Stop playing the race card
Hyped-up charges of bias distract from the real work of correcting racial inequalities.
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Today's ghettos aren't just poor and racially segregated – they're cut off from the prosperous mainstream of American life. These are places where joblessness is the norm, crime is rampant, and decent people have to hustle in the gray-market economy to survive. Teens living in these neighborhoods have no role models to teach them how to navigate the work-a-day world.Skip to next paragraph
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As a result, even the diligent and talented have a hard time finding regular work. Many turn to crime and find themselves saddled with the stigma of a criminal record, making it that much harder to earn an honest living. That can lead to a vicious cycle of poverty, isolation, and dysfunctional socialization.
Many civil rights activists, perhaps understandably, seize on any opportunity to draw needed attention to persistent racial inequality. But this can lead some to insist, wrongly, that racism is as bad today as ever and to exaggerate the significance of visible but trivial or ambiguous incidents.
For instance, although there's no doubt that there are some racist cab drivers, the primary reason black folks consistently find it hard to hail a cab in New York – and we do – isn't bigoted cabbies: it's that many cabbies use race as a proxy for a dangerous ghetto neighborhood.
That's unfortunate, but it's not exactly racism: Even some civil rights advocates leave their cars in midtown when going north of 120th street for fear of parking in a rough neighborhood. The real injustice here is that so many blacks have to live in neighborhoods that reasonable and decent people are afraid to enter.
In fact, there's no evidence that Mr. Bush is a bigot. The better explanation for post-Katrina racial inequity is that residential segregation and poverty left blacks in New Orleans in the low-lying areas worst hit by the flooding and without the resources to leave town in time. Add to that the widespread neglect of national infrastructure and you have all of the makings of the post-Katrina nightmare. To insist that the president is a racist distracts attention from these real and correctable problems.
Worse yet, some people willingly piggyback on real racial injustices in order to gain a selfish advantage in cases where racism isn't at work at all. The suggestion that O.J. Simpson was the victim of a police conspiracy is the most obvious example. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Los Angeles Police Department did indeed harass poor blacks in South Central L.A., but that rough treatment didn't extend to rich black celebrities such as O.J. Simpson, who played the race card to beat the rap for a crime he almost certainly committed.
People who make accusations of racism that don't fit the facts wind up hurting the cause of racial justice. Playing the race card breeds suspicion of all claims of bias – valid as well as phony. And the people who are unfairly accused may harden their hearts and dig in their heels.