We have to talk about race if we want a more equitable economy
As I settled in to write this column, all of a sudden I had one of those, “oh, wait” moments. I’ve already written this before. “This” being a column I wrote last October about racism that a lot of us saw bubbling up on the campaign trail as Barack Obama increasingly emerged as the front runner to win the presidency.
Substitute “economic news” in that column from last year with “health care reform,” and I could just run the darn thing again.
Because as it turns out, some people still think President Obama is a Muslim, which is proxy for “foreign,” or even worse, “terrorist.” Presidential candidate John McCain urged people to stop with this nonsense last year, but they haven’t.
Some of these same folks also believe Obama was born in Kenya so therefore isn’t eligible to be president. This is a man whose mother is a white woman from Kansas. Can anyone even doubt that had she married a white South African instead of a black Kenyan that this would never have come up?
There’s also the charge that he’s socialist, or more stridently, a communist — and, believe it or not, a Nazi too. As if those things have ever gone together.
The cognitive dissonance is astounding. But they make their point: “He’s not only not like us, he’s the enemy.”
If you don’t believe me, I’ve included a photo I took just last month in Albuquerque at Congressman Martin Heinrich’s health care town hall that seems to suggest just that.
Then there are those who call him a racist for suggesting — on a very rare occasion — that racism actually exists.
‘Reverse racism’ is a ploy used to divide people
A favorite canard of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh is to continually attack Obama as a reverse racist who hates white people. In essence, if Obama or anyone else points to institutional racism, they must have it out for white people. This is the primary activity — the drawing of attention to institutional racism — that forced Obama’s green jobs advisor, Van Jones, to resign after Beck went after him relentlessly.
Something tells me that South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson was drunk on this flavor of the Limbaugh/Beck Kool-Aid when he very noticeably interrupted Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress. Wilson — who also happens to have a love for the Confederate flag — shouted out for all to hear that the president is a liar.
Maureen Dowd said in her New York Times column shortly afterward that she could just hear that word “boy” tacked on at the end, lingering unspoken in the air.
… maybe so.
But, OK, I have to admit, I thought George W. Bush was a big liar on more than one occasion. Does that make me a racist? Considering the color of his skin and the accent he likes to sport — which bears some similarity to my own — probably not.
And, Obama himself says while obviously his race is a big factor for some people when they consider whether to support his policies or not, for the great majority of Americans the intense debate of the current moment is simply part and parcel of a historic debate we have in this country about the role of government.
When he made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows this past weekend, Obama basically dismissed the issue of race. As though to say, we should have no truck with such a diversion. We have more important things to discuss. And he pinged the media for focusing in on such a divisive issue. Everyone loves a conflict, he said.
He may be right.
Some people think to respond to the racism at play in the political environment is to acquiesce to a strategic ploy to further inflame a particularly agitated sector of the electorate.
It’s all a ploy — this line of thinking goes — of the likes of Limbaugh and Beck, to cynically exploit the anxiety and fear threading its way through the populace due to the economic uncertainty our country is currently experiencing.
I can see this argument, and the desire to not play into it all. It’s undeniable that race and ethnicity have always been an incredibly effective divide and conquer tool. So, keep your eye on the prize instead, right?
But we have to include race in our discussion
In fact, the subject of race is incredibly relevant to how we fix both the tax code and our health care system.
For instance, we need to include the subject of race when we grapple with the budget crisis right here in New Mexico. We have a situation in which those in power say we’re going to have to cut our state Medicaid budget to some degree in order to plug our looming deficit. These same leaders also say, with their very next breath, that we will not raise taxes, not one penny.
Medicaid, of course, is the program that provides health care to the poorest of the poor. In New Mexico, that group is disproportionately composed of people of color. It’s off the charts, in fact.
This is what people refer to as institutional racism: a correlation between poverty and race that is no accident. Instead it’s the outcome of history, of decisions made in times past that have ordered our society in a way that makes access to wealth and educational success much more likely for white people. And the unequal legacy of that history will continually perpetuate itself without proper intervention.
One of the most effective interventions is an investment in health care. That’s because it’s very difficult for unhealthy people to effectively focus on their education or participate in the economy.
To acknowledge this is not racist. It doesn’t make you a communist or a Nazi, or un-American. Nor does wanting to remedy it.
Frankly, I think most people understand exactly what I’m saying. Most people want to change the trajectory of that legacy. Most politicians — both Democrat and Republican – -want to create laws that provide equity and opportunity, because doing so is not only moral, but pragmatic as well.
The problem is, we can’t include the subject of race in the discussion if we let demoguagues who would brand us as racists for doing so have their way. Which is to shut us up.
That’s why pushing back on them is important, as much as we may agree with Obama that we have bigger fish to fry.
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