Urban Dynamics Blog

How self-imposed cliques silence the economically disenfranchised

By Matt Johnson

As my readers know, I write more about the economics of black Americans – African-Americans if you’re liberal – than the average bear. Matter of fact, I’ve lost count of how many articles I’ve published about this American group; and this of course doesn’t include the other articles published about black folks on this website. But I digress.

We hear a lot about the plight of black Americans, and we should. We should acknowledge their road, as a group, through American history has been much different from white folks, or even other minority groups. However, when we hear about black folks in the mainstream media, it usually involves crime infested neighborhoods, gang violence, homicides, drugs, and so on and so forth.

In fact, there have been several studies and papers on media and perception of black folks. Here are a few: Opportunity Agenda, University of Oregon, University of St. Thomas, and Pennsylvania State University.

In contrast, and in my writings, I’ve attempted to provide context, data, and history in this blog to illustrate what people in these neighborhoods experience on a daily basis instead of the mainstream media narrative of “It must suck to be them.” I’ve also attempted to illustrate empathy in this blog.

That is, I’ve gone to great lengths to understand and share their perspective as a group. Of course, growing up in Minneapolis and having parents expose me to different groups of people at an extremely young age helped facilitate and expedite my philosophy and perspective quite a bit.

Early in life, it was normal for me to be around other people with different skin color. With black children, or any other group for that matter, I hadn’t yet developed the partitioning language of black, white, or Asian, for example. It was only as I was grouping up were I began to observe this strange phenomenon – children partitioning themselves into groups, which I’m positive they learned some of it from their parents.

This application of group dynamics, looking at other people as “the other,” upon reflection seems to be a nurtured attitude, although I’m sure some of it can be attributed to nature. But that’s a conversation not for this blog today.

Anyway, my assertion is that we ought not be surprised that blacks tend to live in neighborhoods that are predominantly black while whites live in neighborhoods that tend to be predominantly white. And because of this and America’s obvious dark history with respect to slavery, Jim Crow, and the clear partitioning of policies and resources from the past that still do resonate in today’s American society, I also assert that we ought not be surprised if black folks are hesitant of a Donald J. Trump presidency and what his policies may mean for certain groups of people, even if he knows he is coming in with the best of intentions.

But what about the Democrats?

What about the Democrats? It’s easy for us to sit here and pontificate about the effectiveness of their policies or lack thereof over the past few decades. It’s not stellar. However, is there an example of a group of Republicans, besides Senator Rand Paul, reaching out to the black community in such a way to provoke conversation about increasing the economic, political, and social utility of black folks, i.e., building relationships and bridges? In fairness, there may be a reason why this doesn’t happen often.

As my friend Jamar Nelson of the Black Republican/Black Democrat Show on 1130 AM Twin Cities Talk in Minneapolis, Minnesota once told me about some of his white Republican friends,

Matt! They are interested in joining the NAACP. They want to participate. But they don’t know how and they aren’t sure if they would be accepted.

This is telling and we could draw a lot from this little bit of information. Perhaps what we are dealing with is fear? Or perhaps we see that many of those who are white and Republican want to help. They just don’t know how to get it started. Again, we can blame Democratic policies all we want, but this little example illustrates group dynamics as a barrier that not many people, and especially those in policy, seem to know how to get around.

And so now we return to my point from earlier about exposure and perspective taking. It is easy for us to view black folks and their experiences in this country through the lens of the mainstream media; it is easy for us to partition ourselves in our nice, comfortable, and safe neighborhoods; but it is quite another for us, who are “white” and liberal or conservative or other, to expose ourselves and possibly be rejected, and take the perspective of another group or person.

So do we continue this charade? Or do we acknowledge “the other?” And by “the other,” I mean white folks acknowledging the historical plight and modern challenges; and black folks acknowledging that reaching out may be more difficult than it appears and perhaps laying guilt on white folks isn’t the best course of action.

And so it is with zero trepidation I say the following words.

No! White folks are not responsible for the past transgressions of their ancestors. This is what Shelby Steele and other conservative “black” thinkers call “White Guilt” and “Race Holding.” Besides, it’s a terrible tool for bringing people together.

The point here is that most white folks go about their day, just like black folks do, trying to put food on the table and spending time with their family. And it is probably the case they do care. As Jamar Nelson illustrated, if they do care, they aren’t sure how to help or if their help will be accepted. But for the people in power, they most certainly can be held accountable.

These people in power are the ones who are responsible for creating and passing policy that is equitable and equal. These people are the current crop of Democratic and Republican policy makers. They are responsible because they took on the responsibility. It’s simple Marine Corps philosophy. If one takes command, they are in command. It doesn’t get any more simple this.

If anyone is responsible for the current predicament of black folks in urban settings, it is the policy makers of the Democratic party. Likewise, if anyone is responsible for the current predicament of white folks in rural settings, it is the policy makers of the Republican party.

This of course is not evaluation or criticism of the economic, political, or social systems themselves. There are countless examples of just how well they work. This is a disapproval of the current crop of legislatures who seem to regard their narratives as being more important than the utility of the respective groups of Americans they represent.

It is their responsibility to create the environment where relationships and bridges between groups of people from any American group can be provided the opportunity to understand and acknowledge each others distinctions and perspectives in hopes of creating relationships.

But instead, all we see is the adult version of kids partitioning themselves into groups because their parents did it. Perhaps it may take a push from those citizens not in policy and who are self-actualized to this insane reality. And perhaps it may take a push from those citizens who are willing to take the perspective of “the other” in areas of race and politics to facilitate such a movement.

The question now is, who will take on that responsibility and be held accountable? Who will take command?


Matt Johnson is a writer for The Systems Scientist and the Urban Dynamics blog; and is a mathematical scientist. He has also contributed to the Iowa State Daily and Our Black News.

You can connect with him directly in the comments section, and follow him on Twitter or on Facebook

You can also follow The Systems Scientist on Twitter or Facebook as well. 

Photo credit: dizendooquequer.blogspot.com





Copyright ©2016 – The Systems Scientist


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