If the growth of our Welfare State was caused simply by the laws funding it being passed, you’d expect to see American government expenditures on welfare funding sent to families and children spike in 1962, and then grow into the next few decades. 1962′s the year the Public Welfare Amendments were passed, which specifically increased aid to dependent children.
But that’s not what happened at all:
If the War on Drugs didn’t directly precipitate the destruction of the African-American family, why did the decline in married black women triple during the first decade of the War? And why did welfare spending spike in lockstep with our prison population right as it started?
We’ve certainly come a long way as a nation since Abolition, but the horrible reality is that a black child who was born during slavery was more likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during the twenty-first century. As Fredrick Douglass explained, during slavery it was common practice to separate children born into slavery from their birth-mothers before their first birthday. Which makes perfect sense when you consider that under slavery blacks were human chattel, and separating newborns calves from their mothers is just what you do with livestock.
Things had been looking up for black families, back in 1963 as MLK gave his “I Have A Dream” speech about 70% of black families were headed by a married couple. But that percentage steadily began to drop, between 1970 and 2001 it declined by 34%, double the white decline, and by 2002 it had bottomed out at just 48%.
In fact, the impact of the War on Drugs has been so racially biased that in 2006 America had nearly six-times the proportion of its black population in prison than South Africa did at the height of Apartheid. And our penal system has grown so massive that the U.S. criminal justice system now employs more people than America’s two largest private employers, Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, combined.
And although only 14% of all illicit drug users are black, blacks make up over half of those in prison for drug offenses. A black man is eight-times as likely as a white man to be locked up at some point in his life.
After all, drug laws in America “have originally been based on racism… all of these laws are based on the belief that there is a class in society that can control themselves, and there is a class in society which cannot.” Nixon’s public motivation for the War on Drugs is that it was a response to the growing numbers of military serviceman who were getting hooked on heroin and other narcotics while serving in the Vietnam War.
Although that was a troublesome issue, when you know the history of all past American drugs laws it quickly becomes apparent that there’s no way in hell drug-using veterans was the only impetus behind this wave of anti-drug legislation, and that Nixon was using soldiers’ addiction as opportunistic displacement – especially when you consider that only 4.5% of returning servicemen tested positive for heroin. As one Nixon’s Chief of Staff wrote in his diary: ”Nixon emphasized that you have to face the fact the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognises this while not appearing to.”
And if there’s any doubt about the weight that quote might have had on legislation, here are Nixon’s own words on abortion: “There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. ” And when exactly would that be? “When you have a black and a white.”
As the Arab world is wracked by the spasms of popular violence brought on by their social and economic inequality, many Americans have begun to stop and consider the possibility that violent fissures in our own society may begin to open. Much has been made of the emerging upperclass in American society, but the reality is that with the median white family having over twenty-times as much wealth as a black family - no economic disparity is starker than the one that correlates directly with race.
In the same way that the Arab Street finally erupted when food prices simply became too much, is there a timer on our own innercities ticking down as food stamp use and food inflation continue to skyrocket? Could a wave of urban homegrown terrorism erupt in American cities once our urban poor finally reach a tipping point and decide to lash out?
Maybe it doesn’t mean much to you that the average black family has eight-cents of wealth for every dollar of wealth owned by whites, that the the ongoing recession has doubled the wealth gap between blacks and whites, or that the unemployment rate of blacks is edging up on twice as high as the white rate – easily surpassing it when you count incarcerated blacks. After all, a black child in American is nine-times more likely than a white child to have a parent who’s locked up.
But let’s look into the data and the implications a little bit more.
The precise era that saw a drug-law fueled explosion in our prison population, the early 1970s, are the exact same years that the economic situation of blacks began to starkly worsen and that the gap between rich and poor is wrenched wide open. Beginning in those years and continuing into today, “the economic status of black compared to that of whites has, on average, stagnated or deteriorated.”
Up until 1973, the precise year the Rockefeller Drug Laws were passed, the difference between black and white median income had been closing. But then that year it changed course, and in “an ominous bellwether… the gap between black and white incomes started to grow wider again, in both absolute and relative terms.” Direct empirical research into incarceration’s economic effects weren’t done until recently, when a Pew Charitable Trusts research paper showed that prior to imprisonment two-thirds of male inmates were employed and half were their family’s primary source of income. Additionally, upon release an ex-con’s annual earnings were reduced by 40%
In the nearly forty years since America’s modern drug laws were passed, there has been a massive increase in economic inequality by any measure. In the early 1970′s not only did the income gap between black and white begin to widen again, it also becomes much more top-heavily favored to the very rich – who happen to be almost exclusively white as well.
With home equity making up 44% of an average American’s family’s net worth and fully 60% among our middle class, the statistics around homeownernship further delineate the racial schisms of American wealth. Not only do blacks pay higher interest rates, have higher downpayments, have less access to credit, get turned down more frequently for loans no matter what’s controlled for, and pay what amounts to an 18% “segregation tax” because homes in black neighborhoods have much less equity than homes in white neighborhoods - but since 1970 black homes have appreciated in value roughly half as much as white homes.
Even Eminem seemed to have little sense of the irony that was invoked as his self-consciously white autobiographical film, 8 Mile, highlighted the hopeless plight of Detroit’s urban black community. The 8 Mile district was created in 1941, when a six-foot wall was built around a black enclave that was deemed unfit to accept loans from the Federal Housing Administration. This was “part of a system that divided the whole city, in theory by credit-rating, in practice by colour.” And so the segregation that emerged in Detroit “was not accidental, but a direct consequence of government policy.”
This policy of segregated mortgages became known as “red-lining,” and by the 1950s one in five black borrowers was paying interest at over 8%, while it was about impossible to find a white family paying more than 7%.
And yet this economic line extends far past that generation. The fact that blacks are foreclosing at a much higher rate than whites in the current crisis was predestined by the conditions of the loans they received, as banks turn down equally-qualified blacks much more often than whites, and forced blacks to pay higher interest on their loans. Housing values are indelibly color-coded, as the average value of a white house appreciates much quicker than a black house. All of this is snowballing into a collective institutional bias that cost black families at least $82 billion even before this current crisis began.
Hotlanta served as a case study for mortgage-based racism, as the Pulitzer-winning series in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution ”The Color of Money” so aptly captured.
Category: books, current affairs, domestic terror, news, politics, publishing, racial inequality, terrorism, war on drugs | Tags: brown vs. board, civil unrest, domestic terrorism, gates of injustice, income inequality, innercity violence, moral questions, prison system, racial wealth disparity, the new jim crow, war on drugs, welfare state 14 comments »