Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Race and Poverty

Over at Racialicious today you can find one of the best concrete examples of institutionalized racism in the media that I've seen dissected in a long time. The article is called "Do Poor White People Even Exist?" and the title is obviously a joke. The author, Average Bro, whose blog I'll most likely be adding to my reader, is offering commentary on a recent 20/20 special on the poor and disadvantaged who live in the Appalachian mountains. He watched it, and what he found was "a fairly nuanced portrait of life in the hills of Kentucky" that "informs and pisses off at the same time."

His objection highlights something that I have had a hard time figuring out how to communicate about. White Privilege is difficult to wrap one's brain around, especially if one is white. Maybe only if one is white. Average Bro's objection to the 20/20 special isn't that the plight of the impoverished in one part of the country is dealt with in a compassionate and understanding way - but that it is told "with the sort of compassion and restraint seldom afforded when the media depicts poor minorities."

The drug problem is blamed on pharmaceutical companies who systematically dump OxyContin in the mountains as a catch-all pain reliever.[1] The declining coal industry leads to unemployment. Poorly-funded schools lead to high school dropouts. An epidemic of toothrot is blamed on Mountain Dew addiction.[2] A football player who feels alienated and leaves behind a college scholarship (after just 8 weeks) does so because of the pressures from back home, not because he found himself suddenly overmatched on the gridiron. These issues all accumulate and take their toll on the ties that bind the families featured. It’s almost as if there’s a logical explanation for why everyone’s so f*cked the f*ck up. They’re victims of circumstance and products of their environment. Personal responsibility isn’t even discussed. The word “bootstraps” isn’t uttered a single time.

Contrast this with the way poor blacks are blamed for everything. Pumping drugs into their communities. Leaving their children behind with single moms. Killing each other. Leaching off the government when they should really just get off their lazy black asses and do better. Hell, some folks are even blaming Negroes for the recent mortgage crisis. No, really.

I really suggest reading the whole thing.

Since we weren't picked by either of the women who looked at us last week, I've felt a little more free about sharing the details of their stories with a few people. After all - I will never meet these women, or know where exactly they live or their last names. But I've been surprised at some of the reactions, and the lack of compassion I've encountered - not everywhere, but in places I wouldn't have thought. There are still people in my life who don't want to admit that white privilege is real. They would probably even point to the 20/20 story as an example of how it's not real - look, those white people are just as poor and messed up as poor minorities are! But look how differently they are portrayed. It is important food for thought.

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