How much would you pay to eradicate racism?
Presumably, you would offer somewhere between a dollar and everything you have.
But let’s reverse the question. How much would you pay to preserve racism?
Um… OK… What the hell kind of question is that? Only hardcore bigots would throw away their cash to keep racism alive, right?
Well, a new theory argues that discrimination is not just morally wrong and potentially lethal to ethnic minorities, it’s also economically harmful to everyone—including White people.
The writer Heather McGhee analyzed “a wealth of economic data” to conclude that when “laws and practices have discriminated against African Americans, Whites have also been harmed” due to the cascading effects upon our society and culture.
And yet, as we know, lots of White people are all for bigotry, even if it sabotages their lives in the long run. These individuals are effectively paying for the right to be racist.
What’s even more bizarre is that this has been going on for centuries.
According to McGhee, in the antebellum South, slave owners “didn’t need or want an educated populace, whether Black or White,” so they never invested in the community, keeping everyone ignorant as hell. And in the Jim Crow era, any effort to promote integration meant that the “local elites, in order to maintain racial segregation, [would] effectively cut off a lot of public investment.”
So for most of American history, rich White people have thrived by pitting middle-class and poor Whites against ethnic minorities, with the result that those at the top horded everything for themselves.
Good thing that’s not happening today. Ahem.
As we all know, some of our poorest citizens support tax cuts for billionaires. And people in trailer parks worship oligarchs who would recoil in disgust if the riff-raff ever got within 100 feet of their yachts.
More disturbing is the fact that the majority of the rioters who breached the Capitol on January 6 “came from places that were awash in fears that the rights of minorities and immigrants were crowding out the rights of White people in American politics and culture.”
Basically, there is a “zero-sum mindset that’s predominant among White Americans, more than among Americans of color,” that demographic change is not in their economic interest. But in truth, this is “a lie that has been aggressively sold to White Americans by people who are very vested in the economic status quo and in keeping the concentration of wealth and power very narrowly held.”
So all that “economic anxiety” that supposedly motives Trump supporters? If it actually exists, the Trump supporters are creating it themselves.
For example, many White people hate progressive ideas because they believe these policies will give “freebies” to undeserving Blacks and Latinos. However, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, expanding healthcare coverage, and making college more affordable would help more White people than ethnic minorities. In addition, political candidates who aren’t just selling fear and hatred would actually have to implement policies that helped their constituents, rather than their current approach of demonizing immigrants and making bigots feel better about themselves.
According to McGhee, “racism hurts everyone, and when Whites and people of color manage to work together, it’s better for everybody.” She believes that if Americans united across racial and ethnic lines, it would create a “solidarity dividend” that helps our entire society.
That’s all very kumbaya. But is it feasible? Well, if you can convince Americans to vote for a xenophobic con man in the misguided hope of saving their jobs, then yes, you can persuade them to tolerate the immigrant next door in exchange for a few more bucks per hour.
Of course, some progressives will say it’s infuriating that, to eliminate racism, we have to appeal to people’s economic selfishness rather than their inherent sense of decency. And to those people I say: “No shit.” It is indeed maddening, with the side effects of sad, pathetic, and completely dispiriting.
But appealing to the morality and humanity of Americans has paid off great, no?
So maybe we just have to bribe people into shunning racism. Perhaps we need to pay them to refrain from shouting slurs or redlining districts or threatening children.
Money talks, after all. It’s the American way.
Featured image: “25 April 2017 – An expression of the anti-racism movement” by pedrosimoes7 is licensed under CC BY 2.0