Category Archives: Racial Equality

Bigotry: A Cost/Benefit Analysis

There are fairly obvious reasons that posts and comments to this blog have increasingly centered on bigotry–well-meaning individuals are (reluctantly) facing up to the extent of the tribal animus that continues to fester in far too many of our fellow Americans.

Much of the reaction to that animus is expressed in moral or religious terms– the belief that racial and religious hatreds are immoral or sinful. Others point to the destabilizing, anti-democratic consequences of such bias, and still others point to the human costs to individuals who suffer from discrimination or may even be prevented from pursuing their life goals for no reason other than their religion, gender or the color of their skin.

But bigotry has economic costs as well, and they are substantial, as a Brookings Institute paper points out.

The research concludes that racial and ethnic disparities in the United States–disparities resulting from official and social discrimination–haven’t simply hurt the people who experience that discrimination. They’ve hurt us all, by depressing U.S. economic output by trillions of dollars over the past 30 years.

The researchers controlled for five variables: 

employment (the percentage of people with jobs); hours worked; educational attainment (the level of education completed); educational utilization (the extent to which people are in jobs that fully use their education); and earnings gaps not explained by those factors.

Then they calculated how much larger the U.S. economic pie would be if opportunities and outcomes had been more equally distributed by race and ethnicity. Their answer?  $22.9 trillion over the 30-year period.

When we fail to utilize the talents of millions of people, we shouldn’t be surprised that the result is lower prosperity for everyone. (We began to recognize that reality when large numbers of women finally entered the workforce and we were no longer failing to use the smarts and talents of fifty percent of the population.)   

As J.P. Morgan & Co.–hardly a socialist enterprise– has documented, Black people represent 12.7 percent of the U.S. population, but only 4.3 percent of the 22.2 million business owners in the country. A significant reason for that disparity is the difficulty minority business-people encounter when they are trying to raise capital; Black entrepreneurs are almost three times more likely to have business profits negatively affected by access to capital.

Furthermore, barely six percent of small businesses in majority-Black communities and 11 percent of small businesses in majority-Hispanic communities have more than 14 days worth of cash on hand, compared to 65 percent of businesses in majority-white communities. Similar disparities are found in comparison of first-year business revenues: Black-owned small businesses earned 59 percent less and Latino-owned small businesses earned 21 percent less in first-year revenues than white-owned counterparts.

The J.P. Morgan report noted the effect of these disparities on the overall economy:

Closing this racial wealth gap could grow the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by an estimated four to six percent by 2028, adding an additional $1 to $1.5 trillion to the economy, according to McKinsey. An economy that works for more people could break down barriers to opportunity and improve how people live, from life earnings to life expectancy.

As I read the research documenting the various ways in which ostensibly neutral financial decisions reflect bias–the extent to which decisions by investors and banks are influenced by attitudes about race and gender– I keep coming back to the episode recounted by Heather McGhee, about the town that filled in its swimming pool rather than share it with Black people.

Hard as it is for me to get my head around, it’s obvious that there are a lot of Americans who choose to go without–who choose to be poor, or poorer than necessary–if the alternative is that some of their Black or Brown neighbors succeed. 

If the “benefit” in that cost/benefit analysis is an outcome ensuring that Whites and people of color are equally denied an otherwise available asset, then the costs of bigotry are massively disproportionate to the benefits.






It’s Always About Race

Tomorrow’s blog accidentally published early. So nothing in the morning…

It was finally the election of Barack Obama that signaled the end of my comforting naiveté. 

I came to that election with the very incomplete history education that–I now understand–was fed to pretty much every White kid for more years than I can count, and I was delighted: America was overcoming the pockets of racism that still lingered.

I’ve been wrong about a lot of things in my life, but rarely have I been as wrong as I was about the implications of that election.

True, the fact that America elected a biracial President was evidence of considerable progress, and we should definitely celebrate that progress. But what I totally missed was the hysterical backlash and the re-animation of the racism that remained–a racism far more pervasive than I had ever imagined.

Since that election, I’ve read lot of the history I hadn’t been taught, and I’ve followed the increasing amount of social science research that is “unpeeling the onion” and demonstrating the extent to which ostensibly race-neutral policies are actually based on racial animus.

Take the “pro-life” movement. Most Americans believe that the genesis of anti-abortion politics was Roe v. Wade. I have previously cited Randall Balmer–an eminent scholar of Evangelical Christianity–for the actual history of that movement.

Balmer reiterated that lesson in a recent essay for the Guardian.

Although leaders of the religious right would have us believe that the Roe decision was the catalyst for their political mobilization in the 1970s, that claim does not withstand historical scrutiny. What prompted evangelical interest in politics, in fact, was a defense of racial segregation.

Evangelicals considered abortion a “Catholic issue” through most of the 1970s, and there is little in the history of evangelicalism to suggest that abortion would become a point of interest. Even James Dobson, who later became an implacable foe of abortion, acknowledged after the Roe decision that the Bible was silent on the matter and that it was plausible for an evangelical to hold that “a developing embryo or fetus was not regarded as a full human being”.

Balmer writes that he first began researching the origins of the religious right after a meeting he attended in 1990. The meeting included what he identifies as a “veritable who’s-who of the religious right,” –he notes Ralph Reed of Christian Coalition; Donald Wildmon from the American Family Association; Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; Ed Dobson of the Moral Majority; Richard Viguerie and Paul Weyrich. (He notes that no women were present–not a surprise.)

Weyrich reminded the group that the religious right had not come together in response to  Roe v. Wade. Instead, the motivation was the IRS effort to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policies.

Balmer later questioned Weyrich to be certain he’d heard correctly.

He was emphatic that abortion had nothing whatsoever to do with the genesis of the religious right. He added that he’d been trying since the Goldwater campaign in 1964 to interest evangelicals in politics. Nothing caught their attention, he insisted – school prayer, pornography, equal rights for women, abortion – until the IRS began to challenge the tax exemption of Bob Jones University and other whites-only segregation academies.

Indeed, in 1971 the Southern Baptist Convention had passed a resolution calling to legalize abortion. When the Roe decision was handed down, some evangelicals applauded the ruling as marking an appropriate distinction between personal morality and public policy. Although he later – 14 years later – claimed that opposition to abortion was the catalyst for his political activism, Jerry Falwell did not preach his first anti-abortion sermon until February 1978, more than five years after Roe.

As Balmer notes, it wasn’t until the early 1980s that opposition to abortion became an evangelical battle cry. As a strategy, “it allowed leaders to camouflage the real origins of their movement: the defense of racial segregation in evangelical institutions.”

It isn’t only abortion, of course. Scholars have linked the right’s constant drumbeat against “socialism” and its adamant opposition to efforts to strengthen America’s social safety net to that same tribalism; in order to prevent “those people” from benefitting from programs like national health insurance, significant numbers of White people are willing to go without those benefits. It’s like the episode reported by Heather McGhee in The Sum of Us, about the Southern town that filled in its municipal swimming pool rather than integrate it. And so nobody got to swim.

Un-peeling onions makes me cry.



Texas Is About Much More Than Abortion

The angry blowback against Texas’ assault on reproductive rights is eminently justifiable–but as I explained previously, most of the criticism of the law misses the even more ominous threat it poses.

In her newsletter last Saturday, Heather Cox Richardson brought a historian’s perspective to that more ominous reality. She traced the nation’s legal trajectory after WW II, and the resistance to efforts by FDR to use government to regulate business and provide a basic social safety net. And as she reminded readers, racist Southern Democrats furiously fought government’s efforts to ensure racial equality. 

After World War II, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, a Republican appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower, and Chief Justice Warren Burger, a Republican appointed by Richard Nixon, the Supreme Court set out to make all Americans equal before the law. They tried to end segregation through the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision prohibiting racial segregation in public schools. They protected the right of married couples to use contraception in 1965. They legalized interracial marriage in 1967. In 1973, with the Roe v. Wade decision, they tried to give women control over their own reproduction by legalizing abortion.

The Supreme Court used  the Fourteenth Amendment to apply the Bill of Rights to state governments as well as to the federal government; among other things, that kept state and local government officials from denying certain individuals the same rights enjoyed by other citizens

From the beginning, there was a backlash against the New Deal government by businessmen who objected to the idea of federal regulation and the bureaucracy it would require. As early as 1937, they were demanding an end to the active government and a return to the world of the 1920s, where businessmen could do as they wished, families and churches managed social welfare, and private interests profited from infrastructure projects. They gained little traction. The vast majority of Americans liked the new system.

But the expansion of civil rights under the Warren Court was a whole new kettle of fish. Opponents of the new decisions insisted that the court was engaging in “judicial activism,” taking away from voters the right to make their own decisions about how society should work. That said that justices were “legislating from the bench.” They insisted that the Constitution is limited by the views of its framers and that the government can do nothing that is not explicitly written in that 1787 document.

This is the foundation for today’s “originalists” on the court. They are trying to erase the era of legislation and legal decisions that constructed our modern nation. If the government is as limited as they say, it cannot regulate business. It cannot provide a social safety net or promote infrastructure, both things that cost tax dollars and, in the case of infrastructure, take lucrative opportunities from private businesses.

It cannot protect the rights of minorities or women.

The Court’s refusal to enjoin the Texas law is a truly terrifying omen. If the law is ultimately upheld, the precedent would threaten far more than a woman’s right to control her own reproduction. As Richardson notes, such a result would “send authority for civil rights back to the states to wither or thrive as different legislatures see fit…there is no reason that this mechanism couldn’t be used to undermine much of the civil rights legislation of the post–World War II years.”

In 1957, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower used the federal government to protect the constitutional rights of the Little Rock Nine from the white vigilantes who wanted to keep them second-class citizens. In 2021, the Supreme Court has handed power back to the vigilantes.

I am old enough to remember the billboards demanding “Impeach Earl Warren.” The rage of rightwing White Nationalists at decisions that they (correctly) believed would curtail their ability to deny equal rights to Blacks and other disfavored minorities hasn’t abated. Much of it went underground: into the establishment of “think tanks” devoted to justifications of “originalism”and rollbacks of federal regulations, the (now successful) effort to pack the federal courts with ideologues and capture the big prize: the Supreme Court.

Logically, under the last fifty years of legal precedent, Texas’ effort to “outsource” its abortion ban to vigilantes–its effort to avoid “state action”– should fail. The state’s legislature created the law. Enforcement of its punitive and dangerous scheme requires participation by the state’s judicial system. 

What too few of the people arguing for and against this assault seem to recognize is what is truly at stake right now: the entire edifice of current Constitutional law, which rests on the premise that the Bill of Rights applies to all levels of government–that it sets a civil liberties floor below which states may not go.

This fight is about more than Roe v. Wade.



Demographics And Politics

As the results of the Trump- delayed census have emerged, we’ve learned that American diversity is both growing and shifting.

The overview–the national picture–is considerably less White, and that reality is further enraging the too-plentiful numbers of White Supremicists among us. Their hysteria–not unlike a child’s tantrum–is likely to have some ugly political repercussions. We can only hope that, in the scheme of things and the sweep of history, those repercussions are temporary.

When the picture focuses on distribution rather than on aggregate numbers, things get more interesting. Charles Blow has provided a rundown of those numbers in a recent column, and the basic thrust is that Black people are moving out of what were dismissively called the “inner cities.”

The term “inner city” has long been used as a derisive euphemism for Black — poor, blighted and in distress. But many inner cities in the North and West are becoming less and less Black because Black people are moving out.

Black populations in what were considered to be Black strongholds have been dwindling, and that has been happening all over the country. There has been a reverse migration wave of Black people from the North and West moving back to the South. Blow goes through an extensive list of cities that have lost Black populations.

Among the most interesting:

Detroit, once the Blackest big city in America, home of Motown, dropped from 82 percent Black in 2010 to 77 percent Black in 2020. The Hispanic, white and Asian populations all grew in the city over that period.

New York City, with two million Black residents, more than any other city in America, saw its Black population fall by 4.5 percent over the past decade. This came on the heels of the Black population declining 5.1 percent the previous decade, the first drop in the number of Black residents in recent history.

Harlem, according to the 2020 census, is now just 37% Black. Harlem!

Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles–Blow provides the numbers showing diminished Black population. He also shares the numbers showing the growth of Black population in the American South.

These shifts don’t mean that there are now fewer cities with Black majorities; the number is on the rise, as Brookings pointed out in 2019. It’s just that 90 percent of majority Black cities are now in the South. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that much of the municipal South is Black.

Ironically, Selma and Montgomery, Ala.; Jackson and Philadelphia, Miss.; Little Rock, Ark.; and Atlanta —places we associate with some of the worst episodes of America’s racist past– now have Black mayors.

All of this is politically relevant.

For a number of years, Republican Party leaders have been reacting to predictions that “demography is destiny”–fears that the growing diversity of America (and the decidedly Democratic lean of the country’s youth)–will soon make the GOP electorally irrelevant. That fear is what has prompted the GOP’s extreme gerrymandering, vote suppression tactics and efforts to control who counts the votes.

The movement of Black Americans out of easily demonized metropolitan centers changes the calculus. It’s harder to whip up fear of “those people” who live in the centers of large cities when so many of “those people” are White, young, upwardly mobile Starbucks drinkers. And as Stacy Abrams and her fellow-activists showed in Georgia, the previously solid South, which could be counted on to vote White, whatever party was carrying the banner of White Supremacy at any given time, is no longer so solid. It isn’t just cultural change, welcome as that is. It’s demographic shift. 

Blow didn’t include cities in Texas in his recitation, and it is likely that increasing demographic diversity there is due more to the growth of Latino populations than an influx  of Blacks, but when we think of states south of the Mason-Dixon Line currently headed by stubbornly reactionary Republicans, Texas certainly comes to mind. Whether Abbott’s frantic efforts to suppress minority votes in the face of demographic change will keep Texas in the Red column for another few years is anyone’s guess.

Blow says the new distribution of America’s Black population is producing “chocolate chip cities.” If–as sociologists tell us–bigotry is reduced by familiarity with members of previously marginalized populations, those “chocolate chip” cities bode well for civic amity.



A Philosophical Big Sort

I have previously cited Bill Bishop’s excellent 2008 book, The Big Sort, in which Bishop focused on physical “sorting”–the increased geographical clustering of like-minded Americans choosing to live in areas populated by people who generally shared their political worldviews.

A very thoughtful book review by Ronald Aronson in The Hedgehog Review centered on a different type of American division–what one might call “philosophical sorting.”

The book being reviewed was The Upswing written by Robert Putnam (he of “Bowling Alone” fame) and Shaylyn Garrett. The book looked at what it called the “I-We-I arc” through the lens of the last 125 years of American economic, political, social, and cultural history.

A remarkable assemblage of data and a compelling story about America history, The Upswing begins with the Gilded Age, the period of disintegration, conflict, and aggressive individualism after the Civil War. It was followed by seventy-five years of growth in equality and national community achieved first by the Progressive movement, then by the New Deal, and, under different conditions, by wartime solidarity. But then things went sour: “Between the mid-1960s and today—by scores of hard measures along multiple dimensions—we have been experiencing declining economic equality, the deterioration of compromise in the public square, a fraying social fabric, and a descent into cultural narcissism.” The last century’s upswing has been followed by the slide toward an unhappy collection of democratic ills: inequality, individualism, austerity, the domination of human needs by the “free market,” political polarization, and the blockage of economic and educational gains by African Americans.

According to the review, the book is replete with graphs that reveal a repeating arc: an inverted U. Until around 1970, the data shows an increasing sense of “community, equality, belongingness, and solidarity—a growing “we.” After that, however, the graphs show a “sharp collapse into an individualistic and even conflictual assertion of “I” in values and culture as well as politics and economics.”

This is a story that unfolds in four overlapping parts. First, the trend toward greater economic equality reversed sharply over the past fifty years. Second, political polarization, some of it rooted in the Civil War, gave way under the influence of the Progressive movement to a remarkable degree of political consensus by the 1930s. But then things turned in the other direction as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, supported by substantial majorities of both Republicans and Democrats, led to bitter party polarization that was accompanied by a steep decline in trust in government and a rise in cynicism. Third, social life became anemic as membership in clubs and associations declined (a main theme of Putnam’s Bowling Alone) and the social and cultural force of labor unions dramatically weakened. Fourth, as an indicator of the changing frequency of occurrence of certain words, Google Ngrams tell a parallel story of a rise and fall in values of community and individualism: “association,” “cooperation,” “socialism,” and the “common man,” as well as “agreement,” “compromise,” and “unity,” all showing the same inverted U-shaped curve, rising and then declining steeply, to where we are today.

I was particularly intrigued by the observation that many whites come to champion the idea of individualism…”because it provides them with a principled and apparently neutral justification for opposing policies that favor Black Americans.” If racism is truly a major underpinning of the “I” portion of that I-We-I arc, I’m afraid the “upswing” Putnam and Garrett believe is on the horizon will be a long time coming.

 Aronson is equally dubious about the prospects of an upswing. As he points out, if anything should have prompted a return to “we,” it should have been the pandemic. It didn’t. Americans “sorted” philosophically and politically.

Survey research tells us that 36 percent of Republicans– as opposed to  4 percent of Democrats– thought the 2020 shutdowns were too restrictive. Prominent Republicans insisted that COVID-19 was a hoax and that the death toll was exaggerated. The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population–and 20 percent of COVID deaths. Twelve of the fifteen hardest-hit states are governed by Republicans.

The Upswing was published in 2020, prior to the pandemic, and didn’t address it. Other omissions are less understandable.

Aronson points to the multiple social influences that are simply missing from the book’s analysis: the role played by American capitalism’s “outsourcing, deregulation, financialization, speculative bubbles, austerity, and neoliberalism;” globalization; the Vietnam War; “inflation, and American imperialism, including the Cold War and the post–Cold War military-industrial complex.” And as he says, “we must come back in the end to the crucial link between America’s coming apart and its deeply imbedded racism.” 

I am very much afraid that the continued existence of a White Supremacy Party–and the philosophical gulf between Americans that is symbolized by that continued existence–is incompatible with an imminent upswing.

I hope I’m wrong.