Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Sometimes, Race Is More Distraction Than Explanation

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Sometimes, Race Is More Distraction Than Explanation

Article excerpt

Dear white people:

As you no doubt know, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, returned to the headlines last week with news that the state attorney general is charging three government officials for their alleged roles in the debacle. It makes this a convenient moment to deal with something that has irked me about the way this disaster is framed. Namely, the fact that people who look like you often get left out of it.

Consider some of the headlines:

The Racist Roots of Flint's Water Crisis - Huffington Post

How A Racist System Has Poisoned The Water in Flint - The Root

A Question of Environmental Racism - The New York Times

As has been reported repeatedly, Flint is a majority black city with a 41 percent poverty rate, so critics ask if the water would have been so blithely poisoned, and if it would have taken media so long to notice, had the victims been mostly white.

It's a sensible question, but whenever I hear it, I engage in a little thought experiment. I try to imagine what happened in Flint happening in Bowie, a city in Maryland where blacks outnumber whites, but the median household income is more than $100,000 a year and the poverty rate is about 3 percent. I can't.

Then I try to imagine it happening in Morgantown, West Virginia, where whites outnumber blacks, the median household income is about $32,000 a year, and the poverty rate approaches 40 percent - and I find that I easily can. It helps that Bowie is a few minutes from Washington, D.C., while Morgantown is more than an hour from the nearest city of any size.

My point is neither that race carries no weight nor that it had no impact on what happened in Flint. No, my point is only that, sometimes, race is more distraction than explanation. Indeed, that's the story of our lives.

To be white in America is to have been sold a bill of goods that there exists between you and people of color a gap of morality, behavior, intelligence and fundamental humanity. …

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