Angry white men pick wrong target

March 30, 1995|By Frank L. Morris

ONE OF THE facts of political life in contemporary America is the presence of many angry white males. The angry white male vote is said to have boosted the Republican Party to victory in November. Their votes, coupled with lower turnouts by women and union members, caused a political shift that may exist for some time.

It is increasingly apparent that many of these angry white males blame African-Americans for their current economic difficulties.

As they see it, high welfare expenditures for blacks have caused federal income taxes to soar. They also reason that the high black crime rate has resulted in higher state and local taxes and, to make matters worse, there does not seem to be an increase in personal security despite the heavy tax cost of (black) imprisonment.

They see affirmative action as permitting unqualified people to replace or be hired over more qualified whites (especially males) in the decreasing numbers of desirable full-time, well-paid positions with benefits. They see African-Americans as blaming others and refusing to take responsibility for the shortcomings of their families. They see African-Americans as continuing to try to project a slavery guilt trip on innocent white Americans who had nothing to do with or did not directly benefit from either slavery or government-sanctioned racial discrimination. They also contend that racial discrimination is a thing of the past.

These beliefs find fertile ground in the increasingly difficult American economic environment that many white working-class and middle-class families find themselves. I contend that much of the anger white males are directing at African-Americans and affirmative action is actually displaced anger; their economic plight is not due to affirmative action or African-Americans but rather a variety of economic factors over which they have no control.

Since the 1970s, the white working class has faced stagnant real wages, the reduced availability of many high-paying jobs providing full benefits as our manufacturing base declines, the increasingly weak labor unions and their reduced ability to influence the workplace, the greater use of temporary employees, increased corporate downsizing and restructuring, increased child poverty and greater U.S. wealth inequality.

In its recently released annual report called "The State of Working America," the Economic Policy Institute noted the extent of the great increase in U.S. wealth inequality during the 1980s. It pointed out that during that decade income from employment for the richest 1 percent of all families grew 62.9 percent, representing 53.2 percent of total income growth for all families. During this same period, the bottom 60 percent of families faced a decline.

Wealth inequality further worsened because the growth of financial assets such as stocks and bonds (mostly owned by the rich) have greatly outperformed the main asset of most middle- and working-class families: homes.

What is so sad about this whole economic debate is that the perceived fears are so far away from the reality. If African-Americans are really taking the jobs away from white Americans, then black income and wealth should be booming. It is not.

Using data from the U.S. Census and the Department of Commerce, Andrew Brimmer, the noted economist, recently pointed out that African-Americans -- who constitute about 12 percent of all U.S. households -- receive only 7.6 percent of "U.S. money income," mainly income from employment. In contrast, white households, which constitute 85.2 percent of the total, received 89 percent of U.S. money income in 1992.

The more important, but rarely cited, wealth figures are even more striking. African-American households receive only 3 percent of America's wealth or assets. White households receive 94 percent of America's wealth. With figures such as this and the contention that these outcomes are unrelated to past and present actions that have a disproportionately negative impact on African-Americans, one wonders who should be angry.

What we may be witnessing is a great example of scapegoating where some of the greatest victims of our economy are blamed for America's poor adjustment to the global economy and the new technological revolution, which for the first time in our history is employing technologies that displace and destroy more jobs than they create.

Our collective American history of slavery, racism, prejudice, violence and denial provides fertile ground for such scapegoating and displaced anger. There is no wonder that the angry white males want to view affirmative action from an historical perspective, saying that racism and racial discrimination are products of the past.

During a recent speech at Morgan State University, Andrew Brimmer sadly concluded his remarks by noting America's "progress" after a quarter century of affirmative action policies. During that time, African-American wealth has increased from 2.5 percent to 3 percent.

Frank L. Morris, Ph.D., is dean of graduate studies and research at Morgan State University.

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