Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day or “How My Predominately White County Has More In Common With a Ghetto”

Greetings everyone. Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day. I know some people see it as a sort of “light” holiday, but I think that to celebrate the life, achievements, and ideas of MLK is actually very important. Dr. King showed us that no matter how marginalized you are, with hard work, dedication, and a clear vision you can be a positive force for change in the world. One thing I do dislike about the holiday is how we treat it as a holiday just for the work he did against segregation.

Let me be clear, the Civil Rights movement was one of the most important moments of the 20th century and Dr. King’s contributions are some of the greatest. However, towards the end of his life Dr. King seemed to have stumbled onto perhaps the one most elusive truth in regards to social equality in this country, that the problem goes beyond race, gender, or religion. One of the unfortunate side effects of freedom is that everyone gets freedom, not just the people you agree with. That being said, I regret to inform the world that racism won’t be eliminated in our lifetimes. I would like to believe humans have it in them to completely eliminate racism, but I think the more realistic future is that there will always be at least a small amount of racism in our world. It’s a sad truth. While I hate racism, the idea of a thought police isn’t really the sort of road I want to go down.

So what is the answer? Let’s take a moment to look at where I’m from: Southeastern Ohio. Specifically I am from Guernsey County and currently live in the greater Marietta area, which will also include a small section of West Virginia for the sake of this discussion.

According to a study by Brown University my current home, the Marietta/Parkersburg area, is the second least diverst urban center in the country. Literally 96% of all people in our area reported being caucasian during the census. Only about 1% of the population is from African decent. As far as politics, culture, and diversity go, it would be near impossible for my community to have anything in common with the typical predominantly African American community.

That is until you start comparing the economics and statistics of my home Guernsey County. Like the Marietta area, it also has a 96% caucasian population, but blows away Washington County with a huge 1.5% population of black citizens. The point being that Guernsey County is super white. However, if you look at our statistics you would never be able to tell it.

For example: Nationally the median Household Income for a white household is about $54,000 annually. For a black household, that number is an unfortunate $35,341. How does my home of Guernsey County stack up? The county, which is 96% caucasian, has a median household income of $37,573. While slightly better than the national average for black households, it’s clear that income wise that Guernsey has more in common with our counterparts from African decent.

The numbers are worse when we start to narrow the scope. If we just evaluate the personal incomes across these lines, the picture becomes very clear. The median per capita income for a white citizen is about $30,026. Full disclosure, I could not find that specific number so I took the average of per capita for men and women. For African-Americans, we again see a terrible trend as their per capita income is recorded as being $18,406. Guernsey County’s per capita income? $19,187. Less than $1,000 difference between the national average for African Americans and Guernsey County which is comprised of 96% white citizens.

Crime and drug abuse is also a huge problem within Guernsey County, again reflecting the problems of African-American communities. When compared to Geauga County, a county with Ohio’s second highest per capita income at $32,735, Guernsey County’s crime statistics are shocking. Despite having less than half the population of Geauga County, Guernsey was comparable in nearly almost metric. According to Ohio’s Office of Criminal Justice Services, Guernsey County had more instances of violent crime, rape, robbery, burglary, vehicle thefts, and acts of arson. In the few categories where Guernsey County didn’t exceed Geauga County, they were competitive.

What’s perhaps most telling is Guernsey’s instances of burglary, with a total of 170 reports compared to Geauga’s 74 cases. Let that sink in for a moment. Geauga has a population of 83,672
compared to Guernsey’s 39,377, yet still has less than half as many instances of burglary. Does this sound similar to any other instances of crime in a community?

So what’s my point? While racism is awful and we need to actively combat it, racism isn’t what is directly causing a large portion of problems for minorities. Growing up in Guernsey County, I feel I have more in common with someone from a ghetto than a suburb. While I’ve never had to worry about being unjustifiably murdered by a police officer, I have suffered at the hands of what is essentially class warfare. Policies that are meant to target minorities (criminal drug pocession, minimum sentencing requirements, outrageous bail prices, etc) also directly affect poor white communities. Guernsey county illustrates the point that even in areas that essentially have no minority population, the upper class still finds a lower class to exploit and punish for being poor. Just like low income minority communities, Guernsey County is suffering from elevated instances of crime, drug addiction, and accidental overdoses. All this despite the active racism that minority communities suffer from.

Which sort of unifies my message for this post. Poor white people are basically the “minorities” of predominantly white communities and face a lot of the same problems that blacks, latinos, and others face. Racial division only serves to empower the upper class even more. We need to unite as a people and work together to remove the systemic class discrimination within this country. While it won’t directly end racism, it would take away our culture’s greatest tool for institutionalizing discriminatory ideologies.

If we can expand the American middle-class and include minorities into that expansion, we would not only be bettering the lives of the underclass, but empowering them to become leaders in their own communities. If we mobilize the common person to get involved in politics and to take back their voice, we can ensure that this sort of economic trap is no longer used. Our friends and families wouldn’t be as strongly driven towards drugs and crime.

Economics is a tool to keep a large portion of our country in a position of subservience. It’s time for us to unite across race, religious, and political lines to ensure the future of our communities.

Say something... I dare you.