Monday, November 16, 2009

A Racial Divide is Bridged by Hard Times in Barack Obama's America or Ain't No Racism in the Unemployment Line

But Dennis and Jenny Duncan, a white couple who once owned millions of dollars in real estate assets as former developers, felt equally stymied. Interviewed in the lavish home they built for themselves, they said the sheriff had just come to call and told them their belongings would soon be seized to satisfy debts. Unlike Ms. Rucker, neither has a college degree, making work difficult to find.

The idea that the recession is an equalizer has become accepted in Henry County. Both black and white residents were hesitant to say that either race had taken a greater hit. But Ms. Taylor, the black woman who dispensed advice at the county food stamp office, said there were some notable distinctions between blacks and whites.

“They’re a little weaker than we are at handling things like this,” she said, adding without rancor, “but I know they get more sympathy than we do.”

Poor whites and poor blacks sitting in a tree k-i-s-s-i-n-g.

As suggested by the New York Times piece "A Racial Divide is Bridged by Hard Times," race and class in Barack Obama's America is (re)set once again.

My curiosity about the role of race in American life was first stimulated by my introduction in high school to the 19th c. Populist Movement. During this time white farmers were organizing against exploitation by Capital. Black farmers in the South had were also disempowered by the same structural forces. Unfortunately, the proposals by (even more) forward thinking White Populists to ally with Black farmers never came to fruition. To my eyes, this seemed like a perfect alliance, why wouldn't poor white people ally with poor black people? Frankly, not taking advantage of this moment didn't make sense to my hopeful teen eyes.

As I would later learn, this has been the story of race and class in America, from our factories, to the farms, to the cotton trade in Texas and the Southwest, opportunities for alliances across the lines of race for the common good were derailed by white racism. With those rare exceptions such as the United Mine Workers, sadly, white skin privilege would trump the material gains of cooperation. False consciousness wins again, no? The White racial id (or is it shadow?)--the appeal to white supremacy that is not inseparable from the invention of Whiteness and the White race--hovers over all things.

What to make of these temporary "alliances?" Is this the same old story of black and brown folks being the miner's canary (one of my favorite terms)? As always, extending a lifeline to white folks who have fallen down? Will anything come of this? Will the children of the white middle class that have fallen from grace soften their attitudes about race and poverty? Will being poor cease to be a stigma once poverty has been colored more White? Will poor Whites respond with hostility to black folks as their "natural" rivals in these hard times? Or will the backlash be against "illegal immigrants?"

As the old joke goes "those people" are on welfare, while "we" receive subsidies, social security, tax breaks, etc. etc. etc. Will this narrative reinscribe itself during our Great Recession?

A Racial Divide Is Bridged by Hard Times

McDONOUGH, Ga. — During the housing boom, Henry County, a suburb of Atlanta, had its share of racial tension as more and more blacks joined the tens of thousands of others pouring in, creating a standoffish gap between the newcomers and the county’s oldtimers.

But the recession has begun to erase those differences.

Blacks and whites have encountered one another in increasing numbers recently in the crowded waiting rooms of the welfare office and at the food pantry, where many of both races have ventured for the first time. Struggling black-owned businesses are attracting the attention of white patrons. Neighbors are commiserating across racial lines.

At the Division of Family and Children Services, Keasha Taylor, 36 and black, helped explain the system recently to a white mother. Ms. Taylor, who was there because her family had been evicted, told the mother, who was in line for food stamps, that a child with acute asthma might be eligible for Social Security.

“Right now, a lot of white people are in this situation,” Ms. Taylor said, recalling the conversation later. “We’re already used to poverty; they’re really not.”

Denese Rodgers, the county director of social services, who is white, has held several lunch meetings at A J’s Turkey Grill, owned by Diane Walker, a black woman, in hopes of helping business.

“It was in one of our abandoned strip malls, a forlorn looking kind of place, but when you walk in, it’s just pristine,” Ms. Rodgers said. “She’s doing everything right, it’s just not full.”

Peggy Allgood, a 54-year-old black woman who lost her job and four-bedroom house and is now living in a trailer park, said she had noticed the recession obliterating racial differences up and down the economic scale.

“It’s gotten to the point where everyone I talk to, their hours have been cut, their jobs have been cut,” Ms. Allgood said. “My neighbor, she’s white, she’s trying to find a job. She hasn’t had any luck.”

1 comment:

Black Moses said...

Great Recession. I like that.