Recent news coverage of Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling illustrate the obsessive focus on boorish racial comments and stereotypes. Are these individuals an appropriate focus for a discussion of racial discrimination or merely a distraction from the real issues facing Black America?
Make no mistake, the comments of Bundy and Sterling were insensitive at best and bigoted at worst. Bundy’s black bodyguard believes his employer is not racist. Sterling’s comments, on the other hand, should come as no surprise, “The racism of Donald Sterling was well known in the National Basketball Association before this weekend.” Let’s not forget the vilification of Paula Deen for using the N-word decades ago. But is this what the black community in America should be focused on?
Black unemployment is twice the rate of white unemployment, and has been for the past 50 years.The black poverty rate is almost three times higher than the white poverty rate, with 13 percent of whites living below the poverty line compared with 35 percent of blacks. Similarly, twice as many blacks as whites have been food stamp recipients.
The income gap between white and black families has remained relatively constant over the past 30 years with white families earning on average twice as much as black families. But the wealth gap is growing, “wealth” meaning all family assets such as savings, homes, and retirement accounts, minus debts such as mortgages, credit cards, and loans. White families are over six times as wealthy as black families.
The differences in education are not as stark, but are still notable. Black students have a 69 percent high school graduation rate compared to 86 percent for white students. The difference is more pronounced at the college level. The nationwide college graduation rate is only 42 percent for black students versus 62 percent for white students.
The differences are particularly glaring among social issues. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated compared to white men. One in three black men can expect to be behind bars at some point in their lives versus one in seventeen white men. 67 percent of black children are in a single parent family compared to 25 percent of white children. 72 percent of black babies are born to unwed mothers compared to 29 percent of white babies. How about abortions? Black women have abortions at four times the rate of white women.
Even worse are the rates of HIV infection among blacks and whites. While blacks comprise only 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 44 percent of HIV cases. Black men have 8 times the HIV rate compared to white men, and among women, blacks have 23 times the rate of HIV infection as whites. Overall, blacks are over 8 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV as whites.
Rather than being outraged over Donald Sterling’s phone calls to his young girlfriend, Cliven Bundy’s rants about social issues, or Paula Deen’s racial epithets spoken decades ago, the outrage should be directed to the huge economic, education, social, and health disparities outlined above. The LA Clippers, wearing their warm-up shirts inside out, won’t improve black graduation rates. Cancelling Paula Deen’s TV show won’t reduce black incarceration. Describing Cliven Bundy’s supporters as “domestic terrorists” won’t reduce the rate of HIV infection among blacks. Donald Sterling’s lifetime ban from the NBA today won’t increase incomes or wealth among black families.
What a missed opportunity for President Obama to direct attention to some of the real issues facing the black community. Instead he chose to focus on historical issues long since dealt with in this country, “The United States continues to wrestle with the legacy of race and slavery and segregation.” Slavery was abolished by the 13th amendment in 1865 and segregation ended with Brown vs. Board of Education in 1955. Does racism and bigotry still exist? Of course it does and always will. Racism may be “hardwired” into the human brain. But using the mutterings of those alive and cultured long before the Brown decision as a means of scoring political points or rallying a political base does a huge disservice to the millions suffering under the real racial disparities in this country.
Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver based physician, is an advocate of smaller, more efficient government. Twitter @retinaldoctor.