welfare “Queens”; Bill Clinton’s cheerful compliance in signing bills that expanded the punishing industries; and George W. Bush’s “willingness to make punishment his preferred response to social problems.”

When people like me discuss racism in America and the work that needs to be done, we’re not talking about something that happened “a long time ago” that White Americans today “had nothing to do with so why should they feel guilty about it.” We’re talking about the recent past; the look-over-your-shoulder past, and the things that are happening right now, today. We’re talking about the pervasive cancer that is White privilege, and we’re talking about the policies, laws, and institutions that reinforce racism in American society today. We’re talking about White Americans who are so sure they’re not racist because they have Black or Latino friends or maybe even dated one that they speak from their own privilege, convinced they can’t possibly be wrong.

The politics of racism has hardly disappeared from the landscape of American culture and the institutions that support it. Poor minority kids now find themselves on a fast track extending from school to juvenile courts to prison. And the number of poor and minority kids, now aptly called the “recession generation” by Dr. Irwin Redlener, president of New York City’s Children’s Health fund, has increased from 13 million before the economic meltdown to an expected 17 million by the end of the year. And who are these kids? These are the kids marginalized by race and class, who are largely seen either as a drain on the economy or stand in the way of market freedoms, free trade, consumerism and the whitewashed fantasies of a cleansed, Disneyfied social order. These are kids who, not only have to fend for themselves in the face of life’s tragedies, but are also supposed to do it without being seen by the dominant society. Excommunicated from the sphere of human concern, they have been rendered invisible, utterly disposable, and heir to that army of socially homeless that allegedly no longer existed in colorblind America. Most of them, if not homeless, live in dilapidated housing, attend schools that are underfunded and literally falling apart, receive food stamps and eat mostly junk food when they can get it.

But there’s more to this unconscious racism than might initially be implied. Even those who claim to be fighting this kind of racial bias are themselves susceptible to it, in the form of the “my ism is worse than your ism” feminists that appears during the Presidential campaign – you remember the ones, the ones who would rather vote McCain than a Black man, if they can’t vote for a White woman? Even the ones who begrudgingly supported Obama against McCain but didn’t miss an opportunity to toss a few barbs his way because he was Black? Or the Ron Paul supporters who cheerfully defended their candidate from his own incredibly racist remarks?

Progressives, powell says, are as susceptible to accepting racialization as conservatives. “The failure to actually embrace race in a constructive, much more sophisticated way is one of the great failures of the progressive movement,” he says.

It is not enough to pursue “race-neutral” policies or to use proxies for race, such as poverty, powell says. For example, in the absence of structural changes in patterns and practices that leave African Americans and women underrepresented in construction trades, the money in the economic recovery bill that is now being poured into infrastructure projects will invariably end up benefiting whites and males more than African Americans and females, powell says.

This is absolutely true – and while both of the articles that these quotes are coming from urge President Obama to put some more focus on race issues and highlight some of these injustices, I can only add my voice – especially to my fellow progressives who believe themselves beyond reproach. We know where the conservatives and their allies in hate stand. We need to ensure that we’re more like our own ideals than we are like them. Then together we can make even more real, hopeful progress.

[ Youth and the Myth of a Post-Racial Society Under Barack Obama ]
Source: Truthout

[ What the Right, and the Left, Doesn’t Get About Race ]
Source: Campaign for America’s Future

GOP Stripped ‘Flu Pandemic Preparedness’ From Stimulus

One of my favorite stories from the news lately that’s gotten some attention but not nearly enough in my opinion, is the fact that during the wrangling over the Stimulus bill, President Obama and the Congressional Democrats noticed that HHS had stopped funding research into pandemic preparedness when it became apparent that the threat of Avian Flu was less severe than initially anticipated. Obama attempted to reinsert funding for pandemic preparedness into the stimulus plan, but when negotiating to get the two Republican senate votes required to pass it, that funding was removed to appease the Republicans.

As happy as I am that some of the Republicans had enough sense to come to the table instead of just plugging their ears and singing the Star Spangled Baner, it’s clearer now than it ever has been that their political games are putting the nation at risk, and not in some vague way. As we face down the Swine Flu, which hopefully also won’t turn out to be as large a threat as some are worried it will be, we have an HHS that isn’t fully funded to help develop a strategy to combat a quickly-spreading or potentially pandemic virus.

Remember way back in the day, President Obama delivered his Not Really The State Of The Union address, and the GOP trotted out Future Of The Republican Party Supra-Genius Bobbly Jindal to provide a rebuttal? Well, we all had some laughs, didn’t we? Mainly because Jindal was all: “They want to spend stimulus money on volcano monitoring? Why everyone knows that the Hill Witch keeps tabs on our volcanoes by floating chicken bones in her own intestinal ichor!” And then Alaska’s Mount Redoubt erupted, suggesting there might be something to this “let’s monitor volcanoes with government-funded science” idea.

Well, as it turns out, volcano monitoring wasn’t the only worthwhile public safety program that was deemed extravagant in the stimulus package, funding for pandemic preparation was axed as well. And playing a critical role was Susan Collins — for whom the necessity of obtaining her vote is in inverse proportion to the intelligence she shows in policy making:

Famously, Maine Senator Collins, the supposedly moderate Republican who demanded cuts in health care spending in exchange for her support of a watered-down version of the stimulus, fumed about the pandemic funding: “Does it belong in this bill? Should we have $870 million in this bill No, we should not.”

Even now, Collins continues to use her official website to highlight the fact that she led the fight to strip the pandemic preparedness money out of the Senate’s version of the stimulus measure.

Remember this when we go to the polls in 2010, folks.

[ GOP Pigs Stripped ‘Flu Pandemic Preparedness’ From Stimulus ]
Source: AlterNet

Conservative Zombie Ideas Haunting Us Still

I missed this one the first time around and a friend forwarded the note to me; the Republicans and conservatives in Congress are still fighting as hard as possible to keep us in this miserable job-shedding recession as hard as possible. Not because they have an alternative plan, not because they have a different way out, but only because they have this need to be contrary and pull in the opposite direction whenever America makes progress. If there’s any indication that conservatives in America have not only lost their way but lost their minds, it’s now.

Over at the Campaign for America’s Future, Bernie Horn outlines some of the conservative ideas that got us into this mess that apparently they seem to think will also get us back out. For example:

Zombie idea: Trickle-down tax cuts stimulate the economy and benefit average Americans. Another relic of the Reagan era is the idea that tax cuts for the rich will lead to more investment and an increase in good jobs for middle and lower-income workers. John Kenneth Galbraith called it the horse-and-sparrow theory: “If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.”

Right wingers also asserted that, by stimulating growth, trickle-down tax cuts would offset the government’s lost revenue—they would pay for themselves. That was quickly proven false as the national debt tripled over the course of Reagan’s eight years in office. Similarly, George W. Bush’s trickle-down tax cuts helped double the national debt between 2001 and 2009.

In fact, the notion that tax cuts for the rich can significantly improve America’s economy is dead and buried. Jarad Bernstein lays out the evidence in an article, “Trickle Down…R.I.P.,” conclusively proving that middle- and lower-class families do well when the tax system is more progressive and lose ground when taxes shift to benefit the wealthy.

Trickle-down economics continues to rise up from the graveyard into congressional bills and amendments proposed by Republican leaders in the U.S. House and Senate. But polls show that these are lifeless ideas. Americans instead endorse a very different initiative—Barack Obama’s tax cut for the middle-class.

This was my primary problem with the way Republicans in Congress attacked the stimulus plan: they wanted more tax cuts because apparently THAT would fix the problem, even though economists and historians both united in opposition to the idea. The goal was a healthy mix of tax cuts in the right places (and not just for the Bush-era friends at the top of the income ladder) and spending that could get people working, get infrastructure upgraded and new projects built, and put the wheels of the economy back in motion. Already that mix is proving to be the right one, and conservatives have fallen suddenly and eerily silent on it the issue – more proof that it’s clear they were on the wrong side of history. Again.

Let’s look at one more that I love:

Zombie idea: The right-wing “culture war” can be won. Conservative “movement” politics is all about defining enemies, like Hollywood liberals bringing down public morality, abortionists who oppose “life,” and those who practice the gay “lifestyle.”

The truth is, George W. Bush only gave lip service to social conservatives. He took very little action on their behalf. Why? It would have been bad politics. Americans aren’t interested in a culture war. Even fundamentalist leader James Dobson admitted: “We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict…. Humanly speaking, we can say that we have lost all those battles.”

Just look at the issue of LGBT rights over the course of the Bush presidency. Same-sex marriage has become legal, not just in places like New England (and for a while California), but in Iowa! In fact, there were really no major protests anywhere in America when same-sex marriage was legalized almost simultaneously in Iowa and Vermont.

In addition, over the past eight years laws have been enacted in dozens of states and cities preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and many of those laws also protect transgender persons. Hate crimes laws have passed in every corner of the nation. And that was under Bush. President Obama is appointing openly gay people to important positions throughout the federal government.

Polls show that support for LGBT rights is growing rapidly and that young people are enthusiastic supporters. Even some leaders on the right can read the handwriting on the wall. McCain-Palin campaign strategist Steve Schmidt recently urged the GOP to endorse same-sex marriage. Put a fork in it—the culture war is done.

That’s what I’m talking about.

[ Conservative Zombie Ideas Haunting Us Still ]
Source: Campaign for America’s Future