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Sunday, December 15, 2013

How The Ethan Couch Case is About The Advantages of Wealth, Not Race

The Ethan Couch case is about the advantages of wealth, not race, and if we want to overcome the prejudices against the impoverished black community as a whole, we need to understand that.

If you just think about it with me you'll see why. Take this scenario: a well-dressed, wealthy good-looking young black man (who probably gets straight As and comes from a "good" family) approaches you late at night on the street, dressed in a button-down shirt and tie or at the very least a polo and khakis, and he asks you the time in "perfect" polite English. Now, a dirty-looking white guy with his pants hanging down around his knees, a du-rag wrapped around his head, long-hair and a cigarette in his hands slouches towards you asking you the same question in slurred, cursing speech. Who makes you uncomfortable?

Most people, regardless of race, answer the white guy, if they really think about it. Most importantly, MOST PREJUDICED WHITE PEOPLE today would answer the white guy JUST because of the way he's dressed. If you don't believe me, ask your slightly-racist white friends, if you have any, and I bet you $50 the majority of them will answer the pants-down guy.

There's nothing wrong with wearing a du-rag, wearing your pants kind of down, or having long hair as a male; smoking's legal if he's over 18, and lots of nice people curse (like me, dammit). Middle and upper-class Americans just have cultural stigmas against those things. Now, my pants-down-white guy is wearing a stereotype that's unfortunately been applied to black people because inequalities in American history put a disproportionate number of black people in lower socio-economic tiers. But today's prejudices against black youth really are related to Povertenza, not "black-enza."

Now put the well-dressed black youth and the pants-down white guy in court, and you see what I'm getting at. I'm not saying that, all other things equal, a well-dressed educated black man and a well-dressed educated white man will have the same outcomes, because honestly, those cases don't comprise the majority of the unjust sentencing stories. Look back at the news over this year: in almost every major case of unjust sentencing against a black person where the black person LOST, the black person came from a lower socio-economic tier. Every time the black person comes from a higher socio-economic tier (like when the stupid white policeman tried to arrest a black Harvard professor entering his own house), there's a better outcome (the stupid white policeman got in trouble). All other things equal, class is a much more damning factor because we still judge by appearances. We've all heard in school that racism's bad, and that's incredibly important. But no one goes around teaching the kids about classism, which is arguably a deeper financial wound against the black community. Instead, we've got wealthy and middle-class folks white AND black telling their kids that poor black people just didn't work hard enough, rather than trying to give a kid a hand.

Ethan Couch got off because of affluenza. No one on the defense said he should get off because he's white. I think that's very telling about where our court system's come from, and how far our society still has to go before it finds true equality.

Oh, and if you asked your slightly-racist white friends about this scenario, you owe me $50. My paypal is petrepan at gmail. (Help me overcome my new-found povertenza)

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