MCN Blogs
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

White is the New Black?

I came across this Gothamist post about a study out of Tufts and Harvard which argues that “whites see racism as a zero-sum game that they are now losing.” In other words, the study indicates a shift in public opinion concerning perception of racial bias, which in turn could have a greater impact on matters of public policy — in spite of clear economic evidence that, as a group, Blacks still fall behind Whites on everything from home ownership and education to employment.

I’ve heard all the reverse racism arguments from my conservative friends and family on trips back to Oklahoma. The arguments from people who say in one breath that they’re “not racist,” while in the next they argue the success of Asian immigrant families as “proof” that problems of poverty and gangs and violence among poor African-American families and Latino families are about race, not about social disparity. Or that the problems of the “welfare class” are about people being lazy, not about people having lack of access to opportunity, or being set up to fail. Or my favorite, the argument that “it’s not about race, it’s about class.” Oy.

Of course, issues of race and class disparity are hardly limited to America. Last weekend I took my son Jaxon, who’s serving on the Films4Families jury this year at SIFF, to see one of his jury films, Sound of Mumbai, which is about a group of slum children recruited to perform at the national arts center in Mumbai, where class disparity is even worse than it is here.

I wasn’t sure how Jaxon would react to it, he’s not seen very many documentaries yet, just now being at the age to really appreciate movies as something more than just entertainment. But he cried at the end of the movie, and afterwards we talked about the conditions in which many of the kids in the movie live, and about how one of the main characters is able to maintain a relentlessly positive attitude in spite of living in shocking poverty and having the pressure of his entire family depending on him to succeed to pull the lot of them out of the conditions in which they live.

Of course we’ve talked to the kids about how people live in other countries, but it’s one thing to hear your parent talk about poverty as an abstract concept, and another to see a family of five living in a “house” with the approximate square footage of your average sofa, sleeping altogether in a pile on the dirty floor. To see people living on the streets, sleeping under makeshift tents, children playing barefoot amid filth and broken glass. Or to see kids from the slums fascinated by a toilet and running water, things he’s always just taken for granted. It was eye-opening for Jaxon, and we’ve been talking all week about it.

I was also thinking about Steve James’ excellent documentary The Interrupters (also playing at SIFF), which is about a group of dedicated peacekeepers dealing daily with the effects of poverty in Chicago. One of the messages that film really drives home is how hard it is for minority kids raised in poverty to believe that things can ever be different for them. If you don’t see opportunity around you, if you don’t have access to the things that allow you to rise above the conditions to which you were born, how much chance do you really have of getting out? Sure, there are success stories of kids who came out of the ghetto to succeed. But there are a lot more kids who come out of the ghetto to live lives as criminals, or in jail. Or to be killed by gang violence, which is part of the cycle the Interrupters seek to break.

The Interrupters is a little above Jaxon’s head, but it’s not above the heads of our two teenagers, so I may take them to see it. It’s long, but I wouldn’t mind seeing it again myself.

Seattle’s a (relatively) diverse city, but even raising our kids here, there’s a certain insularity that comes from being only around other people who look like you, who were raised middle class in the suburbs like you, who have always had access to things like computers and abundant books and cable, not to mention plenty of food to eat, and warm clothes to wear, and a coat for when it’s cold, and snow boots and a sled for when it snows, and access to sports and theater and swim lessons and all the things we just take for granted that we have here.

But even Seattle, for all that we pride ourselves on our liberal values here, is still very segregated. Take a drive through Madison Park, or Madrona, or Greenwood, or Mercer Island, or the better neighborhoods in Bellevue (where we live) and see how many non-white faces you see. Now go take a tour of, say, the Central District, or South Park, or parts of West Seattle, and see how many white faces are there among the black and brown.

Take a close look at the condition of some of the schools in minority areas in the Seattle, and compare those schools to the schools in the better neighborhoods, especially in the Seattle district. A school in the Central District or over off Martin Luther King is hardly the equivalent of a school in Green Lake or Laurelhurst. Check out the conditions of some of the Section 8 housing around Seattle, just a short drive from spendy penthouses downtown, or million-dollar homes with multiple luxury SUVs in the driveway in Mercer Island or Bellevue or Kirkland. Poverty is all around us here in Seattle, we are just very good at looking the other way, while congratulating ourselves on how socially progressive we are.

Bellevue, where we live, is one of the wealthiest cities in the country; even so it has a much larger minority population (especially Latino) than it had when we first moved here 12 years ago, and I know white people who have moved out of Bellevue because it was getting “too brown,” even though the schools are consistently rated among the top in the nation. The very nice neighborhood we live in is considered lower-class by Bellevue standards. Newport High School, in one of the spendier parts of our district, won’t even allow in-district transfers. You gotta be able to afford to live in Newport area to go to Newport. Hey, I guess it keeps the Latinos out.

Race disparity is still an issue in America, and that’s not “white guilt,” it’s a fact. How can anyone make a reasonable argument that being born White in America today doesn’t give a person more overall advantages than being born Black or Latino? If you believe that, and can argue your case logically, I’m genuinely interested in hearing your point of view.

2 Responses to “White is the New Black?”

  1. Rob says:

    “If you believe that, and can argue your case logically, I’m genuinely interested in hearing your point of view.”

    I guarantee you will hear only crickets in response to this.

    Well, crickets or stupidity.

  2. Luxx says:

    Reverse racism? That doesn’t even make sense. Racism is racism. If it was reverse then there would be nothing racist about it. Oh but if it’s about whites it’s a special kind of racism? Wow.


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“Well, actually, of that whole group that I call the post-60s anti-authority auteurs, a lot of them came from television. Peckinpah’s the only one whose television work represents his feature work. I mean, like the only one. Mark Rydell can direct a really good episode of ‘Gunsmoke’ and Michael Ritchie can direct a really good episode of ‘The Big Valley,’ but they don’t necessarily look like The Candidate. But Peckinpah’s stuff, even the scripts he wrote that he didn’t even direct, have a Peckinpah feel – the way I think there’s a Corbucci West – suggest a Peckinpah West. That even in his random episodes that he wrote for ‘Gunsmoke’ – it’s right there.”
~ Quentin Tarantino

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