And every historic effort to forge a democratic project has been undermined by two fundamental realities: poverty and paranoia. The persistence of poverty generates levels of despair that deepen social conflict the escalation of paranoia produces levels of distrust that reinforce cultural division. Rae is the most explosive issue in American life precisely because it forces us to confront the tragic facts of poverty and paranoia despair, and distrust. In short, a candid examination of race matters takes us to the core of the crisis of American democracy (p. 107).
In these downbeat times, we need as much hope and courage as we do vision and analysis; we must accent the best of each other even as we point out the vicious effects of our racial divide and pernicious consequences of our maldistribution of wealth and power. We simply cannot enter the twenty-first century at each other's throats, even as we acknowledge the weighty forces of racism, patriarchy, economic inequality, homophobia, and ecological abuse on our necks. We are at a crucial crossroad in the history of this nation--and we either hang together by combating these forces that divide and degrade us or we hang separately. Do we have the intelligence, humor, imagination, courage, tolerance, love, respect, and will to meet the challenge? Time will tell. None of us alone can save the nation or world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.
The Poverty Tour provided the opportunity to meet many people who had been living paycheck to paycheck even before the economic downturn. To so quickly slide from the great middle into the underworld of the poor validated our suspicions that perhaps these citizens never really were bona fide, middle class Americans. Indeed, some economists assert that the middle class evaporated decades ago.