Everyone has heard that Black Lives matter. We have heard it in the news and from our slightly-annoying-political-activist friends. We have been bombarded with it on Facebook and every other social media site. We all understand: black people matter just as much as white people. But what if those black people also happen to be poor? I’m sure you’d say that they do. In fact, you might even be slightly irritated that I asked. “It’s 2015!” You might say. “We aren’t racist anymore and we certainly don’t hate the poor, so what right do you have to say we don’t treat poor black people fairly?”
I wonder, though, if a stranger were to look at our collective behavior and guess whether we value rich white lives and poor black ones equally, what would they say? See, even today “racial inequality continues to be normalized and legitimized.” We employ “symbolically antiracist gestures, such as naming an African American—or other racial minority—to endorse or head a substantially racially inequitable practice,” and by doing so, we contribute to the problem. This type of thinking is what allows us to argue that America can’t have racism because we have a black—or, at least a blackish—president. But let’s get real. Having a black president does not magically eliminate racism, just like the presence of Vince Lane didn’t magically make HOPE IV antiracist.
Think about it—when it comes time to decide where to put a new waste management center, where do we put it? Where the poor black people live. And we can tell ourselves that if they really cared, then they’d stop it. They’d say, “no way, we’ll stake out every local politician’s office if we have to, you are not building that here.” But deep down, don’t we all know that isn’t true? Because we certainly aren’t trying to build wast management centers where the wealthy white folks live. The truth is, America, that we exploit the poor black people. Our behavior today arguably isn’t that different from that of the white doctors involved in the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. It’s like somehow white America decided to:
Pick a population that is “disenfranchised” (read: no one cares about them)
Do whatever wealthy white America wants
Act like its is somehow justified (and maybe put multiple Obama stickers on our cars to support our antiracist claims)
We cannot continue to treat poor black people this way. And we can’t only think about the value black lives where there has been a murder or an instance of police brutality. We need to think about them now, and every single day until we have truly reached racial equality—until we are no longer forcing poor blacks into undesirable living situations, and in extreme instances, homelessness. We need to stop acting indignant that poor black people don’t just pull themselves up by their bootstraps. We need to stop acting like they’re offered the same opportunities as wealthy whites. They aren’t, and pretending that they do isn’t going to solve anything.
Satija, Neena. “A Waste Solution May Lean Again on a Low-Income Area.” The New York Times (New York, NY), Aug. 23, 2014.
Arena, John. Driven From New Orleans: How Nonprofits Betray Public Housing and Promote Privatization. University of Minnesota Press, 2012.