Home > Essays > Nick Kristof’s Assessment of America’s Apartheid Long Overdue… But We Won’t Change Minds Until We Change Hearts

Nick Kristof’s Assessment of America’s Apartheid Long Overdue… But We Won’t Change Minds Until We Change Hearts

May 23, 2021

In his op ed essay today, Nick Kristof understands how America’s de facto apartheid system works to exacerbate the divide between rich and poor and he also understands the impact America’s de facto apartheid has on opportunities for Black children raised in poverty. The essay wishes that some kind of video about America’s de facto apartheid could capture the attention of voters the way the George Floyd video drew attention to the inequitable treatment blacks receive from police. Such a video would draw attention to the zoning laws, the deleterious impact of relying on property taxes to funds schools, the tax system which focuses less attention on affluent parents than it does on those who earn less than $20,000. Two particular paragraphs in the opening half of the essay describing the problem stood out:

Educated white Americans are now repulsed at the thought of systems of separate and unequal drinking fountains for Black Americans but seem comfortable with a Jim Crow financing system resulting in unequal schools for Black children — even though schools are far more consequential than water fountains.

Perhaps that’s because we and our children have a stake in this unequal system. Similarly, we accept that elite universities offer legacy preferences that amount to affirmative action for highly privileged children, with bonus consideration for big donors. This is one reason some universities have more students from the richest 1 percent than from the poorest 60 percent.

A later paragraph offers some policy and program ideas to address these “root inequities”:

We don’t have perfect solutions, but many programs promote opportunity and reduce race gaps over time. The time to start is early childhood, with home visiting, quality child care and pre-K. Baby bonds can reduce wealth gaps, and child tax credits cut child poverty. Job training and a higher minimum wage can help families.

Kristof then bemoans the fact that many voters will support funding targeted to close economic gaps but oppose those that are targeted to address racial disparities. I fear that Mr. Kristof may be overlooking a sad reality: that voters are increasingly opposed to ANY interventions designed to “transfer wealth” to achieve “equity”… because “equity” is now a dog whistle for “race”. Moreover, many of the solutions to closing the gap between children raised in affluence and children raised in poverty require a shift in the hearts of voters… and that cannot be achieved by providing a comprehensive program, a compelling video, or a slate of compelling facts.

Early childhood education is a case in point. One reason polls oppose early childhood education is that it is too often proposed on the cheap offering a mandatory half-day program often only three days-a-week. A mandated part-time  half-day pre-K program for all would have no impact on those affluent parents who are paying for full day private preschool program but would greatly complicate the lives of working class families whose children are cared for full-time by grandparents or at low cost certified child care programs offered by neighbors. They too often see progressive programs designed to help children raised in poverty as government interference in their lives, programs that take THEIR hard earned money to help “lazy, undeserving” people get “free stuff”.

Until we can convince voters that neighbors need to help each other we’ll be pitting the low income wage earners against each other…

And who wins in the current environment? Corporations, who use this ethos to sustain their race to the bottom wage scales and their desire for low taxes and high profits…. corporations who suggest that they cannot afford another dollar of taxes to pay for the kinds of programs that will ultimately uplift the quality of life for all…. corporations that own media outlets who thrive on contentious debates over who will pay for what but avoid reporting on who is paying for politicians.

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