PRRAC Poverty & Race Research Action Council
Home About PRRAC Current Projects Publications Newsletters Resources Contact Us Support PRRAC Join Our Email List

"No Surprises,"

by Frances Fox Piven November/December 1998 issue of Poverty & Race

There is not much to be surprised by in the Report to the President: airy and timid calls for more dialogue, more data, more effort to understand our history and so on. There is even, in true Clintonese fashion, a list of ten things every American can do to encourage racial conciliation. The Board compliments the nation lavishly on our racial progress - and there has been progress - but it does not frontally address the growing and deep divide that compounds race differences with class differences. Obviously, this new racial and class configuration is the result of the rapid polarization of income and wealth of the past 25 years which, given persistent racism together with educational disadvantage, hits racial minorities harder. The rich who get richer are white. The working and middle classes are more diverse, to be sure. But the poor are poorer, and the welfare rolls are increasingly composed of Blacks and Hispanics.

The Report offers little in the way of direction or urgency to address these conditions. There is mention of an increase in the minimum wage, expansion of health insurance and support for organized labor. But these are familiar and vague proposals. There is no bold call for intervening in labor markets, for correcting wealth and tax inequities or for reforms that might make votes count more than money in electoral politics. Even the New York Times seems to sense something is missing. Comparing the Report to the Kerner Commission report issued 30 years ago, it notices the differences and explains the comparative boldness of the Kerner recommendations by pointing out that they were formulated in the context of spreading riots in the nation's major cities. Maybe that is what is required to get egalitarian reform on the agenda in the United States.

A final and curious point still puzzles me. In the wake of the scandal that swamped the cautious Clinton reform agenda, Blacks have rallied to the President, with a firmness shown
by no other group in America, and with talk about the deep cultural affinities between this President and American Blacks: the taste for soul food and the saxophone, the preacher-like Clinton cadences and so on. No doubt this is partly a reaction to the draconian neo-liberal policies associated with the makers of the coup d'etat unfolding in Washington. Perhaps it also reflects fear of the fundamentalist political culture, which Right-wing Republicans are trying to foist on the country and their zealous pursuit of personal and especially sexual morality through state authoritarianism. Think how similar the themes raised now in the campaign to oust the President are to the themes of sexual immorality during the campaign against welfare mothers.

Frances Fox Piven is on the faculty of the Graduate School of the City University of NY. She is co-authot with Richard Cloward of Regulation the Poor, and The Breaking of the American Social Contract.

Join Our Email List
Search for:             
Join Our Email List