Tim Wise has written another brilliant essay on race. He presents Jeremy, a white guy who's complaining about the economy:
Of Collateral Damage and Roosting Chickens: Reflections on Racism, the Economy and the High Cost of White Ambivalence
For instance, consider the current housing meltdown. Although the crisis is now being felt nationwide, in communities that are urban, suburban and rural, and by people across the color spectrum, things weren't always that way. Nearly fifteen years ago, Michael Hudson detailed in his groundbreaking book, Merchants of Misery, the way that poor folks--disproportionately of color--were being gouged by high interest lenders on the secondary mortgage market, thanks to discriminatory lending practices. Likewise, community-based groups in places like North Carolina were taking on predatory lenders in the late 90s and early 2000s, like Citi, which was caught charging black families hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional mortgage payments over the life of their loans, by steering them into loan instruments that were more costly than necessary, even when those families could have qualified for lower interest rates.
Yet consistently, when activists would raise these issues, decry the racial and class unfairness inherent to these practices and call for regulations, most of the media, the public and lawmakers routinely ignored them. No national politicians campaigned on platforms to crack down on such policies, to strengthen fair lending laws, or to reign in the interest that lenders could charge. The market, they would insist, was sufficient to regulate these matters.
Of course, once it became apparent that lenders were not going to be heavily scrutinized or regulated when it came to these activities, high-cost mortgage instruments became even more prevalent, and began to spread, from the communities of color and poor communities where they had begun, to solidly middle class and largely white spaces too. Independent mortgage brokers, which are not regulated the way banks are, began to offer loans to consumers based on little if any paperwork to demonstrate the payments could be made. These lenders had little incentive to control such activity, since they were going to sell the loans in bundles to wealthy investors anyway. By the time families were in default and being foreclosed on, the brokers would have made their money and moved on. As a result of the spread of high-cost mortgages, folks in solid middle class counties like Suffolk and Nassau, on Long Island, are now facing higher foreclosure rates than residents in Brooklyn or Queens.
So in a very real sense, white ambivalence to the suffering of black and brown folks opened the floodgates to even more risky economic activity, and this time, in far whiter communities as well. Had racial inequity and injustice been seen as a problem early on, perhaps the market for such predatory loans would have been shut down or at least heavily regulated, thereby staving off crisis. Clearly, the millions of white folks who got roped into these instruments by lenders promising that everything would be alright are suffering today, precisely because the pain was not taken seriously when it belonged to someone else.
Another way of putting this is Martin Niemöller's well-known statement:
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
THEN THEY CAME for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.