The illusion of diversity and the reality of Whiteness

Courtesy of MGN

Unfortunately, most empirical economic evidence shows that America is not moving toward social equality because the forces of capitalism and racism strongly resist progressive change in the status quo. What is needed to reduce the dangerous class and racial gap in the structure of America? 

Why has racial diversity advanced so slowly in some areas and halted in others? We must address these questions to figure out what strategies and policies will reduce social inequality.

The economic disparity data is clear. In their study, research scholars Ashman and Neumullers found that differences in the wealth held by Black and White households in the U.S. are staggering. 

According to data from the 1989–2016 waves of the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), the median net worth of White households is nearly seven times greater than that of Black households. 

In her research, Kamali found that the median wealth of a White family is 10 times the median wealth of a Black family. From this wealth gap, she calculated that Black Americans could expect to earn up to $1 million less than White Americans over their lifetime. The point is that study after study shows the racial economic gap is huge.

White resistance and racial diversity

The Civil Rights Movement ended legal segregation and created concrete conditions for racial diversity, inclusion and equity in some areas. However, the movement toward racial inclusion in key areas of society has been slow. White resistance to racial diversity is the primary reason for the failure to achieve racial equality. 

Historical evidence shows that before, during and after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Whites strongly resisted racial diversity efforts. Furthermore, the White elite has used strategies and schemes to frustrate the efforts of those who actively push for racial diversity.

Most Whites seem to genuinely accept racial diversity in secondary areas of social life but not in intimate spaces such as family, home, and exclusive privileged institutions. Although most Whites profess to be in favor of racial diversity in principle as a social norm, a large majority demonstrate by their residential choices that they avoid mix-race neighborhoods whenever possible. 

White flight to gated suburbs, wide-scale White abandonment of public schools, and opposition to affirmative action are concrete evidence that many Whites do not truly value racial diversity.

The threat of interracial relationships to Whiteness

Whites tend to deny they benefit from Whiteness, but most can detect when Whiteness is being questioned and its privileges potentially dismantled. They seem to have a tacit understanding of White interests and solidarity. 

Professor Aida Hurtado noted that the fear among some Whites is that interracial friendships will lead to empathy born of in-depth knowledge about Blacks, which can sabotage White cohesion. Furthermore, she pointed out that interracial friendships can lead to interracial dating, marriage, and mixed-race children, thus undermining White solidarity and Whiteness.

The White elite and public policy

The White ruling elite is trained to seek and exercise power. They are socialized through upper-class educational institutions and social networks that provide the resources for learning the dynamics of power and domination, all in the guise of leadership training. 

They set up elaborate mechanisms of enculturation that appear to be colorblind but are designed to maintain their White privilege and economic-political power.

The White elite controls both the Republican and Democratic parties and their political platforms. Consequently, it is no surprise that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have even articulated a strong desire or vision for a racially diverse America let alone a strategy to achieve it. However, it would be a mistake to assume that racial diversity implies racial equality or social justice.

Social progressives, who are strong advocates of racial diversity, often express frustration because racial diversity is so hard to achieve. They correctly believe the main obstacles are general White resistance and racist governmental policies and actions. 

If the government were to vigorously push for racial diversity, there would be a very powerful White backlash because of the racist phobia among White Americans. To make racial diversity attractive to many Whites, the government would have to provide concrete incentives to them for their participation in large-scale housing and educational projects. 

The Defense Department has implemented some effective policies for racial diversity. Extensive racial diversity can occur if there is a strong political force to make it happen.

Significant racial diversity would necessitate government planning and social engineering. Only the government has enough power and authority to effectively push racial diversity forward. However, it will only act if it is pressured by a multiracial working-class movement and a militant anti-racist campaign that can disrupt normal economic activities.

Racial diversity not enough

More middle-class Blacks interact with their White counterparts on a more even plane today than in the past, thanks to Black activism and affirmative action policies. But the Black lower classes have been further isolated and marginalized.

In the final analysis, I think that the race problem is fundamentally a matter of economic and political power, not one of racial diversity. Racial diversity under the American capitalist system will not solve the most crucial problems facing the Black community. From the point of view of most Blacks, racial diversity is the preferred racial arrangement. 

However, the most pressing concerns we face are the anti-Black criminal justice system, inadequate educational resources, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, political underrepresentation, and the weak enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. A vision of a thoroughly racially diverse America is an inspirational goal, but history suggests that such a vision is illusory.

Dr. Luke Tripp is a professor at St. Cloud State University.