Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More on Race, Politics, and Dare Not Walk Alone

Carrying on from the previous post about racism that has surfaced during the Obama primary campaign, it is useful to ask where the racism resides. Dare Not Walk Alone paints a disturbing picture of one Florida community where the effects of past racism are still felt, even though none of the local officials in power there today could be described as racist.

The film quotes some pretty stark statistics that present a local snapshot of the racial divide 40 years after the first civil rights act was signed into law. One statistic that was not included in the film: infant mortality rates. Across America as a whole, black babies are nearly 2.5 times more likely than white babies to die before reaching their first birthday; but things were worse than that for black babies born in St. Johns County in the period just prior to the movie being made (2002-2004). Their mortality rate was 18.2 per 1,000 live births, way lower than the rate of 74.4 in Haiti but worse than Albania, Fiji, Grenada, and Vietnam to name a few). That number of 18.2 is also pretty dismal compared to an overall US average of 6.8 and a rate of 5.2 for white babies born in St. Johns County (these numbers are from the CDC, CIA, and PRB).

It has to be said that, following new initiatives by both the state and non-profit groups, the infant mortality rate for black babies born in St Johns County appears to have been reduced in the last couple of years. However, there is still a black/white divide both locally and nationally. That's not a political statement but a fact. Where things get political is when you talk about why the gap exists and what should be done to close it. As with the black/white unemployment gap, some responses are potentially incendiary, like: "Those kids should get jobs instead of hanging out on the corners." Reaction to a statement like that can vary, depending on the race of the person making it. But whoever says it needs to bear in mind that getting a job is easier said than done, at least in some parts of America.

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