As seen from afar, the USA seems to be having a problem with racial tensions – police shootings, protests, “Black Lives Matter“, etc., and racial inequality such as found at Facebook. Nobody with any sense doubts that there is racism in the USA – everywhere there are bone-headed bigots worrying about the colour of the dead stuff that keeps the squishy bits on the inside.
But we may be too quick to assume that it is simply racism; many of the symptoms could well be caused by wealth inequality and relative poverty.
The wealthy (and their children) are more like to succeed because of a number of factors :-
- They are more able to afford private education – either to supplement state education or to replace it with presumably higher quality private education.
- They are more able to afford higher education; even though it is possible for those who cannot afford it to get loans to pay for higher education in the USA, this will leave those in debt at a disadvantage.
- Social networks (the “old boy network”) that the wealthy have access to includes greater opportunities at internships at organisations that give their children greater opportunities.
- And internships themselves seem designed to favour the children of the wealthy – unpaid work in the hope of getting a better job at the end of it is something that is only a suitable option if you already have money to live on.
There are those who point at people from relatively poor backgrounds who have “made it”, and there’s certainly no doubt that exceptional people can succeed whatever their background. But most of us are not exceptional.
Relative poverty and lack of opportunity can easily lead to frustration with the system, and amongst the criminally inclined a tendency to resort to crime – those with more wealth or more opportunities will not resort to crime to the same extent.
So does the USA have a racism problem or a wealth inequality problem? I’m not sure what the answer is, but I would not be at all surprised if the answer is both.