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Richardt Stormsgaard: The state of the union in black and white

Richardt Stormsgaard | Other Voices

Recent op-eds in The Union by Daryl Grigsby and others have addressed the history of racism in this country, and some have asked that since large-scale massacres and lynchings ended many decades ago what could Blacks possibly be complaining about today?

It is now a rarity that a George Zimmerman guns down an unarmed Black youngster unpunished, and the killings of unarmed, unresisting Blacks today at the hands of police must somehow be their own fault.

There are 2.2 million incarcerated Americans, and 60% of those are in jail for various minor drug or other non-violent offenses, very often because they could not afford quality legal representation (80% of Americans arrested cannot afford a lawyer).

Although Blacks and whites use and sell drugs at similar rates, the 12% of Black Americans make up 40% of the prison population.

Trey Radel, a Tea Party congressman, was arrested with $250 worth of cocaine and got a one-year misdemeanor suspended sentence with minimal supervision, while it is estimated that there are tens of thousands of prisoners, mostly Black or brown, languishing in prison for decades for lesser crimes.

George Zimmerman escaped punishment because of the “stand your ground rule” in Florida, but that law was no help to Marissa Alexander, who fired a nonlethal warning shot to ward off a man who threatened her life. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Disgraced Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale threatened to kill himself and/or his wife during a mental breakdown. Local police de-escalated the situation, but in Rochester, New York, Daniel Prude was asphyxiated with a bag over his head, naked and handcuffed in a snowstorm by police, who were alerted by his brother about his mental health crisis.

The GI Bill gave all returning veterans opportunities for training, education, unemployment insurance, and mortgage relief, but Blacks were directed toward underfunded Black colleges unable to accommodate most applicants. Blacks who secured training for skilled jobs very often ended up with menial jobs anyway. Postmasters, especially in the South, refused to hand out unemployment insurance forms to Blacks.

Zero percent home loans for the millions of homes constructed in the decades after World War II usually did not cover mortgages in Black neighborhoods, and covenants and other racist exclusions excluded Blacks from desirable middle-class neighborhoods in every part of the country.

The massive infrastructure investments after World War II provided the white middle class with well-paying jobs as their economic status improved with generational home-ownership, unlike Blacks who became renters due to systemic redlining, lower-end jobs, and few opportunities for financial advancement due to systemic discrimination.

Unsurprisingly, the result is that today the average income of whites is twice that of blacks.

Liberal Democrats and moderate Republicans passed civil and voting rights legislation in the 1960s, but Reagan energized conservative Republicans and former Southern Democrats resentful of the notion that Black and brown Americans should have similar opportunities as whites.

Since 1980, the Republican tax cuts and deregulation message has subverted good government, weakened our social safety net, and gutted our infrastructure as wealth has moved to the very top.

Had the pre-Reagan economic policies continued until today, the average wealth of the bottom 90% of Americans would have been almost double what it is today. Reaganomics has devastated whites as well as Blacks. Many blame Blacks for that, as well.

The United States was the first advanced Western country to establish democracy, but is the only one to have used extensive voter suppression of minorities during much of its existence, and in no other advanced democracy have federal and state programs been designed or implemented to specifically disadvantage minorities as they have in the United States.

The 2013 elimination of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act by the conservative Roberts-led Supreme Court reopened the gates for targeted voter suppression against minorities, and by the 2016 election, more than half a dozen different types had been implemented, impeding or outright preventing millions of minority voters from casting their votes.

Since the 2020 election results, which many Republicans still reject, individual states have proposed almost 400 new state laws to make voting even more difficult for minorities, including proposing the right of partisan state officials to refuse to certify future election results.

While powerful Republican politicians officially distanced themselves from the Jan. 6 Trump coup attempt and his lie about the so-called “steal,” they seem perfectly content to allow Trump supporters to dismantle our democracy.

Richardt Stormsgaard lives in Nevada City.


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