Flashback: Racism

In anticipation of the shutdown of Apple’s MobileMe service, I am re-posting some of my old blog entries before they become harder to retrieve.

This entry was originally posted on November 8, 2005.

I’ve been meaning to write this since Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. I apologize for the delay in writing this.

The Notorious B.I.G. once wrote that the only ways out of the ‘hood are to sling crack cocaine, or to have a good jump shot.

If you would add that being a rapper isn’t a bad way out of the ‘hood, you wouldn’t really be wrong, but, considering his fate, as well as that of his rival, Tupac Shakur, I don’t necessarily think either man truly made it out…

I don’t really think of myself as a racist. When talking about encounters with other people, I generally do not make reference to the color of someone else’s skin, unless I’m comparing my suntan with theirs. (In other words, the color of someone’s skin isn’t important to me unless it literally is about the color of their skin…)

If we want to be polite, the response of the government — on all levels — to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, was impotent. Some would call it incompetent. Anyone who would have you believe that the problem isn’t tied in to racism is neither right nor wrong.

The problem is poverty. But the black community is disproportionately poor. Some of that is the result of institutionalized racism, either from the “Jim Crow” laws of the early-to-mid 20th century, to a couple of centuries worth of slavery earlier than that.

The disparity between poor whites and poor blacks has to be at least partially a contributing factor to the reasons behind a disproportionate prison population.

And it’s not just the government. How is it that the press, reporting what happened in New Orleans, alternately showed pictures of black children “looting” but the white children “found” food and drink in a supermarket? Puh-leeze! After a disaster, there is lawlessness. Either the white kids “looted,” too, or the black kids were lucky enough to “find” what they needed.

And I wonder about what the press says or does. After Rosa Parks died, four different political cartoonists — Doug Marlette , Ben Sargent , Tom Toles , and Dan Wasserman — drew cartoons that envisioned Ms. Parks arriving at the pearly gates, to be told that she could sit in the front row. And Walt Handelsman had her getting on a bus in heaven and being told to sit anywhere she likes. It’s a little bit disappointing that this woman, whose work goes a lot further than not wanting to change seats on a bus, is remembered only for her refusal to move. She probably wasn’t even the only person to refuse to stand up on a bus.

So what can we do?

First, we can call the press on it. There’s no excuse for the press to propagate any disharmony between the races.

Critics of affirmative action rightly argue that racism is when you give one race preferential treatment over another; and affirmative action does just that, just in favor of the blacks at the expense of the whites. And although I say, “true,” I have to question how better to provide opportunity where it might not have previously existed. In instances like admittance to educational institutions, a finite number of students may be admitted. In this regard, opportunity is like matter as it is taught in physics class: there is only so much matter in the universe, and it is never created nor destroyed. It just gets re-arranged.

(Although I still question what happens to socks in the laundry.)

If someone can provide some insight into how to create opportunity without taking it away from someone else, I’m all ears. Until then, we’re going to have to make do. If it’s not done through affirmative action, how should it be handled?

One thought that I have, goes straight back to the Notorious B.I.G.’s statement. There apparently is opportunity in the illegal drug trade. It’s a risk, but maybe prison is an acceptable risk to the worst-off. I don’t understand why most illegal drugs are illegal. If some — if not all — drugs are decriminalized, regulated, and taxed, it could break up the black market for the drugs, reduce the prison population, increase safety to the users, bring in additional tax revenues, and create some opportunity to those who currently make the sales. Why not research this possibility? It would need to be regulated, but if we’re doing that reasonably well with alcohol, prescription medicines, and tobacco, why can’t we do it for marijuana, cocaine, and heroin?

I don’t have the answers. But if you’re poor and don’t have a good jump shot, don’t want to sling crack, and can’t rap, what other options are out there?


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