JEONG 3-22
March 23, 2017

JEONG | Change in a Color-Blind America

Print More

When President Obama was inaugurated in January 2009, Americans across the country hailed the beginning of a “post-racial” era. After centuries of subjugation, pain and disenfranchisement, Americans of color looked to President Obama’s election as a symbol of political progress and the culmination of a future unimaginable even a few decades before. However, the realities of race in America have been a far cry from the glimmering portrait of “HOPE” and “CHANGE” that the Obama administration was supposed to bring. If anything, the waves of habitual police brutality against young black males has shined a glaring spotlight on the irony of having a black man in office — Obama’s presidency seems more and more like a mere token obscuring the reopening of historical scars.

The intense focus on the color of Obama’s skin helped perpetuate the notion that America now lived in an era of “color-blindness.” The continued stigmatization of the discussion of racism and any overt racial animosity also stifles the conversation of the structural issues that concern Americans of color. Masquerading under a pernicious guise of race-neutral rhetoric and diction, this new era of color-blindness has been a catalyst for profound reinvention in the public behavior of white America. However, it has failed miserably to promise the same equality in the economic, social or political spheres to the most historically deprived parts of the American racial hierarchy. Not only is it a superficial and empty promise for equality, but it also serves to delude Americans from the fact that Jim Crow continues to this day to exploit and oppress those of color.

When looking at the systemic disadvantages against minorities, the first terms that come to mind are structural racism and racial capitalism — the material inequalities that arise out of the institutional realities of capitalism. Specifically, racial capitalism looks at inequalities that span racial barriers, as well as capitalism’s tendency to marginalize people of color. In order to assume racial capitalism is real, we must first acknowledge that capitalism itself is fundamentally a system that creates wealth while disenfranchising those who are the bottom of the hierarchy. At its heart, capitalism is a system of inequality masquerading under the noble pretenses of “competition” or the “free market.” And within this framework, there is a subtle, almost invisible mechanism that actively looks to persecute the non-white — while these mechanisms were much more transparent several decades ago, they have evolved over time to become an injurious and predatory system that seeks to subvert efforts of racial and economic equity. The data is irrefutable — while white households have seen their wealth rise exponentially over the last several decades, the same cannot be said about their Hispanic or African-American counterparts.

Furthermore, we must look at racism not as a series of interpersonal violations, but a structural system of disadvantage that is founded on political and economic exploitation fully understood only through the lens of history. After World War II, the United States experienced a surge of wealth unparalleled in its history; the Allies’ victory over the Axis powers, the unscathed state of North America and the economic boom from war production all contributed to a higher quality of living and general prosperity. The 50’s ushered in a new age of the consumer revolution and the rise of the middle class — we remember this era from idyllic photographs of the nuclear family with their televisions and suburban homes. However, all of this growth was concentrated in white households, while median household income of black families stagnated. There were several reasons for this — one was the political barriers of Jim Crow, which was an egregious move by white legislators to actively diminish the political and economic power of Americans of color. African-Americans faced not only the insult of Jim Crow policy, but also attacks from white landlords and employers against black residents and employees. White flight also contributed to a systemic cycle of poverty in inner-city neighborhoods. After the Great Migration, affluent, white homeowners escaped the growing number of black neighbors into the suburbs, which saw economic growth and wealth leave these neighborhoods. As a result, standards of education, decent access to health care and living conditions in these disadvantaged neighborhoods substantially decreased, and its lingering implications are still very much seen and felt today.

American politics is governed today by personality over policy. Even President Trump was cognizant enough to remind voters on Twitter that he “loves Hispanics” on Cinco de Mayo. After all, posing with the best taco bowls made at Trump Tower Grill makes for better conversation than calling Mexicans “drug dealers, criminals and rapists.” Though liberals bemoan the neoconservative grasp on Washington, it is in times like these we can rally around bigotry to provoke meaningful, progressive change. With an unabashedly abrasive president, the national dialogue has shifted towards an analysis of how “presidential” his rhetoric is or what nonsensical thought he posts on Twitter every morning. At times, we may even discuss isolated instances of racism within the Trump administration. However, we must fundamentally question economic and political institutions and confront the dark legacy of our past to speak out and reinvent a structurally broken system that continues to systematically disenfranchise people based on wealth, race and gender. It is a problem around which the government and the American people may be reluctant to mobilize — however, it can only be remedied with their help.

 

Jason Jeong is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. Jeongo Unchained runs alternate Wednesdays this semester. 

  • Man with the Axe

    You wrote: “…capitalism itself is fundamentally a system that creates wealth while disenfranchising those who are the bottom of the hierarchy. At its heart, capitalism is a system of inequality masquerading under the noble pretenses of “competition” or the “free market.”

    This seems to me to be a misunderstanding of what capitalism is and how it works. The only part of this that is correct is “a system that creates wealth” It certainly does that. In fact, if you consider the amount of wealth that capitalism produces in a world-historical context it is mind-blowing. What other system has come within orders of magnitude of producing wealth as capitalism has done.

    You claim that capitalism “disenfranchises those who are the bottom of the hierarchy.” What does that mean? It sounds like sense but is there any sense in that statement? On a global scale capitalism has raised billions of people out of abject poverty, and, if allowed to work its magic more freely it would do so for billions more. It is capitalism that has created reasonable levels of affluence for Eastern Europe and even China. Countries that refuse to allow unbridled capitalism, such as Venezuela, North Korea, and Cuba are so much poorer. But you know all this. You simply don’t want to think about it.

    In the US those on the bottom rungs are so much better off under capitalism than they would be under socialism, in which everyone becomes equally impoverished. It has been shown time and again that most of the people who start life in the bottom quintile of income leave it during their lives. The poorest people in the US live better than the vast majority of people in the world, with flat screen TVs, cars, air conditioners, and the like. Of course, there are some who are extremely impoverished, but I don’t think you are talking about them. You seem to be talking about black people generally. How are black people doing in the people’s paradise of Cuba? Or Venezuela?

    All black people have to do to avoid poverty and get out of that bottom quintile is to graduate high school, get a job, get married, and have children, but only in that order. People who do this, white or black, are successful. People who get this wrong, white or black, fail. A very interesting explication of this phenomenon can be found in “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance. I’d suggest that you read Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” but I know that suggestion would be met with guffaws.

    Capitalism simply allows each of us to use his talents, willingness to work hard, and willingness to take risks to make the best life for ourselves that we can. How that “disenfranchises” anyone is not at all clear to me.

    And about white flight: Why do you think that white flight happens? In the 1950s and 60s was it an irrational fear of “the other” or was it a rational fear that if you don’t get out now you will only have to get out later at a much lower sale price for your house? Why is it that we used to hear about white flight a lot in those days but now it is essentially a historical argument and not a contemporary problem? What’s changed?

  • Teacup Piglet

    Is “white flight” similar to “asian flight” ???

    Like how Asians will all cluster in the same school districts in California to make sure their children go to good (read overwhelmingly asian) schools?

    Why don’t more asian parents send their children to schools in Oakland? I mean, don’t they want their little wontons to enjoy the benefits of cultural enrichment and diversity???

    Jason Jeong is just another hypocritical racist who hates white people.

  • Teacup Piglet

    Little Jason Jeong is just another hate-filled Leftist.

    When White people leave, it’s “white flight”

    When White people arrive, it’s “gentrification”

    Leftists get you coming and going. There’s no satisfying a loony Leftist.

  • Teacup Piglet

    When Asians want to live with other Asians, it’s “wanting to preserve their heritage and culture.”

    When White people want to live around other White people., it’s racism.

    LOLZ

  • Teacup Piglet

    “while white households have seen their wealth rise exponentially over the last several decades, the same cannot be said about their Hispanic or African-American counterparts.”

    Why no mention of Asian household wealth???

    Hmm?

    Why is Little JJ silent on that issue?

    Instead, Litle JJ wants to run his mouth about those evil rich white people while conveniently omitting the fact that Asians are the wealthiest demographic in the US.

    So when white people earn more, it’s racism but when asians earn more it’s because of their hard work and respect for education???

    Can’t have to both ways JJ