Thanks to friend of the blog Bobcabkings‘ recommendation (Of Cabbages and Kings) that we listen to the Fresh Air episode interviewing Heather McGhee about her new book The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.
I thought I knew a lot about racism in America, after all there are enough racism posts on Ye Olde Blogge, but she reveals there is much much more. And, what she reveals is just jaw dropping; the extent that white America has gone to to hurt Black America. The evidence that she outlines in her book is just overwhelming and soul sappingly disheartening.
It’s so bad that I’m having real difficulty figuring out how to even describe the shit that white people have pulled. What dimensions do you even rate it on? What words can adequately describe the duplicity of white America? Let me give you an example and see if you can help me out in the comments, okay?
Back in 1958, some court or other ordered the integration of public facilities. Black people, whose tax dollars helped fund the parks, pools, libraries, and stuff, were adjudicated by a federal court as needing to be able to use them the same as white people. You know, this was back in the day when there were white only signs on everything nice and for coloreds on holes in the ground.
The Montgomery Swimming Pool
So, in Montgomery, Alabama — why isn’t that surprising? — they were ordered to integrate their parks facilities. Apparently, they consisted of a grand swimming pool capable of holding hundreds of swimmers at a time, a zoo, and a park system. When confronted with the possibility of sharing a swimming pool with Black people, the good white folks of Montgomery came to the rational decision to castrate themselves despite their sex drive. This is what they’d rather do than swim with Black people:
- They filled the pool in with dirt and paved it over.
- They sold the animals in the zoo.
- The shut down the parks and recreation department.
The good white souls of Montgomery would rather not have municipal recreation facilities than share a very large swimming pool in any way shape or form with Black people. Unfucking believable. I’m just stunned by the sheer what? What do you call that? I don’t have a word for it. I don’t have a concept for it. I don’t have a smart alecky phrase for it, and that should be a crime. Please take a shot at it in the comments because I for one flummoxed, flabbergasted, and at a loss for words. Filled in the fucking pool, paved the sucker over, sold the animals from the zoo, closed down the parks, salted the fucking earth, and burned the entire gottam city to the ground General Tecumseh Sherman-stlye rather than allow white people to share a pool with Black people.
When my sister and I were wee tots, my mother would threaten us with no desert if we didn’t eat our vegetables. I’d cry; my sister would cross her arms, stick her lower lip out, and declare, I didn’t want dessert any way. She was five and didn’t want to eat her peas. These are grown ass elected adults who wanted to deny fellow human beings the same services that they used their tax dollars to pay for.
I guess some people back then had access to private pools but most of Montgomery’s white community was Whew! Thank god we don’t have to swim with Black folks! It was worth losing the parks!
Instead of Public Pools
Every community in the country has evidence of public pools that were closed at that time. It’s there if you look or ask a grandparent. Instead of providing a community pool, white people started building backyard and private membership-only pools.
Then, it was like every white person occupying every elected and appointed office across the land had the exact same thought at the exact same time: If public services must be integrated and shared with Black people, there can only be one thing to do, eliminate public services. It was only logical, amirite?
- If schools have to be integrated, then we won’t have public schools. First, we decided to fund schools using a local tax structure like property taxes so that poor neighborhoods would have impoverished school districts, read that Black, Brown, and poor white, and rich neighborhoods would have well-funded school districts, read that white. And, now we have home schooling, school choice, government vouchers, and charter schools. Wasn’t that Betsy DeVos’ raison d’etre? All so white kids can go to school with as little contact with Black students as possible. See this NBCNews article about racism in black neighborhoods.
- If universal healthcare means that Black and Brown Americans will have the same healthcare as white Americans, then we won’t have universal healthcare. Obama offers the Repube plan of universal health insurance, and the Repubes go crazy and call it socialism and try to destroy it. Work-based health insurance ensures that white people who are generally employed more widely and at better jobs with higher pay and better benefits will have better healthcare than Blacks and Browns are.
- If universal preschool and childcare means that Black and Brown children will start life with the same advantages as white children, read that not being damaged by poor nutrition, lack of environmental stimulation, and not allowing one adult to work, then we won’t have universal preschool and childcare. If it means that poor whites are hurt too, then it’s worth that sacrifice.
- If making broadband and Internet service a public utility like electricity, water, and sewage, means that Black and Brown people will have the same Internet access as white people, then we won’t make the Internet a public utility. Black, Brown, and poor white people just won’t be able to access Internet-based services like applying for jobs, universities, and #COVID19 vaccines.
If keeping Black and Brown people from accessing public services the same as white people do means that we eliminate those public services, then it is worth it even if it hurts white people, too.
Think about how this works. Starting in the late 1950’s, the federal courts began ordering public facilities to be integrated. It really started with the integration of the army during World War II. As soon as that happened, white people began withdrawing public funding for these facilities and privatizing it all. It culminates with Reagan’s Southern strategy, racist dog whistles, the welfare queen myth, and his phrase, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” It started us on the road of “the government can’t do nothing and all welfare favors Blacks who abuse the system, so the system should be shut down.” Now, Repubes favor deregulation of everything — how’d that work out Texas? — and if it ends up hurting some white people, at least it will mostly be progressives, poor whites. It is all worth it if it means the Blacks and Browns can’t have the same nice things that well-off white people have.
The Civil War Never Ended: The Racist Legacy of Puritanism and Calvinism in White Deep Culture (part 2)
There are just so many ass-scratching government actions and decisions that limit the ability of Black people to access government goods and services that white people can easily have, especially as our society became more equal. So, head on over to the Fresh Air episode, read the transcript, listen to the interview, or both, then come back and tell us what you think in the comments.
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‘Sum Of Us’ Examines The Hidden Cost Of Racism — For Everyone
DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in today for Terry Gross. Our guest today, Heather McGhee, has a new book about the importance of recognizing and fighting racism in America. But it isn’t just an argument that racial discrimination is morally wrong and unfair, even deadly to people of color. The heart of McGhee’s case is that racism is harmful to everyone, and thus we all have an interest in fighting it. Drawing on a wealth of economic data, she argues that when laws and practices have discriminated against African Americans, whites have also been harmed. When people unite across racial and ethnic lines, she argues, there’s a solidarity dividend that helps everyone.
Heather McGhee is the former president of the progressive think tank Demos, where she spent much of her career. She holds a BA in American Studies from Yale and a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley. She currently chairs the board of Color of Change, a nationwide online racial justice organization. Her new book is “The Sum Of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone And How We Can Prosper Together.” She joins me from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Heather McGhee, welcome to FRESH AIR.
HEATHER MCGHEE: I’m so glad to be with you.
DAVIES: You worked at the think tank Demos for a long time. Then you went and got a law degree and came back to it. And you write in the introduction that you were in love with the idea that information in the right hands was power. And you would do research. You would craft legislation. You’d talk to members of Congress and their staffs hoping to make change. And you write that getting to some of the ideas that motivated this book came from your discovering the limits of research and facts. Just share with us that journey.
MCGHEE: Well, I have always been animated by core questions about our economic dysfunction in America, why it was that people so often struggled just to make ends meet. I was born on the South Side of Chicago. I saw what happened when the good factory jobs and the good public sector jobs started to leave. And it felt like we could do something about this. We could, in many ways, have nice things, right? Universal child care and health care and reliable infrastructure and well-funded schools in every neighborhood. And the data was saying it would be in our economic interest to do it.
Continue reading on NPR‘s FreshAir: Sum Of Us’ Examines The Hidden Cost Of Racism — For Everyone