“We have had this remarkable growth of the black middle and upper middle class and we also have this black underclass that is perpetuating itself.”—Henry Louis Gates
The word “underclass” means poor black people and they are responsible for their own condition. So sayeth white America’s go-to black man, Henry Louis Gates. In fact they are poor because they have no jobs, or low wage jobs, or are churned in and out of the mass incarceration complex and are, therefore, condemned to future joblessness. Oh yes, and racism diminishes their odds of getting a good education or being hired at all or living where they want regardless of income.
Those statements are easily provable and anyone with a modicum of common sense can recite the reasons for black poverty with little prompting. Yet Gates, the supreme hustler-in-chief of black America, has a new scheme to use the suffering of others for his own personal gain, courtesy of one of his rich, white benefactors.
Glenn Hutchins is the founder of Silver Lake Partners private equity firm. Silver Lake and other hedge funds help rich people get richer without producing anything of value for anybody else. Hutchins’s $15 million gift brought the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research into existence at Harvard University and Gates is director of the Hutchins Center.
Gates is expert at currying favor with Hutchins and his ilk, as the hack of Sony corporation emails revealed two years ago. He knows how to get their love and their money and those two facts should disqualify him from being taken seriously by the rest of black America. There is no need for a 21st century Booker T. Washington.
The Hutchins Center recently announced a $10 million gift from its benefactor to determine how best to address inequality. The grandiosely named Multidimensional Inequality in the 21st Century: the Project on Race and Cumulative Adversity is supposed to tell otherwise intelligent people how to help the poor. Researcher William Julius Wilson says “Our goal is to provide information to policy makers who want to make good decisions. If they have the information, we can decide how to attack the problem.” Hutchins adds, “We have the opportunity to do non-ideological, evidence-based policy making.”
But the issue of poverty is quite ideological and that is why think tanks and hedge fund guys have no business discussing it. Black people are poor because of two things, capitalism and racism. Their situation will improve only when the twin demons are tamed.
It is important to note that poverty wouldn’t exist without the great wealth of institutions and individuals. Harvard University has a $36 billion endowment and that is prima facie proof of large scale theft by generations of powerful people. If it were dissolved and distributed to black people every man, woman and child would have at least $1,000. That might not get people out of poverty but it would be more helpful than studying black people yet again and revealing what is already obvious.
If any class is perpetuating itself, the ruling class is the one. They use noblesse oblige and public relations efforts to make themselves look good when they are the actual cause of so much human suffering.
As luck would have it, this dubious initiative was announced as Harvard’s dining hall workers entered the second week of their strike. They earn an average of $33,000 per year and their very wealthy employer wants them to pay more for their health care. Hutchins money would be better used helping these people pay their doctor bills.
But philanthropy can’t ease the suffering caused by capitalist predation any more than nonsensical academic studies can. Systemic change is the answer to ending poverty but Gates and Hutchins have no real interest in doing that. If they did, they wouldn’t need to spend a dime.
They could use their influence to do some very simple things. They might advocate for the highly vaunted but still inadequate $15 per hour minimum wage. Perhaps they can use their connections to speak up for a guaranteed minimum income or Medicare for all. They might oppose mass incarceration or privatized education through the charter school fraud. They could say that Hutchins and his friends should pay higher taxes. The list of policies that would end poverty are quite easy to identify. No long winded study titles are needed.
Gates again uses black people to improve his own lot in life. He hosts television shows and writes books and has the ear of the corporate media because of his constant disparagements of black people. That is a constant for Henry Louis Gates Inc. Making white people feel comfortable is his modus operandi and it is quite lucrative. It is difficult to know if Gates thinks that there is some mystery as to why an underclass exists or if he already knows but has cynically chosen to get paid as much as he can.
The waning days of the Obama administration are an opportunity to rethink this sad spectacle of looking to black faces in high places to resolve our problems. The high place is usually the source of the problem and elite institutions like Harvard are Exhibit A. As one activist said of the $10 million hoax, “I could do a lot with that money. We don’t need another study.”
Giving people money will end poverty. So obvious and so simple. No wonder this simple logic is ignored.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.