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During the High Holidays: Confront the Hardest Truths about Race

During the High Holidays: Confront the Hardest Truths about Race

During the High Holidays, we try to ask ourselves the toughest questions about who we are and what we believe; we do not shy away from uncomfortable truths about how we live and our place in society. 

With that in mind, lets focus on race in America.

For the past several weeks, we have decried American racism. We are horrified by videotaped examples of police violence against African Americans, and our system of mass incarceration. We rail against systemic or structural racism in the criminal justice system, in schools and in workplaces. We abhor implicit bias, and how it restricts opportunities in life for blacks in America.

All of that is as it should be. But thats the easy part. Lets also consider some of the harder truths:

  • According to FBI data, the per capita homicide rate among African Americans is six times the rate among whites even though the horrific levels of urban violence in the 1970s and 1980s are mostly gone. Might this fact reinforce (though not justify) the worst stereotypes and fears of the police, their use of racial profiling, and their tendencies to overreact in moments when they feel defied or threatened?
  • About 70 percent of black children are raised by single parents a trend that predates incarceration and other travails of black men and which dramatically limits black household income and wealth, and the lifetime opportunities of black children;
  • College attainment and earnings among blacks are primarily limited by an achievement gap (measured by grades and test scores), to a much greater extent than educational or labor market discrimination, and research suggests that much of this gap begins in the home; and
  • Segregated schools reinforce racial achievement gaps, and these schools reflect the reality of ongoing segregation in US residential neighborhoods by race and class.

And now the hardest part:

  • Most of us at Adam Shalom have chosen to live in affluent and predominantly white neighborhoods, where segregation is preserved not only by discrimination but also by high-price housing and zoning that prevents the building of lower-cost housing thus protecting and inflating our property values. 

Of course, we choose to live there because the homes are attractive, the schools are high-quality and the streets are safe, despite the costs we impose on people of color and those with lower incomes. 

So are we all racists? Or are we simply the limousine liberalsof the 21st century? 

None of this justifies the killing by police of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and hundreds like them. None of this means we should tolerate large and ongoing racial disparities in all walks of life. All of it can be viewed as the by-products of a long and troubling legacy of US racism.

But, to really confront and change the realities of race in America, we must be honest with ourselves and others about the hard facts and current complexities of racial issues. Feel-good slogans and one-sided rhetoric and prescriptions will not get the job done. 

Let us pledge to honestly confront hard realities this year, and not recoil from difficult truths regarding this vexing issue.

Harry J. Holzer

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