In the United States of 2015, a racist fraternity song will get you death threats. If you're a celebrity, a racist Tweet will force you to apologize to millions of indignant Twitter followers. Or, if you're just an average person, you could get fired from work. Our society no longer tolerates hate-filled messages; even ones that are meant as mere jokes that go horribly wrong. Words, not systemic injustices that keep 27.4 percent of African-Americans in poverty, elicit visceral reactions from millions of Americans eager to promote a world where racism ceases to exist.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, black children in America face the highest rates of poverty in the country:
In 2012, the percentage was highest for Black children (39 percent)...
The poverty rate was lowest for White children (13 percent) and Asian children (14 percent).
...among Black children under age 18 living in poverty in 2012, the poverty rates were 53 percent for children living in a mother-only household, 38 percent for those living in a father-only household, and 15 percent for those living in a married-couple household.
In addition, the State of Working America.org states that African-American children under the age of six have a 45.8 percent poverty rate, compared to a 14.5 percent rate for white children of the same age.
Americans today aren't racist people, but we live in a country where vapid outrage masks grandiose systemic racism. Words hurt more than the fact that 40 percent of African-Americans living in Tennessee and Mississippi live in poverty. There's a reason that according to Pew Research, the typical black household has $5,677 in wealth, while white households have $113,149.
There are deep-rooted issues in American society that lead to such disparities not only in wealth, but also in criminal justice. The Wall Street Journal states that, "Prison sentences of black men were nearly 20 percent longer than those of white men for similar crimes in recent years, an analysis by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found." In fact, one study states that black men and white felons have the same chance of getting hired for a job in the Unites States.
Therefore, it's time to question our priorities as a nation. The NAACP states that, "If White Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates of blacks, today's prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50%." However, when was the last time Twitter lit up with indignation over sentencing patterns that target African-Americans? Why don't Americans exhibit more indignation over the 27.4 percent of blacks living in poverty than a racist fraternity song?
The answer is that social media and entertainment allow us to shield our eyes and process only bite sized morsels of reality. Twitter, Facebook, cable television, and movies offer a palatable glimpse at why we might not be as exceptional as we think. More people have heard about Zach Braff's Tweet mocking Pharrell than the study showing African-American seniors in high school read at the same level as white eighth graders in the U.S.
We've become a nation of fabricated tribes, where you can't be both for protecting police lives and unarmed African-American teens; Fox News tells us it's either one or the other. Knowledge and truth are zero-sum games since you're either a conservative or liberal. As a result, Paul Ryan alludes to black people being lazy, yet forgets that immigrants from Europe were also once mired in poverty living in tenements. Ryan also conveniently forgets that 39 percent of African-Americans in Wisconsin live in poverty for a reason. As stated by the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, "For black Milwaukee, even before the Great Recession of 2007, there had already been over two decades of a 'stealth depression.'"
Why doesn't Paul Ryan ever talk about the "stealth depression" faced by blacks in Wisconsin?
Many American lawmakers can't fathom wanting a smaller government while at the same time boosting education programs for inner city youth. Like a football game or sporting contest, our debates have a winner and loser; seeking truth is either an ancillary goal or not part of the equation. For this reason, a racist Tweet embodies America's racial problems and Giuliana Rancic's insensitive joke demands a formal apology.
As the wealthiest country in the world, you'd think Americans would show more outrage about African-American households facing food insecurity issues than the insensitivity of a racist fraternity song. According to Feeding America.org, black households in 2015 still endure issues related to nutrition and food:
African Americans are disproportionately affected by poverty, food insecurity, and unemployment. They are also more likely to receive emergency food assistance than their Latino and white, non-Hispanic peers.
African American households are more than twice as likely to be food insecure as white, non-Hispanic households.
One in four (26%) African American households are food insecure as compared with one in 10 (11%) of Caucasian households and one in seven (14%) households overall.
Of the 10 counties with the highest food-insecurity rates in the nation, they are all at least 70 percent African American. All but one of these 10 counties are located in Mississippi.
Why doesn't social media address the food insecurity faced by black citizens in the U.S.? Why is one segment of the American public still facing dilemmas associated with nutrition?
We're the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, yet African-Americans still endure problems experienced by citizens in third world nations. This should elicit constant outrage, but sadly, we're more focused on racist words and jokes. Consequently, not only do we overlook systemic realities that lead to poverty and food insecurity, but we also gloss over the plight of many African-American women.
According to a Time Magazine article titled Why Black Women Struggle More With Domestic Violence, black women experience more violence than other American women:
And for Black women, it's an even bigger problem: Black women are almost three times as likely to experience death as a result of DV/IPV than White women. And while Black women only make up 8% of the population, 22% of homicides that result from DV/IPV happen to Black Women and 29% of all victimized women, making it one of the leading causes of death for Black women ages 15 to 35.
While we see Oprah on television empowering the women of America, we forget that 8 percent of American women make up 22 percent of homicides from domestic violence and intimate partner violence. One of the leading causes of death for black women is domestic violence, but little outrage is exhibited by the average American at this startling fact.
Racism has been reduced to mere dialogue in today's America. We have a black president, slavery and Jim Crow are light years in the past, and hate-filled speech is shunned by most citizens. Euphemisms like "White Privilege" define injustice (yet overlook the fact that close to 19 million white people live in poverty in the U.S.) and fraternity songs elicit mass outrage. We deceive ourselves through the anonymity of social media and the groupthink of cable television; one side is right and the opposing side is wrong. However, this social dynamic leads to truth being a victim and reality being overshadowed by an illusion of empathy.
Indignant Tweets don't exhibit empathy, they simply illustrate emotion.
We should care about the high rate of black poverty. We should care that African-Americans face issues related to food insecurity. Sadly however, we care more about what's being said than who is suffering. Twitter, Facebook, vapid euphemism and television afford us the opportunity to believe that we're better than we were in the past.
The days of overt racism are over in the minds of most Americans. There aren't any more separate bathrooms, so things are better, right? The statistics, however, show that African-Americans are still mired in poverty, face food insecurity, and are incarcerated at higher rates than other groups. This reality should elicit outrage, but fraternity songs and Tweets have occupied both the airwaves and brainwaves, making reality into what we want it to be, rather than what exists.
It feels great to brand the scarlet letter on the racist in our midst, but this behavior also shields us from the reality that millions are mired in poverty and have been stuck in this reality for generations.