Recently, I posed an argument about two Americas, personified by George W. Bush and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Over the past few days, the controversy surrounding Donald Sterling has offered even more evidence of two Americas. Let’s start with the unlikeliest of places—the ever-ineloquent Charles Barkley, who weighed into the Sterling situation by noting that Barkley (and other NBA players) is Black, but he isn’t Black:
While there are many things jumbled and fumbled in Barkley’s comments, we must not ignore his recognition of the powerful connection between race and class in the U.S.
In fact, Sterling’s own contradictory and illogical mixture of racism and sexism exposed in his taped conversation with his girlfriend is a perverse manifesto that reflects Barkley’s garbled argument, a recognition of two Americas, I think, well articulated by Jesse Myerson:
The logic of capitalism and racism are the same in this regard – those in power develop attitudes of supremacy to justify reaping the spoils of mass social repression. Sterling, the owner, regards the players as inferior to him and people like him, since they don’t “make the game.” Sterling, the racist, regards black people as inferior to him and people like him, unfit to live, say, in Sterling’s real estate holdings. There is only one Sterling, the players are black, and the supremacist ideologies are effectively indistinct.
The NBA is a microcosm of the corrosive power of capitalism to create the necessary two Americas that feed the possibility of capitalism itself. Black athletes are well rewarded—and it seems by the likes of Sterling, thus tolerated—because they contribute to the perpetuation of the white and privileged ownership in spite of the racism remaining among the privileged.
The two Americas, then, are a complex mix of both race and class, or more accurately, a segregation of both race and class that continues to allow only some token access into the larger context of privilege (but race remains a marker for the tolerated).
Far beneath this sensationalized radar, however, is yet another story of two Americas—one acted out in perpetuity throughout the South, or as I have labeled my home region, the self-defeating South.
Jillian Berman’s When It Comes To Health Care, There Are 2 Americas, And These Maps Are Proof presents a stark picture of two Americas:
Many of the worst states for health care have several things in common. They’re mostly in the South and are more likely to be among the poorest in the nation. Many of them have long had unusually tight standards for applicants to qualify for Medicaid, said Schoen, and many have been slow to expand children’s health insurance.
What’s more, 16 of the 26 states at the bottom of the Commonwealth Fund’s scorecard aren’t expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare….
Black Americans are likely to suffer disproportionately from these policies. More than two-thirds of poor, uninsured blacks live in states not expanding Medicaid, according to a December 2013 New York Times report. Already, the rate of avoidable early deaths among blacks is twice as high as among whites in many states, Commonwealth found. That gap is even wider in states with higher early death rates overall.
The healthcare debate shows that two Americas result from a complex mix of race and class—but again driven by a misplaced faith in the free market (capitalism) blended with an irrational distrust of “government” by the very people most likely to be mis-served by the Invisible Hand but well served by a robust Commons. This refusal to embrace universal healthcare (or something like it) is mirrored in the same antagonism toward unions throughout the South, yet another wedge that insures two Americas continue.
And since I opened this post with the ineloquent, I must offer the final words to a poet, who confronts the two Americas, grounded in geography, race, and class: