Thursday, March 22, 2018

Race matters, color matters

Recent studies show that African-American women with similar economic and educational backgrounds to white counterparts die more often in childbirth, and at younger ages overall. After ruling out all of the geographic and sociological factors they can, researchers attribute the more frequent and earlier deaths of the black women to the stress and anxiety that comes with having black skin.

In the New York Times this week, an extensive study of thousands of boys concludes that white boys from rich families mostly remain rich; black boys from rich families more likely drop down the income ladder. Latino boys drop as well, but not as many and not as far. Asian boys better their white cohorts—remaining in the same income bracket or moving up.

Although the number of American Indian boys who grow up in rich families is small, their trajectory is like that of African-American boys.

When I explained to an Nez Perce friend that my grandchildren, whose father is from Calcutta, experienced subtle—and sometimes not so subtle—racial slurs in Eastern Oregon, he said that I didn’t have to explain that to him: “I’ve been brown for 80 years.”

And on and on we go, led now by a President who has emboldened talk of race, color, and the “art of the deal.” As far as deals go, there have probably never, in history, been as many crooked deals as those made by those white, westward riding Manifest Destiny jockeys in their carefully worded, often amended, and rarely observed treaties as they gobbled up lands from tribal peoples, and shuffled them around like pawns on a board.

Last night I watched a repeat of the Jackie Robinson story. It all happened in my lifetime! One black man, who could have played professional football or basketball, ran in the Olympics, or commanded troops in World War II, ran, hit, scratched, defiantly sat where he wanted to on the bus, bit his tongue when he needed to, and carried out the biggest breakthrough in racial integration in the 20th Century.

But he was helped. Labor Unions and sports writers and a baseball team owner and manager, and, ultimately, other ballplayers, fought alongside Jackie Robinson.

Today, in a strange reversal, black athletes dominate professional football and basketball, and Latino and now Asian players are the new kids in professional baseball.  But maybe it is not so unusual. It is still white men, for the most part, who are the team owners and financiers—the “Romans” watching the Christians and lions battle it out in the arena, cutting the deals, writing the treaties.

I don’t know what it will take to get past all of this? I put my faith in women and children. Women, including black and brown women, are running for political office. Women are talking about the powerful men who harass and abuse them. Women, having crept through the hole afforded them by Title 9, are becoming doctors, lawyers, executives, plumbers and electricians.

And children are marching against the NRA, taking on one of the most fiercely white-male dominated organizations in the country. (I cannot resist mentioning the draft deferments handed out to NRA exec Wayne La Pierre and President Donald Trump. It is so consistent with reducing risks and handing out rewards to the right kind of white men at the expense of boys and men of color and women in general.)

More importantly, children are fearlessly expressing their sexuality and marrying people from other tribes. And this is the real hope. As more and more of us have openly gay people in our families and among close acquaintances, the tolerance for gays is growing—even evangelical Christians under 40 seem to accept the fact.

More and more of us having rainbow marriages among our networks of family and friends seems the only practical remedy to the reign of white American men.

The trick now will be to get to there without losing the traditions and knowledge held onto tenaciously, against overwhelming odds, by the African-Americans, Latinos, south and east Asians, and American Indians among us. The more important marriages are of modern technology with ancient wisdom, the nurturing of women with public and private leadership, and the health of the public space—indeed, the planet—with the needs and freedoms of individuals.

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