When an article in the New York Times titled ‘Study Says White Families’ Wealth Advantage Has Grown’ was brought to my attention, I thought, ‘Here we go again.’ I knew this article was just going to explain how white people have all the money. I wasn’t disappointed. It goes on to explain how whites fared much better during the recession and widened the gap between whites and minorities.
While I believe that it is important to engage in critical thought and theory, these types of studies still trouble me. At what point will we finally move beyond characterization of individuals by their skin color? The purpose of this study is to prove that despite our efforts in the past 50 years, us white people are still bigots. Or perhaps to prove that the oppressed underclass has finally ‘made it.’
To this I would respond, ‘Who cares?’ Is it really that important that we monitor which racial groups do and do not succeed? Is it not more important for us to make sure that the individual is not expended in favor of some kind of group orientation that is only meant to benefit members of certain groups?
Of course, none of these studies pay any attention to the power of the individual. These studies only express a group dynamic. Often they are used to justify the need for more government assistance. What many fail to see is that the only person who can truly help someone is oneself. If someone is not motivated enough to succeed without a dangling carrot, why should society care to continue to dangle it? Some may say that it is not a lack of ambition, but a lack of tolerance by society for certain minorities. Come on! The idea that in 2004 the establishment is still so infested with racism that it systematically oppresses entire minority groups is absurd!
Too often the powers that be think that just because something doesn’t seem ‘fair’ it is somehow their responsibility to right this injustice. This type of thinking most likely began in the 1960s with Affirmative Action. I doubt many of you out there actually know why race-based preferences are referred to as ‘Affirmative Action.’ Allow me to indulge you: President Lyndon B. Johnson saw the plight of blacks and other minorities as a situation in which we needed to take affirmative action.
No doubt the state of race relations in the 1960s was a problem and something needed to be done. However, a system in which one race (minority or majority) is preferred over the other is racist. Over the years, this has created an entitlement mentality that transcends racial boundaries. It’s the idea that one’s failure is somehow a result of a shortcoming of society and not the inability of a certain individual, or that everything bad that happens is somehow a reflection of someone else’s failure and not one’s own.
Back to the study: ‘The fact that black and Hispanic wealth is a fraction of white wealth also reflects a history of discrimination,’ says one of the study’s professors. Discrimination by whom? The government? No. By me or you? Probably not. What troubles me is what he suggest we do to address this ‘problem.’ Should we declare martial law and redistribute the wealth so that everyone has an equal share? Better yet, no one should own anything, it should all belong to the government, they’ll take care of us. Um, yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s called Communism and it has been a failure the world over (unless you count Cuba; isn’t Fidel Castro doing such a great service to his people by making sure everyone lives in poverty?).
I take exception to the idea that it is somehow my fault that whites seem to have more money. Nothing is stopping each and every minority from being successful if they are willing to work hard to achieve that success. I am not part of this white wealth that has fared so well during the recession. It is a very cynical perception to view this country as whites and minorities.
America is not a conglomeration of minorities; she is a collection of individuals. We have worked hard in our short history to make sure that each of these individuals has the same rights afforded to him or her. Beyond that, the rest is up to each of us because for the most part, the money follows those who earn it.
This is not to imply that whites work the hardest and that is why they are currently at the top of the heap. Rather, my intention is to suggest that while at one point in our nation’s history there was a systematic scheme for excluding minorities from access to avenues of success, that is no longer the case. It may be more difficult for some than for others to achieve success, but that’s life.
Heaven knows we all have been acquainted with someone who doesn’t deserve the royal flush that life has dealt them. But after all, America was founded on liberty, the idea that we all have equal rights under the law, not equal results.
Bill Petersen is a fifth-year political science major.