The Problem(s) with Trump’s Race Relations Narrative

If you were watching the US presidential debate last night, you know that there was a conversation on race relations. Because we’re uncomfortable telling the whole story, the conversation tends to be labored for both Democrats and Republicans. However, the Trumpian narrative, which is also repeated in various forms by conservatives who otherwise agree and disagree with him, is particularly problematic. Here are a few of the problems as I see them.

1. Some neighborhoods are rough, no question, but black and Latino people are by and large not living in hell.

A street in a neighborhood in predominantly-black South DeKalb County near Atlanta – not perfect, but not hell. This is basically where I grew up.

A street on the South Side of Chicago – also, not hell. This is near where a couple of my best friends grew up.

2. A focus on law and order rather than justice and safety implies that more, increasingly militarized policing and prosecution will reduce crime. On the contrary, policies like stop-and-frisk have been proven to be ineffective and increase distrust of police, which makes things harder when you need people to “start snitching”.

3. This focus on policing and prosecution seems to imply that there is an underlying lawlessness that is hard to explain without having to go to personal agency and morality. It doesn’t do anything to talk about the financial instability introduced by historically racialized housing and lending policies, as well as things like harsh sentencing for young offenders that make it harder to get jobs, or urban planning that isolates the poor from the jobs they’d be most likely to get, or even just the advantage of not having such a rough start and how that transfers to one’s children.

4. The fact that somebody, somewhere, or even several somebodies, were able to change their economic stratum does not mean that the system is fair and just. It means those people were superlative. We pat on the back those people who study nights and work days, who never sleep, who manage to make it work, and pooh-pooh those who collapse under the weight, not recognizing or bothering to imagine what we might have done under that pressure. The question: what do we do so that ordinary people working reasonably hard can make a living? Not be rich and live fat, but just live without continuous fear of imminent collapse?

5. Illegal immigrant gangs, which Trump mentioned, are not one of the major challenges we face as far as I’m aware in reducing crime in high-crime areas.

6. The focus on fixing poor and dangerous areas conveniently takes the focus off of the changes in policies and points of view that need to happen among people in power and who have greater wealth. It’s not the job of the people who are getting ground up in the gears of the awful machine to find a crowbar to throw in it. It’s the job of the creators and operators to find the off switch.

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