It has everything to do with race

Mark Hammontree

“Why does it always have to be about race?”

It’s a seemingly innocent question, born from a sense of frustration about being forced to converse about a topic that makes much of the American public uncomfortable.

But that question does damage. It discounts the reality of ongoing racism in today’s society, it turns attention away from the root of many of our problems, and it glosses over the legacy of this country’s greatest sin, which the lowest in our communities are still bearing the weight of every day.

See, it is about race. Just about every social issue. Poverty disproportionately affects people of color, and it has everything to do with race, from employment and housing discrimination to inequitable education access, lending practices and the perceptions society has about welfare, unemployment, etc. All of these issues are directly connected to the unequal privilege of people based on race.

There’s been a lot in the news about the closing of state driver’s license offices across the state, but particularly in the high rate of closings in the Black Belt counties, many of which contain the state’s highest percentages of black citizens. The problem with these closings is that Alabama law requires a photo ID in order to vote in state and national elections. Given that many of those in these in communities do not have the time or means to travel counties over to the relatively few DMV offices remaining open in order to get a license, the decision to close these offices has sparked outrage nationally.

The governor’s office has said repeatedly that these closings have nothing to do with discrimination, but rather are the reality of the budget cuts recently passed by legislature and signed by the governor himself.

But it is about discrimination, and it is about race. It probably wasn’t conscious or discussed, but the offices in these counties were seen as expendable – as were the state parks and the ABC liquor stores. These state services were seen as expendable because the people are seen as expendable.

Our economic system relies on haves and have-nots, on business owners and executives, on professionals and managers, on skilled workers and on unskilled labor. There has to be a top, and at every point in our history, the group in charge has decided to put structures in place that the bottom will be “them” and not “us.”

The white majority, often purposefully, but as often unconsciously, has created the justifications and “reasons” they need to sleep well at night while the marginalized populations fall victim to reality.

It is about race. And if anyone claims to truly care about others, about holding up the heretofore unrealized ideal of the American dream, where hard work and positivity make us all equal, we have to acknowledge the role race plays in the inequities of our society.

Mark Hammontree is a senior majoring in secondary education – language arts. His column runs weekly.