Thursday, April 28, 2011

why hard numbers for race and poverty matter more than percentages

Poverty in the US is racially disproportionate, but if you focus exclusively on that fact, you lay the grounds for two lies:

1. The racist lie: People of color are disproportionately poor because they're lazy or incapable.

2. The antiracist lie: Poverty is primarily a problem for people of color.

Poverty in the US cuts across race and gender. Antiracists think the solution is to make the class system racially proportionate. Socialists think the solution is to end the class system.

The last time I checked, the poverty percentages looked like this:
Poverty rates for Blacks: 24.7 percent
Hispanics: 21.9 percent
Non-Hispanic Whites: 8.6 percent
Asians: 9.8 percent
The hard numbers looked like this:
Asian persons in poverty: 992,856 (2.92% of the people in poverty)
Black or African American persons in poverty: 9,168,000 (25.17% of the people in poverty)
Hispanic or Latino persons in poverty: 9,368,000 (22.68% of the people in poverty)
non-Hispanic Whites persons in poverty: 16,227,000 (49.23% of the people in poverty)
The hard numbers of Americans in poverty continue to increase, but the racial percentages haven't changed in decades. Shortly before his death, Martin Luther King wrote:
In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike.