I have read some really difficult posts on social media this week. People have suggested that welfare is why black communities are poor (because they say it is a disincentive to job seeking) and that our black brothers and sisters are protesting because they don’t understand statistics and are being lied to about data regarding police shootings. There are several problems with these arguments.
I looked up information about if, as one commentator put it, “handouts destroy communities over time.” The majority of families who receive these “handouts” actually have jobs. I simply could not find data to support the claim that people who receive financial assistance from the government are less likely to seek or have employment. It seems that the”handout” arguers agree that the impoverished members of our society should have better and higher paying employment than they do now, but they should note that the financial support these families are getting from the government does not seem to be a causal mechanism that limits opportunities. For example, I found this interesting article in the Wall Street Journal that explains one study about the topic.
Like I mentioned, I have also read comments suggesting that black Americans desire to protest because they are misinformed about data on police shootings. Which, then, would lead to the next logical question: Well then why don’t white Americans protest when a white person is shot by police? The statistics-based arguers imply that the reason for this is because white people are not being hoodwinked and black people are. This also is wrong.
The difference of response is due to a difference of life conditions. These differences are identified in empirical research (e.g. the book Choosing Homes, Choosing Schools), showing that we live in a highly segregated society in which some communities are well-funded and supported and others are not. These differences are not the result of differing values of work and/or mindsets. The differences are the result of a history of institutional racism and government’s financial investment in some communities and not others. For example, in 1944 the federal government created one of the largest policies of offering financial assistance to individuals in its history (i.e. “handouts”). The receivers of this assistance were mainly white men returning from World War II. These subsidies included low-cost mortgages, unemployment compensation, free college tuition, low-interest loans to start businesses, et cetera (thanks for reminding me of the exact details Wikipedia).
Financial investments such as these helped the people who received them, exploding the growth and wealth of the white suburbs. Around the same time, redlining policies literally shut these resources out of black communities. Over time, this led to further divestment and destruction of the community infrastructure in which black Americans live, which exacerbated poverty and crime, which then promoted the ubiquity of an alternate form of community investment: policing.
Based on this history, it should be no mystery why black Americans protest police shootings when the only sustained investment in their communities has been a police force telling them how to behave. It should be no mystery why black Americans protest police shootings, even if it is statistically less likely (which it doesn’t seem to be) for them to be killed by a police officer. It should be no mystery because it is highly emblematic and painful for a black American to see a member of their community killed by the only sustained form of community investment that they have ever received.
What is a mystery is why most white people ignore this history and refuse to join in solving the unfairness of our segregated, unequal society.