I don’t like using the word ‘race’ to describe ethnicity, skin colour or nationality, but to quote yesterday’s ‘USA Today’ newspaper ‘America remains torn by racial problems’. Ever since I first came here I’ve felt the truth of that statement, combined with a sense of unease experienced by many Americans when confronted with questions of discrimination and prejudice, particularly against black people. Of course few, if any, nations or individuals are free of racism, but the history of Europeanised America bequeaths a poisonous legacy that has not been purged by having a Black Man in the White House.
It’s probably unnecessary for me to say that a significant and disproportionate number of the delegates at NAHT conference are African-Americans. Just as in the UK, you’re far more likely to be poor and suffering bad housing conditions if you’re black, but it’s important to add that most NAHT delegates are white and a fair proportion are Spanish speaking ‘Latinos’. I haven’t done a head count and anyway, I think this is where crude categorisations of ‘race’ begin to quickly break-down, but I would guess the percentages of this particular snap-shot of impoverished America are 60% ‘white’, 30% ‘black’ and 10% ‘Latino’.
What can’t be denied is that race is going to be a factor, whether overt or covert, in this year’s election and in the aftermath of Obama’s relaxation of settlement rights for Latinos, the Republican Party, as manifested by Fox News, seem to want to make immigration the number one issue, but a feature on CNN a couple of days ago talked about ‘The Race Gap’ and provided some statistics that put racism into economic perspective. In 2005 median US household income was $110,000, for African-Americans it was $11,000. In 2012, median US household income had fallen to $66,000, for blacks it was $5,000. While the wealth of America has fallen by half, it is still 22 times greater for whites than blacks.
At an anecdotal level, in the last week I’ve had a few insights that support the ‘USA Today’ headline. Again, it probably goes without saying that almost all of the street homeless I’ve seen (and there are many) have been black. The other evening I was sitting outside a bar in the south-east of DC, an area that’s been subject to a ball and chain exercise in ethnic cleansing (of which more soon) and I heard two of the new condo dwelling arrivals to the area agreeing that ‘not long ago, we wouldn’t have been able to walk these streets safely at night’. The ‘we’ is white people. Yesterday I was sitting by the hotel pool chatting to a black woman from Chicago attending NAHT conference. The (white) pool attendant arrived with a clipboard and asked Debra what room she was staying in to determine whether she was entitled to be there. She didn’t ask me.
The sum total of these observations, plus a few other things, prepares me to make a bold political prediction. There’s been an attempt recently to portray November’s election as ‘too close to call’. I don’t think so. The American working class, black, white or Latino, is going to re-elect Obama, whatever his many limitations. As in the New Labour era, the prospect of a return to Tory/Republican government is the much greater of two evils.
(My political predictions are often wrong.)