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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

November 24, 2009

Written by C.N.

Recession Can Lead to Better Race Relations

Many of my recent posts have described various examples in which the current recession has led many Americans — particularly Whites — to feel financially insecure and threatened. From there, they become more likely to scapegoat or lash out at others around them, particularly those who are racially or culturally different. It’s basic Sociology 101 — economic competition leads to racial hostility.

However and contrary to this established pattern, economic difficulties may also actually lead to better racial relations and harmony. How? Focusing on the situation of White and Black residents in a suburb of Atlanta, GA, a recent article from the New York Times describes:

Blacks and whites have encountered one another in increasing numbers recently in the crowded waiting rooms of the welfare office and at the food pantry, where many of both races have ventured for the first time. Struggling black-owned businesses are attracting the attention of white patrons. Neighbors are commiserating across racial lines. . . .

“Right now, a lot of white people are in this situation,” [Keasha Taylor, who is Black] said, recalling the conversation later. “We’re already used to poverty; they’re really not.” . . .

The recession hit Henry County . . . at a time when it was already struggling to come to terms with startling demographic change. In 1990, the county was almost 90 percent white. Now, as its population has more than tripled to 192,000, according to 2008 census estimates, the white percentage of the population has shrunk to 60 percent.

The county’s elected government is still all white and Republican, and some leaders and newcomers alike have tried in various ways to make local board and governments more diverse. But nothing else has worked to remove barriers as quickly as economic hardship. . . .

One reason blacks have not gained more political power is that they are not heavily concentrated in any single area in the county — the cul-de-sacs carved out of farmland and pastures in the last decade became racially mixed enclaves for the upwardly mobile. Now, the foreclosure notices and uncut lawns in those same subdivisions reinforce the notion that everyone is in the same sinking boat.

I suppose it’s like the old adage, “misery loves company.” On the one hand, it is a little sad that individuals and families apparently have to experience such turmoil for them to eventually turn to their racially diverse neighbors for support and sympathy.

But on the other hand, I personally would much rather have Americans from all racial backgrounds support each other during times of hardship than to compete against, fight with, and scapegoat each other, something that we unfortunately see too much of. It’s important to highlight how Americans from different backgrounds can put aside their “me first” attitudes and instead, draw on our common humanity to help our neighbors in times of need, as this recent NBC News clip shows:

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I hope all of us as Americans are able to be thankful that people who can give sympathy, support, and assistance in times of need are out there — sometimes they just have a different skin color or come from a different country than yours.