Sunday, July 27, 2008

Turn The Tables Of The American Racial Order By Properly Naming The Main Problem: Racism

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Oakland in the wee hours of the morning (coming from the east coast to the west coast has me wide awake at 4:00 am) as I write this post to my blog.

Riding to my hotel from the airport, I got an opportunity to get a small glimpse of the urban landscape of the city. I was struck by just how similar Oakland is to my hometown, Detroit, and any other post-industrial city I’ve visited across the country – a decayed (or decaying) infrastructure and a whole bunch of disadvantaged people.

Concerned as I am with promoting racial justice, I tend to be preoccupied with thoughts about how to lift up the mass of people of color I see in these once great American cities.

To turn the tables of the American racial order, it is important that we properly name the main problem: racism.

Although it is less malicious and intense than it was in the pre-civil rights era, racism – in all its variations, including silent racism, everyday racism, color-blind racism, and institutional racism – is alive and well in America.

In order to fully understand, for example, the condition of the black poor and working class, their plight must be situated in the context of the long history of racial oppression and contemporary patterns of silent, everyday, color-blind and institutional racism.

Unfortunately, a clear-headed discussion about the impact of racism is practically impossible to do because of the deeply-rooted contempt most Americans have for the black (and brown) lower classes and our persistent refusal to confront mythological thinking, such as, the notion of rugged individualism (and its modern enunciation, personal responsibility).

The popular, and virulently racist, images of the black (and brown) poor held by a majority of Americans, that they are lazy and shiftless, drug addicted, looking for a government handout, unwilling to work, and sexually irresponsible, are also major obstacles to clear-headed thinking about race.

Because of their racist assumptions, most whites reject programs and policies that they perceive will advantage blacks and other people of color – ranging from affirmative action to a national urban policy – and uncritically embrace outcomes that perpetuate their racial advantages, such as, the school to prison pipeline that I wrote about in a previous post for this blog.

In particular, crude and demeaning racial stereotypes about black people – such as, the depiction of black women as “crack hoes” and “welfare queens” and black men as “drug-peddling hoodlums” and “dead-beat dads” – saturate American media, undermining efforts by government to fashion social policies that would adequately address deeply-rooted social problems afflicting the black community.

“As a result,” writes Jerry G. Watts, Professor of English at the Graduate Center of CUNY, “the black poor continue to be excluded from the implicit American social contract. Their suffering tends to lie outside the realm of white American empathy and moral concern.”

It is equally troubling that many self-consciously elitist, establishment-status-seeking middle and upper-class blacks share a similar disdain for some of America’s most marginalized and vulnerable victims.

Those of us (people of color and whites) who have the courage and vision to struggle against the racial order must never cease to draw attention to the causes and realities of racial inequality in our nation – the continuing burden that people of color endure in the form of lower rates of life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality, lower rates of high school completion, college enrollment and graduation, and higher rates of incarceration – no matter how unfashionable and unpalatable our arguments may be to most Americans.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Reverend Jackson Was Right: Uhhhhhh, His Point That Senator Obama Talks Down To Black People

By now, everyone knows about Reverend Jesse Jackson’s hot mike comments about Senator Barack Obama. Of course the Reverend was wrong for joking about emasculating the brother. But, Reverend Jackson was right about one thing: Barack Obama has been “talking down to black people.”

Not everyone has taken Reverend Jackson’s critique of Senator Obama as seriously as they should. Instead, the Reverend has come under attack.

The critics of Reverend Jackson accuse him of being a “Playa Hater.” They contend that he and other civil rights leaders of his generation – those who risked life and limb to end de jure segregation – are jealous of Senator Obama, resenting his rapid rise to political prominence. Reverend Jackson, in particular, is thought to be envious of Senator Obama because he believes that he, not the Senator, should be the nation’s first black president.

Reverend Jackson is also believed to be angry at Senator Obama because the Senator fails to give him and other civil rights leaders their “respect,” that is, the credit they deserve for creating the opportunities that Senator Obama and other black post-civil rights leaders are now benefiting from.

In my view, these veiled attacks on Reverend Jackson’s character miss the larger point of his critique of Senator Obama and the current generation of new black political leaders who are willing to make accommodations with white supremacy for political advancement.

Viewing it as the only legitimate way to contradict the view of black inferiority which hampers their ability to be upwardly mobile, the “accommodationist” black politicians of today repudiates black identity as a political organizing strategy, is willing to tolerate a certain level of white domination, and tries to distance themselves from the black lower classes.

If they are willing to play by the rules, the political currency of the accommodationists is boundless. Anointed as the best and brightest of the new generation of black political leaders by white media and political elites, the accommodationists advance politically by embracing the two doctrines favored by whites: colorblindness and the declining significance of race.

The career advancement of the accomodationists is made secure when they publicly point out, as Senator Obama has been doing, the so-called pathologies of blacks and other people of color in front of eagerly approving black and white middle and upper-class audiences.

The truth is that Reverend Jackson critique of Senator Obama was on the mark. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee “talks down to black people.” He eagerly demands that black people, particularly black men, take personal responsibility for their failures and short-comings, but he lets - though not completely - the system that helps to produce racial and economic inequalities off the hook.

No one serious about eradicating poverty discounts the importance of human agency. At the same time, reams of evidence produced by social scientist also demonstrate that racism is alive and well in American society. I believe that Senator Obama intentionally fails to place many of the problems afflicting black communities in their sociohistorical context simply because of personal ambition, that is, it may harm his political advancement.

It is imperative that we follow Reverend Jackson’s lead and criticize this generation of black leader’s assimilation and accommodation preoccupations. The stakes are too high to do anything less.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Looting of Black People’s Wealth: From Land Grabs to Subprime Loans

“For generations, black families passed down the tales in uneasy whispers: ‘They stole our land’” began an award winning 2001 Associated Press series titled “Torn From the Land.”

The culmination of an 18 month investigation, AP’s three-part series revealed a systematic pattern in which blacks were “cheated out of their land or driven from it through intimidation, violence and even murder.”

The looting of black wealth began shortly after the Civil War and continues to this very day.

Tracking more than a century of land cases by searching through deeds, mortgages, tax records, estate papers, court proceedings, oil leases and Freedmen’s Bureau archives, the AP reporters were able to show how everyone from US government officials to Southern segregationist got in on the act of stealing land owned by blacks.

Notably, the reporters make a compelling case that the government either approved of the theft of black land or took part in the thievery.

This first phase of the looting of black wealth helps to explain the near century decline of black landownership in the US.

In 1910, blacks owned roughly 15 million acres of farmland, most of which was in the South. Black ownership of farmland (outright or partial) had dropped to about 2.7 million acres of farmland by 2001.

While many blacks gave up their land to escape Jim Crow segregation and escalating racist terrorism in the South or to pursue greater economic opportunity in the North during the Great Black Migration, thievery, nonetheless, played a big role in the decline of black landownership.

My family had land stolen from them too. My mother, who is in her 70s, always talks about how her uncle, a hardworking, but illiterate black man, saw land inherited from his parents taken by whites.

“White people took advantage of black people like my uncle because they could not read or write,” she would often tell me. “After my uncle borrowed money from whites and could not pay them back quickly enough, one day they came for the plow. The next time they came for the mule that used to pull the plow. Then, one day, they came for the house.”

Of course, the current owners of stolen black land claim ignorance about this history.

In truth, until the AP series ran, much of this history had been either conveniently ignored or simply overlooked.

According to articles in the July 14 edition of The Nation, the looting of black wealth has not ended.

According to The Nation, the subprime meltdown is disproportionately affecting people of color: the total loss of wealth for people of color could reach $213 billion, including $92 billion for blacks and $98 billion for Latinos.

Because the wealth of people of color is so heavily dependent on homeownership, the fallout from the possible loss of a home impacts more than one generation (remember, homes are often passed on to the next generation, which becomes instant wealth for the new homeowner).

As things stand, the black-white wealth gap is huge. According to Dedrick Muhammad, black families have a median net worth of $20,600, only 14.6 percent of the $140,700 median white net worth (Latino families have a median net worth of $18,600, only 13.2 percent of median white net worth). If you take home equity out of the picture, black net worth is only about 1 percent of that for whites.

How did blacks (and other people of color) find themselves in this predicament? Kai Wright’s article in The Nation, “The Subprime Swindle,” provides an explanation.

For starters, lending institutions came up with scams to “swindle” people of color, especially older, “house rich but cash poor,” blacks and Latinos out of their wealth. According to Wright, “… banks and brokers targeted vulnerable longtime homeowners and lured them into needless and rapidly recurring mortgages they clearly couldn’t afford and from which they never stood to gain.”

As an example, according to ACORN, more than half of all refinance loans made to blacks in 2006 were subprime, nearly twice the rate among whites. Nearly 2/3 of refinance loans for low-income blacks were subprime.

Moreover, when the housing market exploded in the early 2000s, investment bankers started to bundled pools of mortgages and sell them in the highly profitable securities market. When the lenders ran out of reliable borrowers, “undocumented loan applications, interest-only payment plans and teaser interest rates,” became the tools of the trade to swindle blacks and Latinos out of their wealth.

For much of this country’s history, homeownership has been the ticket for whites to the middle-class. For the last 40 years, it has been the ticket to middle-class stability for many black people. The subprime mortgage meltdown is undermining that progress. When it comes to finding a solution to the housing crisis, for blacks (and Latinos), then, the stakes are very high.

Unfortunately, given the structural nature of the problem, fixing this disaster will not be easy. When there is a governmental bailout for homeowners (there has to be one), there must be recognition of the special needs of homeowners of color. This is not simply needed; rather, it is absolutely necessary.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Silky Smoothing it all the way to the White House

I never thought that I would see a politician slicker than ex-president, Bill “Slick-Willie” Clinton.

Well, you might ask, “How slick was Bill Clinton?”

“Slick-Willie” was so slick that he sweet-talked black folks into calling him the first black president.

Up until his white privilege meltdown during the South Carolina Democratic Party primary, it was not unusual for black people – from pulpits to barbershops – to refer to the ex-president as “Fam (short for family for some of my un-hip readers).”

Who is slicker than my “Fam?” The answer is Barack “Silky” Obama.




Like Clinton, “Silky” is one hell-of-an orator.

And, like “Slick Willie,” Senator Obama is as much a politician as the rest.

The warning signs are all over the place. Take, for instance, his steady march to the right. Uhhhhhhhh, I mean the middle.

There are, of course, the flip flops: he opposed NAFTA, now he is not against NAFTA; he would take public financing, now he won’t take public financing; he would end the embargo against Cuba, now he won’t end the embargo against Cuba; he opposed a crackdown on businesses that hire illegal immigrants, now he supports a crackdown; he supported eliminating penalties for marijuana, now he opposes decriminalization, and so on.

Then, off course, there are the conservative red meat issues: although he does not think that capital punishment is a deterrent to crime, he favors executing child rapists; he supports the right of individuals to own guns over efforts to protect the public from gun violence in big cities like Washington, DC; he blasted for labeling Gen. David Petraeus “General Betray Us;” tossed the Palestinian people under the bus by expressing strong support for a united Jerusalem under Israeli rule and; he capitulated on FISA, and so on.

The reason for his shift is obvious. “Silky,” and his inner-circle (the usual crew of political pollsters, Washington insiders, lobbyists, neoliberal economic advisors), believes very strongly that there is no reason to play the game if you don’t plan on winning – well, at any cost.

To win, the experts believe that the Senator needs to do what all presumptive Democratic presidential nominees seem to do after appealing to the Party’s liberal base (disproportionately people of color and whites with college degrees, and this year, idealistic youth) during the nomination process, which is, move rightward to the so-called middle (undecided swing voters made up of hard-working whites, white evangelical Christians, white suburban moms, white suburban dads, white seniors on a fixed income, whites who prefer to drive rather than fly, whites, whites, whites…).

Can he get any silkier?

The Latest: Senator Obama proposes a $500 million boost to George W. Bush failed Faith-Based Initiative Program.

“I’m not saying that faith-based groups are an alternative to government or secular nonprofits, and I’m not saying that they’re somehow better at lifting people up,” said Senator Obama after touring the Eastside Community Ministry. “What I’m saying is that we all have to work together – Christian and Jew, Hindu and Mulism believer and non-believer alike – to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”


Damn, was that “Silky Smooth” or what?

This is the same faith-based initiative program that has been controversial from day on. One director quit in disgust at the administration’s politicizing of the program. A second previous director wrote a tell-all book describing how the program was used to advance Republican political objectives. Some faith-based groups receiving money rejected federal anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation.

So, why does Senator Obama wants to support this failed program?

The answer is simple. He wants to win the support of some conservative white evangelical Christians and some “prosperity gospel” teaching black preachers already on the faith-based initiative gravy train. If you would like to learn more on this point, read Max Blumenthal’s excellent piece in The Nation about a secret meeting between Obama and some of the nation most well-known moral crusaders, “Preaching to the Choir.”

Bill Clinton campaigned from the left and governed to the right of center on a number of issues important to people of color during the 1990s (welfare reform, federal drug laws, NAFTA). Like Senator Obama today, the signs of Clinton’s shift occurred once he got the nomination.

All of this leaves me with one question: “Will a President Barack Obama also govern from the right of the Party’s base like his Democratic predecessor in the White House?”