The general public is not equipped to address issues involving racial injustices and socioeconomic policies. Available research from the Data & Society: Research Institute has shown that much of the myths surrounding systemic-racism have been unjustifiably propagated by Far-Right media and its online political subgroups. These Far-Right media groups work to minimize the historic and ongoing systemic issues of race and inequality in keeping with their conservative ideology. They’ll falsely use misrepresented data on the ‘Black crime rate’ or claim that violent crime impacting communities of color goes under-reported. And, they’ll openly criticize the economic hardship of people of color (POC) as a fault in self-character. We will address these assumptions and more as being symptomatic of deeper issues rooted in systemic-racism and agnotological sentiment among voters. The United States perpetuates a philosophy of a meritocracy – that values the virtues of self-reliance, capital gain, and entrepreneurship. However, these ideas also help perpetuate the harsh sentiments of POC as being irresponsible and uncivilized. Using unbiased data from several academic sources, we will dispel some of these false-narratives. We’ll also cite historical evidence of racist legislation that created these generational poverty traps for communities of color.
Agnotology & Conservative Media
1. Various types of media bias exist on both sides of the political spectrum. However, what has stood in the way of social inequality from becoming a populist position are Far-Right media groups. I use the term ‘Far-Right’ when talking about internet subcultures propagated by trolls, political influencers, and hyper-partisan media groups whose primary goal is to push the Overton-Window further Right by normalizing intolerable and misleading ideas. What this does is create an ‘agnotology’ — the cultivation of political & social ignorance based on false data & research. This was famously the case with large tobacco companies in the early 1950s who went so far as to fund research to obfuscate the harmful effects of cigarette smoke.
i. An article published by Alice Marwick and Rebecca Lewis in the Data & Society: Research Institute, provides us with a specific layout of the strategies of Far-Right media groups and their online sub-communities. The influence of online media subgroups, like the Alt-right and 4Chan, have worked themselves into a tizzy of seething hate mobs and anti-gov militias. Racism & Sexism are repackaged into more marketable ideas like Freedom of Speech, All Lives Matter, and Political Correctness. (A. Marwick, R. Lewis; Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online, 2017).
ii. Conservatives have popularized the myth that Black victimization goes mostly ignored by the media and progressive advocates, an assumption that has never been proven. According to an NCBI study published in 2010, there is no consistent data to show any racial bias in reporting crimes. This could possibly mean that there needs to be more research done, but from the available data we have, its results are inconclusive (Bjornstrom, E. E., Kaufman, R. L., Peterson, R. D., & Slater, M. D., 2010).
iii. It’s hard to make any progress with race and inequality when the ignorance of the privileged demographic is self-imposed. According to a 2019 Gallop poll, race & inequality is still a bipartisan chasm between racial demographics. The Gallop poll reported that 67% of White people believe Black people have equal job opportunities, compare that to Black people at 30%. Additionally, when surveyed 15% of White people viewed race relations in the United States as a problem, which is significantly less than the 45% of Black people who reported the same (M. Younis; Gallop poll, 2019).
iv. The misuse of the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) that Black people commit more violent crimes at a higher rate than White offenders. — (Objection) The claim that “Black people commit more crime” is only a partial figure. It does not explain other key environmental and behavioral factors that may influence that data. There are differing schools of thought on the specific causes of criminal behavior but poverty is a big one. A study published by the Brookings Institute found a significant relationship between poverty and the crime rate. By following the incarnation rate of individuals before and after prison. The data tracked low-income areas with an employment rate of only 49%. Just 3 years prior to incarceration the median income of those individuals was $6,250. Only 13% earned more than $15,000. These numbers didn’t relatively change after they were released from prison. (Gilna D., Brookings Institute Finds a Direct Connection Between Poverty Rates and Crime Rates, 2018).
However, when considering what affects criminal behavior in specific racial demographics we must factor in comparative data (i.e. the poverty rate and breakdown of family structures). Consider the fact that 67% of Black adolescence live in single-parent homes compared to 23% of the general population (A. E. Casey Foundation, 2011; U.S. Census Bureau, 2009). Compared with another study which shows that the generational breakdown of Black youths and single-parent homes play a major role in influencing negative behavioral tendencies further in life (Parent, J., Jones, D. J., Forehand, R., Cuellar, J., & Shoulberg, E. K. 2013). We also cannot ignore the relationship between poverty and crime. Income inequality between races in America is a fact. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s: Poverty Threshold, Blacks are overrepresented in the poverty rate. Blacks in America represent 13.2% of the total-population but 23.8% of the poverty rate. (J. Creamer: Inequalities Persist Despite Decline in Poverty For All Major Race and Hispanic Origin Groups. 2019).
v. How can America be racist when we elected a Black Attorney General/President? — In psychology and behavioral economics, there is a term known as the ‘moral licensing effect‘. Our psychology is such that we use past good deeds to justify future immoral behaviors. You may have heard someone say, “I have Gay or Black friends” while committing to homophobic and racist positions. In 2010, Stanford University researchers published a study that describes this phenomenon by showing how vicarious thoughts can drive us towards racial justification in the areas of political correctness and prosocial behaviorism. (A. C. Merritt*, D. A. Effron, and B. Monin; Moral Self-Licensing: When Being Good Frees Us to Be Bad. 2010).
Historical Racist Legislation
2. The fact that we see POC in poorer neighborhoods is by no accident of fate. In the United States, historical legislation existed for decades that helped create this socio-economic racial divide. Ever since the publication of the Moniyhan report of 1965, there has been increased discussion surrounding the negative consequences of the breakdown of marriage rates of Black families. Racial legislation was pushed for decades giving resources towards that agenda, with strict regulations that kept POC & their families separated.
i. The Man-in-the-House rules in the 1960s, would not permit welfare recipients from obtaining benefits if there was a man in the house. These laws separated generations of Black families by forcing the father to move out of the house. While officially no longer implemented, similar rules that resemble Man-in-the-House exist in counties like Los Angeles. The Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACOLA), has strict rules for Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) tenants, against having any unauthorized guests. The HACOLA strictly enforces these regulations through constant monitoring by police and social workers. These HCV families have reported disassociating themselves from friends and relatives for fear of eviction (R. Kurwa; Housing Policy Debate, 2020).
ii. In 1946, Racial Restrictive Covenant Laws made racial mixing among certain communities (Whites) illegal. A 1946 report by the Civil Civic Community defined Racial Restrictive Covenants as: “agreements entered into by a group of property owners, sub-division developers, or real estate operators in a given neighborhood, binding them not to sell, lease, rent or otherwise convoy their property to specified groups because of race, creed or color for a definite period unless all agree to the transaction.” (3). (C. Silva; University of Washington/The Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, 2009).
iii. The National Housing Act (NHA) was part of FDR New Deal that allowed the Federal Housing Commissioners to create restrictions on home loans based on location and racial prejudice. This created a color-coded map of areas that were denied home loans. The practice was known as redlining. The Black communities were all colored in red if you were curious (T. Gross; npr.org, 2017).
POC & the Bootstrapping Myth
3. The idea of bootstrapping or rag to riches narrative is still a prevalent ideology in the United States. It’s a concept that originated in the 19th century. It could be more associated with the Declaration of Independence, decrying that “all men are created equal”. While bootstrapping may be held up as an idealism it is not practical in terms of affecting economics nor public policy. It also ignores the social barriers that stagnate social mobility which create poverty traps — a generational life-cycle that struggles to escape poverty due to underlying social factors. If you have a ‘rag to riches story‘ then please understand that you are considered an outlier. Most of the data will show how your story is still statistically ‘unlikely‘. We like to uphold equality of opportunity, but then ignore equality of outcome, equality of condition, and equality of results.
i. Studies have shown that the cycle of poverty is based on factors beyond a person’s control. Black and colored communities are some of the worst affected by poverty traps. A video posted by the Brookings Institute, explains the dynamics of social mobility in terms of racial demographics. The data shows that 16% of White people born in the fifth lowest income scale make it to the top fifth of income earners, while 23% remain. For Black people, only 3% born in the fifth lowest income scale make it to the top fifth of earners, while 50% remain (R. Reeves; Brookings Institute, 2014).
ii. It is no secret that richer school districts outperform schools in lower-income neighborhoods. This is primarily because local public schools are funded by property tax. This practice of using property tax to fund public schools historically goes way back to the Puritans and the Massachusetts School Law of 1647. In recent times this practice has been tied to low-income school districts and under-performance. According to a report by the Learning Policy Institute, there have been lawsuits in 40 states that claim less equity is given to low-income districts. Consider the national average of district schools serving the most concentration of students of color that spend 1,800 less per student than districts with fewer students of color. Keep in mind this is the national average, in-state the numbers are even more disproportionate. Districts like Cook County, Illinois will spend roughly 10,000 more per student than its neighboring Chicago school districts. Data has shown that more funding in schools is directly tied to better performance in students (J. Raikes, L. D. Hammond; Learning Policy Institute, 2019). We won’t address the negative effect that racial segregation had on Black children before the Brown vs Board of Education ruling of 1954 because there’s not enough data. Although, looking at recent data from 100 of America’s largest cities Black and children of color are still segregated by low-income districts (J. Boshma, R. Brownstein; The Atlantic, 2016). Here the ‘poverty trap‘ is revealed, because the lower-income the school districts are; the lower the likely expected outcome is for student success.
iii. Dependency on welfare programs is not the fault of the poor nor colored communities. These social welfare programs are notorious for failing to graduate their recipients. Offering short-term help but long-term dependency. Vanessa B. Calder, a research analyst at the CATO Institute, explains how the current welfare system suffers from financial losses and poor oversight. Calder found that programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit send roughly 21 to 26 of its payments in error. This is reported annually on the IRS fraud data section found on its webpage. The federal welfare program is also duplicative which increases the amount of unnecessary administrative costs. Consider the fact that federal welfare programs include 342 economic development programs and 125 programs serving at-risk youth etc. Calder also points to behavioral incentives that are pushed on welfare recipients in order to gain more benefits. If we want welfare reform to improve Congress would need to prioritize a change in its redistribution policies. It is said that people often blame welfare dependency on its recipients when in practice it is meant to cause dependency (V.B. Calder; CATO Institute, 2018).
iv. POC & Unemployment Rate – Politicians love to frame issues as either positive or negative. Take for instance President Trumps State of the Union address, and how he clamors over the Black & Latino low-unemployment rate of 2018. The false dichotomy here is framed as having a high or lower unemployment rate can accurately determine economic growth and recovery. In truth, having a low unemployment rate does not solve the poverty rate. Because simply referring to an increase in jobs does not guarantee that its populace is not considered working-poor (A. Stevens; Econofact.org/employment-and-poverty, 2018). It’s also not uncommon for the working-poor to report having 2–3 jobs whilst still struggle with financial stability. In 2019, an analysis by the Brookings Institute found that 53 million American workers ages 18 to 64, (44% of laborers), earn barely a living wage (4). (M. Ross, N. Bateman; Brookings Institute, 2019).
Before we can start to fix anything we must recognize that this is not an individual failure but a ‘policy’ failure. This is why it is wrong for us to internalize the lasting problems within poor and colored communities as necessarily a fault in character. We should instead work to fix the current policies that perpetuate poverty-traps and hinder social-mobility. The conversation should start with improving our broken welfare system by reevaluating our federal budget process. The poor oversight of its administrative roles should be streamlined to reduce lost revenue and unnecessary administrative costs. The ratification of our welfare system should also include a safety-net that other European countries have successfully implemented. Which should provide supplemental security income (SSI), universal healthcare, and universal basic income. The generational failings of colored communities can be traced back to the structural inequality that historically created these disadvantaged groups. We unfairly expect POC to overcome these hurdles and harsh circumstances that were created for them.