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Global Migration is about Survival

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(NNPA) The recent deaths of more than a thousand African refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea in order to get to Europe highlights an on-going and growing global migration crisis. Contrary to commentators on the political right – in both the USA and Europe –what we are witnessing is not representative of a search for the good life by undesirables from the global South: This is about survival.

Many people in Europe and North America have a strange attitude toward the entire question of immigration. It’s as if there has been an epidemic of historic memory loss. Immigration from Africa, Asia and Latin America to Europe and North America is treated in the mainstream outside of any context. Migrants are frequently referenced as being “infiltrators.” In the U.S., migrants from the global South are demonized. In much of Europe, Islamophobic and anti-Arab racism is used against migrants from the Middle East and Central Asia, blaming them for economic decline and/or suggesting that they – the migrants – lack the will and capacity to assimilate.

The desperation evidenced by the deaths of so many people attempting to cross the Mediterranean, or closer to home, migrants crossing the Mexican border and dying in the deserts, is a direct outgrowth of two major factors. The first is represented by colonialism and neo-colonialism. The second is represented by the impact of the reorganization of global capitalism in the form of neo-liberal globalization.

Migration patterns tend to be from the former colonies to the former colonizer, or from those countries that have historically been dominated by Europe or North America to the country that has been the historical dominator. People are leaving countries that were, in some cases, artificially created by the former colonizer or completely abandoned by the former colonizer when they were either forced to leave or when the colony no longer held value.

In the second case – the impact of globalization on migration – all one has to do is to look at Mexico to understand the problem. The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) resulted in the destruction of Mexican agriculture, the weakening of the public sector, and a resulting migration of Mexicans north to the U.S. in search of survival. It is demonstrated factually that migration shot upwards when NAFTA was signed into law.

Thus, it is highly ironic that so many people in Europe and North America blame the migrants for allegedly ruining the “destination countries.” The migrants from the global South left their homelands due, largely, to the political, economic and, yes, military policies of Europe and North America. To put it another way, in order to address migration, one needs to push for European and North American governmental policies that address the devastation wrought by the global North over the last several hundred years.

It’s simple: You cannot ignore history. It has this odd way of coming up and biting you when and where you would least expect it.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and www.billfletcherjr.com.

Black Families Must Focus on Asset Building

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(NNPA) As the wealthy few continue to prosper, the rest of the nation is caught in a financial tug-of-war between stagnant wages and a rising cost of living. In communities of color, chronic unemployment and underemployment and a host of other social ills are added burdens to an already challenging economy.

These and other disturbing trends were the focus of the recent Color of Wealth Summit, conceived and convened by a national research organization, the Insight Center for Community Economic Development and a solution-oriented social change nonprofit, the Center for Global Policy Solutions. The two-day conference engaged prominent thought leaders to propose solutions to the growing racial income and wealth divide that has come to characterize America’s economy.

According to Maya Rockeymoore, its president and CEO, “Most organizations and policy makers focus on improving income and income supports such as safety net programs. While this approach is vital, it is not enough to build economic security for vulnerable families over a lifetime. To achieve true security for vulnerable families, asset building must be part of the strategy. Through wealth, families can have the financial resilience they need to sustain themselves in the event of a job loss or illness. Wealth also gives families the resources to invest in their future and realize their dreams. A truly transformational economic security strategy should focus on both income and wealth.”

Recent research confirms how hard it is for families that lack adequate earnings, to make it from one payday to the next. While the idea of saving is valued, for too many consumers nothing is left once basic living expenses are met.

According to the most recent report of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress:

  • Median net worth in Black households fell by more than 40 percent from 2007 to 2013. White households during this same period saw median net worth drop 26 percent;
  • Median weekly earnings of Black college graduates working full-time and their White counterparts showed that the Black grads’ annual earnings were $12,000 less; and
  • Overall, the Black median earnings of $34,600, is nearly $24,000 less than the same measure for Whites.

“The same groups of people who have historically been left behind are growing in number and population,” observed Angela Glover Blackwell, a summit participant and founder and CEO of PolicyLink. “It is critical that we support asset-building programs and policies that create and protect opportunities for all families to save and invest in themselves, their futures, and their communities.”

Historically, homeownership has been the gateway to building wealth and assets. Unfortunately, the nation’s foreclosure crisis altered wealth-building for millions. According to the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, nearly 14.8 million foreclosure notices were filed from January 1, 2007 to May 31, 2013.

By late 2014, according to the Census Bureau, only 42 percent of Black families were homeowners – more than 22 percentage points lower than that of the nation (64 percent) and 30 percentage points lower than that of Whites (72 percent). The current homeownership level is the lowest since 1993.

For Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-Mo.), a summit keynoter, the discussions provided a timely connection between his work in the House Financial Services Committee and the conference’s agenda. “[T]he collapse in home values during the Great Recession hit Black households especially hard. At a time like this, we need more affordable housing and a stronger safety net,” said Cleaver. “Both in the House Financial Services Committee and in the Congress as a whole, we have more work to do to increase opportunities for families around the country.”

According to Cleaver, FHA’s lowering of mortgage insurance premiums earlier this year, is one example of a government initiative that will bring consumers “closer to the keys of their own home.” An estimated 90,000-140,000 buyers will be assisted this year.

While most Black and Latino homebuyers have had their mortgages underwritten by government-backed programs such as FHA, VA and USDA, the greater challenge has been access to private sector conventional mortgages that over the life of a loan are far cheaper than the government-backed offerings.

The annual Home Mortgage Disclosure Act report (HMDA), quantifies by race and ethnicity mortgage lending and denials for mortgage loans. For 2013, the most up-to-date report, the data clearly reveals that while conventional mortgage originations rose slightly from 2012 to 2013, nationwide Black consumers, who are more than 13 percent of the population, received only 2.3 percent or 36,903 loans. In 2012, the same data point was even smaller, with only 26,500 such loans.

Earlier research by the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), a summit co-sponsor, revealed that many homebuyers of color were steered into higher-cost, subprime loans – even when they qualified for cheaper ones. After analyzing 50,000 subprime loans, CRL concluded that Blacks and Latinos were almost a third more likely to receive a high-priced loan than were Whites with the same credit scores.

Additionally, research by the Center for Community Capital at the University of North Carolina found that borrowers of color and low-wealth families who received safe mortgages that were fully-underwritten during the housing crisis saw their home equity appreciate by $23,000.

“Proving that when families receive responsible mortgage loans, they are able to build a financial safety net that they can access during challenging times,” said Nikitra Bailey, a CRL executive vice-president.

“There are a number of wealth gaps that are troubling,” said john a. powell, director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California at Berkeley, “One is the gap between the very rich and everyone else. Another is the gap between people of color and their White counterparts. What is not appreciated and needs to be explored is the relationship between these gaps.”

The policy answer to that keen insight will determine whether this and future generations will be able to reasonably accomplish what our parents and forefathers did – a better quality of life. “America will be a people-of-color nation by 2042, and addressing the racial wealth gap is necessary to ensure sustained economic growth for all Americans,” stated Blackwell.

Ever-widening wealth gaps are not a Black, or White, or Latino problem. Nor can the dilemma become more fodder for partisan bickering. It is an American problem that deserves a response equal to its challenge.

Concluded Powell, “Our lives, our economy and our democracy are at risk.”

 

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

The Dispossessed

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"Dispossessed?" I cried, holding up my hand and allowing the word to whistle from my throat. "That's a good word," Dispossessed'! Dispossessed,' eighty-seven years and dispossessed of what? They ain't got nothing, they can't get nothing, they never had nothing. So who was dispossessed? Can it be us?" -Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

As I watched the devastation in Baltimore yesterday from the safety of my living room, like most law-abiding citizens I was outraged. Witnessing the destruction of property that belonged to hardworking small business men and women saddened me. Seeing masses of young people - primarily teenagers and young adults - smash windows and raid the unattended stores angered me. Since when does justice require 'real indian hair'?, I asked my husband after seeing images of looters breaking in to beauty supply stores and emerging with packages of hair extensions.

These actions were not protests nor calls for justice in the investigation of the death of Baltimore's Freddie Gray, who died of a spinal cord injury while in police custody last week. They were criminal acts. These individuals were not protesters, they were opportunists.

I do not believe frustration has to erupt into violence...nor do I believe lawlessness achieves reform. But even with those beliefs I found myself trying to understand the burning of senior housing complexes, the smashing of shop windows, the looting of stores and general "ratchetness" of so many young people, as one Baltimorean aptly labeled the behavior while being interviewed from one of the city's hotspots.

The images reminded me of a scene from Ralph Ellison's 1952 novel Invisible Man and an important theme of the book: dispossession. "They ain't got nothing...they can't get nothing...they never had nothing," the unnamed narrator says in an impromptu speech on a Harlem sidewalk to keep a crowd from rioting when their elderly neighbors are evicted from their apartment of 20 years. His oration is an attempt to stop the raucous crowd from rioting in protest.

Ellison's commentary on the plight of the disenfranchised still rings true 63 years later. The issue is larger than the death of Freddie Gray. It's larger than the "broken" relationship between the community and the police. And it's even larger than the inequitable justice system that is desperately in need of reform. It's Baltimore this week, but could be Chicago, or Philadelphia, or Los Angeles or any major city the next, any city with a large population of people who have experienced generations of hopelessness and despair, of mass incarceration and high unemployment, of inferior schools and a lack of community resources.

In my lifetime there has been Los Angeles in 1992, Cincinnati in 2001, and Ferguson just last year. The unrest begins with a seemingly small incident and ends with a community in ruins. And my standard response is disbelief, anger, and sadness for the innocent, hardworking people who lose more than material possessions they lose the hope of a better future for their own families. And ultimately everyone loses as city resources are diverted to recovery, insurance premiums surge, and decayed and abandoned neighborhoods are even more blighted.

At first my response to the incidents in Baltimore was no different...Rioting is not new, but technology and social media have made every action instantly available to us, streaming every destructive moment to us live and in real time. But then I took a look at it through the lens of history.

For the past few weeks I have been working with my father on a family history project in preparation for our annual family reunion on Independence Day in North Carolina. And on Sunday he taught me to review documents on the ancestry.com website. I saw my great great grandmother's first entry in the U.S. Census. The year was 1850 and she was four years old. Her name didn't appear, just her age, her sex, and her color, Mulatto. Her father, we learned from subsequent documents, was her owner and her mother was his slave. I was able to follow Jane for decades as she became a house keeper and farmer, through divorce and widowhood, and the birth of her ten children, including my great grandfather Edward. My great grandfather is listed in 1900 as a day laborer and at the time of his death in 1968 he owns land. His daughter Essie, my grandmother, marries my grandfather and eventually they own their own house, and her son Hardy, my dad, moves away from the family home to California earns an education, starts a family, buys a house, and starts a business.

Within three generations, we moved from hopelessness to hope and from laboring in the fields and in other people's homes to getting paid for our ideas and talents. But so many people in our communities are trapped in the world of the dispossessed. Like Ellison's narrator in Invisible Man they don't even see the system that controls them, so how can they fight it? It's bigger than this moment, it stems from a legacy that is so deeply rooted in the soil of our nation that most of us can't even see it, and those who can have no idea how to stop the tree from growing. And until our nation's larger systemic issues are addressed we will continue to harvest its strange fruit. The only question is where and when?


Dr. Paulette Brown-Hinds is president of Brown Publishing & Communications and publisher of the VOICE. The multi-platform media company includes news weekly print and digital editions, two websites, six social media sites, and a strategic communications firm specializing in community outreach and engagement. VOICE Rants & Raves is her weekly blog highlighting important Inland Southern California events, people, organizations, and issues.

Baltimore: We Have Been Here Before

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(NNPA) Now it is Baltimore. There Freddie Gray, a Black man, was stopped on the street, pinned to the ground, dragged to the back of a police wagon, and died in police custody. Six officers were suspended. The mayor promised justice. But the city erupted in non-violent demonstrations that turned ugly, despite Gary’s family pleading for peace. Over three dozen were arrested. “Oh, Baltimore,” sang Nina Simone in 1978, “Ain’t it hard just to live.

Baltimore is a tale of two cities. The Inner Harbor now glimmers with new restaurants, new condominiums, the stadiums that house the Ravens and the Orioles. West Baltimore, in contrast, is marked by boarded up stores, abandoned homes, and too many people with no hope. The jobs are gone; the schools crowded, the streets harsh. Here the police – many of whom live in the suburbs – are tasked with waging a war on drugs and enforcing order. The inevitable result is a tinderbox, a spark away from bursting into flame, one incident of police misbehavior from eruption.

We’ve been here before; Baltimore is not unique. We’ve seen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Eric Garner in Staten Island New York, and Trayvon Martin in Sanford Fla. Now that demonstrations have put the question of police violence on the front pages, each week brings another horror, another victim, another injustice.

Much focus has been put on cameras as a technical fix, but we need a change of culture, of character, of circumstance. Police need new training, and a new relationship with the communities they patrol. But at the end of the day, police are not the answer. They are the occupying force, but they are not the cause of the underlying distress.

We’ve been here before, too. In 1968, after race riots had erupted in Watts, Chicago, Detroit and Newark, Lyndon Johnson convened the Kerner Commission to investigate the causes of the riots. The Kerner Report descried a nation “moving towards two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.” It called for better training for the police, but also for new jobs, new housing, an end to de factor segregation. Police misbehavior was often the match that sparked the eruption, but there would be no answer without fundamental change.

Baltimore and America have changed, but for too many in our ghettos and barrios, the reality is the same. The New York Times reports on 1.5 million “missing black men,” one of every six aged 24 to 54 who have disappeared from civic life. They are either dead or locked away. Jobs have dried up as manufacturing plants closed and where shipped abroad. Mass incarceration – with African Americans still suffering from racial profiling and injustice – destroys possibility. The official Black unemployment rate is twice that of whites, but that does not even count those who want a job but have given up trying to find one.

The stigmatization of African Americans continues. African American children are more likely to be suspended for the same misbehavior than Whites. African American men are more likely to be stopped, more likely to be arrested if stopped, more likely to convicted if arrested. The result hurts African Americans generally. The Harvard sociologist Devah Pager has found that a White with a criminal record has a better chance getting hired than Black with no record whatsoever. Being Black in America today is just about the same as having a felony conviction in terms of one’s chances of finding a job,” she concludes.

We need a serious plan for urban redevelopment. We need a plan to put people to work, a public works project that hires and trains and employs people in work that needs to be done. We could provide guarantees to pension funds to invest in rebuilding the boarded up homes. We could train young people to retrofit buildings with solar and energy efficient insulation and windows. We could insure that transportation exists to take workers to where the jobs are.

Baltimore has put us on notice once more. Our cities are at a breaking point. There are more horrors to come, more explosions to follow. 50 years after the Kerner Commission, we ignore its teachings at our peril.

Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is president and founder of Rainbow PUSH coalition.

Normalizing Relations with Castro

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(NNPA) I was standing in Jacksonville, Fla. airport awaiting a flight home when I looked up at the television at the gate. CNN was repeating the story that President Obama and Cuba’s President Raul Castro were to have a one-on-one discussion and were also to speak to the press. This was a sight that, until a few months ago, I had never expected.

The change in U.S./Cuba relations has been a long time in coming. The U.S.A. has attempted through a combination of a blockade, assassinations, invasions, and support of terrorism, to undermine and overthrow the Cuban government. Though it has succeeded in creating great misery for the Cuban people, it never shattered their reserve. In effect, the Cubans stood firm.

At the same time, the U.S. took on more and more the appearance of, not only a global bully, but also a global brat. It has had to have its way at whatever cost. The problem is that its belligerence towards Cuba continued to backfire, leading to a situation of increasing isolation. As the April 2015 “Summit of the Americas” approached, the isolation of the U.S. and Cuba became very evident, necessitating that something change.

President Obama, despite protests from many domestic right-wingers, recognized that the jig was up and that the USA/Cuba relationship needed to alter. Undoubtedly, what the U.S. now hopes to accomplish is to subvert Cuba through various economic incentives. Time will only tell whether such an approach will work. What is clear, however, is that the Cuban government, while looking forward to an improvement in relations, is not planning on getting on its knees in front of the U.S.

Ironically, at the same time that U.S./Cuba relations were improving, the U.SA. worsened its relationship with Venezuela, announcing that Venezuela represented an alleged security threat to the U.S. Most of the Western Hemisphere rejected this characterization and also rejected the approach of the U.S. toward Venezuela, apparently forcing the Obama administration to reconsider its stand towards Venezuela.

The ruling elite in the U.S. seems to have great difficulty appreciating that Latin America is not its property. There really is something called “national sovereignty,” that nations on this planet are supposed to respect. Yet, when it comes to Latin America there is a long history—dating back to the Monroe Doctrine of the 19th Century—of assuming that the entire hemisphere is made up of different components of Washington, D.C.’s realm.

In looking at President Castro on CNN the other day, it was clear that he had different ideas.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

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