The problem we all live with

By Norman Rockwall
By Norman Rockwell

I wasn’t going to post this week, because we’re in the process of moving in to our new apartment in Texas! Yay! Expect to hear lots more “y’all” and twanging in these posts in the future. But, I just had to share this, briefly. 

This one is for the Americans. I just listened to this story on NPR. Sometimes people ask me, “But what about poor white people? You make it sound like all white people are privileged, but there are lots of black people that are richer and have better lives than poor white people.” There are poor white people. True. But.

Here are a couple quotes that blew my mind from this podcast, which talks about the school district in Ferguson:

  •  “In the Saint Louis area, nearly 1 in 2 black children attend schools in districts that performed so poorly, the state has stripped them of full accreditation. Only 1 in 25 white children are in a district like that. That’s 1 in 2 black kids, 1 in 25 white kids….”
  • “Of course, there are poor white children in the Saint Louis area, but they live in mostly middle class areas. So they aren’t attending schools as terrible as Normandy (Michael Brown’s school). In Saint Louis, poor white children are twice as likely to go to good schools than black children of all incomes”.

And that’s the kicker. There are white poor people. And life is hard if you are poor, no matter what your race. I do not want to undermine that. But when it comes to a lot of things, it’s not only about income, it’s also about race. A lot of poor white people still experience aspects of white privilege, ranging from big to mundane. Off the top of my head, here are a few:

  • going to better schools with better teachers
  • knowing that when you’re walking into a store, you won’t be followed or suspected of shop-lifting
  • being able to wear sweatpants without being worried that people will think you are a thug
  • being called back for interviews and given the benefit of the doubt in job hiring (this article references a study done in 2000 that showed when people were obviously qualified or unqualified for a job, there was no racial discrimination, but when the qualifications were fuzzy, participants were nearly 70% more likely to recommend the white applicant than the black applicant).
  • being more likely to get off with a warning than being convicted (see The New Jim Crow).

And not only in the present, but historically, too. For example, Polish, Irish, Italian and (enter European ethnicity here) immigrants were all discriminated against when they first came to America. Many of them took low-paying factory jobs. Many of them had to work very, very hard to make ends meet. But, the book “How the Irish became white” explains that one way all of these immigrant groups eventually became accepted into main-line America was through discriminating against black people. Kind of a “You rich white guys think we’re bad? Well, we’re not as bad as them.” Some of the worst violence against black people at the turn of the century in the North (don’t just blame it on slavery, y’all) came from the poor working class white people. Managers would discriminate against hiring black people, and would go for the immigrants instead. So just because your grandparents didn’t own slaves doesn’t mean that your history is free from racial privilege.

We have made so much progress in the past 150 years. We have, we really have. We don’t have to claim that things are as bad today as they were during the Civil Rights era. Things are much, much better. But imagine the outrage you’d hear if we had a stat like, “In this area, half the poor girls are in a failing school, while only one in twenty-five poor boys are in a failing school.”  

I mean, we’d be put on UN watch-lists or something. Maybe I’m exaggerating. Okay, I probably am. But still. Listen to the podcast. It put a human face on a really big problem. And I might have cried at one point. Can you tell I cannot endorse this enough? 🙂 

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