Equality Is Still the Only Thing That Really Counts

We have built a society in which equality has been plummeting for nearly half a century, making poverty and injustice steadily worse. Nearly every part of our government, legal structure, taxation, and daily experience serves to constrict the lives of people whose income is inadequate, especially if they are not white.

It’s all but unnecessary to mention the ongoing murder of completely innocent unarmed black men, as well as others, by police and security officers, often responding to no threat whatsoever. Beatings of men in their 70s for car registration non-violations, seizure and arrest of eight-year-old children, killing of 12-year-olds on playgrounds, middle-of-night no-knock raids on completely innocent families, who are murdered. These are police who are completely out of control, committing atrocities with impunity, like in some third world tyranny. This must stop, now, and until it does equality, and maybe even democracy, will remain compromised.

Equality has been plummeting
for nearly half a century.

Cessation of outlaw police activity is essential, but this will not begin to create equality. Real equality remains a long-term goal for the whole society, a difficult goal that will not be achieved for decades. But we are not really trying to reach that goal; it doesn’t seem to be a compelling objective.

Although it may appear that African-Americans should need no more assistance in overcoming the evil legacy of slavery at this late date, the truth is that the legacy is still very much with us, even down to Republicans’ recent enactment of new Jim Crow laws to prevent blacks from voting. Racial discrimination was officially tolerated until the time of Martin Luther King, Jr., which was not so long ago. The laws were changed, but not nearly enough time has passed to change attitudes. Such changes often require several new generations who grow up incrementally more tolerant.

Education is the first element to address.

The ugly antique racism of some white Americans today has been on blatant display recently, from a southern sheriff who recently proclaimed he would let “no niggers on this vehicle” (using exactly those words, about a public ambulance), to cops who display the same overt and nasty racism, to the open-carry gun nuts who arm themselves for protection from imagined armies of rampaging African-Americans (presumably under the command of our communist Kenyan president), to the more nuanced racism of politicians and others.

My personal opinion is that nobody of any race is completely free of racism, because it is a holdover from our very distant past (when we were all Africans), in which it was reasonable to be suspicious of everyone who was not family, tribal member, or a known friend. The best we can do is be aware of our own tendency toward racism, and constantly question our own attitude. A significant majority of all people do exactly that, and one can travel in countries where the people don’t look like you, yet treat you with respect and friendliness. But there are places in the US where the opposite is true, and it’s ugly.

Social attitudes and inequality
are a Gordian Knot
that will take decades to untie.

Social characteristics and attitudes change very slowly, over centuries. No better example can be found than northern and southern Italy. Northern Italy accepts the new, and its people accept other people. But suspicion and distrust of others has been the hallmark of southerners for many centuries. The result has been centuries of poverty and backwardness in the south, and affluence and modernism in the north. These social characteristics have been shown in other parts of the world too, with similar socio-economic disparities. Our own Old South, which perennially records the worst scores in the US for every socially important characteristic, is a perfect example.

Given the truth of this observation, there is no question that we will need much more time to balance race relations in the US, and improve equality in the process.

This will not happen spontaneously. For equality of opportunity to happen, we will have to take purposeful steps to lessen inequality, prohibit actions that create it, and purposely build to create equality. This will not happen as long as one political party is trying to prevent voting by people of color.

We will have to take
purposeful steps
to lessen inequality.

As I have said repeatedly in past postings, education is the first element to address, and one of the things promoting inequality is school funding via property tax. Another element is child poverty. More than one in five children lives in poverty (some say one in three), with all that entails. In school, that means hunger. It is indisputable that a hungry child cannot learn well, so school meals programs are very important.

The other factors will be far more difficult to overcome. They include endless lack of economic opportunity, run-down homes and neighborhoods, street crime in the neighborhood, gangs and drug use, abusive households, a long-lasting fad of anti-intellectualism, under-achievement, guns in homes, discrimination in hiring and housing, sub-standard wages, on and on. This is a Gordian Knot, one that must be untied over generations, since a sword sharp enough to cut it has not so far been found.

We have to make a
long term commitment.

It can be untied, only we have to work much harder at it, and at present too many people don’t appreciate how important equality is, a major element of which is the rapidly escalating wealth of the very rich. The recent achievement of better wages for low-income workers in some places is not enough, but is a step in the right direction. So is the Affordable Care Act.

Unfortunately, the belief among a significant part of the population, and of one of our major political parties, is that the problem rests not with addressable social circumstances and attitudes, let alone with the economic machinations of the rich, but with the natural laziness and moral failure of African-Americans. That is not the problem, and it’s not true.

The problem lies in society at large, which has both inadvertently and purposely created conditions that perpetuate inequality. Improvement will be difficult until we overcome our bad attitudes and learn, step by step, how to create more positive conditions.

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