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give the whole ‘lazy minorities want free hand-outs’ meme a rest already

November 7, 2012

As it became clear Obama was going to win by a large margin, conservative pundits were already decrying the death of traditional America and the rise of freeloading minorities. Sadly, this idea seems to be a common perception among many. Bill O’Reilly, for example, apparently went on a racist rant last night about non-whites and women wanting stuff and voting for Obama because they know he’ll give it to them unlike ‘white establishment’ Romney and ‘traditional America’ (conservative, white males, I’m guessing).

Honestly, it drives me crazy and I can’t stand it. I can’t stand the classism and racism underlying it. I can’t stand the lack of understanding of our history and the systemic discrimination embedded into many of our institutions and psyche. I can’t stand the lack of compassion. And I can’t stand the blatantly negative attitudes surrounding minorities, the poor, and anyone receiving government assistance in general, as if they’re all just a bunch of lazy pieces of shit. There are ways to fix these problems, but that’ll never happen if people continue to pretend that there isn’t a problem, or that the problem is that blacks and poor people are simply lazy leeches who abuse the system and need to be cut off.

Taking a broader look at American history, however, I think it’s hard to miss the fact that systemic discrimination has been embedded into many of our institutions and psyche; and even though things are more equal now than in the past, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Sure, slavery is no more and women can now vote; but women still get paid less than men and blacks still face disproportionate police discrimination (e.g., our local police bureau recently admitted that racism may be a factor behind the persistent disparity between how often whites and blacks in Portland are stopped and then searched).

In essence, to say what O’Reilly said while seemingly ignoring systematic problems and social prejudices (problems that many don’t even think exist) gives an incomplete picture of the problem, which I believe will distort the effectiveness of any proposed solutions. Cutting people off of government assistance at a certain time, for example, which is something many conservatives favour, won’t make it any easier for those people to get a decent education or a job that can actually support them without any additional assistance in a society that still makes it more difficult for some than others.

To take just one example, the unemployment rate among black college graduates is almost double that of whites, and I sincerely doubt it’s because all those black grads are just lazy, so just imagine how difficult it must be for someone without a college degree who also happens to be black to find work. And many of those who do manage find employment, regardless of their gender, race, etc., aren’t being paid enough to support themselves without help. Minimum wage just isn’t enough.

Another issue I see besides these negative attitudes surrounding minorities, the poor, and anyone receiving government assistance is that many Americans are adverse to a lot of the things that can potentially help change the structure of the current political-economic system for the better, like stricter lobbying laws, instant runoff voting, an amendment ending corporate personhood (which currently gives corporations many of the same rights as citizens) and the institution of campaign finance reforms, tougher banking regulations, truly universal, single-payer healthcare, solidly-funded K-college education for all, and even more radical things like a universal basic income, etc.

Historically speaking, less taxes on the wealthy, more privatization and deregulation, and supply-side economics haven’t really worked that well for us in the past. And for all the negative talk about things like the evil, socialist Scandinavian welfare states, they’re actually pretty prosperous all-around and are weathering the current crisis relatively well, which is arguably due in part to their strong safety nets and smarter/tougher regulations on the banking sector (same for Canada).

But leaving the economic aspect of the discussion aside, I think the prevalence of racist and/or negative attitudes towards minorities, the poor, and anyone receiving government assistance in general, exemplified by people like O’Reilly, are ultimately an impediments to our material and spiritual growth as a nation. And for all their talk about fiscal conservatism and ‘makers and takers,’ this is the kind of thing that people like O’Reilly, Trump, and Limbaugh seem to be really afraid of: “Barack Obama And The Death Of Normal.”

The times they are a-changin’.

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