Friday, 8 February 2008

Bad Cheque

The title of this blog is taken from a recent article by one of my favourite journalists - Gary Younge of the Guardian. Younge argues that whatever “take” you might have on the American primary election campaigns it is clear that Black America is in a significantly worse economic situation than it was 20 years ago, after the early victories for civil rights seemed to offer so much. There is deep dissatisfaction within the Black American community about progress over this period and deep pessimism that things will improve in the future. There is also little prospect that either of the Democratic Party contenders will address such deep inequalities (although Obama may offer some temporary false hopes).

The extent of economic inequality within the Black community is so entrenched that nothing short of a sustained offensive against it, stretching over several years (if not generations) will change things. The extent of the problem is truly awesome, with even the sons and daughter of previous “middle-class” Black parents slipping into abject poverty. But if things are really bad for Black Americans the situation is also bad for many Whites as well. Since George Bush became President the poverty rate across the board has risen by 9% and the number of people without any basic health insurance has risen by 12%.

The collapse of the “sub-prime” housing market in the US, with its global ripples, is turning this already bad situation into a real disaster, as thousands of poor Americans (disproportionately Black) loose their homes. A report from the US Pew Research Centre says: “We believe this (the collapse of the sub-prime housing market) represents the greatest loss of wealth for people of colour in modern US history”. The report continues “Based on improvements in (income) from 1982 to 2004 before the current crisis, it would take 594 more years of Blacks/African Americans to achieve parity with Whites. The current crisis is likely to make this worse”!

So what do the potential future leaders of the “free” world have to say about this? Absolutely nothing! If American politicians are failing to even acknowledge this kind of problem in their own back-yard, I think we can have little hope that they have any concern for world-wide poverty and inequality.

In his famous “I have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King said “America has given the Negro people a bad cheque”. There is little likelihood that the American state and politicians will make any attempt to underwrite and re-pay this particular debt – although it (like the British government) will spend billions of taxpayer’s money ensuring that the wealth and privilege of financial institutions are well and truly protected from any fall-out. It is not however just a bad cheque for America, but also the worlds poor as well.

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