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Black to the Future

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(NNPA) I was recently in South Africa for a conference. While there, I had two interesting experiences that raised the complications and politics of race.

In the first case I was on a shuttle bus. The driver, ethnically South Asian but a South African, was very friendly. We started up a conversation during which he asked me about life in the U.S.A. Among the things that I noted was the continued existence of racist oppression in the U.S.A. He then made this interesting comment: “Yeah, that’s the way it is here. If you are not Black then you do not get considered for jobs.”

I was a bit stunned by the comment. First, the driver felt completely comfortable saying this to me, which meant that he, apparently, did not see me as Black, or at least not like a Black South African. Second, when we continued the conversation and discussed apartheid and how the African majority had been suppressed and disenfranchised and that there need to be steps taken to repair this damage, he said absolutely nothing. His silence was deafening. He then changed the topic.

The second incident was in the context of a discussion with an Arab from Lebanon. I spoke about African Americans and at a certain point said something like “…we Blacks…” The gentleman looked at me and responded: “Bill, you do not look particularly Black.” He did not say this in an insulting manner but rather in a very matter of fact manner. I replied that what was interesting about his comment is that while I may look like I come from any number of places, e.g., North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Cape Verde, when my plane lands in New York there is no question but that I am Black.

When one is outside of the U.S.A., you are reminded that race is not scientific; it is not genetic; it is not hard-and-fast. Rather it is both social and political and very much defined by the history of one’s location and that location’s experience with Western colonialism.

The shuttle driver apparently thinks that “Black” refers to the indigenous African majority in South Africa. That was not the way that the anti-apartheid movement saw it, by the way. For most of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, “Black” was a political term that included all who were not White and were not in some honorary category (e.g., the Japanese). In other words, it referred to those who were the victims of systemic racist oppression, within which you could find indigenous Africans, so-called Coloreds (mixed race), and ethnic South Asians. The shuttle driver was looking at me as a foreigner, and one who was not black. A light-skinned person of African descent was, apparently, something else.

For the Arab, there was something very similar in play. The individual was a progressive trade union activist, but race, for him, did not look the way that it does for us. “Black” meant dark. It had no political meaning at all. If you were light-skinned you could not be Black. This was not seen as offensive but more a perception of reality.

Why is this important? The short answer is that race changes forms in different countries but also within different historical periods. In the U.S.A, people who are frequently considered White today would not necessarily have been considered White 150 years ago, e.g., Jews, Irish, Sicilians. Race gets revised and reconstructed over time to service those in power who wish to instill divisions among people at the base of society. How that appears depends entirely on what that population looks like; ethnic tensions; and methods of controlling the total population.

Think about this the next time you encounter an immigrant who “looks black.” Keep in mind that they come from a different history than yours and that their response to race and racism will be more influenced by the history of their homeland than our reality here in the USA, at least in the beginning.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. He can be reached at papaq54@hotmail.com.

Our Children Deserve Better

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(NNPA) Every generation believes their children deserve to be better off than they were. This belief inspired the first slave rebellion in 1663, when a new law dictated that children of African slaves would not be able to rise above the status of their parents. This belief led Linda Brown’s parents and the NAACP to defeat segregated schooling. And it is this belief that keeps education at the center of the modern-day movement for social justice.

Brown v. Board of Education built a launching pad for education in the 21st century by removing barriers to equality and opening doors to opportunity. African Americans gained the confidence that their children, and generations of children to come, would indeed have access to a better future. But somewhere along the way, America sputtered and lost its way.

Nearly 50 years after the end of desegregation, we are still only sending about one out of four students to college. In a knowledge-based economy, excluding three fourths of our students from higher education is no longer acceptable. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States ranked 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called this “an absolute wake-up call for America.”

The time for tinkering and small-scale experimentation is over. In order to lead the world’s global economy, we must create the world’s brightest workforce. This starts by fixing our education so that all students can graduate college- and career-ready.

The NAACP recently released a report titled “Finding Our Way Back to First: Reclaiming World Leadership by Educating All America’s Children.” Our proactive agenda builds off the foundation laid by Brown v. Board of Education, and it is just as focused on quality as it is on access to education.

“Finding Our Way Back to First” offers research-informed prescriptions for tapping the potential of our students. The NAACP is asking its more than 1,200 active units to advocate for the following reforms:

First, all students should have a strong educational foundation before kindergarten. This means high quality, universal prekindergarten that supports strong literacy and language skills.

Second, we need effective teachers and leaders. Every school, regardless of location and resources, should have a strongly prepared, well-supported teacher in every classroom.

Third, students need more time for more learning. This means longer school days, longer school years and more years of education. Schools also need to offer broad-based programs that extend beyond the regular school day, year and curriculum.

Finally, we need to target our resources at those schools that need them most. We should direct additional state funds to school districts with high concentrations of low-income students. And we should target funds from all levels to help those schools and students who are struggling hardest to achieve.

The NAACP earned its reputation in education by removing obstacles that blocked children from learning. But now is the time for proactive reform. To make the promise of a better life for our children real, we must support student learning and achievement. We must be determined to help every child reach his or her full potential and thereby ensure that we, as a nation, lead and serve globally.

Benjamin Todd Jealous is President and CEO of the national NAACP.

Opportunity and Diversity One Industry at a Time

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(NNPA) There is a missing component to the national discussion concerning how to strengthen and rebuild the American economy. It is true that high unemployment, a weak national infrastructure, the need for stronger public education, the concentration of wealth and the deficit are all challenges to the nation’s economy but being left out of the discussion is the continued economic marginalization of racial and ethnic minorities.

The American economy has always been strongest when it’s kept the middle class within reach for most Americans. But with white households holding nearly 20 times the wealth of black or Latino households, and with rising disparities in unemployment, poverty, and income, the future of the middle class has never looked more uncertain. As the country rapidly becomes majority-minority the nation’s economic well-being is increasingly tied to overcoming racial economic inequality.

The economic challenges that people of color face is reflected in the recently released NAACP Opportunity and Diversity Report Card which analyzes the hotel and lodging industry. Mediocre grades among the five leading hotels we examined—Hyatt, Starwood, Wyndham, Marriott and Hilton—reveal the widespread lack of investment in minority suppliers, the over representation of people of color in the lowest paying entry level positions, the under representation in the more highly paid career track positions and finally a lack of commitment to collecting basic diversity data that could be used to strengthen inclusion efforts.

Our report shows that black-owned businesses, which comprise 7% of all businesses in the U.S., make up only 0.9% of all vendors receipts —a troubling red flag that signals how far corporate America has to go in their supplier diversity outreach. And while people of color are 36% of the population, only 13% of the governing bodies in the hotel and lodging industry consists of people of color.

One of the most disconcerting findings of our report card is that all of the top 5 hotel and lodging corporations do not collect diversity data from their franchise properties. This means for four out of five of these leading corporations no data is collected for the majority of their individual hotels. This is unacceptable.

The NAACP is calling for these corporations to collect the diversity data already mandated by the government through EEO1 reports. We are also asking for planners of major events to request EEO1 reports from any individual hotel they are considering for their event so they can make diversity and inclusion part of their assessment as to which hotel is worthy of their business. The National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners has already voiced support for this action and we will be working with our community and civil rights partners as well as local bureaus of tourism to make widespread the use of EEO1 data as an important and widely used factor for determining which hotels qualify to hold major events.

The EEO1 survey is a primary means that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission uses to advance its mission derived from the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act focused on prohibiting racial discrimination in employment and almost 60 years later we still find great racial and ethnic disparities in business and its workforce. The Opportunity and Diversity Report Card and our call to action for greater use of EEO1 data should not be seen as just a “civil rights” matter but should be understood as a means of dealing with one of the greatest threats facing the American economy over the next thirty years, racial economic inequality. We at the NAACP have always seen racial inequality as a grave threat to the country and in the next few decades if serious action isn’t taken to bridge this divide the entire nation will see the economic results of this inequality.

Republicans are Driving in the Wrong Direction

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By Raynard Jackson
NNPA Columnist

I am constantly amazed by the lack of any meaningful, insightful post-election analysis on the various media outlets (radio, TV, newspapers). You would think that everyone is hanging out at the same places because all the analysis seems to be the same: “Republicans have to find a way to garner more of the Hispanic vote.”

So, if I am to believe these so-called analysts, the Black vote is irrelevant and non-existent. The Black vote is rarely mentioned as being important to either party. Democratic analysts treat the Black vote as just a given – Blacks will vote Democratic. Therefore, there is no need to discuss them. In other words, they are taken for granted. On the Republican side, the Black vote is simply ignored and considered a waste of time as I was told in no uncertain terms by some in the Mitt Romney camp.

This is what the so called experts are missing: According to the Census Bureau, there are about 50 million Hispanics in the U.S. Approximately 12 million are believed to be in the country illegally. So, that leaves 38 million Hispanics who are Americans. Of the 38 million, approximately 40 percent are voting age population (VAP). Therefore there are about 15 million Hispanics that are eligible to vote.

Hispanics are approximately 16 percent of the nation’s population, but only 10 percent of eligible voters. Even worse, only 7 percent vote. The Hispanic population of eligible voter is smaller than any other group (VAP). The VAP for Whites is more than 77 percent, for Blacks 67 percent, and for Asians 52 percent.

Approximately 69 percent of Black VAP and 58 percent of Hispanic VAP are registered to vote; there are more than 7 million people in each group of VAP who are not registered to vote. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, more than 25 million Blacks were eligible to vote in November. For Whites, the figure was 152 million. Each group alone was larger than the Hispanic electorate.

As you know, Hispanics are an ethnic group, not a race. And they can self-identify as either Black or White. Even in reaching out to Hispanics, some GOP handlers are ignoring the fact that there are Black Hispanics.

So, all the hype about the power of the Hispanic vote is just that – hype. But, the bigger message to the Republican Party is: Stop picking various demographic groups to be your flavor of the month. Go after all the votes in earnest. And while they are at it, pay more attention to the Black vote. It’s simple arithmetic.

When you understand the story of the Cadillac car, you will then understand the opportunity the Republican Party is in danger of blowing. If Republicans continue to have leadership that views the Black vote as a waste of time, then the party will go down the path the Cadillac was on. What saved Cadillac was new leadership that busted down the door to the corporate suite and basically demanded a change in policy toward the Black community. hat change of policy saved Cadillac from extinction just as a change of policy can save for the Republican Party from walking down a similar path.

But who is that leader? Who is willing to kick the door down and demand a change in policy? Is it current party chairman, Reince Preibus? Is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie? Is it Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal? Or is it us? Is it that man in the mirror?

What are we Black Republicans willing to do to force change upon our party? I have tried but I can’t do it alone. Who is prepared to join me? Who is willing to stop looking for validation from Whites within the party? Who is willing to forego being invited to “the Christmas party” just for the photo-op?

These questions will be answered by early next year. Time is not on the side of the Republican Party. The car is in the mechanic’s shop; but what Republican mechanic (i.e. leader, consultant, or operative) can take a 20th century car and convert it into a 21st century Cadillac?

Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his Web site, www.raynardjackson.com.

Troubled Waters on the Mighty Mississippi

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(NNPA) The Mississippi River is a great blessing from God. Besides being the largest river in our nation, it is a major vehicle of commerce. It borders the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. In addition, its tributaries reached out to a total of 31 states. A significant amount of ports handle the robust amount of shipping that occurs 24/7 on this magnificent consortium of water.

A few years ago, the Asian Carp invaded the Mississippi River through fishing farms that flooded into the river. There was movement from some groups to cut off the Illinois River from flowing from the Mississippi River into Lake Michigan to prevent further spread of the fish. We joined in the fight against this radical solution. Eventually they found ways to stop the spreading of this unwanted species without killing commerce throughout the Midwest and Great Lakes regions. There was just no way they were going to shut down any part of the Mississippi River. That’s how important it is.

Now we have a different crisis. The area along the northern end of the river is facing a drought. It rivals the drought of 1989. It is threatening reduced commerce along the river. The reduced depth of the river is making shipping somewhat prohibitive. Companies in the navigation industry along these rivers are now shipping less material by “light loading” fleets which make each load less profitable. In addition to the low levels of water, rocks known as pinnacles are emerging through the shallow levels and risking serious damage to the vessels.

If the Mississippi River becomes closed to commerce, that will also affect shipping on the Ohio and Missouri rivers and make the Great Lakes a one way shipping vehicle. It would halt hundreds of millions of tons of essential goods and commodities such as corn, grain, coal, petroleum, chemicals and many other products important to the national economy. Cargo valued at more than $7 billion, including 300 million bushels of agricultural products and 3.8 million tons of coal could experience serious delays that will have a ripple effect and damage all of our local communities. Let’s not overlook the likelihood of five barrels of domestically produced crude oil not being shipped and purchases of imported crude oil will increase by about $550 million as a result.

This situation is a job killer. Lost of jobs and skyrocketing of consumer prices will further hurt our weak economy. However, there is a simple solution to this state of misfortune. All the president has to do is to instruct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to continue, in fact increase, the flow of waters coming from the Missouri River dams and reservoirs. Right now the Corps is scheduled to actually stop these flows of water by mid-December through the spring. They aren’t scheduled to dredge and remove the rock pinnacles located between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill. until late spring. Shutting the water flows now and waiting to dredge and remove the pinnacles is a blueprint for disaster. The president can do this by simply declaring an emergency and implement the Stafford Act. If there ever was an emergency, this is it.

The protocol for having the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manage the water system of the Mississippi River was created as a result of the Great Flood of 1927. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover became immensely popular for successfully managing this task. It was the biggest reason he was elected president in 1928. However, he segregated the victims by race and broke many promises made to the Colored Advisory Commission. This caused much disappointment among African Americans who were predominantly members of the Republican Party. The emergence of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his first lady, Eleanor, who reached out to African Americans changed the whole demographic. Blacks started moving over to the Democratic Party.

We need more of a public outcry on the river situation. Pleas for the president to react accordingly have come in writing by the governors of Illinois, Missouri and Iowa. Fifteen U.S. Senators have also written pleading for the president’s action. Also, 62 members of the House of Representatives have written, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus (Elijah Cummings, Lacy Clay, Cedric Richmond, Bennie Thompson, Emanuel Cleaver, Terri Sewell, Danny Davis and Bobby Rush).

It is time for all of us to show big time concern. Call your senator, congressperson, governor and talk it up on your favorite radio talk show. Write to people as I am doing now. We don’t need additional hits to our economic situation. The nation is fragile and good stewardship with rapid action is needed.

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

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