By Robert Mann
“It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, ‘Wait on time.'” — Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
If 47 percent of our white children lived in poverty, Louisiana would do something about child poverty. If the rate of white women living with an HIV diagnosis were 11.8 times that of black females, Louisiana would declare a public health crisis. If chemical plants were located next to wealthy white neighborhoods, Louisiana would get serious about environmental justice.
If white people were shot and killed by police at a rate far exceeding their share of the state’s population, policing would change quickly. If wealthy people were required to pay a disproportionately high percentage of their incomes in sales taxes, Louisiana would promptly slash that tax.
If payday lenders preyed mostly on white people, the Louisiana Legislature would crack down on this unethical practice. If our prisons were suddenly full of young white men, Louisiana would reform its criminal justice laws overnight. If the median income of white households were half that of black households, Louisiana’s political leaders would pass laws to promote income equality.
Let’s be honest: These problems are not major concerns to most people in Louisiana because they affect primarily African-Americans and other minorities. They aren’t issues that cause most affluent white Louisianians much heartburn or consternation.
My children have never gone hungry. I’ve never needed a payday loan. There are no chemical plants near my house. Police officers don’t pull me over for no reason. And if I do get stopped, I never fear for my life. I earn enough that sales taxes aren’t the major portion of my tax bill. I don’t worry about contracting HIV.
The problem, however, is I’m in the same boat with all the souls burdened by these and other issues. Cops who are racist aren’t just someone else’s problem. They work for me. The payday lender rips off the poor family with my tacit permission. The sales taxes that punish and crush poor people are high so that my income and property taxes can be a little lower.
There is a term that describes this collective indifference to poverty, disease, discrimination and suffering: institutional racism.
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