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Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Full Blown "Oprah Effect" Reflections on Color, Class and New Age Racism by Paul Street

“The culture of New Age Racism also brought blacks to the age of Oprah” – Elaine Brown, 2002

“A Real Black-Tie Event:”
Love, Tears, and Racial Progress

I recently caught a snippet of television that was relevant for understanding the savage persistence of stark racial inequality in the United States. I was flipping the dial late at night and caught part of Oprah. She was speaking to Oscar favorite Jamie Fox, who appeared on a giant screen, sitting in front of a piano. They were talking about his experience playing Ray Charles in the movie “Ray.”

The multi-billionaire Oprah mentioned that she realized she could “be anything I wanted to be” when Sidney Poitier won the first Academy award ever given to an African American. She told Jamie that she loved him. The multi-millionaire Jamie informed Oprah that he loved her back.

They spoke cheerfully about the significant black presence that will be displayed at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, which is being hosted by the black comedian Chris Rock. “It’s really going to be a black-tie event this year,” Jamie said. Everybody laughed.

Jamie played a song on the piano. Oprah and Jamie exchanged some more “I love yous.” It looked like Oprah was tearing up. Many of her predominantly white female audience members seemed equally moved.

They were happy for Jamie and Oprah and Chris Rock and all the other African-Americans who have “made it” in the United States. And they were happy for America’s benevolent decision to slay the beast of racism and open the doors of equal opportunity to all. It was another chance for white self-congratulation and for whites to forget about – and lose more sympathy for – the large number of black Americans who are nowhere close to making it in post-Civil Rights America.

Still Savage Inequalities

For a considerable portion of whites in “post-Civil Rights” America, black-white integration and racial equality are more than just accepted ideals. They are also, many believe, accomplished realities, showing that we have overcome racial disparity. According to a survey conducted by the Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, and Harvard University in the spring of 2001, more than 4 in 10 white Americans believe that blacks are “as well off as whites in terms of their jobs, incomes, schools, and health care.”

The 2000 US Census numbers that were being crunched as this poll was taken did not support this belief. More than three and a half decades after the historic victories of the black Civil Rights Movement, the census showed, equality remained a highly elusive goal for African-Americans. In a society that possesses the highest poverty rate and the largest gaps between rich and poor in the industrialized world, blacks are considerably poorer than whites and other racial and ethnic groups. Economic inequality correlated so closely with race that:

Meanwhile, blacks were 12.3 percent of U.S. population, but comprised nearly half of the roughly 2 million Americans currently behind bars. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of black men in jail or prison grew fivefold (500 percent), to the point where, the Justice Policy Institute reported in 2002, there were more black men behind bars than enrolled in colleges or universities in the U.S. On any given day, 30 percent of African-American males ages 20 to 29 were under correctional supervision – either in jail or prison or on probation or parole. According to the best social science estimates in 2002, finally, one in five black men was saddled with a prison record and an astounding one in three black men possessed a felony record.

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Posted by jebratt :: Sunday, April 16, 2006 :: 2 comments

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