I’m obsessed with race.
After much self-reflection and receiving no less than 2,238,934 accusatory emails, tweets and DMs (not that I’m counting), I am willing to admit my personal preoccupation with racial issues.
It’s not my fault.
Being a black man in America may partially contribute to my mania, but I had very little input on that decision. Much like the people at ESPN who are obsessed with sports, or the Fox News analysts who are obsessed with whiteness, the fact that The Root actually pays me to talk about race contributes greatly to my negro-centric neurosis. So, if you’re reading this, you’re part of the problem.
Because of my poorly funded fixation, I have noticed that the political narrative about race—especially during this election cycle—has focused almost exclusively on four issues:
- Black criminals: Police brutality, the ’94 crime bill, stop and frisk, mass incarceration and the drug war
- Poor black people: Poor “urban” areas, segregation, redlining
- Dumb black people: Unequal black schools, test scores, and teaching black kids to read with record players
- White supremacist violence: Nazi marches, Trumpism and right-wing terrorism
If one is lucky enough to catch the 91 seconds during each debate when candidates are asked to address racial issues, it is easy to assume that the entirety of black America is either poor, uneducated, unemployed, in jail or running from Nazis wearing MAGA hats. Debate moderators, media outlets and candidates condense the concerns of black voters down to four categories because they really don’t care about “black issues.” They just want to look like they care.
In response, some of the presidential contenders usually resort to a sympathetic but canned aphorism about why they believe black lives matter. Others (I’m looking at you, Bernie) contend that their economic plans to address all poverty will help all black people, even if their policies aren’t intentional about addressing institutional racism.
But the “rising tide” that lifts all boats only raises the vessels that haven’t been riddled with the holes of racism. This performative patronizing to “people of color” is not only reductive, but it also lets everyone off the hook from confronting, discussing and ultimately fixing the underlying causes that fuel white supremacy.
So, just in case you were wondering, as I sipped Hennessy and sorted through cookout invitations, I came up with a list of black issues that don’t have anything to do with mass incarceration, cops or why LaKeisha can’t read.
I know what I just said, but hear me out.
Whenever there is a discussion about education and race, white America tends to focus on the children who are “left behind.” We already know that majority-white school districts receive $23 billion more than nonwhite school districts, according to a groundbreaking study by Edbuild. That’s $2,226 per student per year. Even poor white districts get better funding than the average black school. In a quest to eliminate this disparity, educators and politicians rightfully focus on literacy scores and math proficiency, but there is another insidious injustice that we never discuss:
The smart, black kids.
Children who attend majority-minority schools have fewer honors and Advanced Placement (pdf) courses. And, according to the Department of Education (pdf) and the Federal Civil Rights Data Collection, even when they attend good majority-white schools, high-achieving non-white students aren’t selected for these courses, even if they test as well as their white counterparts.
For instance, most college-level courses require two years of algebra. Sadly, less than one-third of high-percentage minority-serving high schools even offer a second year of algebra, The Atlantic reports. So, even if a smart but marginalized black kid makes it to college, they are less prepared and less likely to earn scholarships because white privilege is baked into the system.
Again, it’s not class, it’s race.
Speaking of education, let’s say those smart black students made it to college. How do they pay for it? Twelve years after finishing college, black grads owe 113 percent of their original student loan debt while white borrowers owe 65 percent of their original debt.
Earlier this month, the Student Borrower Protection Center released a study that explored another systematic inequality. They created a profile of a recent college graduate making $50,000 per year. Aside from changing the college attended by the hypothetical student, every other attribute was identical. Using these identical profiles, the researchers applied to refinance their student loans as graduates from predominantly white schools, HBCUs and even Hispanic-serving institutions.
They discovered that students who attend HBCUs were charged higher interest rates than any other category of schools, even when they had identical income. Simply attending school with black people means you incur more debt. Part of your credit score calculates debt. So, simply being black—nothing else—means you automatically have a lower credit score.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that auto lenders charge black borrowers higher rates but Congress rolled back these protections in 2018. When the Center for Investigative Reporting looked at 31 million mortgage loans (essentially every conventional home loan over a two-year period), they found that black borrowers were denied at three times the rate of white borrowers. A Berkeley study concluded that even when black borrowers applied for mortgages online, they were charged rates that were 5.6 to 8.6 points higher interest rates.
Over the course of a home, auto or a student loan, that is thousands of dollars in debt incurred by black borrowers for nothing except being black. Yet the Trump administration is erasing fair lending regulations.
Maybe someone could ask one of these questions:
- Why are homes in black neighborhoods valued, on average, at $48,000 less than identical homes in white neighborhoods with the same crime rate, resources and amenities?
- Why do people in nonwhite neighborhoods pay higher car insurance rates even when the crime rates, home values and accident histories are the same?
- Why are schools still funded by property values and why doesn’t the federal government issue funds to counterbalance the economic privilege of white neighborhoods?
- Why are there fewer hospitals and health care facilities in black neighborhoods? Could the federal government address these problems by intentionally subsidizing facilities or health care workers’ salaries in black areas?
- Why are food and consumer goods more expensive in black neighborhoods? A free market is good, but there are laws against price-gouging. And what will they do about it?
- Who let the dogs out? (While this may not seem political, I believe the CIA knows something and has been hiding the truth since the Baja Boys began their initial investigation. As a matter of fact, has anyone seen them lately?)
We often talk about voter purges, but what’s rarely mentioned is that black voters wait longer; polling places in black neighborhoods have longer lines, fewer voting machines and less reliable technology. Felony disenfranchisement may be related to criminal justice but it also is a political issue that disproportionately affects black voters. Most of the 1,200 polling places closed in recent years were disproportionately located in the minority areas of Republican states
But gerrymandering may be the most important political issue of our time. There are only six states that use bipartisan commissions to draw their political maps. And, while these maps are often challenged in court, Trump has filled federal benches with right-wing, inexperienced judges who always favor the GOP efforts to eliminate black voters, giving them advantages for years to come.
Every single form of voter suppression disproportionately affects non-white voters.
Yet, there has been nary a question about plans to revive the sections of the Voting Rights Act that were dismantled by Shelby v. Holder. Has anyone asked candidates about their proposal to standardize and secure voting machines? Why hasn’t any candidate said that states that require voter ID should have to provide free identification cards? Why hasn’t anyone proposed a standardized early voting period and procedure?
It’s easier to vote for the Masked Singer than the president…
Unless you’re a Russian hacker.
You can vote for the Masked Singer, right?
This is a little wonky but, if you’re not familiar with the concept (sometimes called “adverse impact,” or (“disproportionate impact”), allow me to explain the concept with another, more appropriate synonym:
While most people have been led to believe that racism has something to do with hate, intent or belief, that is not the case. Legally, a policy, rule or action can be declared discriminatory even if the rule or policy itself doesn’t have any discriminatory intent. If an action has a disproportionately negative effect on a legally protected group of people, then it is illegal, even if it is not intended to discriminate.
The concept is simple. Even if a thing is not meant to be racist, it is still racist if it systematically affects a protected class of people. It was enshrined in Title VI the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and has stood as a bedrock principle and the legal test for prejudice ever since.
Until the Trump administration.
Under Trump, officials at the Department of Justice, Education and even Housing and Urban Development have been searching for ways to subvert and eliminate the principle. That’s why they fight against affirmative action, race-inclusive admissions policy, housing regulations and race disclosures in financial institutions.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. I haven’t even gotten to environmental racism, access to nutrition, maternal and birth rate disparities or the fact that Rihanna stubbornly refuses to release R9 (there’s gotta be something the president can do).
How many times must we bear the repeated dissection of the infinitesimally small differences between Joe’s public option, Sanders’ Medicare for all and Buttigieg’s Medicare-for All-Who-Want-It-Unless-You-Don’t-Want-to-Think-About-It-In-Which-Case-It’s-Fine-As-Long-As-You-Vote-For-Me? When will it be black people’s turn?
Are non-criminal, educated, middle-class black people invisible? Has racism been eliminated except for black people who aren’t in prison, on food stamps or in high school? Did I somehow miss the memo?
But you know me, I’m obsessed with race.
I just wish the future president was, too.