Answering criticism, from June 18, of June 11 Letter
I write in response to Bill Johns’s Letter to the Editor of June 18, which itself was a response to Carmen Hicks’s letter of June 11.
Mr. Johns says that Ms. Hicks wishes to send white Americans to re-education camps to be brainwashed into a certain way of thinking about race. He then criticizes the recent property destruction that has occurred during protests in many parts of the country. Ms. Hicks advocates none of these things anywhere in her letter, and Mr. Johns’s response amounts to a “straw man” fallacy, which consists of exaggerating and distorting what one’s interlocutor is saying in order to dismiss their viewpoint.
Instead, Ms. Hicks encourages readers to honestly engage with the historical trends that have shaped our present world. Though this history is clear, she is correct that many of its facets are not widely recognized today.
After the end of slavery and Reconstruction in the South, some states instituted vagrancy laws that forced African Americans to accept employment under whatever conditions white landowners deemed acceptable, else they be arrested and imprisoned. Such laws helped re-institute slavery, in all but name, in large sections of the South. African Americans who tried to change their situation by voting were met with violent reprisal, which sometimes resulted in death.
Those who fled to the industrialized North to find work in factories found themselves subjected to employment discrimination, achieving pay raises and promotions at rates far below their white counterparts. At every turn, honest efforts to achieve social, political and economic advancement were met with intense and often violent opposition.
During the New Deal, the Federal Housing Administration attempted to revitalize the nation’s ailing construction industry by making mortgages more easily available to Americans. The FHA instituted a practice known as “redlining,” which deemed African American neighborhoods to be a higher credit risk than white neighborhoods, and therefore gave credit opportunities to white families not also made available to African American families. As white families accrued the benefits of homeownership, especially the accumulation of equity in a home, African Americans were left behind.
In addition, public schools are primarily funded by local property taxes. As white families enjoyed increased homeownership rates, tax revenues flowed to white schools. African American schools languished, perpetually underfunded by comparison. Legal segregation definitively ensured that African American children would be kept out of white schools.
White children were then much more prepared to attend colleges and universities than African American children. Inequality in the prospects for upward mobility skyrocketed as time passed. Disguised by the bureaucracy of opaque federal policies, this reality remained hidden from obvious public view. By 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an employee in the U.S. Department of Labor and later a U.S. Senator from New York, was able to blame urban poverty on instability within African American families, not on the systematic and structured inequality of public investment that had occurred during the preceding decades. The book Ms. Hicks cites, “The Color of Law,” covers this topic in detail.
As Ms. Hicks notes, educating oneself on this history is difficult and time-consuming. But doing so reveals that we are living in a complicated world that has been historically constructed over decades and centuries. Finding solutions to our problems will therefore be challenging.
And dismissing opponents as “communists” and “socialists” without actually engaging with the substance of what they are saying will likely accomplish little.
Assistant Professor, University of West Georgia
Farragut High School Class of 2004