While the civil rights movement was a quasi-legal (RIP Trayvon) victory, it was most certainly not an economic one. We have allowed ourselves to forget that Martin Luther King was a self identified Christian socialist; he an the millions behind him marched not only for equal rights, but for equal economic opportunity, fair pay, and jobs for all those willing and able to work. The second half of King's dream was never quite realized. Even until 1980, the vast majority of African-Americans never really had economic opportunity on par with the rest of the country. Since then, it seems the bleeding hearts have bled dry, and the regressive policies of a vicious right-wing have sealed the fate of the American poor.
We threw the Native Americans out onto the worthless rural land, and we left the blacks on the worthless urban land. Just take a glance at this map of Detroit's racial composition. These inner city reservations on which many blacks still live lack not only economic opportunity, but even some of the most basic human needs, such as housing, education, nutritious food, and a sense of security of person. With rampant unemployment, urban blight, drug use, alcoholism, and out of wedlock births, these urban reservations present little opportunity for personal improvement, no matter how hard one may try to pull on their bootstraps. Our education system based on local property tax revenues (and now a perverse push for privatization/vouchers/charters) has deprived the poor of the only real ticket out of poverty. Educational opportunities are severely lacking just where they are needed most. Its hard to pull yourself up with your bootstraps when you can't afford new shoes, or don't know how to tie them.
That's why I am torn about the Wal-Mart- in DC issue. Yes, the entire business model of this multinational corporation is dependent on subsidies from the government welfare state. Yes, its owners the Walton family are together worth $90 billion, or as much as the bottom 40% of Americans combined. But the reality is that Walmart can provide access to fresh produce in these urban enclaves that lack traditional grocery stores. Many urban dwellers do not own cars that would allow them to venture into the suburbs to get groceries as we do. Many rely on gas stations, convenience stores, and 7/11's to get the majority of their food. Not only are these stores full of high calorie-low nutrition junk food, they are grossly over priced. So as white suburbanites who shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, we have to be sensitive to the fact that Wal-Mart may be providing access to decent food in locations that other grocery chains, for whatever reason, have deemed impractical to do business in.
The traditional liberal welfare state programs, while doing a lot to stave off extreme poverty, are really just a patchwork of band-aids. No amount of income support or job training programs really matter if the jobs are not there to begin with. And as every economist who is paid to be right knows, jobs are mostly a function of aggregate demand. As well intentioned as career counseling and job training programs may be, there is no point in training people for jobs that don't exist. It is common to hear politicos and talking heads complaining about "structural unemployment" or "chronic skills mismatch", but this is really just making excuses for bad macroeconomic policy. If the jobs are there, the skills will follow. Its funny how in the 1990's when we had 3% unemployment, you never heard anyone talking about skills mismatch. Now just a few years later, apparently the skills of millions of American laborers are hopelessly inadequate. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
So many guys my age talk about patriotism, they wear American flag pants and say "American, fuck yeah!' But this is just a meaningless facade of patriotism, not true patriotism. You cannot claim to be a patriot and just walk around wearing red, white and blue while doing nothing to make your country a better place; or in the case of those who go to Wall Street, actively making the country worse.
I love this country as much as the next guy, but we have to be honest with ourselves. You know real love is when you can be honest. Just like in a personal relationship; real love occurs when the two people can be totally honest with each other and not be hurt. Relationships that are built on dishonesty can never really last. This country was founded on slavery of Africans and genocide of Native Americans. These stains will remain on the fabric of the United States for its entire existence. We must acknowledge these stains as part of our history, and work to ensure they remain just that.