I noticed as I watched that NBC's people apparently tried to include a racial cross-section of evicted homeowners and tenants. I also noticed that although minorities are being hit much harder in the current housing crisis, the families focused on in this segment more intently, and thus more sympathetically, are the apparently white ones.
Last night, "Dateline NBC" did a shorter follow-up on some of these families, and the family that receives the most attention here is again an apparently white one:
What can be said about whiteness in this context? How about, "Hey, you've got it bad, but at least you're white!" That would go over just great, wouldn't it?
Still, one thing worth noting here in the interest of fairness is the implication made in these two "Dateline" segments by the disproportionate coverage granted to apparently white families. As with the Missing White Woman Syndrome, the implication is that white suffering matters more than the suffering of non-white people. An unstated message I get from these two segments goes something like this: "Minorities have always been poor, but when a lot of white people are suffering too, it's time to really start paying attention!"
Generally, sympathetic media attention to any victims of predatory housing practices seems like a good thing. However, framing white suffering as the suffering that matters most makes white people seem like the people who matter most. An underlying message of such disproportionate coverage is that white people are the ones who are most fully human, and thus, the ones who are least deserving of such degrading, humiliating treatment. And again, if a lot of white families are joining minority families on the street, well then, that's when it's time to sound the alarms.
This disproportionate attention to white financial hardship becomes especially galling in light of another fact, which is that white people in general are suffering less in this economy than other racial groups are:
As Algernon Austin, a leading researcher with the Economic Policy Institute, puts it: "When white America is in recession, black America is in an economic depression."
The same is true for Hispanic communities, said Austin, who directs the Washington, D.C.-based institute's program on race, ethnicity and the economy.
Typically, black people are twice as likely to be unemployed as white people. . . "The level of unemployment whites consider a high level is what blacks experience even in the good times," Austin said.
The reasons for an ongoing racial disparity in economic well-being are many, including different educational levels, job discrimination, wage gaps, differences in health-care access, discrimination against convicted felons who have already served their time, and on and on.
Because of these multiple and entrenched inequities, minorities have more trouble than white people do accumulating wealth, which would cushion a fall during an economic downturn. In times like the present, minorities tend to find themselves on the edge, and literally in the street, sooner than white people do.
And speaking of literally being put outside and on the street--that's happening to a lot of people because the ticking time-bomb that was their adjustable-rate mortgage blew up, and that too is happening to minorities at a disproportionate rate. That fact makes the unstated white racial frame through which "Dateline NBC" covers the housing crisis in the above segments especially infuriating.
Just last week, the NAACP filed another lawsuit in an effort to rectify this racist disparity, this time against two of the biggest mortgage lenders, HSBC and Wells Fargo, for "systematic, institutionalized racism" in their subprime lending practices.
According to CNN,
Under subprime lending, people who don't qualify for lower interest rates can borrow money at higher rates. The NAACP argues that the companies gave subprime rates to African-Americans who qualified for better rates and gave better rates to white customers with similar credit histories.
The lawsuits note studies showing African-Americans have been disproportionately affected by subprime lending. But that's not solely because of intentional efforts to target African-Americans, according to the lawsuits.
"These statistical disparities are not mere happenstance, but instead result from the systematic and predatory targeting of African-Americans, as well as facially neutral lending policies and practices that have a disparate adverse impact on African-Americans," said the lawsuits, which were filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
The corporate media's heightened focus on and empathy for white people with housing problems, as exemplified by the lopsided reporting of "Dateline NBC," does more than just perpetuate the notion that minorities somehow deserve harder lives. Such a whitened focus also ignores something that "Dateline" never even mentions, which is the greater likelihood that minority families are suffering this way.
Given that fact, minority emiseration deserves not only equal time and attention; the usual scenario, with the plight of minority families on the margins and those of white families at the center, should actually be reversed.