'New York Times' columnists talk racial inequality

The third University Lecture of the semester featured Charles Blow and Ross Douthat, who spoke about modern issues and politics of race in America.

Columnist Charles Blow and blogger Ross Douthat spoke about racial inequality in black communities and how the digital media helped to address the issue at Hendricks Chapel on Tuesday night for the latest University Lecture Series.

Charles Blow is a visual op-ed columnist for The New York Times, responsible for a public opinion and justice column every Saturday from the liberal perspective. He is also a regular contributor to CNN. Ross Douthat is the youngest op-ed columnist at The New York Times, representing young conservative commentators. Sponsored by multiple schools at SU, including the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the School of Education, the conversation shed light upon the history of structural inequalities of black urban communities and how digital media brought these issues to attention and discussion.

Photo: Courtesy of SU Photo & Imaging Center
Charles Blow and Ross Douthat speak Tuesday at Hendricks Chapel.

Blow defined inequality as structural forces that limited or promoted opportunities available to people. For instance, public funds had not yet built a mass transit that connected black communities in urban areas with white communities in the suburbs. Blow said that this lack of transportation trapped black communities and limited their job opportunities to those available in inner cities.

Blow called this an example of a “structural cycle of poverty” in urban areas rooted in historical racial inequality starting from The Great Migration in the early and mid 20th century and the GI Bill after World War II. During the migration, five million black people moved from the South to big cities in North and West, hoping to escape economic oppression in the South and achieve prosperity in the North.

“The promise of The Great Migration failed black people,” Blow said. “From the Detroit Riot in 1960s to the Ferguson one in 2014, there has been an overwhelming use of police force against black communities.”

Moreover, he said that the GI Bill created the white middle class by offering them opportunities of college education and professional training, but at the same time denied black veterans those benefits.

“America helps to create black ghettos,” Blow said, summarizing how years of infrastructural inequality and the use of police forces kept black communities from economic mobility.

Douthat said that the collaboration between different political groups and digital media has brought more attention to racial inequality today than 25 years ago. Douthat said the overrepresentation of African Americans in the criminal justice system has sparked debates among both conservatives and liberals, especially when it comes to the incarceration of black citizens for nonviolent crimes or misconducts. Moreover, smartphones have enabled people to snap and upload live pictures and videos in racial justice protests from Ferguson to New York City in the past year. Douthat said the live Tweets and posts drew attention to the conflict between black communities and police forces.

At the end of the speech, Blow and Douthat encouraged the participants of the conversation to view black poverty from the perspective of persisting racial inequalities.

“Poverty is a problem if it leads you to deny historical realities,” Douthat said.

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