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Archive for the ‘poverty’ Category

Watching television you would think that black ghettos in the big cities are the poorest and most dangerous parts of America. Well, it is not quite that simple.

In 2007 the four precincts in New York City with the worst rates of major crimes were these:

  • Bed-Stuy
  • East Harlem
  • Midtown South (42nd to 34th Street)
  • Lower East Side

Only Bed-Stuy is mainly black. East Harlem is Hispanic, Midtown South is white and the Lower East Side is Asian and Hispanic.

True, taken as a whole the black and Hispanic parts of the city have a higher crime rate than the white and Asian parts. But each part of the city is different. You cannot just go by race or even poverty or even the two together. For example:

  • The middle of Harlem, which is mainly black, is safer than Midtown Manhattan, which is mainly white – and far richer.
  • In the late 1980s Jamaica, Queens and Harlem were both mainly black, but Jamaica had way more of a black middle-class – and yet it was far more violent.

So you cannot make general rules. Different things are in play in different parts of the city. You have to go case by case.

Likewise, here are the five poorest parts of America:

  • Indian reservations
  • South-west Texas
  • The middle of Alaska
  • The Mississippi Delta
  • Appalachia

Only the Mississippi Delta is mainly black. Appalachia is mainly white, south-west Texas is Hispanic and the Indian reservations and the middle of Alaska are Native American.

Most people do not even think about these places because you hardly ever see them on television or even hear much about them in school.

The reason black ghettos star on television is because they are the main example of poverty – and of Black America too – if you live in the two places where most of American television comes from: Hollywood and New York.

Most poor people are white. Most poor people do not live in cities, but in places where reporters and film-makers hardly ever go.

And, just as you almost never see the poor Indian reservations on television, so you barely ever see black suburbia either – further strengthening the idea that most black people are poor and most poor people are black, neither of which is true.

And even when television does present poverty it rarely explains it. So people think what they want about bootstraps and all that – a comfortable thing to believe if you are middle-class or rich.

Television is not a mirror of American society. It is not even an imperfect mirror. Television is the creation of a very small number of people – most of them white, male, liberal and well-to-do – who have their own ideas about America. Many of those ideas are not true and many come from yet older Hollywood output, so the thing feeds on itself.

But their picture of America becomes our picture of America – even if the little bit of America that we know first-hand is nothing like what we see on television.

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