Let's Talk About Race


“Let’s talk about race!” How many times have we heard it from the pundits, the media, politicians every time something happens elevating racial tensions in the country. The latest has been the horrible shooting deaths in South Carolina.

“We need a conversation on race!” No, we don’t! The United States does not have a racial problem — the United States has an economic problem and race is a ugly collateral reality dangling off of it. Slavery wasn’t a “racial” issue but an economic one! To look at race only is to look at a tree while ignoring the forest. Attempting to remedy one sick tree in a unhealthy forest and expect the problem to go away just won’t happen. Our American political, economic and cultural forest is not healthy.

By addressing only race the “conversation” soon falls apart on issues of culture and perceptions. Perceptions no one will agree on. “Why are so many young minority men in prison? Well, do you think the cops just wait around to arrest black men?” “White privilege” is a popular perception among African-Americans and their liberal white allies. Do “you people” believe because of their color society just hands everything to white people? No question about it employers, land lords, banks, taxi drivers, etc. discriminate against African-Americans. “Except” — comes the rejoinder — when underqualified minorities are hired using affirmative-action programs.

I have heard these statements in my own personal and professional experiences. “White privilege” and “Affirmative Action both say “incompetence” — both are incorrect and both non-starters if you want to have a talk about race.

See where I am going with this? These perceptual experiences come up and “the conversation” shuts down.

Now I realize the world is complex but the questions that need solving are complex. Give this a thought. After your name what is it people ask you? What do you do? It is how you are defined in this country. No job — no dignity — no respect — you are nothing! All you have to do is look at the unemployment statistics and see what populations of Americans are hit the worst and you have the answer to “the race problem” and many more. Doesn’t matter what the problem is it can be tracked economically. All negatives are tied to economics and it is getting worse.

Make sure any American who wants work has work and numerous social problems would go away. Crime, discrimination, drugs, booze, divorce, bad schools — mental health would improve generally. I have never met an unemployed person who did not want to work. But I have met lots of them who could not find work. Work means dignity, respect and equality and quality of life.

My minority friends (some for many years) are my friends because we are similar in income, education, interests, family and we respect one another. Many are veterans like me. The military is a “job” that is a great equalizer. We are a Band of Brothers. Regardless of our color we had a job to do and an equality in our status because of what we did. And what makes such equality happen? Jobs — employment — work — the economic ability to live and work in the same places and community. Yes, there needs to be a conversation on race but it has to be linked to the unacceptable unemployment rates affecting the African-American population. And it is a conversation that needs to be about all unemployed Americans and class. Sadly our government is not committed to putting people to work.

Just legislation getting rid of tax breaks handed out to corporations to ship US jobs overseas would fund huge job training programs. All we have now is”band-aid” job training structured to bamboozle the voters. We need meaningful and significant programs — infra-structure investments would create thousands of jobs. Most important would be a national commitment to full employment. Nothing is more important to the future of our country.

Without a total commitment to putting Americans to work there will be no racial justice nor a conversation on race. The oligarchs have the working class just where they want them — fighting each other over a limited amount of work and who is going to do it for the cheapest price. They don’t care beyond that! Any conversation on race has to move beyond a single issue to a conversation on American culture, economy and community.

Bill Johnston is a retired staff organizer of the United Food and Commercial Workers. He is a member of the National Writers Union (Pacific Northwest Chapter). Email wfjohnstonehs@wamail.net.

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2015


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