Cennamology Chief Editor
Many in this country believe that a discussion about racism is a waste of time because it was put to rest in 1964. Colleges and universities have been integrated. We drink from the same water fountains. We even have a black president.
What is wrong with this notion is that it is a narrow view of racism that leads people to consider it a problem only in its extreme manifestations. When we think of racism, we think of slavery, segregation, the Ku Klux Klan, and the recent Charleston massacre. When viewing racism only through this lens, it is understandable why one would think that it is not a rampant problem in this country. However, focusing on some of the smallest and easily-overlooked details of society will lead to a new understanding of the broader definition of racism.
One of these details is the location of lottery ticket vendors around Baltimore. I first noticed this when I was grocery shopping at Northeast Market and saw at least three places in the building that sold lottery tickets. It is just as easy to find lottery tickets in Northeast Market as it is to find bread and cheese. I have also noticed that the light rail station at BWI Airport has a lottery ticket vending machine right next to where you pay the rail fare.
There are no lottery tickets vendors at Broadway Market, which is a little over a mile away from Northeast Market. Broadway is in Fells’ Point, which is a higher income, whiter neighborhood than Northeast’s east Baltimore locale. You will also never find a lottery ticket machine at a D.C. Metro station, which has a far higher proportion of white, middle-income riders than the Baltimore light rail. Clearly, there is a pattern here.
Numerous studies have shown that non-whites spend much more money on lotteries than whites. A Cornell University study found that African Americans spend five times more on lottery tickets than Caucasians. Another study from Duke University found that families with yearly incomes of less than $25,000 spend about $600 a year on lottery tickets, which is twice the amount that the study found that families making over $100,000 spend on tickets.
By selling tickets in places that are frequented by low-income minority populations, the state is profiting off of the small shred of hope that these individuals have of a better life. The ubiquity of these small sheets of paper promising a fast and easy path to wealth sucks the little money these people have out of them, with many not knowing just how astronomically tiny their chances are at winning. Even if they do know that their chances are miniscule, they will still buy tickets either because of an addiction, or because they figure that their chances at winning are about equal to the chances they have of encountering another opportunity at escaping poverty.
A market where a significant proportion of patrons are buying groceries with food stamps is the last place where lottery tickets should be sold. Lotteries are essentially taxes in disguise taking huge sums of money from the African American community that could be used on other goods and services that would be more beneficial. This can be classified as a form of racism because not only is it taking money away from African Americans and giving little of it back, but it is also sending them the message that the lottery is their only chance at a better life. This implicit message only exacerbates gambling addictions that cripple many in the community.
Does this mean that the people on the Maryland lottery commission dislike black people? Of course not. I am positive they are all wonderful people and honorable citizens. What this does mean is that the state’s decisions on the places where lottery tickets are allowed to be sold include elements of racism, whether it is deliberate or not.
The lesson to take from this is that we need to understand that racism encompasses more than only nefarious policies intent at ostracizing or dehumanizing minorities. The unintentional effects of the seemingly mundane policy decision of where to sell lottery tickets should make us all skeptical of the idea that America is a post-racial society.