The Glory of God in the Problem of Evil
Atheists often argue against God’s existence from the problem of evil. Their argument goes as follows: If God is all loving, He would have prevented evil from entering the universe; if God is all powerful, He could have prevented evil; evil exists, therefore there is no such God.
On the contrary, I will argue as follows: If God is all loving, He would allow evil to enter the universe; If God is all powerful, He could allow evil without being guilty of evil Himself, and He could make evil work for the greatest good; therefore we have great reason to praise the God who exists!
Clarifying the Issue of Evil
There are two errors that must be avoided concerning the problem of evil. The first error would be to believe that God is the source of evil. This terrible error would blame God for evil and hold that evil was produced by God out of His own nature. The second error would be to believe that evil occurred apart from God’s sovereign plan. This position would hold that evil entered the universe because God was helpless to prevent it, and thus it overthrew the purposes of God. The position the Scriptures seem to teach is that mankind is to be blamed for and is the source of evil, while nonetheless the entrance of evil into the universe was ordained by God as part of God’s plan from the beginning. God could have prevented evil from entering into the universe had He desired to, but chose not to prevent it for wise and holy reasons.
Let’s probe this issue a little further. God is not the author of evil because He created the universe good. In its original state, there was nothing evil or sinful in the universe. Evil first entered God’s creation as a result of the disobedience of the angels who rebelled. Evil then entered the physical universe and human race as a result of mankind’s sin in Adam. God is not the source of evil or sin; evil is a result of the disobedience of God’s creatures. For these reasons, God cannot be blamed for the existence of evil–all responsibility for the presence of sin and evil in the human race falls upon mankind. All responsibility for the presence of evil in the spiritual realm falls upon the angels who rebelled.
But in order to have the full picture, we cannot stop here and conclude that God was powerless to prevent evil. Since God is sovereign and He “works out everything in conformity with the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11), none of His purposes can be thwarted (Job 42:2). Therefore we must conclude that evil did not occur apart from the purpose and plan of God. The ultimate reason that evil occurred is because God planned it, not because His creatures are able to overthrow His plans. These two truths we must hold together even if we cannot fully understand how they fit: man is responsible, yet God is absolutely sovereign and controls all things.
Last of all it is necessary to understand that evil is not permanent. It was defeated at the cross and will be quarantined in hell for eternity at the final judgment. Then God will create a new heavens and new earth where only righteousness and purity will dwell forever.
A Loving God Would Allow Evil
We are now in a position to ask the question, Why did God willingly choose to allow evil into the universe? How is this consistent with His love? Without claiming to exhaust the mystery here, I offer this answer: God allowed evil because the temporary presence of evil in the universe would result in the greatest glory to His name. And since God’s glory is what most benefits His people, it is loving for God to seek His glory to the highest extent in all that He does. Therefore it is loving for God to allow the temporary presence of evil in the universe. Let’s examine these points more closely.
Those whom God has chosen for mercy He loves to the fullest possible extent (John 13:1). Thus, God seeks to fully reveal the greatness of His glory upon them. The glory of God is the shining forth of the splendor and greatness and infinite value of His perfect character. When God glorifies Himself, He is not making Himself more glorious (that is impossible), but calling attention to and displaying His infinite greatness. How does evil seem to fit into God’s plan to glorify Himself? Part of the answer seems to be this: many of God’s attributes can be more clearly and brightly displayed to us if there is sin and therefore evil in the universe.
For example, God’s mercy is His goodness and help shown to those who are in a miserable plight. But God could not show mercy if there was no sin and evil in the universe, because then there would be no one in a miserable plight to need mercy.
In addition, the greatness of God’s mercy is highlighted by the fact that those whom God chooses for His saving mercy are saved out from the most awful and terrifying situation possible–being under the almighty wrath of God. Dr. Daniel Fuller asks us this question: “How could God’s mercy appear fully as his great mercy unless it was extended to people who were under his wrath and therefore could only ask for mercy?” God’s mercy is magnified by delivering us from under His wrath.
Mercy Eternally Magnified By Being Set in Contrast to Wrath
Furthermore, “It would be impossible for them to share with God the delight He has in his mercy unless they saw clearly the awfulness of the almighty wrath from which his mercy delivers them.” Therefore, God prepares not only vessels of mercy, but also vessels of wrath so that the vessels of mercy can fully see and understand the awfulness of the wrath they have been rescued from. For all eternity, God’s mercy will be placed against the backdrop of His wrath in order to fully magnify and display the greatness of His mercy. Through this those who are chosen for mercy can fully share with God the delight He has in His mercy and fully praise Him for what He has done for them.
God’s Justice, Wrath, Power, and Holiness More Fully Displayed
So we see that in the just punishment of sinners, God’s mercy is fully highlighted to those whom He chooses to save. The punishment of sinners (which could not have happened if God had not allowed evil) is also an occasion for God to glorify Himself through the vindication of His justice, demonstration of His wrath, display of His power, and purity of His holiness which will not tolerate sin. This also works to reveal the riches of God’s glory to the vessels of mercy: “What if God, in order to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory…” (Romans 9:22, 23, RSV. cf. Proverbs 16:4, “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil”).
God’s wrath and holiness are related. The wrath of God is the righteous assertion of His holiness against sin. If we could not see that God is so holy that He hates sin and thus reacts against it with His wrath, we would not know as fully the purity and zeal of God’s holiness. For only in contrast to sin (and thus His holiness reacting against this sin as wrath to vindicate His righteousness) is the purity of God’s holiness most intensely highlighted. If there were no sin upon which God could pour His wrath eternally, He could not assert the full range of His holiness because He could not show that, in His holiness, He hates and despises all that is unholy.
Hell Makes the Infinite Value of God’s Glory Crystal Clear
God’s judging of sin and reacting in wrath to punish it eternally in hell demonstrates the infinite value of His perfections. Why? Because the infinite penalty of attacking God’s glory–eternal punishment in hell–reveals the infinite value of the glory that was attacked. Thus, hell is ultimately an eternal display of the infinite value of God’s glory. While this certainly does not mean that God delights in the sinner’s suffering in and of itself, He does delight in it in the sense that it is a vindication of His righteousness and display of His power. This is how Ezekiel 33:11 (“I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked”) fits with Deuteronomy 28:63 (where God tells Israel that if they disobey He “will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you shall be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it”).
A Loving and Righteous God Would Most Magnify His Worth
Having seen that God’s decision to allow sin was for the purpose of fully displaying the greatness of His perfections to an extent that He could not otherwise have done, we are led to look at the next question in greater detail: Why must God display the full range of His character?
This is because doing so most magnifies His worth. If God did not display, for example, His mercy, then He would not be fully magnifying His character because there would be some of His character that is not expressed. And if God did not magnify His character to the fullest possible extent, God would not be acting in perfect righteousness. Why is this? It is because God is the most precious, valuable being in the universe. Therefore, He must delight in and value Himself above anything else. From this it follows that if God did not seek to display His honor and perfections above all else, He would not be placing infinite worth on what is infinitely valuable. He would be putting something before Himself, which would mean putting something less valuable before the more valuable, which would be unrighteous.
Why It Is Loving for God to Magnify His Worth
In fully displaying His glory (which, we have seen, requires sin), God is being most loving. Why? First, if He did not do this, we would not know Him “fully, just as I also have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13). Put simply, we wouldn’t know God as well if He did not display who He is to the fullest possible extent. And it seems that it would be most loving for God let us know as much of Himself as He can.
Also, it is truly loving of God to seek His praise to the highest possible extent (which, as we have seen, would require the brilliance of His mercy highlighted by demonstrating His wrath). Why is this? In our lives, there is a pattern that we see: We tend to praise what we prize. Enjoyment of something overflows into praise. Go to a great movie sometime, and when you leave the theater, what are you usually talking with your friends about? How great the movie is! You are praising it. It also seems as if our enjoyment of something is not complete unless we are able to praise it. If your friends said, “Be quiet, I don’t want to hear about it,” your enjoyment of the movie would not be complete. So praise is necessary for full, complete enjoyment.
If God did not seek His praise from us then our enjoyment of Him would not be made full — it would be incomplete since it wouldn’t overflow into praise. The way for God to win the most praise from us is to fully display His character. So if God wants us to fully enjoy Him and prize Him, He must seek His own praise through us so that our enjoyment of Him will overflow into praise and complete our joy. John Piper summarizes these truths well: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” So even in our enjoyment (and resulting praise) God is glorified. Thus, God seeking our good and God seeking His praise are really one and the same pursuit, since our good/joy yields praise to His name.
The Sovereign Freedom of God
Further, in order for us to truly value God’s great mercy and gift of eternal life, it is good for Him to highlight the unconditional freedom He has in bestowing mercy. His unconditional freedom makes it absolutely clear that He owes mercy to no one. If everyone got saved, He could not show His unconditional freedom in showing mercy and it might seem as if we were entitled to salvation. If you think you are entitled to something, it is hard to see it as a free, undeserved gift. And it is hard to be grateful and thankful for it if you think it is owed to you. God’s freedom in mercy rebukes our sense of entitlement and thus evokes gratitude.
Exodus 33 declares the sovereign freedom of God in showing mercy. In this chapter, Moses asks to see God’s glory. God says (among other things) that He will show His glory and that “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” This is a Hebrew expression called idem per idem which stresses the absolute freedom of the agent in doing the action–He can do it however He wants, constrained by nothing outside of himself. Thus, God is saying that one aspect of His glory is absolute freedom to grant mercy constrained by no reason that is outside of His own will. He will give mercy in whatever way He wants. Then God says that He will pass by Moses and proclaim His “name.” To the Hebrews, one’s name was who they were. It was your very identity. When God proclaimed His name, He said that He was “abounding in lovingkindness and mercy.” So one aspect of God’s character, His glory, is that He is merciful. But this also draws us back to 33:19–where it says that God is absolutely free in His bestowal of this mercy. Thus, it is God’s glory and essence to be absolutely free in His giving us mercy by not being constrained by anything outside of His own will. His will alone determines who gets mercy, and therefore His mercy is unconditional.
If God gave mercy to all, it seems that He would not be displaying that His essence is to be absolutely free in giving mercy. And as we’ve said, God’s freedom in giving mercy rebukes our entitlement and evokes gratitude, thus causing us to value heaven as a true gift of grace. Lastly, as we saw earlier, in order for there to be mercy, there must be people in a miserable plight to need it, which requires sin.
Thus, we have seen how God’s love and goodness would cause Him to allow Evil into the universe, for in due time this will lead to truly the best of all possible worlds where God’s attributes are most displayed, God is most glorified, and eternity is truly valued. Perhaps some may be troubled by the fact that even evil, in the long range, results in glory to God. It may be troubling to think that such a terrible thing as evil was permitted by God for His glory. But look at the other option–that evil ultimately worked to defeat the glory of God. Wouldn’t evil truly have the upper hand if God was unable to overrule it for His greatest glory and His people’s greatest good?
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
In my viewing of the spiritual warfare at hand today I chose to study the word recalcitrant. I was enlighten in several ways of exactly who the recalcitrant individuals are. We have recalcitrant’s within the GOP Congress, Democrats, our policing agencies and citizens. Most people of America are oblivious to the reason all this is occurring because the news is the number one source of information for most Americans today. Our society has become one of anxiety and being in a hurry. Everything is instantaneous and at a rapid pace. It seems that the only ones relaxing at present is our Congress. They have refused to act on several subjects related to our public safety to our national security which makes them recalcitrant public officials. The police force of Ferguson is reluctantly responding with truth and any real information about this police officer who is responsible for the senseless killing of Michael Brown which in turn is being met by many recalcitrant citizens of Ferguson,which by the way are (Black).
I want to unearth the cultural assumptions that underpin hyper-incarceration, beginning with the image of the dangerous black man. This frequently plowed ground is particularly relevant here — from the recalcitrant slave in general to Nat Turner in particular, from lynching to locking up the drug dealer on the corner, the dangerous black man has been a constant in American history. (One could argue, though I will not, that to many Barack Obama is merely its latest incarnation.) Certainly, there is no doubt that the black man is dangerous to the maintenance of the Republican majority. That explains the drive to suppress minority participation in the last election.
I grew up In Washington D. C. and I would Board the X2 bus at Lafayette Square opposite the White House and travel its 5-mile route eastward across Washington and there was a very good chance that more than half the African-American men who were your fellow passengers have been in prison at some point in their lives. The X2 bus, to the extent that white Washingtonians are aware of it, has a reputation as dangerous, prone to passenger fights and occasional shootings. The X2 is a subject perhaps of white curiosity but no real concern, and few white Washingtonians use it. Yet the X2 is a symbol of the white segregation from and blindness to the devastation of hyper-incarceration that my wife and I are trying to explore in our approach to assist ex-offenders in California.
The Scandal of White Complicity underscores the point that the image of America as a postracial, colorblind society based on meritocracy and individual choice impedes a deeper understanding of the way in which white America is implicated in the systematic deprivation of the African-American community. It is a deprivation that drains that community of the economic and social capital that can break the cycle in which sons of imprisoned men too often meet their fathers behind bars.
Merton wrote “that American society has to change before the race problem can be solved.” Pfeil believes hyper-incarceration by its very nature will not end without a complete societal change. Citing James Baldwin’s warning that “history is literally present in all that we do,”
Mikulich frames white America within the imprisonment prism’s four walls:
- White separation and white isolation from African-American society leads to a loss of empathy for the effects of hyper-incarceration;
- The illusion of innocence leads to the delusion that whiteness and white neighborhoods are the norm to be desired and that black neighborhoods represent segregation;
- This amnesia and its accompanying anesthesia lead to a distortion, if not an outright erasure, of history;
- Power and privilege ensure that a “white-dominated legal system effectively protects, indeed renders invisible, unconscious racism on behalf of police, prosecutors and judges as it stigmatizes blacks.” (Not to mention the fact that the formerly incarcerated are often denied the right to vote.)
Rap and hip-hop emerge as the latest manifestation of the dangerous black man, but I find in the early days of this genre a positive attempt to rescue black history on the part of young black men through “perfecting the craft of orality.” What started out as a positive movement morphed into a caricature and merely reinforced the dominant image. My long time mentor Dr. Emmanuel Franks, drawing on the work of Johann Baptist Metz, argues that history is essential to Christian life, beginning with the constant remembrance of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. Metz called this a “dangerous memory” because it commands Christians to remember the suffering of others. Returning to the theme of white amnesia, Dr. Emmanuel Franks says that amnesia deprives Christians of the power to act, to change.
Confronted by hyper-incarceration, Pfeil asks how Christians respond. Following Quaker abolitionist John Woolman, Gandhi, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King, Pfeil looks to the message of the Sermon on the Mount to understand the personal and communal relationship to the world of materialism. The beatitudes envision a different world, one that exalts a wealth of spirit over a wealth of things.
Because of our deep immersion in this world in which we consciously or unconsciously benefit from a system of oppression, both historical and contemporary, it is difficult to effect the change that is necessary. Instead of the hapless question what can I do, one should ask what needs to change.
“A great force of suffering accumulated between the basement of heaven and the roof of hell…”
In their quest for absolute political hegemony in the United States, some elements of the Right now dare to claim to share with blacks – if not common cause – common conclusions about the state of race relations in America. In a January 8, 2006 piece weighted with the full freight of centuries of white supremacist delusions, Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto claimed that BC‘s January 5, 2006 Cover Story, “Katrina Study: Black Consensus, White Dispute,” showed that BC and the WSJ agree that African Americans and whites see the world quite differently. “BlackCommentator.com, which describes itself as a source of ‘commentary, analysis and investigations on issues affecting African Americans’ and has a harshly left-wing outlook has an analysis of a poll on racial attitudes.
The BC story was based on a small slice of an important, soon to be released study by University of Chicago political scientist Michael Dawson. Dr. Dawson’s team’s study shows what every conscious Black person already knows: there is a yawning chasm between white and black perceptions of life, politics and opportunity in 21st Century America.
The United States has created wildly different realities for its black and white citizens. From the unequal availability of prenatal care and early childhood education, through ubiquitous and continuing racially segregated education and racially selective policies of crime control and mass imprisonment, through generations of housing and employment discrimination resulting in huge gaps in the accumulation of wealth between black and white families, to early graves occasioned by differential access to medical care for African Americans, it is clear that for centuries blacks and whites have lived in the same country but in different worlds.
Fiscal responsibility is a code phrase. It means, Don’t spend money on Black folks. There are several code words in white America media that reflect the chasm of social justice and equality.
“Fiscal responsibility is a code word for whites for anti-Black policy,” said Dawson. “Reagan used it, Bush used it, and the people who overthrew Reconstruction used it. It is one of the oldest code words in American politics. It’s right up there with ‘law and order.'”
Republicans’ rhetorical campaign against lawlessness took off in earnest during the 1960s, when Richard Nixon artfully conflated black rioting, student protest, and common crime to warn that the “criminal forces” were gaining the upper hand in America. As an electoral strategy, it was a brilliant success. But as an ideological claim, the argument that America needed more police and prisons was in deep tension with the conservative cause of rolling back state power. The paradox flared up occasionally, as during the National Rifle Association’s long-running feud with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms during the 1990s. But for the most part, conservatives lived with the contradiction for forty years. Why?
For one, it worked political magic by tapping into a key liberal weakness. Urban violent crime was rising sharply during the 1960s and liberals had no persuasive response beyond vague promises that economic uplift and social programs would curb delinquency. The conservatives’ strategy also provided an outlet for racial anxieties that could not be voiced explicitly in the wake of the civil rights movement. Sometimes, the racial appeals were impossible to miss, as when Ronald Reagan warned that “city streets are jungle paths after dark” in his 1966 California gubernatorial campaign. More often, anti-criminal chest-thumping played into the division of society between the earners and the moochers, with subtle racial cues making clear who belonged on which side.
Meanwhile, the more threatened ordinary Americans came to feel, the angrier they became at elites who appeared to side with the criminals, and the more they revered the people designated as society’s protectors. As a result, conservatives came to view law enforcement the same way they had long seen the military: as a distinctive institution whose mission somehow exempted it from the bureaucratic failures and overreach that beset school districts, environmental agencies, and the welfare office. Yet the two surging wings of the conservative movement—libertarians and religious conservatives—have since each found their own reasons to challenge long-standing orthodoxy about crime.
American streets are much safer today than they were thirty years ago, and until recently most conservatives had a simple explanation: more prison beds equal less crime. This argument was a fulcrum of Republican politics for decades, boosting candidates from Richard Nixon to George H. W. Bush and scores more in the states. Once elected, these Republicans (and their Democratic imitators) built prisons on a scale that now exceeds such formidable police states as Russia and Iran, with 3 percent of the American population behind bars or on parole and probation.
Now that crime and the fear of victimization are down, we might expect Republicans to take a victory lap, casting safer streets as a vindication of their hard line. Instead, more and more conservatives are clambering down from the prison ramparts. Take Newt Gingrich, who made a promise of more incarceration an item of his 1994 Contract with America. Seventeen years later, he had changed his tune. “There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential,” Gingrich wrote in 2011. “The criminal-justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it.”
The encounter in Ferguson that ended with a police officer fatally shooting unarmed teenager Michael Brown has spurred police departments in the St. Louis area to do some deep soul-searching. Many hope to avoid the uncertainty of chaotic events by having video to investigate officers’ interactions with civilians.
Video recordings would allow judges and juries to see events unfold, helping to shed light through the often-conflicting or hazy recollections of eyewitnesses.
Nowhere is that more needed than in Ferguson, the north St. Louis County suburb at the epicenter of a racial crisis. The city is now seeking money to outfit its officers with wearable cameras that can be pinned to a uniform or attached to a pair of sunglasses.
The city of Ellisville in west St. Louis County quickly approved a $7,500 expenditure last week to do the same.
“It was an emergency item on our agenda to get officers wearing those cameras immediately,” said Ellisville Mayor Adam Paul, noting that all of the city’s police officers will wear them. “Nobody knows how the grand jury is going to play out. Our officers could respond to calls for service down in Ferguson.”
Just as important as the Ferguson police feel these cameras are to policing and telling the true story, We feel it’s equally important to get funded to assist our human life in Riverside California, There are 6,322 ex-offenders hitting the streets and more than half of them half no support system. Take a look at our interest to assist human being that are in need of a Alternative sentencing/re-entry program to help reduce the rate of recidivism.
The impatience that characterizes discussions of race and racism in our so-called color-blind society has its roots in the momentous legislative changes of the 1960s. The Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1965, and 1968 reached into nearly every aspect of daily life—from segregated facilities to voting to housing—and represented a long overdue re-installation of the equality principle in our social compact. The question was what it would take—and from whom—to get to equality.
Was racial equality something that could be had without sacrifice? If not, then who would be forced to participate and who would be exempt? As implementation of the laws engendered a far-reaching bureaucracy of agencies, rules, and programs for everything from affirmative action hiring goals to federal contracting formula, the commitment was quickly tested. For a great many who already opposed the changes, patience was quickly exhausted. As welfare rolls rapidly increased, crime surged, and the real and perceived burdens of busing took their toll, many voters pointed to the apparent failure of a growing federal government to fix the problems it was essentially paid to cure. Among Democratic voters this made for unsteady alliances and vulnerable anxieties. People don’t live in policy and statistics as much as they do through anecdote and personal burdens. A riot here, a horrific crime there, a job loss or perhaps the fiery oratory of a public personality could tip a liberal-leaning person’s thinking toward more conservative conclusions—or at least fuel her impatience. Impatience would ossify into anger, turning everything into monetary costs, and making these costs the basis for political opposition to a liberal state. As it happened, this process moves the date of our supposed final triumph over racism from the mid-1960s to at least the mid-1980s. In the end, impatience won.
What I call impatience, others have characterized as a simmering voter ambivalence—even antagonism, in the case of working-class whites—to civil rights remedies, one that was susceptible to the peculiar backlash politics that elected both Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush president. Language was central to this strategy, and the language that stuck was colorblindness. As Thomas Byrne Edsall and Mary Edsall wrote in “Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics,” “In facing an electorate with sharply divided commitments on race—theoretically in favor of egalitarian principle but hostile to many forms of implementation—the use of a race-free political language proved crucial to building a broad-based, center-right coalition.” Ronald Reagan managed to communicate a message that embodied all the racial resentments around poverty programs, affirmative action, minority set-asides, busing, crime, and the Supreme Court without mentioning race, something his conservative forebears—Barry Goldwater, George Wallace, and Richard Nixon—could not quite do. The linchpin was “costs” and “values.” Whenever “racism” was raised, it became an issue of “reverse racism” against whites. The effect was the conversion of millions of once fiscally liberal, middle-class suburban Democrats to the Republican Party. Issues identified with race—the “costs of liberalism”—fractured the very base of the Democratic Party. In the 1980 presidential election, for example, 22 percent of Democrats voted Republican.
By 1984, when Ronald Reagan and George Bush beat Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro in the presidential election, many white Democratic voters had come to read their own party’s messages through what Edsall calls a “racial filter.” In their minds, higher taxes were directly attributable to policies of a growing federal government; they were footing the bill for minority preference programs. If the public argument was cast as wasteful spending on people of weak values, the private discussions were explicitly racial. For instance, Edsall quotes polling studies of “Reagan Democrats” in Macomb County—the union friendly Detroit suburbs that won the battle to prevent cross-district school desegregation plans in 1973—that presents poignant evidence of voter anger: “These white Democratic defectors express a profound distaste for blacks, a sentiment that pervades almost everything they think about government and politics. . . . Blacks constitute the explanation for their [white defectors’] vulnerability and for almost everything that has gone wrong in their lives; not being black is what constitutes being middle class; not living with blacks is what makes a neighborhood a decent place to live. These sentiments have important implications for Democrats, as virtually all progressive symbols and themes have been redefined in racial and pejorative terms.”
By 1988, these same voters had endorsed tax revolts across the country and had become steadfast suburbanites, drawing clearer lines between a suburban good life and the crime and crack-infested city. Still they were angry, as magazine articles chronicled the rising political significance of what would be known as the “Angry White Male” voter. George Bush, down seventeen points in the presidential election polls during midsummer, overcame that deficit with TV ads about murderous black convicts raping white women while on furlough. That and a pledge never to raise taxes seemed to be enough to vanquish Bush’s liberal challenger, Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts. What’s important to recognize in this transition is how as recently as twenty years ago, Americans’ social lives were very much embroiled in racial controversy—despite the obfuscatory veneer of colorblind language to the contrary. Our politics followed. The election of Bill Clinton represented a distinct centrist turn among Democrats toward Republican language and themes and away from rights, the “liberal” label, and the federal safety net. The question we might ask about our current race relations is, only a couple of decades removed from this political history, what would compel us to assume that we are beyond the legacy of our racial conflicts?
The racial polarization that connected these political outcomes was deliberately fed by national Republican candidates in order to do more than roll back civil rights. It also served to install “supply-side economics,” a system of regressive tax-based reforms that contributed mightily to the costs of income inequality we currently face. That era—which arguably ended with the election of President Barack Obama—illustrates two points central to my examination of civic connectivity. The first is that the economic underside of racial polarization proved no more than the old okey doke. The second is that localism contains its own contradictions, which have come due in our time. Let me explain.
Only racism could achieve the ideological union of the Republican rich with the working man (and woman). Nothing else could fuse their naturally opposed interests. The essence of supply-side economics was its belief in the importance of liberating the affluent from tax and regulatory burdens, a faith not typically shared by lower-income households who might at best see benefits “trickle down” to them. In fact, they often paid more under tax-reform schemes of the 1980s. Edsall provides data on the combined federal tax rate that include all taxes—income, Social Security, and so forth. Between 1980 and 1990, families in the bottom fifth of all earners saw their rates increase by 16.1 percent; it increased by 6 percent for those in the second-lowest fifth (the lower middle class); and it increased by 1.2 percent for those in the middle fifth (the middle middle class). But those in the second-highest fifth of all income earners saw a cut in their tax rate by 2.2 percent during that decade; and those in the top fifth got a 5.5 percent decrease in their rate. Overall, the richest 10 percent of American earners received a 7.3 percent decrease in their combined federal tax rate. The top 1 percent? A 14.4 percent cut during the 1980s. Clearly this hurt the middle class, as the vaunted trickle down never arrived. But it was working-class whites who bought the message that this model of fiscal conservatism, married to social conservatism in the form of a rollback of redistributive programs they perceived to favor blacks, would benefit them. It did not. Yet it established a popular political rhetoric by which lower-income whites can be counted on to take up against “liberal” policies that may actually serve their interests as long as opposition can be wrapped in the trappings of “traditional values,” “law and order,” “special interests,” “reverse racism,” and “smaller government.” This was pure okey doke based on an erroneous notion of zero-sum mutuality—that is, that whatever “the blacks” get hurts me.
Which also demonstrates the contradictions of localism. Remember my earlier argument that localism—or local control expressed formally through home rule grants, as it’s sometimes known—became the spatial successor to Jim Crow segregation. Through racially “neutral” land use and housing policy, it kept white communities white after the fall of legal segregation in the late 1950s and mid-1960s. Yet here’s the contradiction. While voters opposed to civil rights remedies and Great Society programs followed Republican leadership toward fiscal conservatism at the national level, they maintained their fiscal liberalism at the local level. The tax base they created for themselves through property taxes in suburbia could be contained and spent locally. Edsall describes the irony this way: “Suburbanization has permitted whites to satisfy liberal ideals revolving around activist government, while keeping to a minimum the number of blacks and the poor who share in government largess.” Of course, all of this worked best when “suburbs” meant middle-class white people and “cities” (or today’s “urban” areas) always signaled black and brown people. There was no mutuality of interests between the two kinds of places. It also worked when low property taxes—together with generous state aid—could reliably pay for great local public services like schools, libraries, and fire protection. It was a terrific deal. But that was then. Now, neither is true. The line between cities and suburbs has blurred into regions, and minorities and whites are busy crossing back and forth to work, live, and shop. Most of the fragmented municipalities that sprawled across suburbia are no longer able to sustain their own budgets, threatening the quality of their services, despite unimaginably high property taxes. The assumptions have not held.
Perhaps now we should consider the racially polarizing policies that became the norm under Reagan’s failed experiment. We tried them. Some believed fervently in them. But it is clear that they didn’t work and are not in our long-term national or local interest. There remains a legacy of racism, however, that continues to harm some of us disproportionately and all of us eventually. It’s to those three examples that I now turn. I will only write on two out of the three, the one I will not write on is Predatory Lending.
If I’m right that the kind of racism that still works to seriously limit minority lives is more structural than intentional, and that much of it works its harm by the dynamics of place, then the first example of racism has to be environmental racism. This is little more than the straight forward fear of being killed by your neighborhood. It can happen in a number of ways.
The third example of contemporary racism is about the near-perma- nent limitation on life chances for some that is caused by our country’s rules about criminal justice. These rules and practices—from police behavior and incentives to prosecutorial power and on through the policies behind our criminal laws—have also come a long way since the 1960s. But the clear direction has been toward mass incarceration of human beings who, upon release, re-enter a society that despises those who have been incarcerated. The vast majority of these people are young black and brown men. When I first discovered the patterns of our criminal justice system, I was reminded of the absurdist bureaucracy that condemns the character Josef K. in Franz Kafka’s book “The Trial.” Josef is a working man suddenly arrested and charged with an unknown crime and forced into the impossible dilemma of defending his life amid a system of justice with no known logic, rules, or fairness. Frustrated and broken, Josef eventually dies without ever knowing why the state wanted to discipline him.
That’s pretty awful stuff. But our system of justice—leading inexorably to confinement for so many people—differs from Kafka’s in one frightening sense. It appears to have a purpose. The point is to marginalize a certain proportion of the population. Why would a free society encourage marginalization through the power of its government? According to some scholars and advocacy institutions that follow crime policy, the system for fighting crime has become a politically profitable, financially lucrative, self-perpetuating business—the business of mass incarceration. The main proponent of this view is Michelle Alexander, who argues in her book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” that the goal of our laws since about 1980 has been to substitute a new system of social control on black and Latino communities after the fall of the Jim Crow system. Whether she is right or whether the case can be made that the justice system is at least rigged against black and brown people demands a review of circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence is often used in the absence of direct evidence—smoking guns, eyewitnesses, taped confessions of racial animus—and is accepted all the time in criminal cases. Circumstantial evidence raises inferences that something is true; the stronger the evidence, the more compelling the inference. Before we get to it, however, let’s look at the facts of the “crime” itself, the disproportionate targeting and incarceration of black and brown men, their families, and, once again, the places where they tend to live.
According to Alexander and others, the facts begin in 1980, the year Ronald Reagan was elected. Crime had been rising during the 1970s, but the epidemic of crack cocaine that transformed the public’s idea of criminal behavior did not actually occur until about 1984. (I happened to grow up in one of the earliest crack neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan and saw it engulf some of my best friends.) Nevertheless, as Alexander points out, President Ronald Reagan declared a “War on Drugs” in 1982, a full two years before we knew what crack was. The statistics begin from about there, when fighting crime went from being a local police activity to a coordinated approach involving the FBI, CIA, Pentagon, new laws about drug offenses, mandatory sentencing, constitutional guarantees, and a whole lot of media coverage.
Incarceration rates exploded in the early 1980s and have only recently begun to trail off. Between 1980 and 2000, the prison and jail inmate population increased three hundred thousand to over two million; by 2007, seven million people were either locked up, on probation, or on parole. For blacks, the drug-related incarceration rates quadrupled in just three years, then began a steady but precipitous increase. In 2000, black incarceration rates were twenty-six times what they were in 1983. Latino incarceration rates for drug-related offenses were twenty-two times their 1983 levels. Whites, too, experienced an increase of eight times the rate of drug-related incarceration during the same period. Put another way, in 2006, one out of every fourteen black men was locked up compared to one in 106 white men. No other country imprisons its people as frequently or for as long as does the United States. Nobody. It was not always this way. What changed was the conservative backlash on drugs, part of what Thomas Edsall referred to as the coded call by Barry Goldwater, George Wallace, and Richard Nixon for “law and order.” As Alexander writes:
Convictions for drug offenses are the single most important cause of the explosion in incarceration rates in the United States. Drug offenses alone account for two-thirds of the rise in the federal inmate population and more than half of the rise in state prisoners between 1985 and 2000. Approximately half a million are in prison or jail for a drug offense today, compared to an estimated 41,100 in 1980—an increase of 1,100 percent. Drug arrests have tripled since 1980. As a result, more than 31 million people have been arrested for drug offenses since the drug war began. . . . The vast majority of those arrested are not charged with serious offenses.
Circumstantial Evidence of a Racist System
What the larger national statistics on racial disparities in crime fighting mean is that, because of the correspondence between race and economic status, black and brown men in poor communities have an entirely different experience of constitutional freedom than do the rest of us. Thanks to racial and economic segregation, we already know that they are not hard for the police to find. In ghettos and barrios across the nation, much higher proportions of young men are routinely stopped and searched by police, arrested or detained, released or charged, and if charged, then usually pleading to something that stands as a conviction on their records. A great many are then incarcerated. The cycle then starts over as they become unemployable, uneducated, and part of an insidious interdependency on one of the best-financed arms of government—law enforcement and the courts. Once they have served time for a felony conviction, they are persona non grata in most job settings, denied housing benefits and student loans, disallowed on juries, and, in many states, even lose the right to vote. Many states have elaborate laws that make the ex-offender a debtor responsible for paying many of the costs of his legal assistance, jail book-in fees, court costs, and child-support enforcement—all on penalty of being returned to jail if he doesn’t pay. The pariah status of ex-offenders ripples out in permanent multiples as these are the sons, husbands, and fathers of whole communities. This draconian state of affairs ought to be justified. The first question we should ask is whether the focus on people from these areas and not others is supported by facts on the ground.
The answer seems to be not at all. Crack had not even appeared in U.S. cities when President Reagan declared war on drugs, but what followed was an unprecedented federal commitment to funding drug-related crime. Almost immediately crime budgets rose, creating incentives to use the money in order to keep getting it. For instance, Alexander reports that FBI antidrug funding jumped from $8 million to $95 million between 1980 and 1984, the Department of Defense anti-drug budget jumped from $33 million to $1.042 million between 1981 and 1991, and Drug Enforcement Administration spending rose from $86 million to $1.026 million during the same decade. Meanwhile, crack hysteria became ubiquitous in media accounts, the scourge of a generation that had to be stopped at all costs. However, it was not a scourge everywhere, only among ghetto communities. This can be seen in the disparate treatment for cocaine-related crimes that was legislated by Congress as part of the $2 billion crime bill in 1986. That law and the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act authorized new mandatory minimums for first-time offenders, revoked benefits for people connected with drug busts, and added the death penalty for some federal drug offenses. Yet the focus was always on crack cocaine, not powder cocaine. Of course, crack was the cheap, rock-based ghetto alternative to the expensive powder snorted disproportionately by whites. The difference in mandatory penalties? You’d get the same prison time for one gram of crack as you would for one hundred grams of powder. The former essentially punished users and small-time dealers, while the latter only dealers.
Studies of police practices demonstrate a tendency to focus on not where the drugs are as much as where the drugs are easiest to find. For example, a Seattle University study published in 2001 found that racial stereotypes permeated Seattle policing and explained high rates of black drug arrests, not offending behavior. In fact, Seattle police followed their stereotypes even when actual tips directed them elsewhere. “Seattle residents were far more likely to report suspected narcotics activities in residences—not outdoors—but police devoted their resources to open-air drug markets and to the one precinct that was least likely to be identified as the site of suspected drug activity in citizen complaints,” according to Alexander. “In fact, although hundreds of outdoor drug transactions were recorded in predominantly white areas of Seattle, police concentrated their drug enforcement efforts in one downtown drug market where the frequency of drug transactions was much lower.”
Well, given the huge disparity between the arrest, charging, and incarceration rates by race, were black and brown drug offenders and dealers more numerous than whites? Again the answer seems to be not at all. A 2000 study showed that white youth were a third more likely to sell drugs than were blacks. Government data show that “blacks were no more likely to be guilty of drug crimes than whites and that white youth were actually the most likely of any racial or ethnic group to be guilty of illegal drug possession or sales,” Alexander writes. White youths are also more often in emergency rooms than are blacks as a result of their drug use. And it’s not like drug sales present a clandestine opportunity for racial mixing. As Alexander reminds us, “Whites tend to sell to whites; blacks to blacks. University students tend to sell to each other. Rural whites, for their part, don’t make a special trip to the ’hood to purchase marijuana. They buy it from somebody down the road.”
The last question is the thorniest: why did we build a system that seems hell-bent on funding the complete marginalization of so many black and brown people, many of them non-dangerous drug users doing what even more whites were doing? This is difficult to answer, but any attempt has to take at least two paths, the administrative and the political. By administrative, I’m referring to the policies followed by law enforcement agencies and districts attorney together with the direction they were given by courts. After all, crime fighting may be a business, but it’s a business subject to constitutional constraints. By political, I’m referring to what might have been behind all those policies—that is, what interests were served by our obsession with locking up men (and increasingly women) of color.
As for the administrative side of the criminal justice system, it seems clear that by the mid-1980s a great many financial incentives aligned to make fighting drugs in minority neighborhoods a top priority for police departments, which wanted larger budgets, and prosecutors’ offices, which wanted to bolster their tough-on-crime bona fides. In this way, the momentum toward a system of mass incarceration became self-executing. Specifically, the creation of two government funding streams—the Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Enforcement Assistance Program as well as federal forfeiture laws—launched continuous incentives to police forces to make arrest numbers regardless of the impact on crime reduction. Since 1988, according to Alexander, Byrne grants increased the funding and weaponry to localities willing (who wouldn’t?) to establish specialized narcotics task forces. This is why your local police precinct now has such military hardware as M16 rifles, grenade launchers, and Black Hawk helicopters. This is also why every American now knows what a SWAT team is, even though they were originally designed to be a specialized few used for hostage situations and bank heists. Alexander writes that in the entire United States, “[b]y the early 1980s, there were three thousand annual SWAT deployments, by 1996 there were thirty thousand, and by 2001 there were forty thousand.” Beyond the incentives to beef up, however, were incentives to eat what you killed under forfeiture laws that allow police to keep the cash and assets seized during drug raids. These raids might be based on mere suspicion, yet the fruits of the raid could be kept unless challenged. Thanks to arcane rules that, until very recently, made it difficult and costly to get one’s property back, 80–90 percent of forfeitures went unchallenged. As Eric Blumenson and Eva Nilsen demonstrated in their research, forfeitures gave police a pecuniary interest in the drug trade. The more you bust, the more you keep.
Prosecutorial power has also increased dramatically since the 1980s while budgets for free legal representation for indigent defendants have shrunk. The power comes largely from the threat of harsh mandatory sentences that became vogue during the crack epidemic. Prosecutors have unreviewable discretion to charge and overcharge as they see fit, a formidable plea bargaining chip even in the absence of strong evidence of guilt. “[S]imply by charging someone with an offense carrying a mandatory sentence of ten to fifteen years or life,” Alexander writes, “prosecutors are able to force people to plead guilty rather than risk a decade or more in prison. Prosecutors admit that they routinely charge people with crimes for which they technically have probable cause but which they seriously doubt they could ever win in court.” Given the financial costs of a capable defense, prosecutors rarely ever face that risk. Almost nobody goes to trial.
Meanwhile, the interpretation of a criminal defendant’s liberty interests changed dramatically, as a much more conservative Supreme Court continues to overhaul the constitutional overhaul that occurred briefly during the 1960s and 1970s. The Court has blessed a free range of police behaviors that might surprise many Americans if they (or their sons) were affected by them. Even without probable cause to suspect that someone’s doing wrong, police may now stop and detain people on the street or in their cars, frisk them, and even conduct full-fledged searches as long as they receive “consent.” Yet as you may assume, people rarely tell cops no, and cops are under no legal obligation to tell them they have a right to refuse. These limitations on the Fourth Amendment have led to raids, street sweeps, and other tactics that can only be called fishing expeditions. The DEA’s Operation Pipeline, for example, trained officers to do just that. According to Alexander, “It has been estimated that 95 percent of Pipeline stops yield no illegal drugs. One study found that up to 99 percent of traffic stops made by federally funded narcotics task forces result in no citation and that 98 percent of task-force searches during traffic stops are discretionary searches in which the officer searches the car with the driver’s verbal ‘consent’ but has no other legal authority to do so.” These are the tools that encouraged so much racial profiling across the nation during the last decade and a half. In New York City, following the deaths of unarmed black immigrants by police, racial profiling of black and brown men under the strident leadership of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani drew national attention. However, little changed under his more moderate successor, Michael Bloomberg. “The NYPD stopped five times more people in 2005 than in 2002—the overwhelming majority of whom were African American or Latino,” Alexander notes.
According to a study by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York Police Department stopped and frisked about 533,000 men in 2012, 87 percent of whom were black or Latino and 90 percent were innocent of wrongdoing. Though the program is justified as a way to find illegal guns, most of the arrests were for marijuana possession (5,000), not guns (729). As a result of Supreme Court decisions since 1987, claims of racist police or prosecutorial practices are nearly impossible to prove.
Why would our politics allow us to continue spending so lavishly to lock up so much human capital when the results are so racially skewed and offer so little evidence of crime-fighting success? Alexander’s answer is that mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow, a deliberate form of social control over racial minorities. It may be. Certainly, the policies that gave rise to these funding priorities, exercises of discretion, and constitutional interpretations followed a clear “law and order” path that began after the 1960s urban riots, but reached full steam under Presidents Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. For politicians everywhere, presenting oneself as tough on crime has been a cherished virtue among voters for decades now, a sure way to prevent us from slipping into lawlessness. What is odd, however, is the concentration of crime. Here again, segregation plays a hand. Since crime is concentrated in areas of concentrated poverty, the broader public’s willingness to fund tough and expensive policing seems irrational. That same public expresses no such desire to fund schools in areas of concentrated poverty at higher levels, for instance. Maybe Alexander asserts too much intention on the part of the myriad forces of social control, a coordination of efforts that seems too perfect for the government we know. Yet something is clearly wrong with a criminal justice system that produces so much injustice. And now that crack has at least subsided as an epidemic and prison costs are crushing state and local budgets, people are rethinking our incarceration policies. But are they doing so for the right reasons?
We have weapons of mass destruction we have to address here at home. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. Homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Unemployment is a weapon of mass destruction.
In my attempt to convey my interest in these social issues plaguing not just African Americans, but our society as a whole I apologize once again if the content of these visual aids are to explicit for the normal content associated with “Fresh Oil”.
“Even if Black employer firms, again totaling around 100,000, were all to hire one Black person, it is unlikely to make a major dent in Black unemployment.”
Recently, President Barack Obama addressed the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and concerns that he was ignoring the disproportionately high unemployment rate among African Americans.
Defending his American Jobs Act, Obama emphasized that the measure would provide tax cuts to businesses–and specifically mentioned 100,000 Black-owned firms–if they hire a new worker or give workers a raise. One CBC member was quoted as saying that Obama’s speech “showed he’s going to fight.”
Obama’s jobs act will not make a dent in Black unemployment, which is now at a staggering 16.7%. And despite emphasizing in his CBC speech Black unemployment and Black-owned firms, his proposal demonstrates more his capitulation to white supremacy than a willingness to challenge it.
Tax cuts will not address the financial disparities that already exist among firms by race. Indeed, Obama’s proposed measures for helping all (and not just Black) business owners in his jobs act privilege those firms with more money in them, who are more likely to be considered “innovative,” (hence the plan’s emphasis on patents and going global), who have a significant number of employees, and who are in the overall financial position to take advantage of a tax plan.
Black-owned firms already trail behind most other firms in most indicators. As shown in the most recent (2007) Survey of Business Owners, which is administered by the United States Census Bureau every five years, Black-owned firms make up only 7% of all U.S.-located firms. Whites are over-represented as business owners with 83% of all firms.
“Black-owned firms already trail behind most other firms in most indicators.” The amount of receipts differs among racial groups, with Blacks only having $135 billion, which comprises less than 1% (.005% to be exact) of the $30 trillion in receipts for all firms.
The disparity in receipts does not necessarily reflect the number of business owned among racial groups. For example, at an estimated 1.9 million, Black-owned firms outnumber Asian-owned firms by about 400,000, but the latter have over three times the receipts at $506 billion.
And while Blacks have about 300,000 less firms than Hispanics–the majority (91%) of business owners who identify as white, by the way–Black firms have only 40% of the former’s receipts. As a racial group, Blacks even lag behind some ethnic groups. Mexican American-owned firms, for instance, total about 1 million–a little under half of the firms for all Hispanics, regardless of race–a figure that is about 900,000 less than the number of Black firms, yet their receipts are higher at $154 billion.
The disparities are underscored when considering businesses that have employees, with the ability to have employees often related to the finances of a firm. Black-owned employer firms make up 2% of all firms with employees, and whites own 81%. Numbering only a little over 100,000, Black employer firms have receipts of $97 billion, which, like their receipts for all firms, make up barely more than 0% of all employer firms.
Asian American-owned employer firms have almost four times the total number and almost five times the receipts than Black employer firms, despite Asians comprising only one third of the population size of African Americans. Counting the race of the business owner, Black employer firms, employing a total of about 900,000 people, pay the smallest average pay per employee among all employer firms.
Given this data, it is highly unlikely that tax cuts will alleviate Black unemployment as Black employer firms are already lagging financially behind those among most other racial groups. Even if Black employer firms, again totaling around 100,000, were all to hire one Black person, it is unlikely to make a major dent in Black unemployment.
Given that an overwhelming majority of Black businesses are non-employer firms, it is highly unlikely that they will be in the financial position to grow their businesses by hiring workers–or to get the capital to do so–and thus “take advantage” of the proposed tax cuts. “Counting the race of the business owner, Black employer firms, employing a total of about 900,000 people, pay the smallest average pay per employee among all employer firms.”
One of the reasons why these statistics are so alarming is that a plethora of research, both from social scientists as well as just day to day observation and experience on the job market, demonstrates that African Americans are the least likely to be hired by non-Black firms.
And Black firms are already more likely to hire African Americans than non-Black firms. Given the small number of Black employer firms, it is not surprising that unemployment rates for Blacks have generally surpassed all other racial groups, even when the economy was not in a financial crisis.
Non-Black firms, then, are likely not to hire non-Blacks just to take advantage of tax measures (especially when there are growing numbers of non-Black unemployed to choose from) and Black firms, already lagging behind other racial groups by most indicators, cannot possibly be expected to resolve Black unemployment. Nor could they if they wanted to as they don’t have the resources.
Some will say Obama did specifically deal with discrimination and Black unemployment in both his jobs act and his speech to the CBC. For example, the proposal calls for challenging discrimination against the unemployed. However, how will he measure the unemployed in this policy? Will it include the many Black people who are not even included in the Department of Labor statistic for unemployment?
Whatever the case, Obama’s jobs plan does not talk about racial discrimination. Some may think it unnecessary for an act to do so given affirmative action policies. Yet affirmative action policies have often been more commonly applied to corporate jobs and even then, corporate powers have largely determined what politically gets defined as affirmative action these days.
As the major source of new jobs, the overwhelming majority of small businesses are not subject to affirmative action policies due to the small number of people each firm employs. And even if they were, the federal government has tended to be purposefully lax in enforcement and firms have also found ways to use what law professor Tanya K. Hernandez calls “the diversity defense” to hire non-whites but avoid having to account for discriminatory racial hiring practices.
“Black firms, already lagging behind other racial groups by most indicators, cannot possibly be expected to resolve Black unemployment.”
In terms of talking about Black unemployment in his jobs act, the fact sheet–as well as his CBC speech–does cite the aforementioned Black unemployment rate. More, the act mentions how Black youth are particularly affected so as propose a summer youth job program.
One purpose of the initiative, according to the jobs plan, is to help young people develop employment skills. But many of these Black youth likely won’t be hired by non-Black businesses so as to use and be paid for these skills, and again, Black firms do not have the capacity to hire all of them. Further, youth should not be in the position of financially supporting their communities and cannot be used to measure the financial health of their racial groups.
We would not expect whites dismayed about the financial crisis and their unemployment rates to focus simply on the employment prospects or summer job programs for white youth–indeed white youth are not even expected to work in the way Black youth are (nor is employment promoted as an anti-incarceration initiative for white youth in the way it is for Black youth, but that’s another article).
And summer programs are of course seasonal. Finally, summer youth programs do not resolve the fact that way too many Black adults cannot get jobs during any season. Similar to some of his political predecessors, including Richard M. Nixon, Obama’s emphasis on Black unemployment and Black business in his CBC speech promotes a Jim Crow economy–where Black people are largely left to their own devices with a little government support–in this case with the aid of a proposed tax plan for all firms that will purportedly help 100,00 Black firms resolve Black unemployment or increase the human capital of Black youth through summer programs but not guarantee a job after completion.
And similar to Nixon, who championed “Black capitalism” as a containment strategy to repress Black protest or criticism, Obama’s speech to a CBC increasingly and publicly frustrated with Obama’s response to Black unemployment, champions, albeit in a subtle way, Black business owners as important social actors who he plans to “support” (but not in a targeted way) through his proposed tax plan.
Like Nixon, Obama doesn’t challenge or address the larger political economy and anti-Black racism that is largely responsible for Black unemployment nor does he propose that non-Blacks have any responsibility in the economic life of African Americans, either in causing or resolving it.
Overall, an unwillingness to challenge racist hiring practices towards Blacks among firms owned by non-Blacks–again 98% of all employer firms–can co-exist with Obama’s championing of Black firms in the name of addressing Black unemployment. “Like Nixon, Obama doesn’t challenge or address the larger political economy and anti-Black racism that is largely responsible for Black unemployment.”
Thus, Obama’s jobs act and his speech to the CBC are examples of what sociologist Charles Gallagher terms “new colorblind racism,” meaning, unlike traditional colorblind racism, the approach minimally acknowledges racial inequality, and in this case, Black unemployment, without addressing racial hierarchies. Although openly discussing the issue of Black unemployment and proposing a tax measure that will “benefit” all firms–and presumably 100,000 Black businesses–Obama does not challenge the existing financial disparities among businesses–or the role of government programs and the financial institutions he perversely protects in shaping these disparities.
Rather, Obama in his CBC speech, in a Nixonian gesture that “recognizes”–some could even say celebrates–Black-owned firms, insidiously speaks simultaneously to both Black middle-class (pro-)capitalists and working-class Black nationalists who value Black business as a sign of community health. And despite his acknowledgment of the high Black unemployment rate and Black businesses, he also, like Nixon, simultaneously reassures non-Blacks that we will not be affected by his jobs act or by his overtures, even in speech, to the Black community.
In the end, Obama expects African Americans, in this case Black business owners and Black youth, to largely shoulder the burden of resolving the Black unemployment crisis. Obama’s speech to the CBC demonstrates not only his neoliberal tendencies but also his clever strategy of appearing race-specific in his policies.
Obama is an expert at racial double-speak and has found a way to promote a white supremacist agenda while still acknowledging race at certain moments. And he has also found a way to appear as if he is championing African Americans, in the case of his CBC speech, Black business owners, while still permitting business as usual, which includes an unwillingness of non-Black firms to hire African Americans, a lack of government intervention into these hiring practices, an over-emphasis on developing Black human capital, and a capitulation to the white supremacist claim that the state cannot legislate hearts and minds and thus cannot force (job) integration.
While Obama may not win hearts and minds, he doesn’t have to let Blacks suffer just because non-Blacks are racist and are unlikely to stop being so anytime soon. Instead, he can work towards another version of truly race-specific policies or adopt those that have already been proposed by African American advocates. Such initiatives are more likely to address Blacks’ economic status by creating economic programs that specifically target African Americans as a whole instead of simply shifting the burden of resolving Black unemployment on to the Black community.