We live in an age where it is dangerous to be poor and of color, the two often going together. It’s even worse if you are also undocumented. But it is not just blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Native-Americans experiencing the wrenching drop from being middle class or the loss of hope as the working poor aspiring to middle class status. White America has arrived here too.
When that dominant white majority’s middle class slips and falls into the status of the working poor, people below them must be blamed, as the rich and powerful continue to direct nearly the entire growing wealth of the nation to themselves.
“Obsessed with success and wealth and despising failure and poverty,” says Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, “our society is systematically dividing the population into winners and losers, using institutions like the courts to speed the process.” That is the thesis of Taibbi’s new book, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. He’s also known for his bestseller Griftopia.
Michelle Alexander, Tavis Smiley and Cornell West have already warned us repeatedly that the United States’ burgeoning mass incarceration rate and a resurgence of belittling, if not outright hatred for the poor and disadvantaged is being reflected in a corresponding racist explanation for what the rich and powerful are doing separately and with intent to the rest of us.
The bald fact is that poverty and the ranks of the working poor are swelling just at the time in our history when intervention on behalf of the poor and needy by the Federal Government that we as citizens all fall heir to is shrinking just as precipitously.
A 2012 Pew Center Research Poll reported that just 43% of Americans think it important to offer more help to the needy, close to the 1994 poll at 41% saying the same thing, a 25 year low. Presumably, that trend is continuing.
The Senate’s rejection of even approving an up or down vote on raising the minimum wage, a paltry 0.1% growth in the GDP for April reported the same day, and Paul Ryan’s emasculation of everything from the SNAP program to Medicaid, Social Security and Medicare in the current budget before the Congress all point to a kind of piling on those least able to withstand it.
This comes too after several years of record numbers of deportations of the undocumented, only dropping ten percent in just the last year and early in 2014. Immigrants, particularly those from Mexico and Latin America, face roadblocks and traffic stops by their local police departments and hordes of ICE agents, in a multitude of cities, towns and villages in the United States, where undocumented Americans still must work to support themselves and get children to school and to the doctor.
One slip, a traffic stop without a license, and they are likely to be deported and never see their children again. Why not just get a driver’s license? That too could lead to deportation and family separation. And in all too many states, most controlled by conservative Republicans, it’s against the law for a non-citizen to get one.
It’s time to beat up on the poor and helpless, while celebrating with an idolatrous worship those who achieve great success; success itself defined as monetary.
Into this soup of arrests by the criminal injustice system for minor violations of the law carrying fines the poor cannot pay, comes incarceration for that failure. Sometimes it involves hard-time, and significant hard-time for all too many. When they get out they have a criminal record—not something helpful in a five year recovery that never reached them.
Into this come the wealthy looking for a quick buck on Wall Street, and its hedge fund managers looking for both guaranteed and instantaneous profit. Right there with an almost Pavlovian response is Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). It is where the unsuspecting oppressed of this land go to meet the incredible overflow from police departments run on the principle of mass arrests of the poor and people of color in particular.
Lest you think this replacement for state run incarceration is just a small thing, the company earned $300 million in 2000 and earned $1.7 billion this past year, and gaining rapidly since then. Its share price went from just $23 two years ago to $34.34 at the close of 2013. The private, for profit prisons of the United States, earned $5 Billion this past year. And they did it off the backs of suffering poor, helpless, and nonviolent people of color—not just the high risk violent felons who truly need to be off the street.
Layered upon all this are Fox News and a Tea Party that controls the Republican Party now. The Tea Party IS today’s Republican Party. Moderates are less influential and less numerous. That party inevitably goes to blocking any initiatives pressed by Obama and Democrats in Congress. Whether it is to insure President Obama’s failure out of some race-connected animus, or just what they believe, it is working superbly to screw the poor, the orphaned, and the widow. Add single working mothers and fathers too.
“Can we just drop the pretense now and admit that one of our two major political parties is perfectly fine with pauperizing the American middle-class in order to ‘redistribute’ wealth upwards?, says Esquire’s Charles Piece in a recent magazine piece.
Despite the fact that we live in “the dome” of ethnic and racial verbal cleansing that has always been aimed at the poor and needy, there is as yet no sign that compassion and healing are going to flow out from the vast majority of us.
We’re too busy reading celebrity blogs and on-line stories about the rich and famous. The poor and needy, those of color, those with any sort of defect are just not sexy enough. Too many of us even see them as just plain losers destined to fade away somewhere out of our sight, hearing; off the radar.
For those interested in what the Wisdom of Solomon says consider this:
“Oppressing the poor in order to enrich
and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss.”
Ominously, those losses are not recorded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). These are losses reported in heaven to God and St. Peter’s accounting firm.
Which book of profit and loss do you want your beliefs, attitudes, and actions to be recorded in?
Thomas Martin Saturday
for Struggles for Justice
“Speaking for the Voiceless, Protecting the Vulnerable”