What's going on here? It's a bittersweet human interest tale with some facts and figures mixed in, not too cloying.
Blacks and whites have encountered one another in increasing numbers recently in the crowded waiting rooms of the welfare office and at the food pantry, where many of both races have ventured for the first time. Struggling black-owned businesses are attracting the attention of white patrons. Neighbors are commiserating across racial lines.
Across the country, there have been many reports about the recession’s racial divide, as blacks have lost their jobs and houses at far higher rates than whites. But Henry County, about a 30-minute drive south of downtown Atlanta, has a very different profile from the rest of the nation. In Henry, the median income of black families, $56,715 in 2008, approaches that of whites, $69,728 (nationally, the average income gap was $20,000). Blacks in Henry County, many of whom are retirees from the North or professionals who work in Atlanta, are more likely than whites to have a college degree.
That does not mean that Henry County is a perfect laboratory of equality. Blacks made up a disproportionately high number of those seeking government assistance both before and after the slowdown. Since 2006, the number of blacks on Medicaid has more than tripled, outpacing the increase among whites.
But it seems as if a point is being missed when a black man's preemptive apology—"I’m not racist, but it’s harder for black men."—goes unremarked, indeed, is used to convey a facile notion of equality, one for which racism is little more than a personal preference. I have a hard time swallowing the notion that the leveling phenomenon of Henry County is a silver lining of the economic cloud. If a bridge is spanning a racial divide, it's more likely due to a shared oppression than to a sudden recognition of common needs and ambitions. Wealth and power can be wholesomely color-blind when targeting subjects to exploit.