Blow, Cohen and Krugman

In “A Bias More Than Skin Deep” Mr. Blow says that despite evidence that racial differences are gradually blurring, racial preferences are very much still with us.  Mr. Cohen considers “The German Question Redux” and says the German model is good for Germans. But imposing it on all Europeans will destroy the union that saved Germany.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Laziness Dogman,” says Jeb Bush is firmly on the side of those who believe that workers must work harder, and affluent “job creators” should be taxed less.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I will never forget the October 2013 feature on National Geographic’s website:

There was a pair of portraits of olive-skinned, ruby-lipped boys, one with a mane of curly black hair, the other with the tendrils of blond curls falling into his face.

The portraits rested above the headline: “The Changing Face of America: We’ve become a country where race is no longer so black or white.” It was about the explosion of interracial marriage in America and how it is likely to impact both our concept of race and the physical appearances of Americans.

As the Pew Research Center pointed out in a 2012 report: “About 15 percent of all new marriages in the United States in 2010 were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another, more than double the share in 1980 (6.7 percent).”

People often think of the browning of America as a factor of immigration or racial/ethnic variances in birth rates, but it must also be considered this way: as a function of interracial coupling and racial identifications.

This freedom and fluidity is, on one level, a beautiful sign of societal progress toward less racial rigidity. But, at the same time, I am left with a nagging question: does this browning represent an overcoming, on some level, of anti-black racism, or a socio-evolutionary sidestepping of it?

As some make choices that challenge the rigid racial caste system in this country — one strictly drawn and enforced, at least in part, to regulate the parameters of freedom and enslavement — is everyone elevated in the process, or are those on the darkest end of the spectrum still subject to a discrimination that is skin-shallow and bone-deep?

How does blackness itself, the obsidian, ethereal blackness of the people who populated my world as a child, fit this shifting paradigm? Is the laughable “postracial” really some strange proxy for “postblack,” as Anna Holmes posited recently in The New York Times Magazine?

Biracial people can have their own challenges adapting to a world that adheres to the illusion of racial purity, in part because their very existence challenges the notion and reveals its ridiculousness.

That must be acknowledged. But what must also be acknowledged is that racial purity itself was an instrument developed for the protection of whiteness from “dilution,” and the furthest one could move from whiteness was blackness.

Blackness was denigrated in direct proportion to the degree that whiteness was preferred or valued as supreme. And on top of this issue of race as defined by color, there is an overlay of gender. In particular, how do women with darker skin fit this paradigm in a culture and world that seem to reflexively conflate lighter-skinned not only with beauty but often withfemininity itself?

I was reminded of this earlier this month when The Washington Post reported on a study about the popularity of multiracial people among online daters.

But even in this openness, there persisted a pro-white/anti-black bias. As The Post pointed out: “Hispanic women preferred men who identified as Hispanic-white above all else. Hispanic men were less selective — they liked Hispanic women, white women and Hispanic-white women about the same. White women responded to white men and Asian-white men the most, followed by Hispanic-white men and black-white men.”

Furthermore, among all groups, according to the study’s co-author, “Men didn’t play racial favorites as much as women did. Except when it comes to black women, who were responded to the least.”

While America’s history in skin-color politics is long and deep, this aversion to darkness — particularly dark femininity — and aspiration to lightness, or even whiteness, isn’t only an American phenomenon. It’s a global sickness informed by history and culture and influenced by colonialism and the export of popular culture.

In 2012, The New York Times ran an article about Chinese women wearing ski masks to the beach to keep from getting darker.

The Guardian reported in 2013 on “India’s obsession with fair skin” that incorporate the use of whitening cleansers that even include “vaginal washes.” As the paper put it: “Last year, Indians reportedly consumed 233 tons of skin-whitening products, spending more money on them than on Coca-Cola.”

And the BBC reported in 2013 that “a recent study by the University of Cape Town suggests that one woman in three in South Africa bleaches her skin”

It seems to me that we as a society — nationally and globally — must find some peace with dark skin itself, to not impute value and character onto color if harmony is truly to be had.

Until that is done, it often feels that we of darker bodies must resist the absorption of oppression and love ourselves defensively, as an equalizer. We must love our dark flesh as an antidote to a world that often disdains it.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Europe, once again at a moment of crisis, faces the quandary of how to deal with German power. The German Question is back.

It has existed, in different forms, since 1945, that moment of complete self-annihilation the Germans call “Stunde nul,” or Zero Hour. How to rebuild the country while keeping it under American tutelage? How to ensure it remained a political pygmy even when it had grown from the ruins to become an economic titan? Whether to reunite it, and how to do so within the framework of NATO and the European Union? How to integrate Germany so completely in Europe that it would never again be tempted to stray down some wayward path, or “Sonderweg”?

By the early 21st century, these issues had been resolved. The United States had helped fashion the German Federal Republic and underwritten its security. The European Union had defused Franco-German enmity, Europe’s perennial scourge; a tacit understanding gave France political primacy even if Germany had the economic muscle.

German unification had been achieved without German neutrality at a moment of Russian weakness and American deftness. A common currency, the euro, had been introduced that obliged Germany to give up the Deutsche mark, revered symbol of recovery, and bound the country’s fortunes irrevocably to the rest of Europe. A united Germany, anchored in the West, its borders undisputed, existed within a Europe whole and free.

The heavy lifting was done. America could lay down its European burden. If a French intellectual had observed in Cold War days that he liked Germany so much he was glad there were two of them, now, slowly, Europeans were getting used to one of them.

But the euro was a poisoned chalice. Conceived to bind Germany to Europe, it instead bound far-weaker European countries to Germany, in what for some, notably Greece, proved an unsustainable straitjacket. It turbo-charged German economic dominance as Berlin’s export machine went to work. It wed countries of far laxer and more flexible Mediterranean culture to German diktats of discipline, predictability and austerity. It produced growing pressure to surrender sovereignty — for a currency union without political union is problematic — and this yielding was inevitably to German power.

Two other developments thrust Germany into the very leadership role its history has taught it to mistrust. France grew weaker. De Gaulle’s all-powerful presidency became an indifferent sort of office presiding over a country of sullen introspection. No fig leaf could disguise that the Franco-German partnership was no longer one of equals. Europe, perhaps to Henry Kissinger’s belated satisfaction, had a phone number — in Angela Merkel’s office.

The second development was that the United States decided it was time to leave Europe to the Europeans. In a matter of war and peace — President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his stirring up of a small war in Eastern Ukraine — Washington is not even a party to the Minsk accords that constitute an attempt to clear up the mess. Germany, of course, is. How times have changed.

Precisely the thing that Germans were most uneasy about, and their neighbors, too, has now occurred. Germany dominates Europe to a degree unimaginable even 15 years ago. When I lived in Berlin around the turn of the century, Germans were still debating whether they could ever be a “normal” country and whether they could ever feel “proud.” Now such rumination just seems quaint. Germany has decided it has no choice but to assume its power.

It wants to use it well. But its domination is stirring resentment, on a massive scale in Greece, where flip references to the Nazis are common; in France, where the feeling has grown that German severity with an already humiliated Greece is overblown; in Italy, where German-imposed austerity is resented; and in other countries of high unemployment and economic stagnation, where old anger toward Germany has not been entirely effaced by the passage of seven decades.

In Britain, the case for staying in the European Union has been complicated by the fact that, as a non-euro country, it will never be part of the inner sanctum of power, the German-dominated eurozone. Anti-European British politicians, not to mention the powerful anti-European Murdoch press, find plenty of fodder with this theme.

Yes, the German Question is back. Is German domination compatible with further European integration or will it prove a fracturing force?

Merkel has tried to tread a fine line between the rage at Greece within her center-right party and her determination to hold the euro — and Europe — together. She has resisted the many German voices saying, “To heck with Greece. Enough!” But, overall, she has erred on the side of the unforgiving imposition of rigidity, austerity and responsibility lessons. German methods are good for Germans. But if Berlin now wants all Europeans to follow those methods, the Europe that offered postwar Germany a path to salvation will break apart.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Americans work longer hours than their counterparts in just about every other wealthy country; we are known, among those who study such things, as the “no-vacation nation.” According to a 2009 study, full-time U.S. workers put in almost 30 percent more hours over the course of a year than their German counterparts, largely because they had only half as many weeks of paid leave. Not surprisingly, work-life balance is a big problem for many people.

But Jeb Bush — who is still attempting to justify his ludicrous claim that he can double our rate of economic growth — says that Americans “need to work longer hours and through their productivity gain more income for their families.”

Mr. Bush’s aides have tried to spin away his remark, claiming that he was only referring to workers trying to find full-time jobs who remain stuck in part-time employment. It’s obvious from the context, however, that this wasn’t what he was talking about. The real source of his remark was the “nation of takers” dogma that has taken over conservative circles in recent years — the insistence that a large number of Americans, white as well as black, are choosing not to work, because they can live lives of leisure thanks to government programs.

You see this laziness dogma everywhere on the right. It was the hidden background to Mitt Romney’s infamous 47 percent remark. It underlay the furious attacks on unemployment benefits at a time of mass unemployment and on food stamps when they provided a vital lifeline for tens of millions of Americans. It drives claims that many, if not most, workers receiving disability payments are malingerers — “Over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts,” says Senator Rand Paul.

It all adds up to a vision of the world in which the biggest problem facing America is that we’re too nice to fellow citizens facing hardship. And the appeal of this vision to conservatives is obvious: it gives them another reason to do what they want to do anyway, namely slash aid to the less fortunate while cutting taxes on the rich.

Given how attractive the right finds the image of laziness run wild, you wouldn’t expect contrary evidence to make much, if any, dent in the dogma. Federal spending on “income security” — food stamps, unemployment benefits, and pretty much everything else you might call “welfare” except Medicaid — has shown no upward trend as a share of G.D.P.; it surged during the Great Recession and aftermath but quickly dropped back to historical levels. Mr. Paul’s numbers are all wrong, and more broadly disability claims have risen no more than you would expect, given the aging of the population. But no matter, an epidemic of laziness is their story and they’re sticking with it.

Where does Jeb Bush fit into this story? Well before his “longer hours” gaffe, he had professed himself a great admirer of the work of Charles Murray, a conservative social analyst most famous for his 1994 book “The Bell Curve,” which claimed that blacks are genetically inferior to whites. What Mr. Bush seems to admire most, however, is a more recent book, “Coming Apart,” which notes that over the past few decades working-class white families have been changing in much the same way that African-American families changed in the 1950s and 1960s, with declining rates of marriage and labor force participation.

Some of us look at these changes and see them as consequences of an economy that no longer offers good jobs to ordinary workers. This happened to African-Americans first, as blue-collar jobs disappeared from inner cities, but has now become a much wider phenomenon thanks to soaring income inequality. Mr. Murray, however, sees the changes as the consequence of a mysterious decline in traditional values, enabled by government programs which mean that men no longer “need to work to survive.” And Mr. Bush presumably shares that view.

The point is that Mr. Bush’s clumsy call for longer work hours wasn’t a mere verbal stumble. It was, instead, an indication that he stands firmly on the right side of the great divide over what working American families need.

There’s now an effective consensus among Democrats — on display in Hillary Clinton’s planned Monday speech on the economy — that workers need more help, in the form of guaranteed health insurance, higher minimum wages, enhanced bargaining power, and more. Republicans, however, believe that American workers just aren’t trying hard enough to improve their situation, and that the way to change that is to strip away the safety net while cutting taxes on wealthy “job creators.”

And while Jeb Bush may sometimes sound like a moderate, he’s very much in line with the party consensus. If he makes it to the White House, the laziness dogma will rule public policy.

Well…  Jeb! has had his 47% moment early…

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