August 22, 2016 (San Diego) “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed — what the hell do you have to lose?” That was the stark question Donald Trump presented to African Americans. Good news, he is actually doing some outreach, unlike the rest of the Republican Party. He is also making constant allusions to Abraham Lincoln. But, this has more than a few problems. It is not just tone deaf, but his phrasing is quite ignorant, and racist.
Why am I saying this? Trump is relying on a a\stereotype. It assumes that blacks, all blacks, live in poverty, and send their children to failing schools in a troublesome, democratically run, urban core. He might have used the word ghetto in the same meaning it has taken. There are multiple problems with this assessment. It ignores a thriving middle class that has grown and expanded. It also ignores the success of many in the community to become not just extremely wealthy in some cases, but very influential in American culture. No, people like Condoleeza Ruce, and Queen Latiffa, or JZ, are not to be put on a pedestal to be shown as an exception to an assumed stereotype.
There is a large mainstream of people who have succeeded in making it into middle and upper middle class comfortable life styles. The fact that the rest of us seem ignorant of this reality is our fault in some ways. As Eugene Robinson writes in Disintegration:
Why hasn’t this Mainstream success penetrated the national consciousness? Mostly because we tend to see what we expect to see. Our eyes confirm what we “know,” and everybody “knows” that black America is mired in intractable problems that defy solution. Everybody “knows” that black America, on average, has hardly begun to catch up with the rest of society—and since we “know” this, there is no reason to look more closely.
It also does not help how media outlets tend to cover stories of crime, where stereotypes are served on a daily basis. He is not looking any deeper into the new realities of American life. He is not going to places where he can find the normalcy of American life, and this rapid integration.
When he speaks of bad schools and crime ridden communities, he is almost drawing a caricature. He is showing a bias, one that does ring true, because those are the expectations many Americans still have. In the minds of many, African Americans can only be one thing, and any deviance from it violates that implicit bias.
Is his criticism of Democratic Politicians who take the votes of African Americans for granted have any grain of truth? Only if you look at this through the most shallow of levels. It is the policies of the civil rights era that helped to open the way to integration. It is precisely those policies that have led to the following result. So here are some statistics, again via Robinson.
Roughly half of black families own their homes. More than one-fourth of African American adults work in management or professional jobs. Before the 2008 financial meltdown, African Americans had an aggregate purchasing power estimated at $ 913 billion. 8 If Mainstream black America were a sovereign nation, it would have the seventeenth-largest economy in the world—bigger than that of Turkey, for example, or Saudi Arabia, or South Africa. That all this has happened in the space of forty years, due to the ambition and labor of just two generations, is something of which Horatio Alger would be proud.
If you are surprised, it is because these statistics actually betray our biases. Not that the Great Recession did not hit Blacks in a more direct way. Billian, B White wrote for The Atlantic:
Now a report from the ACLU says that black families will continue to suffer the effects of this disproportionately for decades to come: By 2031, white household wealth will be 31 percent below what it would’ve been had the recession never happened, according to the report. For black households, wealth will be 40 percent lower, which will leave black families about $98,000 poorer than if the recession hadn’t taken place.
While it is true that African Americans have been trailing whites, but one of the reasons it hit people that hard was because home prices crashed. There was also the practice of predatory loans, which in some ways have replaced the practice of red lining that kept minorities out of white areas for decades. It is still illegal, but there is some evidence it still exists. And there are practices that are even more obvious such as insurance rates that are higher in minority areas.
Then there are the ways that lead to gentrification. As the Baltimore Sun reported earlier in the year:
For many, she said, “combating the impacts of redlining [means] essentially just flooding the hood with white people. And that’s clearly not the answer.” She noted the “problematic thinking” behind strategies that only “justify investment in black communities if white people are also impacted by it.”
Locally we are seeing the tensions as well, and gentrification is extremely real. Neighborhoods like Logan Heights are seeing the early steps of this process. So an urban core neighborhood is starting to see families pushed to the periphery such as Spring Valley and El Cajon. This is classic urban inversion. Another is deep in the process, North Park is hardly the depressed dangerous neighborhood it once was.
So going back to Trump, it is good that the leader of the GOP is trying to reach to minorities. That is a welcomed development, even if the cynic in me wants to say it is purely an electoral appeal, now that he is not doing well with the general election electorate. The problem is that what he is doing is so misinformed to modern-day realities. It is so full of stereotypes, that is is quite frankly another racist dog whistle.