You may have heard about how last week, Paul Ryan made some unfortunate remarks about poverty, blaming it at least partly on, well, lazy black people: "We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular," Ryan said, "of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with." The reason many people got angry about this is that when we talk about poor white people, nobody suggests that it's a product of a pathology that lies within those particular people. Republicans may think persistent poverty in rural areas is a regrettable thing, but they aren't delivering lectures to those people about their "culture." It's kind of a generalized version of the fundamental attribution error—people like me are poor because of conditions outside themselves, while people unlike me are poor because of their inherent nature.
Ryan's words set off a predictable round of "Is Paul Ryan racist?" contemplation (see here, for example), and in response to that we have to remind ourselves that that is always the wrong question. It's impossible to know with certainty whether anyone is racist, because that requires looking into their heart. But much more importantly, it doesn't matter. What matters is what people say and do, not what lurks within their souls. You can say to Paul Ryan, "Here's what's wrong with what you said" without shouting "You're racist!" which not only doesn't convince anyone of anything, it only leads everyone who doesn't already agree with you to shut down and refuse to listen to anything else you have to say. Before we get to today's chart about race and poverty (oh yes, I do have a chart), you should play this classic from Jay Smooth every time you're tempted to call a politician a racist: