Category Archives: Racial Equality

Speaking Of Structural Racism…

Discussions of Critical Race Theory are worse than useless, since most of the people arguing about CRT have absolutely no idea what it is. It has simply become the most recent wedge issue employed by the portion of America’s population intent upon protecting White privilege.

In other words, a distraction.

Why–you might well ask–do these angry people need a distraction? Since I’m not a psychiatrist (nor do I play one on TV), I can’t provide a truly satisfactory answer to that question. But as Americans continue to confront–or refuse to recognize– elements of our social landscape that document how inequitable that landscape truly is, a recent paper issued by The Brookings Institution may prove instructive.

It’s one thing to talk– as we academic types tend to do–about abstractions like “systemic racism.” Those abstractions are frequently dismissed by the people who become defensive in any discussion of unfairness based upon race. The Brookings study is more concrete; rather than talking in abstract terms, it paints a picture of what systemic racism is and does.

In September, Freddie Mac released a groundbreaking analysis of the U.S. home appraisal industry. Consistent with concerns raised by critics, they found that homes in Black and Latino or Hispanic neighborhoods are much more likely than homes in white neighborhoods to be valued below what a buyer has offered to pay.

A homeowner here in Indianapolis recently documented that appraisal bias.

The Brookings researchers found that Black neighborhoods were associated with much lower property values, and that only a relatively small portion of that effect could be explained by physical characteristics and neighborhood amenities.

Median home values in majority Black census tracts are 55% lower than median home values in non-Latino or Hispanic white census tracts. Part of this difference is attributable to quality differences between the housing stock. Lower wealth in Black communities means that homes in majority Black neighborhoods tend to be older, smaller, and more likely to be attached than homes in neighborhoods with few or no Black people. Lower wealth and lower home values further hinder the ability of Black homeowners to pay for structural improvements to the home and access mortgage refinancing to pay for renovations.

There are also differences in neighborhood quality that show up in housing price differences. Local schools are often less desirable—at least as measured by publicly available test scores accessible to home buyers—in majority Black neighborhoods than in non-Black neighborhoods. Some other characteristics of Black neighborhoods are more desirable, such as access to public transportation and proximity to local stores, but on average, they do not make up for the less desirable features. These structural and neighborhood characteristics explain some of the value penalty to housing in Black neighborhoods, which shrinks to 23% from 55% after adjusting for these factors.

That still leaves a lot of lost value. We estimate that losses amount to $48,000 per home and $156 billion cumulatively in majority Black neighborhoods.

The question is: What explains this?

In the linked paper, the scholars consider–and carefully rebut–criticisms of their research methodology. Interestingly, they also show that White-only neighborhoods are over-valued relative to Black neighborhoods.

Later in the paper, they return to that Freddie Mac study.

A team of economists and data scientists at Freddie Mac analyzed more than 12 million appraisals for purchase transactions submitted to Freddie Mac from January 1, 2015, to December 31, 2020 through the Uniform Collateral Data Portal (UCDP). Freddie Mac is a government-sponsored enterprise chartered to buy mortgages from banks in order to lower the cost and increase the supply of residential loans. In practice, their strict standards set the industry norm for what qualifies as an acceptable loan, and they have access to uniquely detailed data on mortgages submitted by banks.

The research team’s main finding is that homes located in majority Black neighborhoods and majority Latino or Hispanic neighborhoods are significantly more likely to have appraisals submitted to Freddie Mac that are below the contract price when compared to homes in majority white (not Latino or Hispanic) neighborhoods.

The research finds “strong evidence that appraisers discriminate against majority Black and majority Latino or Hispanic neighborhoods. They note in passing that their conclusions track with other other studies, including those showing that Black people are around 36% less likely to be called back for a job than white people with identical resumes.

This is what we mean when we talk about “systemic” racism.

No one is burning a cross on a Black person’s lawn, but the effects are–if anything–more detrimental.

Better Late Than Never…I Guess

Law students–and, one hopes, high school history students–all learn about the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. It established the doctrine of “separate but equal,” a doctrine that ensured that Black folks could continue to be separated and definitely not equal, a situation that would be legally sanctioned until the decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

A quick summary: In 1892, a White-appearing African American resident of New Orleans named Homer Plessy bought a ticket on a train; he boarded the Whites-only car, then identified himself as Black and refused to sit in the car designated for Black people. He was arrested, and the case made its way to the Supreme Court, which rejected Plessy’s argument that his constitutional rights had been violated.

The Court ruled that a law that “implies merely a legal distinction” between White people and Black people wasn’t unconstitutional. As a direct result of that ruling, restrictive Jim Crow legislation and separate public accommodations based on race became commonplace.

It wasn’t until 1954 that Plessy was overruled; the unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision held that separate was inherently unequal. The decision prompted an enormous backlash among White Americans, especially in the South, where hundreds of private schools (segregation academies) drained White children out of public school systems.

Ever since Brown, Americans have been engaged in a culture war over efforts to actually live up to the promise of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. I document many of the contemporary battles of that culture war in this blog. Although progress has been painfully slow–and although sometimes, as with the travesty that was the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, we seem to be regressing– we really have made headway.

One sign of that progress was the news last weekend that Louisiana officials have voted to pardon Homer Plessy–a mere 125 years after his loss in the Supreme Court.

Now, 125 years after the shameful decision that codified the Jim Crow-era “separate but equal” fiction, the namesake of that famous case, Homer Plessy, may be pardoned. The Louisiana Board of Pardons unanimously approved a pardon Friday, according to the Associated Press, sending it to Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for final approval.

Another–and positively heartwarming–sign of progress is the fact that descendants of Homer Plessy and John Howard Ferguson, the Judge who ruled against Homer Plessy at the trial court level, have come together to establish a foundation they have named the Plessy AND Ferguson Foundation.

From that foundation’s website:

After meeting through mutual friend and We As Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson author Keith Weldon Medley, Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson began a partnership that eventually blossomed into the Plessy & Ferguson foundation. Together, they visit schools, festivals, and academic or historical institutions, spreading their message that their mutual history can be a tool to create unity and understanding. By coming together as Plessy and Ferguson, they have seized the opportunity to pick up the torch, keeping history alive, and sharing their vision for true democracy in the 21st century.

CBS Saturday ran an interview with Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson last Saturday, and it’s worth watching. They tell the story of how, after Medley introduced them in 2004, they decided to form the Plessy & Ferguson Foundation, and how they have subsequently worked to have five historical markers honoring Homer Plessy added to the New Orleans landscape.

But as the Washington Post article linked to above notes, and historians have documented, those markers and that recognition don’t — and can’t — include a historical marker at Plessy’s old address on Claiborne Avenue. His home was demolished in 1968 as part of an urban renewal project that uprooted a Black community to make way for Interstate 10–one example among many of the deliberate siting of interstate highways that destroyed Black neighborhoods or separated Black residential areas from White ones in numerous cities around the country, very much including Indianapolis.

That’s another piece of our history that needs repairing…

 

 

Good News

In Christianity, the gospel is sometimes called the “Good News.” The phrase evidently heralds the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God. If you have landed on this page in hopes of a post exploring that concept, you’ve come to the wrong place. I don’t even recognize “Christianity” these days. (Granted, I’m not a Christian.)

In fact, when it comes to contemporary news, I’ve become used to seeing headlines like this one, on articles documenting the ways in which Evangelical “Christians” have become more and more indistinguishable from GOP cultists. 

A group that says its mission is “to halt and push back the forces of darkness” is holding a tactical event in southwest Missouri this weekend to train Christians in “hand-to-hand combat” and “fighting from your vehicle.”

I’m not Christian, but I really don’t think Jesus would approve…

Peter Wehner, a lifelong evangelical, recently wrote an article for the Atlantic about the internal conflicts being caused by the politicization of Christianity. I recommend it.

My “good news” is very different– an explicit rejection of that perversion of belief . There are evidently evangelical pastors who are genuinely religious–that is, concerned with concepts like brotherly love, ethical behavior and the golden rule. 

The Washington Post recently had the story.

Emotions ran high at the gathering of about 100 pastors at a church, about five miles from the University of Notre Dame. Many hugged. Some shed tears. One confessed she could not pray anymore.
 
Some had lost funding and others had been fired from their churches for adopting more liberal beliefs. All had left the evangelical tradition and had come to discuss their next steps as “post-evangelicals.”

Those  who planned the meeting–which took place in South Bend, Indiana–had expected 25 pastors. Word-of-mouth expanded it to over 100.  The appeal appears to be part of what the report calls a” larger reckoning” that has been triggered in individuals and congregations that are “grappling with their faith identity in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency and calls for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd.”

Many of the (formerly) evangelical leaders in attendance at the meeting had been deeply concerned when they learned that approximately 8 out of 10 White evangelicals had voted for Trump in both of his presidential runs–evidence, as they see it, that the evangelical movement has been co-opted by Republican politics.

As the pastors traded stories, they quickly found shared experiences. They lamented their conservative evangelical parents who watch Fox News, as well as their peers who had re-examined their beliefs so much that they lost their faith entirely. They skewed younger, many in their 30s with tattoos covering their arms.

Most of the leaders held some belief in Jesus and the idea that people gathering in churches is still a good idea. Many want their churches to be affirming, meaning that they would perform gay weddings and include LGBTQ people in leadership and membership. They preferred curiosity over certainty, inclusion over exclusion.

According to the article, all of the attendees agreed on two things: they opposed Trump and they opposed racism. (Some of us would suggest that Trumpism is racism, so maybe they only agreed on one thing…) 

One of the most positive signs of change came in a quote from Amy Mikal, who was once a pastor at the Chicago-based megachurch Willow Creek.

“The hardest part is that we were taught to take the Bible literally,” Mikal said. “We want to be a place that asks more questions than provides answers.”

I have previously shared my youngest son’s distinction between a good religion and a bad one: a good religion helps you wrestle with morally-fraught questions about life’s meaning and challenges; a bad religion gives you predetermined “correct” answers and demands that you live in unquestioning accordance with them. Mikal obviously reached a similar conclusion.

The article quoted a different participant, Brit Barron (who had worked for a megachurch in California before she began re-examining her beliefs) for a similar sentiment. Barron opined that “Our job is to create the conversation. If someone opens up and says, ‘I don’t know if any of this is real,’ then we’re doing our job.”

The participants in this meeting understood that the “job” of a pastor is to provide a safe space for questions and debates about morality and faith. That sets them apart from the mega-churches and celebrity pastors who increasingly seem to believe that their job is to program troops for the GOP while raking in lots of money.

The refusal of a growing number of pastors to participate in the con games of the Falwells and Grahams really is “good news.” 

 

 

So What Can We Do?

There was a favorite example I used in my classroom when we were discussing the challenges posed by living in a country whose citizens increasingly occupy wildly different realities: if I say this particular piece of furniture is a table, and you insist it’s a chair, how do we have a productive exchange about its use?

Americans are continually having that maddening–and worthless– conversation. But it has taken a long time for the people who live in the reality-based community to recognize the basis of the problem.

In the wake of the 2016 election, well-meaning observers grasped for rational, evidence-based reasons to explain votes for a man who exemplified everything those voters claimed to detest. It was economic distress. It was an effort to “blow up” a system that wasn’t working for them. It was an inability to cross party lines.

Some of us suspected what has since become too obvious to ignore: Trump’s racism resonated with Americans whose chosen reality was being threatened by the increasing intrusion of “uppity” women and people of color. In Trump voters’ reality, White Christians enjoyed an obvious entitlement to cultural dominance, and that dominance–the position of “real” Americans– was being eroded.

Most of my friends are liberals (although many of them would have been classified as conservatives before the political spectrum lurched so far to the right that sanity is now a “liberal” marker…), and many of them are simply too nice to believe what the data so clearly confirms: America is split between those who live in a world where people are people, no matter their gender, skin color or religion, and those whose worldview assigns worth solely on the basis of those categories.

The data is unambiguous. Just look at this recent report by Alan Abramowitz from Sabato’s Crystal Ball. The article was about the prospects of Democrats winning back White voters without college degrees, and Abramowitz concluded that appealing to the economic interests of White non-college voters wouldn’t be enough for Democrats to win back their support, because the realignment among those White voters isn’t being driven by economics.

If the increasingly obvious argument is correct– that “economic discontent has little to do with the flight of white working class voters from Democrats”– economic policies aren’t going to prompt their return. As Abramowitz notes, the research strongly suggests that the “main factor behind the shifting party allegiance of these voters is the success of Republican leaders like Donald Trump in appealing to the racial resentments and grievances of non-college white voters.”

In this article, I use evidence from the 2020 American National Election Study to examine the effects of various political attitudes on the candidate preferences of college and non-college white voters in the 2020 presidential election. In line with the arguments of racial resentment theorists, I find that economic insecurity had very little impact on white voter decision-making in 2020. However, I find that the rejection of the Democratic Party by white working class voters goes beyond racial resentment alone. Instead, I find that support for Donald Trump among white working class voters reflected conservative views across a wide range of policy issues including social welfare issues, cultural issues, racial justice issues, gun control, immigration, and climate change. In other words, the rejection of the Democratic Party by white working class voters is fundamentally ideological. This fact makes it very unlikely that Democrats will be able to win back large numbers of white working class voters by appealing to their economic self-interest.

Those “conservative views,” of course, are also driven by racial bias. Sociological research has demonstrated, for example, that negative views on social welfare are connected to the belief that (“lazy”) Black Americans will primarily benefit. In the body of his analysis, Abramowitz notes that non-college whites “leaned to the right in every issue area but especially on social welfare, racial justice, and immigration issues.”

Abramowitz applied a regression analysis to the data, and found that

Racial resentment and party identification are by far the strongest predictors of conservative ideology. Evangelical identification has a significant impact as well, but its effect is not nearly as strong as the effects of racial resentment and party ID. Family income has almost no effect on ideology and economic insecurity has a negative effect.

So–back to that argument over whether the furniture is a table or chair. How do we talk to (never mind debate) people who occupy a wildly different reality–not just the looney-tunes who take horse de-wormers and/or accept QAnon fantasies, but the seemingly normal Americans who harbor stubborn hatreds and resentments untethered to fact or evidence (or for that matter, the Christianity they proclaim)?

I’m stumped.

 

 

We’re Number Eleven…

The problem with living at a time when there are so many problems–and so many truly major ones, at that–is that our focus gets splintered. Climate change. Vote suppression. White Supremicists. Rightwing domestic terrorism. Guns. Government gridlock. The pandemic. Continual wars and the growth of the military-industrial complex …The list is endless.

But a recent report in the Washington Post reminded me of one of our most long-term and shameful problems–America’s perverse refusal to follow the lead of other wealthy (and  plenty of non-wealthy) countries and provide universal access to health care. The negative consequences of our refusal to allow anyone to opt in to Medicare (Medicare for those who want it), or just to broaden the scope of the Affordable Care Act, have receded from prominence.

We may be distracted by other policy failures, but the problem remains–and it is as acute as ever, if not more so.

Researchers at the Commonwealth Fund compared the health-care systems of 11 high-income countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The United States has the worst health-care system overall among 11 high-income countries, even though it spends the highest proportion of its gross domestic product on health care, according to research by the Commonwealth Fund.

“We’ve set up a system where we spend quite a bit of money on health care but we have significant financial barriers, which tend to dissuade people from getting care,” said Eric Schneider, the lead author behind the findings and senior vice president for policy and research at the Commonwealth Fund, which conducts independent research on health-care issues.

The researchers identified five metrics of a well-functioning health care system: access to care, the care process itself, administrative efficiency, equity and overall health-care outcomes.Norway, the Netherlands and Australia were judged to be the top-performing countries overall.

The high performers stand apart from the United States in providing universal coverage and removing cost barriers, investing in primary care systems to reduce inequities, minimizing administrative burdens, and investing in social services among children and working-age adults, the Commonwealth Fund found.

The latter is particularly important for easing the burdens on health systems created by older populations, according to Schneider. “These sort of basic supports throughout younger age groups reduce, we think, the chronic disease burden that’s higher in the U.S.,” he said.

Since I have a son who lives in Amsterdam, I was particularly interested in the description of the Netherland’s high-performing system. The researchers found that it was a “well-organized system of locally placed primary care doctors and nurses who provide care on a 24/7 basis”–a system that keeps minor problems from turning into major ones.

The U.S. doesn’t come close. (As a former graduate student, a hospital administrator, told me years ago, we don’t have a healthcare system in the U.S.; we have a healthcare Industry.)

The United States was rated last overall, researchers found, ranking “well below” the average of the other countries overall and “far below” Switzerland and Canada, the two countries ranked above it. In particular, the United States fell at the end of the pack on access to care, administrative efficiency, equity and health-care outcomes.

The article noted that the inequities in America’s healthcare, together with our inadequate primary care, put the country in a much weaker position when it came to confronting the pandemic. That fact–together with the GOP’s advocacy of vaccine denial–may account for the fact that the U.S. has the second-highest COVID death rate among the eleven countries in the study.

America’s healthcare industry is costly in both lives and dollars.

Spending on health care as a share of GDP had grown in all of the countries the Commonwealth Fund surveyed, even before the pandemic. But the increase in the United States has “greatly exceeded” those of other nations. The United States spent 16.8 percent of its GDP on health care in 2019; the next highest country on the list was Switzerland, at 11.3 percent of GDP. The lowest was New Zealand, which spent roughly 9 percent of its GDP on health care in 2019.

Meanwhile, health care in the United States is the least affordable.

I hate sounding like a broken record, but this is what happens when racism drives decisions about the social safety net. Political scientists and sociologists confirm that–in addition to the profit motives/special interests of insurance companies and Big Pharma–the fact that White Americans don’t want “their” tax dollars spent on medical care or other social benefits for “those people” has prevented us from installing a less-costly and vastly more effective medical system.

We keep filling in that swimming pool…