Ferguson And The “War On Whites”

Terrance Heath

Rep. Mo Brooks (R, Alabama) recently accused Democrats of waging a “war on whites.” In Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown — an unarmed, 18-year-old, young black man —  was shot and killed by a police officer, there is no question against whom war is being waged.

If there is a “war” on, whites are winning.

  • Whites earn more. In 2012, the median income for white households was $67,000, compared to about $40,000 for blacks and Latinos.
  • Whites have more wealth. Median net worth for white households is more than $90,000 — ten times that of black and Latino households. The racial wealth gap has grown steadily, nearly tripling between 1984 and 2009. By 2010, whites held about 88 percent of the nation’s wealth. Blacks held just 2.7 percent.
  • Whites fared better in the recession. White household wealth fell 11 percent, between 2007 and 2009, compared to a 31 percent drop for blacks, and a 44 percent drop for Latinos. White household wealth dropped 16 percent in 2011, compared to a 53 percent drop for blacks.
  • More whites are homeowners. Whites are more likely to own homes and live in better neighborhoods. A Brown University study found that affluent blacks and Latinos live in poorer neighborhoods than working-class whites.
  • Whites are less poor.  According to census data, the white poverty rate is 11.6 percent, compared to 26 percent for blacks, and 23 percent for Latinos.
  • Whites have lower unemployment. Whites are about half as likely to be unemployed as blacks, while blacks are “first fired” when business or the economy is weak.
  • Whites are more likely to go to college. Whites are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college than blacks or Latinos. Meanwhile, 74 percent of blacks, and 80 percent of Latinos attend segregated schools; 38 percent of blacks and 43 percent of Latinos attend “intensely segregated” schools — with just up to 10 percent white students. A 10 percent increase of non-white students in any school is associated with a $75 decrease in per student spending.
  • Whites are less likely to go to jail. Black men are seven times more likely to go to jail than white men. Whites use drugs more, but blacks are arrested for drug possession three times more often than whites. Black men also receive prison sentences 19.5 percent longer than white men, for similar crimes.
  • Whites experience less discrimination. Only about 10 percent of whites surveyed said they’d faced racial discrimination. Young white men with criminal records are more likely to be hired than young black men with similar qualifications and clean records. Black job applicants are often turned away by companies for having a “black- sounding name,” or on the assumption that they use drugs.

What white Americans have lost is primacy — a sense of being primary, preeminent, or more important than any other group. In a 2011 interview, anti-racist author Tim Wise said that white Americans are reeling from cultural and economic changes. Taught that they would be rewarded if they worked hard, many are now working harder for less, or finding themselves in the unemployment line with blacks and Latinos.

Economic insecurity is compounded by demographic trends. As the country becomes more diverse, more of its icons — political leaders, celebrities, and sports heroes — are people of color. For whites, America’s face is no longer a reflection of theirs. They no longer define the American identity.

Republicans have appealed to the economic and racial anxieties of their predominately white base to win elections. The recession made that even easier. A recent New York University study shows that economic disparity “enhances discrimination and contributes to racial disparities,” as  it makes people more racially biased.

Image via DonkeyHotey @ Flickr.

Image via DonkeyHotey @ Flickr.

Ferguson’s 94 percent white police department resembled an occupying force, as it confronted a 67 percent black community with weapons of war. The paramilitary gear came from the Department of Defense’s excess property program, which provides surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies. Since 1992, the program has given $4.3 billion in military equipment — $450 million in 2013 alone — “free of charge,” to law enforcement agencies that say they’re part of a “High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area,” on a one-age form. The “free” surplus gear is paid for out of a bloated defense budget, funded by taxpayers.

Angela Blackwell Glover has suggested that the businesses partnering with President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, should open their workforces to young black men, with internship and fellowship opportunities that open up career paths, and lead to jog opportunities. Unemployment among black men ages 16 to 19 is over 33 percent, compared to 18.9 percent among white youth.

Glover’s point underscores that our government has neglected to invest in jobs and education in communities of color. Young blacks and Latinos will play an important role in our economic future. Yet most contend with segregated, poorly funded schools, while America spends $4.3 billion on “surplus” paramilitary gear, and then gives it away. If we had invested even a fraction of that $4.3 billion in education, job training, etc., how great a difference might it have made by now?

Instead, police officers suit up for war, disproportionately treat black citizens as the enemy. Last year in Ferguson, 92 percent of searches, 80 percent of car stops, and 94 percent of arrests following car stops were of blacks; even though police only found contraband on 22 percent of blacks they stopped, compared to 34 percent of whites. Confronted with the same police force in riot gear, black protestors erupted in anger, and Ferguson’s police put their share of $4.3 billion in paramilitary gear to use.

No wonder Rep. John Lewis (D, Georgia), who has seen racist police violence up close, compared the violence in Ferguson to the violence he and others faced during the Civil Rights era. The same fears, anxieties, and resentments that drove violence generations ago are still with us today. The evidence is in our streets.

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