A Discussion of Race Worth Having

Much has been made around the edges of this campaign about the issue of race. Sadly, nothing has been made of the public policy exigencies that arise because of the urgent racial disparities that continue to exist in our country. Just last week, the United Nations criticized the United States, again, for its failure to address the issues arising from the rights, particularly the right of return, of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita survivors. Author Bill Quigley writes in “The Cleansing of New Orleans,” that half of the working poor, elderly, and disabled of New Orleans have not been able to return.

Two weeks ago, United Nations experts on housing and minority rights called for an immediate end of public housing demolitions in New Orleans. Now, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, ratified by the U.S. in 1994, further observes that the U.S. must do more to protect and support the African American community. In 2006, the United Nations Human Rights Commission “noted its concern that while African Americans constitute just 12% of the population, they represent 50% of homeless people, and the government is required to take ‘adequate and adequately implemented’ measures to remedy this human rights violation.” In short, the United Nations has issued reports squarely calling for the United States to do more to eliminate racial discrimination—and this discrimination is a human rights violation.

I am deeply offended that in the middle of a Presidential campaign, remarks–be they from a pastor or a communications mogul, or a former Vice Presidential nominee–are the cause of a focus on race, and not the deep racial disparities that communities are forced to endure on a daily basis in this country.

Myriad reports and studies that have been done all come up with the same basic conclusion: in order to resolve deep and persisting racial disparities in this country, a public policy initiative is urgently needed. A real discussion of race, in the context of a Presidential election, ought to include a discussion of the various public policy initiatives offered by the various candidates to eliminate all forms and vestiges of racial discrimination, including the racial disparities that cloud the hopes, dreams, and futures of millions of Americans.

For example, every year on the anniversary of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., United for a Fair Economy publishes a study of the true state of people of color in America called the “State of the Dream Report.” And it was their 2004 report that noted that without public policy intervention, it would take 1,664 years to close the racial gap in home ownership in this country. And that on some indices, for example, infant mortality, the racial disparities were worse at the time of the report than at the time of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In their 2005 report, entitled, “Disowned,” United for a Fair Economy explored the disparate impact of Bush’s “Ownership Society” economic program that saw Black and Latino lives shattered as unemployment, income, home ownership, business ownership, and stock ownership plummeted even in the face of Administration economists trumpeting the phenomenal “growth” of the U.S. economy as a result of their policies.

In 2006, United for a Fair Economy focused on the devastating and embarrassing effect of government inaction before, during, and after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. They focused on something as simple as car ownership and the relationship between vehicle ownership and race. In the case of New Orleans, car ownership literally meant the difference between losing or saving one’s life.

In 2007, United for a Fair Economy explored the Black voters’ attachment to the Democratic Party, and in a piece entitled, “Voting Blue, but Staying in the Red,” they explored goals that the Democratic Party should have put at the top of its agenda for its first 100 hours in the majority. While noting that the Democrats didn’t even mention Katrina in their agenda, United for a Fair Economy concluded that Blacks and Latinos voted in the November 2006 elections in the blue, but due to a failure of public policy that pays attention to their needs, they continue to live in the red.

In their 2008 report, United for a Fair Economy explores the sub-prime mortgage crisis and note that the largest loss of wealth in U.S. history is being experienced by the Black and Latino communities with an estimated $92 billion being lost by Blacks and an estimated $98 billion being lost by Latinos. And while families are losing their life savings and the only major investment that they own, policy makers are asking them to tighten their belts. But the predator banks’ CEOs are walking away with record remuneration. And our policy makers are notable for their inaction: first on the predatory lending that disproportionately affects Blacks and Latinos, and then on offering relief so that homeowners remain homeowners, including in the midst of this crisis.

Sadly, United for a Fair Economy isn’t the only research organization to find glaring and intolerable disparities in our society by race and no appropriate public policies enacted to address them. Hull House did a study that found that it would take 200 years to close the gap in the quality of life experienced by black Chicagoans and white Chicagoans. There has been no public policy initiative taken up by the mayor or the governor of Illinois to begin closing that gap.

Several years ago, the New York Times published a finding that nearly half the men between the ages of 16 and 64 in New York City were unemployed. There was no initiative by the mayor or the governor of New York to begin addressing such pain.

Every year, the National Urban League publishes a study, “The State of Black America,” in which the ills and disparities that persist in this country are catalogued. Every year, the story is basically the same. The United States has a way to go that only public policy can address. However, when Harvard University/The Kaiser Family Foundation did a study on White attitudes about race several years ago, it found that Whites have little appreciation for the reality of Black life in America, from police harassment and intimidation, to imprisonment, to family income, unemployment, housing, and health care. But without an appreciation of the reality faced by many of our fellow Americans, the necessary public policy initiatives to change those realities will find difficulty gaining acceptance in the public discourse.

Additionally, compounding the problem, there is little public discourse because the corporate press refuse to cover the deep implications of the results of all these studies. I am convinced that if the American people knew the truth of the conditions, change would surely follow. I believe that to be the case because of the impact of the images of “Bloody Sunday” on the passage of the Voting Rights Act. I believe that to be the case because of the impact of the images of the Vietnam War on the turn of the tide of public opinion against that War.

This moment sheds light on a much-needed discussion: on race and the legacies of race and slavery and the continuing problems associated with our failure to treat racism as a curable American disease.

I am glad that candidate Obama mentioned the existing racial disparities in education, income, wealth, jobs, government services, imprisonment, and opportunity. Now it is time to address the public policies necessary to resolve these disparities. Now it is time to have the discussion on how we are going to come together and put policies in effect that will provide real hope and real opportunity to all in this country.

To narrow the gap between the ideals of our founding fathers and the realities faced by too many in our country today: That must be the role of public policy at this critical moment in our country today.

I welcome a real discussion of race in this country and a resolve to end the long-standing disparities that continue to spoil the greatness of our country. I welcome a real discussion of all the issues that face our country today and the real public policy options that exist to resolve them. That must be the measure of this campaign season. For many voters, this important discussion has been too vague or completely non-existent. Now is the time to talk about the concrete measures that will move our country forward: on race, war, climate change, the economy, health care, and education. Our votes and our political engagement must be about ensuring that fairness truly for all is embodied in “liberty and justice for all.”

Cynthia McKinney was a presidential candidate for the Green Party in the 2008 election. Read other articles by Cynthia, or visit Cynthia's website.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. George Thompson said on March 19th, 2008 at 11:36am #

    Right on Cynthia but when it comes down to it there is a very simple racial dynamic at work here in America. Whites knows that the inequalities that exist are because of slavery but many of simply them don’t care because they devalue blackness and just want things to remain as they are because they have benefited from black suffering over many generations. The whites that have not benefited as much or at all perceive black complaints as directed at them when in fact they are directed at the powerful white men that constructed and still construct racist policies that harm poor people of all races. The same good ole boys, rednecks or whatever you want to call them are angry at being betrayed by wealthier whites. They vent their anger on blacks who do not deserve it. It is a form of guilt over history but it is also misdirected anger that should be directed toward rich whites that put their personal wealth ahead of any allegiance to whiteness. I’m glad rich whites changed their priorities because it exposes them for what they are but poor whites refuse to see the truth because blacks are easier targets for scapegoating than corporate CEOs, stockholders and other movers and shakers bringing about our common demise.

  2. Kay said on March 19th, 2008 at 1:24pm #

    George – I couldn’t have said it better.

  3. Chris said on March 19th, 2008 at 5:55pm #

    Public policy won’t change the attitudes and biases of Americans at large. It is far past time that we stop talking about “Black America” and “White America” and talk about America. By having “White America’s” government reach out to “Black America” is not enough. Americans has to reach out for each other, ignorant of race or creed, and help those who have slipped through the cracks get back on their feet.

    But the first step is facing the truth that the problems facing “Black America” in poverty and education and healthcare also face “White America” and “Latino America” and so on and so on.

  4. Eleanor Roosevelt said on March 19th, 2008 at 10:48pm #

    The white race has laid waste to Mother Earth. The white race is the primitive race. Only they have sunk so low as to endanger Mother Earth herself. All races are stupid but only the white race has thrown all its future into the foolish hope that the Earth can survive what we are doing to her. There will be no reckoning about race until there is a reckoning about what we have done to the Earth.

  5. Ken Brady said on March 20th, 2008 at 6:08am #

    Who wrote this for Cynthia? I’ve read her past writings and listened to her in person and there’s no way she wrote something with this quality of grammar and syntax.

    Cynthia, Obama’s the future now. You’re just a race warlord from the past who represents a smaller and smaller constituency. Give it up, girl.

  6. epppie said on March 20th, 2008 at 9:31am #

    Cynthia, I didn’t see much to welcome in Obama’s speech. He basically threw his pastor ‘under the bus’ for speaking the truth; he basically slurred his pastor for speaking the truth with the racial stereotype of the “angry black”; and he basically threw the Palestinian people under the bus along with his pastor; and, on top of that, he continues to peddle the notion that racism in America is some
    perverse nostalgia, some soft and cloudy thing, barely there, really. All we need to do is sprinkle a little more “opportunity” around and sing a few rounds of “kumbaya” and it’ll be gone.

    That’s not just bullcrap, it’s heinous bullcrap. It’s time to stop making excuses for “centrist” democrats, which really means right wing democrats, be they male or female, black or white or hispanic, young or old. The polls show that Americans saw right through Obama’s cowardly speech. It’s ABOUT TIME America saw through that faker. Now they need to see through the other two fakers, McCain (the campaign religious convert) and Clinton (the one who thinks that it takes a village (us) to bomb another village (Iran)).

    I believe with you that the majority of Americans are willing to listen to a candidate who starts talking about the world as it really is, not as it is imagined to be in the Beltway/Wall Street Wonderful World of Oz.

  7. dan e said on March 20th, 2008 at 10:34am #

    —– Original Message —–
    From: HQ
    To: moc.yennikcmaihtnycsgnihtlla.stsilnull@setadpu
    Sent: Thursday, March 20, 2008 7:27 AM
    Subject: [hq2600] Pro-peace Rallies for Five Long Years

    Hello all!

    Yesterday, there were demonstrations for peace all over our country. I participated in San Francisco’s and in Los Angeles’s rallies. That makes 5 years of rallies for me and an Administration and Congress that won’t listen to us. Here are my remarks:

    Cynthia McKinney

    Los Angeles, March 13

    San Francisco, March 19

    Our country has been hijacked!

    Condoleeza, Dick, and George lied to us and the Congress let them spy on us.

    The Democrats in Congress chose to spend $720 million every day and make themselves complicit in war crimes, torture, crimes against humanity, and crimes against the peace.

    $720 million a day can feed our hungry children, fund a way home for Katrina survivors, relieve families suffering from predator banks, and pay down on our national debt.

    Speaker Pelosi:

    Now that race is on the table, introduce legislation to eliminate all the racial disparities that have plagued our country and our communities since slavery.

    Speaker Pelosi:

    We’re still waiting for a livable wage, single payer health care, students with an education free of exorbitant loans, and a return to the days when our country did good things and the world looked up to us.

    Now countries crouch in fear of our next aggression!

    Hands off Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador!

    Hands off Haiti and Zimbabwe, and No war against Iran!

    We want peace and justice now!

    We must never give up! We must never give in! And we will use our vote to take our country back!

    “And advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target’ specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.”
    –PNAC, Rebuilding America’s Defenses, p. 60

    “The less you know, the more you believe.”

    “Certain material weaknesses in financial reporting and other limitations on the scope of our work resulted in conditions that, for the 10th consecutive year, prevented us from expressing an opinion on the federal government’s consolidated financial statements.”
    –David Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, December 15, 2006


    Updates mailing list

  8. dan e said on March 20th, 2008 at 1:31pm #

    Re “Ken Brady”:

    “All together now: Run Tom Run! Run Tom Run! Run Tom Run! Yeah!”

    Definition of UnSpeak: “Change”…

    “…change?” “change?” go fa dat: gimme quota! gimme damm! gimme dam nickle, dammit.

    Oba-who? gimme a break. Sthn Real Compared To (?).

  9. hp said on March 21st, 2008 at 10:50am #

    I’ve yet to understand how anyone can demand for others what they themselves do not now, nor have ever had.

  10. Lloyd Rowsey said on March 23rd, 2008 at 10:13pm #

    I actually VOTED on Super Tuesday, for you Cynthia on the P&F ticket, in Bencia, California, and I’m glad I did. Gloria La Riva also comes across very well, and I saw her on video, about month ago. Moreover, even Ralph’s writing is tightening up.

    But it must be difficult to not appear naive or out-of-touch, but rather sufficiently confident and at ease, in front of the camers when proposing radical solutions to problems that mainstream Americans haven’t the experience of hearing addressed in radical terms. Regardless of how much one understands that the vast majority of Americans have a thorn sticking in their minds (in the metaphor of one of DV’s regular posters) reminding them that Something Is Very Wrong.

  11. suneemiesa said on March 30th, 2008 at 6:27pm #

    Hello all.
    I am a flagwaving American citizen who
    somehow landed in the Middle East and I
    am looking for a way out. 🙁
    (its a long story with lots of sordid details:
    cheating spouse, dysfunctional inlaws,
    deceipt and underhandedness...it might make a very interesting movie). 🙂
    Anyway, hello to everyone and I look forward to sharing
    my international experiences with all of you
    in the coming months.