This is part two of a two part series on race and class. I argue that the belief that class should be the determining factor for those who seek assistance is flawed in two distinct ways; first, the target, people of color, is misplaced, and second, a clas s-based approach ignores racial bias as having a significant impact upon the progress of people of color.
Last Tuesday, I spoke about how the class struggle has been cast on the shoulders of people of color, as if African Americans and Hispanics were the crux of this country's economic problems. This week, I wanted to broaden the topic by pointing out that th ose who state that the clash between the "haves and the have nots" is more fundamental than race, ignoring the dynamics of racial bias.
Far be it from me to forward the notion that the gap between the "haves and the have-nots" has not widened in the last couple decades to the considerable detriment of the "have-nots." Additionally, it would be shortsighted and absurd if I were to support the idea that class does not play a significant role in domestic policy discussions such as the capital gains tax, school vouchers and immigration, as I mentioned last week.
The issue of class, in and of itself, does not adequately address simple, deep-seeded racial bias, a condition that was institutionalized in this country until the oppressed and tyrannized rose up in defiance. Class does not include the element of color. Men and women of color are subject to racial bias and discrimination because of the their color, not because of their economic status.
When people of color walk into the door to make a loan, buy a house, rent an apartment or shop in a store, the first characteristic perceived is their color. From there, the stereotypes start and the bias begins to boil, rendering the potential consumer i ll-fit to participate in the transaction - can they pay, do they have a job? Are they responsible enough to keep the area clean and crime free?
Boardrooms are fraught with discussion as to who is the newly hired African American or Hispanic employee. Are they here because of affirmative action? Did they get preferential treatment? Are they qualified? Were the last employees laid-off, and because of diversity reasons, replaced with people of color?
Corporations are hesitant to represent themselves with people of color - what would the customers think? Promotions would mean that people of color could be sent on business trips to represent company interests - could they handle it? What would the corpo rate counterparts think? Instead of speculating or taking the chance, corporations might decide not to promote, or channel employees of color into safe, controllable positions. So a glass ceiling is created.
Racial bias runs deep in this country. Stereotypes die hard, or are recast and recreated. African Americans are no longer considered simply lazy or unreliable, but are now unreasonably angry at racism. Hispanics not only storm the borders, but now soak up valuable government services. People of color are still considered undependable, too emotional, or simply too angry to understand what is "really necessary to do the job." Regardless of the socioeconomic status of the person, it is their color they must contend with first.
People of color are people of color all of their lives - there is no opportunity for change. When they walk into the door, the first thing seen is their color and are treated accordingly. Whether they be doctors, lawyers, postmen, gardeners, construction workers or state representatives, they are dealt with as people of color first. They must fight through the assumptions and stereotypes long before their socioeconomic status is determined.
Class, in no way shape, or form, can be ignored for its impact on this supposedly "class transparent" society where everyone one has the opportunity to be wealthy. But race has never been transparent, and clearly people of color have never had every oppor tunity to obtain the American dream.
David H. Benton is a third-year law student, member of the ASUA President's cabinet and Arizona Student Association board member. His column, 'Another Perspective,' appears Tuesdays.