Wanna Talk Values?
Rhonda Soto is the Race/Class Intersections Project Coordinator at Class Action, a national non-profit based in Hadley, Massachusetts.
African Americans have broken two new barriers, according to the Pew Charitable Trust Economic Mobility Project’s new report. Almost half the children of middle-class blacks have fallen into the lowest income bracket in the last 30 years, the first generation in a century to lose so much ground. And for the first time, a majority of African Americans polled say that blacks are responsible for their own economic situations, and that the values of poor and middle-class blacks have become more different over the last generation.
Yeah, right, it’s the values. Those middle-class African Americans whose children are now in poverty—rotten parents, every one of them. While going out to work every day, they were obviously telling their children not to do the same. The black unemployment rate in October was double the white unemployment, 8.5 percent versus 4.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employers of all races, with their superior values, no doubt rejected those black pavement-pounders because they could see the poor work ethic a mile away. The quarter-million drop in the number of U.S. jobs in October, and all the offshore outsourcing of the last decade must be “a poor black values thing.”
It was poor black values that led neighborhoods of color to be targeted by predatory lenders. It wasn’t the secondary mortgage industry that started the current tsunami of foreclosures now evicting people, disproportionately black and Latino people—it was the homeowners’ bad values. Higher interest rates charged to borrowers of color with identical credit rating are obviously payback for their poor behavior. And the mostly white executives who made millions off discriminatory sub-prime lending, they deserved that reward for their exemplary moral character.
The drop in unionization from 20 percent to 12 percent in the last 25 years wouldn’t have happened, and the American labor force would not have lost 265,000 black union workers, if those workers’ values had been better. The professional union-busting consulting firms, who advised companies how to illegally fire pro-union workers—they’re role models of the American work ethic.
Similarly, the mostly white Congress members increased their own paychecks over $50,000 with multiple raises since 1990 while blocking an increase in the minimum wage for a record-breaking decade. And the mostly all-white billionaires on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans who are $290 billion richer than last year — they must have finest values of all.
Prison sentences are longer for blacks and Latinos than whites convicted of the same crime because judges can just see the difference in moral fiber between defendants of different races. And of course employers and health insurance companies are not insuring 7.2 million black people—nearly 20 percent—because their moral failings have made them too sickly.
The re-segregation of schools, and the widening gap in class sizes and per-pupil spending between mostly white and mostly black schools? The roll-back of affirmative action in higher education? All due to the character flaws of African American students.
Are values really the explanation for the racial income gap? Or do we too often assume that the American dream of equal opportunity is a reality? Do we overlook growing structural obstacles that block the path of some more than others among us?
Employed African Americans on average work more hours per week than employed white people. Blacks are slightly less likely than whites to use illegal drugs. They are more likely to be affiliated with a religious congregation. Poll after poll shows no difference between races in attitudes towards education, paid work, or expectations for children’s advancement. Where are these famous bad values?
As a former teacher I know that some young people have self-destructive attitudes and behaviors—some black and Latino youth, some white youth, and some youth of 30 years ago. Far more young people have talent, ambition and a work ethic that go underutilized, especially working-class youth of color in this 'have and have-nots' economy.
We as people of color are used to noticing racism and putting it into words. We’re less accustomed to naming classism—but it’s rampant among middle-class people of color. Is this what racial progress has come to: more middle-class blacks taking up the previously white sport of blaming the victim?