As an affordable housing advocate, I was struck by Dalton’s simple analysis of the usually unspoken, at times almost subconscious subtext to so much political debate on social issues in the United States:
As a nation we lack a consensus concerning how to deal with the problems that bedevil us most. We seem unable to take sustained action in any direction for very long. And we don’t trust anyone enoughto let them lead. We are, in short, politically paralyzed.It’s helpful to be reminded of some of the fears underlying these issues. One of Dalton’s main points is that until we address these fears out in the open, they will continue to remain their poisonous, hidden or sometimes only half-hidden power.
The reasons for this paralysis are several, but chief among them is our failure to engage eaach other openly and honestly around race. Think about the issues which sit atop the American agenda: crime; welfare reform; taxes; government spending; the plight of the middle class; family values; immigration; drug abuse; AIDS. Together they carry enough racial freight to sink a nation.
In the popular imagination, criminals are Black or Brown; crime victims White. Welfare cheats are dark of hue; the “forgotten middle class” is light. Governmental “taxing and spending” favors racial minorities and comes out of the hides of the White majority. Problem immigrants have yellow or brown skin; the citizens who foot the bill do not. Needless to say, I do not endorse these beliefs, or the skewed view of reality they project. My point is simply that our thinking about the nation’s most pressing social problems has become deeply “racialized”—saturated with attitudes, beliefs, and fears about race.
We tend to dance around this fact whenever we publicly debate social policy.