Despite Obama’s Election, Racial Oppression
Still Evident in the United States
|Professor Noel Ignatiev giving CASAR lecture
Race and labor specialist Noel Ignatiev of the Massachusetts College of Art delivered the first CASAR lecture of the new semester, “The 2008 Election and the Current State of Race in America,” in West Hall on February 12. Well-known for his best selling book, How the Irish Became White, Professor Ignatiev presented an in-depth assessment of race relations in the United States.
Ignatiev spoke about the absurdities of trying to sort people into different races. Seemingly white parents can produce a black child. This overlapping of racial possibilities has led to suppression of racial backgrounds and even to suicide.
Saying that unlike race itself, racial oppression can be defined and documented, Ignatiev invoked Huck Finn’s father to show how often the most degraded white man is exalted over the black man. Multiple areas of race discrimination are still evident today in the United States, Professor Ignatiev said. Even with the creation of social security and unemployment insurance in the 1930s, blacks, because they were mainly agricultural and domestic workers, were excluded. President Roosevelt’s encouragement of home ownership through government loans, though supported by liberals, actually worked against blacks.
Criminal and educational statistics reveal an increasingly grim picture of oppression. Although blacks make up only 12 percent of the total US population, they form 73 percent of the prison population. For every black man in university, there are 100 in jail, Ignatieve reported.
Ignatiev did point to some improvements spurred by social changes during World War II. Today there are thousands of Afro-American millionaires and even black women executives in non-black companies. But the situation has not improved for everyone. Blacks still have difficulty finding taxis in New York City, and, ironically, large prison populations work to the advantage of some whites.
With a brief nod toward the first part of the lecture title, Ignatiev said that Barack Obama’s election may break barriers, but Afro-Americans on the lowest rungs of the social ladder may be even worse off. He called racial oppression in the United States today “a daily 9/11,” and concluded, “I do not believe the black man has been accepted in the United States.”