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The Race Problem

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“Is there a problem? The problem is whether or not there is a problem? That’s a problem.” R. D. Laing.

It seems like nothing can happen in the United States without the issue of race rearing its ugly head. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has seen angry accusations of “Bush doesn’t like black people” and pointed questions from Superdome inhabitants “Do you see any white people here, Miss?”

But is it race, or is it class, or is there a difference any more? The problem is, what is the problem? Unlike the paraphrase of Mr. Laing’s word puzzle a problem exists, but none of us really know how to put our finger exactly on what it is. Or perhaps nobody has the bravery to be honest enough to say what the problems are?

The facts as we are told by pictures and the press from post-hurricane reports show the majority of people, who were resident of New Orleans, that have been left stranded are indeed black. As the woman who asked the reporter from “The Globe and Mail” said above “Do you see any white people here, Miss?”

The majority of people who live in the inner cities of United States are people of colour; Hispanic, Black, or Asian. They also happen to be the people least well off economically. I do not pretend to be familiar enough with the demographics of every major city in the United States to make the pejorative statement that this is true of every major metropolis, but it appears to be a prevalent trend.

In Toronto, the city both my Mother and I grew up in, the pattern has been since her childhood days back in the 1930s, that each new wave of immigrants has landed in the downtown core. As each group gains a measure of prosperity they expand outwards into the city to be replaced by the next wave.

Italians, Portuguese, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Jamaican people have all, at one point in time, entered en masse into the city. Since humans tend to congregate around the familiar, each population will find a neighbourhood that they can call their own. They may not all live in the same part of town, but this is the neighbourhood that they will find foods they like, books in their native language, and their places of worship.

Unlike the traditional ghettos of Europe that were enforced prisons, these neighbourhoods evolved naturally and offer comfort instead of confinement. In the case of Toronto, some of the more long-residing ethnic groups actually have two or three such cities within the city scattered throughout the Greater Toronto Area (G.T.A.).

It is quite common to see groups sharing neighbourhoods. In the multiethnic downtown core area of Toronto known as “Kensington Market”, which has seen successive waves of immigrants, you will find a synagogue nestled up against a Vietnamese restaurant crammed against a Lebanese café.

Toronto’s problem neighbourhoods economically are predominantly in the suburbs, and there too it becomes an issue of colour, in the sense that predominant among the poor are people of colour. Most of them are first- or second-generation Canadians who are still struggling to find their place in an alien society. For many the issue of language is a problem, as it has been for so many immigrants in the past. (My great grandmother never learned more than a few words of English; all she could speak was Yiddish)

With the British having abolished slavery before Canada was even a nation, we have never had the political divisions around race that Americans have faced. That is not to say the same problems don’t exist here, because they do. Ask any young black man how often he’s stopped while driving an expensive car in Toronto and it will compare with the same statistics as those of any major city in the States, if not a higher percentage.

I know I seem to be digressing, but I’m trying to outline the differences between what happens to immigrant populations, and what has happened with the black populations in the United States. Unlike other minorities who have used the urban centres as their entrée into society at large, the vast majority of black people have remained stuck in the same physical locations that they started.

Why hasn’t there been a greater integration of the black population into mainstream America? It’s been forty years since the abolishment of segregation, but full integration of society is far from being accomplished. Something like this does not just occur on its own. There have to be reasons. Unfortunately no one seems to be able to get beyond the rhetoric of anger and accusation to be able to answer the question why with any degree of honesty.

One can understand the anger on the part of black people when they are vilified by implication in the media or their frustration when they see pictures of thousands of people stranded awaiting relief and there’s not a white face to be seen except those holding weapons. How would that make you feel if the situation were reversed?

I don’t know if it is possible for this discussion to even take place. But it needs to happen in any society that is as racially diverse as North America. (I’m including Canada.) The current status quo is dangerous and unhealthy. Figuring out the problem, is a problem we need to stop having a problem with.

Ed/Pub: NB

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • seile

    If President Bush did in fact not like black people, why did his second campaining race vie for the African-American vote? Wasn’t the Rev. Al Sharpton quoted as saying,” Our vote is not for sale!”

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    I think the problem starts with a perception problem. True or not, there is a wide perception that Republicans (and in particular President Bush) do not like Black people. There is a mistrust there. Even if it isn’t true, too many people of different backgrounds believe it is. That is a large hurdle to climb.

    As to the “do you see any white people here, Miss”…: maybe I am missing a huge point here but could it possibly have anything to do with people having a choice to leave or stay. I understand the economic factors in that- hell, I don’t have money laying around for extended periods of natural disaster aftermaths. But isn’t there any personal responsibility for the choices an individual makes?

    Like I said, maybe I am a dick and am missing the point. It wouldn’t be the first time.

    Gypsyman is right, though. Even in moments of natural disaster the issue of race rears its head in an ugly manner.

    One last thing, though. A point a friend brought up to me yesterday. Did anyone hear of massive rapes in New York or Washington DC after 9/11? New York is a multi-racial city and they managed to not fuck each other and looting was kept to a small scale. Granted, the entire city was not destroyed like NO but I am still struck by the different behaviors in extreme circumstances.

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    Mr. President, have you stopped beating your wife?

    The ad hominem argument has shifted over the decades — or perhaps simply widened — to include “automatic reaction” to any imputation of racism. What the G-man has done here is to find the reality underneath the ugly accusations.

    A tornado that ripped through a farming community in western Nebraska might cause the same damage relative to the population; and in that case, the newly-homeless populace would be mostly (even totally) white. The difference lies in the number of people affected, not in their race.

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/VictorLana/ Victor Lana

    The “problem” comes from many things. Most of it is economic. Poor people are have-nots, whether they are black, white, yellow, or brown. The HAVES all got out of New Orleans and other areas because they had the means to do so. The HAVE-NOTS could not afford to get out. They clung to what they had and hoped for help.

    Days and days passed and where was the help? If a hurricane hit someplace like Rhode Island, would the people have to wait as long? I don’t know. But part of the “problem” is that our government, for whatever reason, delayed a response to Katrina.

    This is a disgrace no matter what color someone is, but it just so happens that most of those people waiting for help at the Superdome and Convention Center were black. I personally HAVE a problem with that.

  • marlene osentoski

    I am so sick of the old song and dance routine of “ole pity us we’re black and picked on” it seems we are always hearing that everything that happens to blacks is racial. I have a news flash for you folks. The largest percentage of citizens in the katrina effected areas are black. Next you will be telling us that the storm itself is racists. Why don’t you idiot’s put that energy into something positive instead of tearing everyone down, you’re not helping by flapping your mouths, get down here and help or shut the hell up!! And Kayne West you sir are a total moron.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    I hate that this became an exercise in name calling. I don’t think gypsyman was accusing anyone of anything – I thought his piece was observational in nature and not at all accusatory.

  • Marvin Blades

    I am always amused whenever I hear someone make statements that give one the impression that racism at one time in America was resolved! For example: I heard people say that the O.J. Simpson verdict opened long healed wounds of racial hatred and set back race relations in America 50 years! These same critics say that Johnny Cochran played the “RACE CARD” because the jury in this trial was majority African American!

    If you are African American your opinions about O.J.’s guilt or innocence were unimportant. Sure you discussed the trial just as most Americans did. Many African Americans openly thought that he was guilty; yet the media (unless your followed black media) only showed African Americans saying that he was framed and would not get a fair trial. What the media failed to show is that the vast majority of America’s African American population only wanted a fair trial! This is the reason that most of them were against a change of venue.

    The so called “Open Wound” in the minds of many African Americans was never healed in the first place. It has festered, and remained infected long after the abolition of slavery and well into this, the 21st century.

    The problem with the race issue in America is that this country has only dealt with the symtoms and never treated it causes. Racism is a disease and should be treated as such! It psychologically rots the mind, irritates the gut, and destroys the soul!

    Until we take the matter of race seriously and dedicate the time, courage and resources to the total elimination of this cancer that “WE” created it will always be with us!

    There is absolutely no reason anyone should have to tell me that they are not racist. I am tired of patronizing statements such as: “My kids go to school with blacks!”….”My best friend is black.” Whenever I hear someone making such statements, I am led to believe that they are attempting to convince themselves that they are not racist. I’ve always found that a person’s actions speaks volumes and words only succeed in convincing themselves!

    It is not necessary to take a black person home to prove that you are not racist. Most neighborhoods in America are segregated today by habit and practice, not by necessity. There will always be persons who will generalize and pigeon hole persons of different ethnic and racial groups. Let that problem be their burden, let yours be the elimination of the problem.

    Marvin Blades
    Tulsa, Oklahoma

  • Bob34

    “Everybody says there is this RACE problem. Everybody says this RACE problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY white country and ONLY into white countries.”

    “The Netherlands and Belgium are more crowded than Japan or Taiwan, but nobody says Japan or Taiwan will solve this RACE problem by bringing in millions of third worlders and quote assimilating unquote with them.”

    “Everybody says the final solution to this RACE problem is for EVERY white country and ONLY white countries to “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry, with all those non-whites.”

    “What if I said there was this RACE problem and this RACE problem would be solved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY black country and ONLY into black countries?”

    “How long would it take anyone to realize I’m not talking about a RACE problem. I am talking about the final solution to the BLACK problem?”

    “And how long would it take any sane black man to notice this and what kind of psycho black man wouldn’t object to this?”

    “But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the white race, Liberals and respectable conservatives agree that I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.”

    “They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white.”

    “Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.”