“When President Roosevelt signed Social Security into law in 1935, 65 percent of African Americans nationally and between 70 and 80 percent in the South were ineligible” (Coates 21).
This quote comes from the fifth section of the article The Case for Reparations, entitled The Quiet Plunder. Coates explains the foundation of America being built upon slavery and oppression, and how the government sought to keep barriers in place for black Americans. This bled even into the New Deal, which sought to help citizens but, it seems, not all citizens.
This quote, I believe, represents the main underlying issues with policy and law: the people writing them up and what their beliefs are. It reminded me of other assignments of mine in my Social Welfare Policy & Advocacy II class. Asked to identify a piece of legislation and create a policy brief regarding it, I had found the Hyde Amendment. It was passed not long after Roe v. Wade and ensures that federal funds cannot cover abortion. This semester, I followed and advocated for the EACH Woman Act, which would do the opposite and ensure federal funds can cover the procedure.
When Henry Hyde pushed for that amendment, he may not have been thinking of specific people he’d be hurting, rather he saw this as one way that he could stop the power of Roe v. Wade. Still, it’s undeniable that he knew low-income women and many others would be specifically left behind. I don’t know what was going through Roosevelt’s head, meanwhile, but I think it comes back to our discussions of privilege; him not having to think about anyone other than white Americans when trying to help the country.
Both these men were problematic in that they created legislation that harmed others, intentionally or not. They may not have been alone in their decisions, but they were decisions that still came from them. It might be said that this was a long time ago, that politicians are better now. I would disagree. Just look at that the so-called “heartbeat bill” passed recently, which harms many women seeking an abortion. The bias and beliefs of policy-makers undoubtedly leads to oppression and discrimination, which Coates intends to highlight in his article.
Now, I’m aware that not everyone involved in creating laws is inherently corrupt. For example, there are several social workers in the Maine State House who bring their perspective into politics in order to help others. Passionate legislators such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also fight for social issues regularly. It can just get frightening to know what gets missed in bills due to a lack of understanding, implicit and explicit bias. It’s even more frightening, I think, when it is unintentional; people who are seen as so unimportant that they don’t even cross the minds of those in power. Roosevelt made a lot of good decisions, but this quote alone shows he wasn’t perfect. As Coates says, our country is made up of “the work of fallible humans” (35).
How might we address and therefore remove implicit bias in decision making?
Class discussion and impact:
My contributions: I spoke a few times today. I noted that oppression tends to be subtle, like real estate agents only showing people of color specific neighborhoods and increasing segregation. I talked about how people like to make an example of ‘success stories’ as if that erases all other issues. I connected this piece back to DAWNLAND in terms of how opening the discussion about atrocities is almost more important than any financial reward, though later noted that opening that door would reveal so many other issues and hurt groups. Finally, I drew off of Anna’s comment about roleplaying history with my own school experience, noting that it was important not just to create a game like that but to open that discussion afterward.
Others’ contributions: Anna connected this article back to Stacy Abrams and voter suppression, how oppression is made to be the fault of the individual rather than the system. Jill responded that many neighborhoods are still restricted and labeled as places only for people of color despite the fact that white people in poverty could be there as well. Korin opened our conversation about the importance of education, how learning properly about past wrongs might prevent future issues.
I particularly enjoyed the end of the discussion when we narrowed in on education. I think it’s very easy to repeat history if you don’t learn about it, if you aren’t aware of it. Anna’s idea about teaching how to learn history rather than history itself I think was very important, as many adults still struggle to see multiple sides of a situation. I do think that in general we as a society need to be having more meaningful conversations about our past.