Adding up social progress:
A study done recently, and I do not have it at my elbow, compared social safety nets in a number of countries, things like education, health care, public transportation and so forth.  Among the developed countries the US came in dead last and that was only after considerable fudging to keep us from looking as bad as we did at first glance; nobody in her or his right mind is going to challenge the US except for US voters, and then rarely.  The people organizing the study complained that about the only significant programs in place involved tackling racial inequality.  So how have we been doing?  Let’s look at the present and the bad old days. 

I remember as a child puzzling over a sign on the city busses that said, “White pass seat from front  Colored “  “ “  rear”  Older children explained that it meant the Blacks had to sit in the back.  Apparently “pass” was actually “pass.” and meant “passengers.”  Well that was not right.  The back of the bus was over the engine and transmission and was noisy.  I didn’t know.  I never rode back there, and on one day when I was absolutely the only one on the bus other than the driver and went to the back seat all I noticed was that it was spacious and seemed to be an inviting social environment. 

At that time, and I get this by hunting up numbers on Google, the proportion of Black people in prison and jail compared with their total numbers was higher than it was for whites.  Obviously something was wrong with the legal system.  I would have said that the laws needed to be changed so that they could go about their lives without disproportionately being punished by rules instituted by the majority.

Way back a hundred years ago the death rate of Black women from childbirth was twice that of the White women.  That was obviously a problem that needed to be addressed. 

And coming back up to the fifties Black people on average were earning less than Whites.

Ok, suppose we are back then.  We have four problems that need to be fixed and the resources of a super power to throw around.  The first thing to do is to establish our priorities.  Number one has to be that maternal mortality.  Anybody with a heart knows that.  Sure, you can point out that the fertile woman is far and away the most valuable person to the society; without her we’re all dead.  But just think about how terrible maternal mortality is on any scale from personal suffering, family bereavement, anguish to all concerned and so forth.  That has to be the start, and even if it is the end we can congratulate ourselves on a job of supreme importance well done.  Shout it from the rooftops.  Scream in people’s faces.  Fix the (insert bad language) thing.

Second is that malignant gap between black and white earning.  No observer can deny (remember, we are back then getting ready to fix things) that Blacks work harder.  The men do the most strenuous tasks in blistering heat and the women take care of white women’s homes while working out with their friends who will baby sit while mothers are off earning.  Sure there are some rich ones.  The richest man in our town is owner of the most high status store, an office supply place that is pure pleasure to visit.  The man at the ice plant works with a sort of picked-on attitude, but he is always there and no weekend adventure is complete without dropping by to pick up a sack of his ice.  Eventually he will buy the place, move the whole building to a nice neighborhood and retire a millionaire after putting all his children through college.  The town won’t seem the same without him.  But they are exceptional.  On average the Black people make less.  That must be fixed.

There are more black people than whites in prison and jail has to be third.  It doesn’t affect everybody and it is to a certain extent a matter or choice.  But the choice can be tricky.  My mother has a teenage Black friend.  She hears that he is in jail.  She hurries down there in high dudgeon trailing all the status of a woman married to a prestigious professor at the university and who is raising four bright sons, all with good grades and none ever having been in trouble of any sort (except with Daddy, of course) muttering to herself, “He would never do anything wrong.”  She arrives and demands answers.  Her young friend was among a group of boys who mistreated a girl.  Was he there at the time?  No ma’am.  Why is he here?  Well the others say he had been with them, ma’am.  Had been?  He decided they were acting like jerks and demanded to be let out of the car and left them before the crime, ma’am.  So he did exactly what you would be proud of your own son for doing?  Yes, ma’am.  Is there any reason not to let him out right now?  No, ma’am. Do so.  Yes, ma’am. 

Of course it should never have happened.  And there are few woman like my mother.  But her friend did make the right choice at the right time and that was an enormous help. 

Then there is the bus thing.  That’s ritual, idle ceremony.  It symbolizes something or other we don’t like, but it is not nearly so important. 

Score card time.  Maternal mortality: Black women now have four times the maternal mortality of White women.  I got this from the Economist.  Bless them.  (“Exceptionally Deadly” ECONOMIST vol. 416 no. 8947 July 18, 2015 page 28)  It’s what has me pumped.  I tend to take nothing seriously, but this one gets past my defenses.  Oh that’s not the whole story.  Between 1990 and 2013 US maternal mortality rate across the board has risen from maybe 12 per 100,000 births, close to the best in the world right behind the UK to about 18, by far the worst in the developed world while the others have seen comparable improvement (except the UK, which has only improved a little but it still the best in the world). 

The gap between Black incomes and White incomes.  The Blacks are richer in all, but the gap has increased. 

The disproportionately higher incarceration rate for Blacks.  It has increased.

Riding in the front of the bus.  Yep, we’ve really showed them there.  Not a single bus in the country segregates its seating.  Not one.  Wow.  Makes a guy proud to be a social activist, eh?  When it comes to symbols we are always right for the simple reason that we are the ones who say what a symbol means, so we have to be right. 

My burden is fertility.  Stop killing those babies and I’ll shut up.  But please, somebody speak out for the mothers.  I don’t care about your symbols.

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