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Julianne Malveaux

Did So-Called Black Friday Trump Thanksgiving?

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(NNPA) First of all, I never understood why they called it “Black” Friday. I never saw any red, black and green adorning the shopping mall sales. Yes, I know that theoretically this is the day that puts stores in the black, out of the red they’ve been managing all year. Nearly 40 percent of jewelry sales happen between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and other sales are up in the weeks that end the year. But I’m enough of a nationalist to resent the day after Thanksgiving being called “black” for commercial purposes.

Call it what you will, though, it was a rousing success for retailers. Record breaking, according to the National Retail Federation. More than 226 million shoppers spent $52.4 billion during Thanksgiving weekend. (There are 312 million Americans, which means that at least a few of us sat this drama out). At least 50 million of these folks hit the stores before midnight. They spent an average of nearly $400 per person, undaunted by crowds, pepper spray and long lines. When did they find time to give thanks? And whatever happened to the recession?

I am frankly puzzled by the hype of post-Thanksgiving shopping and the way so many people have shrugged off their concerns of economic survival to crowd the stores. At the same time, it underlies the way that consumerism so drives our society, our need for more, more, more of things, things, things. To be sure, it would make no economic sense to put retailers out of business, and we know that consumer spending drives 70 percent of gross domestic product. But there is something sad about the crowds, the energy, and the profligate spending that drives people to spend part of Thanksgiving Day standing in line waiting for a chance to buy stuff, something tragic about some fool pepper spraying folks for a chance at an X-Box (I suppose I show my own ignorance by wondering what an X-Box is).

Retailers are touting their successful weekend – with spending up by more than 6 percent from last year – as a good sign that economic recovery is on the way. I’m not so sure – unemployment rates remain high and there are more than 14 million officially unemployed people, and probably an equal number marginally connecgted to the labor market. Wages have been stagnant for quite some time, and the Occupy Wall Street movement has only gained momentum because of the enormity of economic misery.

But the Occupy Wall Street movement has attracted curiosity but hardly the interest of 226 million people. I can’t think of ANYTHING that gets 226 million people together. Imagine that as many people cared about the environment, economic justice, or anything else. We don’t even get that many people voting in so-called close elections.pointing to the 99 percent at the bottom.

So how is it that we spend Thursday counting our blessings, surrounded by friends, family, and other loved ones, and thanking the Lord, and then collectively spend Friday swarming the stores. How is it that some of us actually get up from the dinner table and make it to the stores. And how is it that retailers force employees to come to work to sell “stuff” to the rest of us in the name of post-Thanksgiving sales?

According to those who study spending the post-Thanksgiving sales aren’t actually the best ones. Prices next week, according to some experts, are actually going to be better. And the quality of the merchandise that was put out there on sale wasn’t “all that” either. Still, we swarmed the stores.

I realize that I have Grinch-like tendencies when it comes to holidays, but the economist in me is more puzzled than anything else at this holiday behavior (especially the pepper spray wielding fool). I’m also wondering if the energies of 226 million people could ever be harnessed for good.

I surely hope that Black Friday did not trump Thanksgiving, but it surely got a lot more ink than Thanksgiving. Shopping may well be both the great American pastime and our substitute for religion, for industry, and maybe even for morality. No wonder the Chinese are planning to eat our lunch in 20 years or so. We’ll probably buy new place settings for them at a holiday sale!

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women.

Stop the Violence Against Women

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(NNPA) The Fort Worth Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated held its annual Sisterhood Luncheon last Saturday, and I was privileged and honored to be the keynote speaker. A cloud hovered over the luncheon, though, and the media was there to talk about it. Four Delta women have been raped in the Dallas Fort Worth area in the last year by a serial rapist who appears to be targeting women in their 50s and 60s. The rapes have caused such alarm that the national President of our sorority, Cynthia Butler McIntyre, has issued an alert, suggesting caution in displaying Delta identification on automobiles, and in wearing identifying t-shirts and sweaters.

Every two minutes, someone is sexually assaulted. More than 200,000 people, mostly women, are sexually assaulted each year. But only one in sixteen rapists will spend even a moment in jail – more than 60 percent of all rapes are not reported to the police. Most rapes occur within a mile of a victim’s home, or in her home, and almost two-thirds of all rapes are committed by someone the victim actually knows. Nearly 80 percent of all rapes are perpetrated on women under 30, so the Delta rapes are unusual in many respects. Still, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority has the opportunity to turn the pain of these rapes into an empowering moment by organizing to stop the violence against women.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was authored by Vice-President Joe Biden when he was the senator from Delaware. It became law in 1994, and was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. It is up for reauthorization again this year, and while it should face no trouble in Congress, who knows with this Congress? While there should be no resistance to this reauthorization, it is important for women to remind their congressional representatives that this critical legislation must be reauthorized.

Additionally, there is a federal agency that focuses on implementing VAWA by providing resources to organizations dedicated to preventing violence against women. The Office on Violence against Women (ww.ovw.usdoj.gov) is part of the Department of Justice. Earlier this fall, they held a meeting of university chancellors and presidents to talk about campus safety and violence against women, since college-aged young people are more likely to be victims of such violence than others are. The office urges people needing assistance to reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

Although we are well into the twenty-first century, we still treat the crime of rape with nineteenth century sensibilities. Many women lack the courage that the Guinean victim of former World Bank President Dominique Strauss-Kahn (also known as DSK) showed. Yet her treatment is a cautionary tale about why so many victims are silent. After Naffissatou Diallo spoke up, we learned all her business – that she cleaned rooms for $25 an hour in New York, that she had an acquaintance or fiancé who may have been involved in drugs and was incarcerated in Arizona, that she may have lied on her immigration application, and that she may have earned income that she did not report. Before it was all said and done, charges were dropped. Then DSK fled back to France where he spoke of an “inappropriate relationship” with Diallo. Give me a break! When does spilling your semen on someone you do not know constitute a relationship? I digress. The point is that many women don’t speak out because they don’t want to be dragged through the media mud of scrutiny into their past lives. Even a prostitute can be raped, but the prostitute wouldn’t likely get a fair trail, especially if her abuser were rich and powerful. The victim’s character is still placed on trial, and that shouldn’t be the case. And yet, how many women judge victims of rape with the same harsh scrutiny that others have. What was she wearing? Was she asking for it? Was it just miscommunication?

VAWA does not address many of these questions, and perhaps it cannot. We have to change the culture so that rape is so repugnant an act that most people will not consider it as an option, that penalties are so harsh that people can be thrown under the jail for such crimes. Four members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority were violated in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and more than 200,000 people are violated in our nation each year. Delta can use the pain of these rapes to lead the nation in drawing a line in the sand. Enough is enough. It is time to stop the violence against women.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, NC.

CBC Gathering Shows Complexity of Black America

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(NNPA) I don’t know how many African American people came to Washington for the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference, but there were more than 5,000 gathered at the dinner that featured President Obama as a speaker. Though the halls of the Washington Convention Center were full, and it did my eyes good to see people lined up to buy books, some say that the economy may have dampened attendance. To be sure, the corporate presence did not seem as strong as it has been in the past, yet it is always gratifying to see Ingrid Sanders Jones and the Coca-Cola company sponsoring the prayer breakfast, which sizzled this year when the Rev. Freddy Haynes totally threw down.

The high point of the conference may have been President Obama’s strident and almost angry speech, challenging Congress to pass the jobs bill, and explaining why it must pass. Watching the President, he appeared to be undaunted, but certainly frustrated, by the legislative gridlock and the total lack of cooperation he has been experiencing from Congress. If those assembled reach out to their legislative representatives, not all of whom are CBC members; perhaps it will make some difference.

Another high point of the dinner was the range of wonderful honorees present. They included EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, and also the indomitable Rev. Joe Lowery, who at nearly 90 has as much fire in his belly as he did 50 years ago. He lifted his fist, roused the crowd, and exhorted us to keep fighting injustice. He is an amazing example of a civil rights warrior, and he deserves every honor that is bestowed on him.

That may have been the highest point but, from my perspective, the legislative conference contained many highs. There were more than one hundred brain trusts, panels, or other gatherings both at the convention center and in nearby places, as several organizations also use the legislative conference week as a time to organize their own meetings. The White House HBCU initiative, for example, held its conference on the Monday and Tuesday before the CBC legislative conference. With everything that is going on, the ALC is a cross between a policy conference, a family reunion, with a few evening parties thrown in for good measure.

Somehow the majority press gets away with focusing only on the party aspect of the gathering. The Washington Post printed a piece that talked about the ingredients for a successful CBC party. Ho, hum. Why not a piece about the ingredients for a successful brain trust? Why not some reporting on the range of issues addressed. There were panels on the environment, the foster care system, education, wealth, business development, criminal justice, global affairs and more. A highlight for me was visiting with students from four elementary and high schools that were organized by Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). Our panel’s task was to encourage them to consider careers in math and science. With a NASA astronaut, a math educator, an engineer, and this economist on the panel, the students got lots of reinforcement to consider untraditional careers. It was great to see young people gathered and open to learning. Too, Congressman Elijah Cummings always puts together a panel on youth, which is attended by young people from his congressional district in Baltimore. This year, Cora Masters Barry moderated the panel and brought her young people from D.C.’s Southeast Tennis and learning center. Four Bennett students, and hundreds of college students from other campuses, were in attendance. While the cynical may say that the CBC conference is the “same old, same old”, it is interesting to view the ALC through the fresh eyes of our young people who are so eager to learn and to make a difference.

Women’s issues were well represented. Melanie Campbell convened the Black Women’s Roundtable with an overflow crowd. Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) convened the International Black Women’s Policy Forum to explore the issue of health disparities.

Tony Brown once said that if the ALC were cancelled for just one year, that money could be used to fund significant initiatives in Black America. He may be right. At the same time, I’d like to challenge the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to document some of the outcomes of the ALC, which might include legislation inspired, business deals closed, scholarships funded, students exposed. If the accomplishments were clearly documented, perhaps the mainstream press would talk purpose, not party, when they reference next year’s ALC.

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, NC.

Debilitating Poverty is Corrosive

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(NNPA) The fall of the Roman Empire is best captured in the phrase that “Nero fiddled while Rome burned”. Set on pursuing his own pleasures and indulgences, Nero could not see the walls crumbling around him. Similarly, our leaders seem oblivious to the walls crashing in on us, bickering about the way that relief on our employment situation should be structured, while poverty rates are soaring.

The data that came out last Tuesday included no surprises, but in some ways, it was a stunning indictment of the economic gridlock that has plagued us for the past year. While Congress has been yammering on about debt ceilings, more and more Americans are without work; more and more have experienced poverty.

The poverty rate rose from 14.3 percent to 15.1 percent between 2009 and 2010. That means that the number of poor Americans grew by 2.6 million people, from 43.6 million to 46.2 million. For the past three years the poverty rate has continued to rise, and income has continue to decline. In the past year, the average income has dropped by 2.3 percent to $49,445. Of course, the African American level of income saw a steeper decline, from $33,122 to $32,068, or by 3.2 percent. While median Black income dropped by more than a thousand dollars a year, white income, from a higher perch, saw a lesser decline of about $900, or from $52,717 to $51,846, about 1.7 percent. With much less, African Americans are hit much harder.

Thus, while the overall poverty rate is 15.1 percent, it is 27.4 percent for African Americans, 26.6 percent for Hispanics, and 9.9 percent for whites. More than 40 percent of African American children live in poverty. There are further indications of increased poverty and dire news for years to come. There are 2 million more “doubled up” households, meaning that more than one family is living in the same home. Yes, we used to do this “back in the day”, but today entire families are moving in together because of economic exigencies. Poverty rates for youngsters, those under 18, have risen from 20.7 to 22 percent. Nearly a third of those families headed by women are in poverty, and women are still earning 77 percent of what men earn. Are civil rights laws being enforced in this age of so-called fiscal prudence, or would the likes of Michelle Bachman throw the civil rights agencies under the bus, as she promises to do with the Department of Education if she is elected President?

As poverty rises, the number of Americans without health insurance is also on the rise. 49.9 million people, one in six Americans, have no health insurance. For African Americans, it’s one in five; for Hispanics, it’s nearly one in three. Those who sit at the margins of this economy languish there without the ability to deal with preventive health care, and unable to afford medical treatment in times of illness. This erodes our national productivity and well being. Why can’t health care be a simple human right in our nation?

The Census report Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010 (http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p60-239.pdf) details the ways that poverty has increased in just one year. In some countries, this would be a cause for alarm. In the United States, it seems to be business as usual. While poverty strikes come communities harder than it does others, the fact is that we have more people in poverty than we have had since we began to measure poverty in 1959, and we’ve only seen poverty at this level twice since 1965. Then, we declared a war on poverty. Now, we seem content to accept it.

Those who are poor are victims of a corroded economy. While many would like to blame the 46.2 million Americans who are experiencing poverty, the real culprit is our nation’s economic failure. We are economically unhealthy, we are not generating jobs, compelling investment, or focusing on our future. Our children have fewer prospects that many of us had because even those who follow the rules find the payoff lower and the risks higher.

This does not mean that we should give up. It means that we should organize and galvanize ourselves to take our economy back. Dozens of congressional representatives have ignored the poverty data, but they wouldn’t be able to ignore it if we grabbed their attention. More than 40 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. planned a Poor People’s Campaign. Who will plan it now?

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Racing Toward The Bottom

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(NNPA) While a Department of Education program embraces “a race to the top”, our nation’s current stance toward our 14 million officially unemployed people represents nothing less than a race to the bottom. We are content to report, month after month, unemployment rates in excess of nine percent, to use questionable language to describe tepid performance, and to assuage ourselves with myths that the economy is in recovery because GDP growth is up. Imagine that one of our children came home from school with a report card that showed a drop from a C- to a D, and she reported her grades as “substantially unchanged”. She would, substantially, find her allowance cut, her study hours increased, her privileges restricted. But when high unemployment continues month after month, an unsatisfactory outcome in and of itself, we hear nonsense and platitudes.

Fourteen million people are just the tip of the iceberg. When we look at those who are discouraged, dropped out of the labor market, and all of that, we are looking at something closer to 20 million people. Among African Americans we are looking at more than one in four without work, and in inner cities, we are looking at nearly one in two men who do not work. Employers won’t create jobs, government won’t create jobs, and rhetoric won’t put people back to work.

Then, what are we to do? If traditional job creation will not fill the void, we must consider the possibility of encouraging entrepreneurship so that people can be trained to create jobs for themselves. Enslaved people were some of our nation’s original entrepreneurs. What kind of job creation ability did it take for some of us to purchase ourselves. Throughout our history, there are people who never joined the Fortune 500, but who created jobs and opportunities for themselves and for others through entrepreneurship.

Elizabeth Keckley, the seamstress who bought her freedom and worked for Mary Todd Lincoln, and others in Washington, is an example of the kind of entrepreneurial ability so many of the formerly enslaved exhibited. Thomas Day built a furniture manufacturing company in North Carolina in 1837. Elijah McCoy, “the real McCoy” invented the lubricating cup that became an essential part of locomotive manufacturing in 1872, and made millions from that invention. AG Gaston was an entrepreneur with interests in insurance, funeral homes, broadcasting, public relations, banking, and the hospitality industry. And the list goes on. All these folk are African American, many are little know, and each of them is a story of inspiration for someone who is out of work.

Entrepreneurship will not replace traditional employment; indeed, entrepreneurs create employment opportunities for those who do not have them. Even as this administration grapples with our tepid economy, it seems that there ought to be some conversation about encouraging entrepreneurs to create value in an economy that seems to devalue the lives, and efforts of at least 20 million of our citizens, those who want to work but can find nothing. It is interesting that some banks were described as “too big to fail”, but we have easily tolerated failure in the labor market. In other words, our government was prepared to protect stockholders and bond markets, but not to protect people. The message is that if you are a banker, government will manage your risk so thoroughly that you can jump on your high horse and talk about deficit reduction just a few minutes after you have been bailed out. On the other hand, if you hold a mortgage or a job, you might as well line up for a beat-down because you are not too big to fail, indeed, you are too small to pay attention to.

Our economy is racing to the bottom because we have failed to pay attention to the details, to the small stuff, to the individuals who are being ground down and spit out by this economy. But the very folks who have been marginalized have to be the ones who will rise up and make a difference in our nation’s direction. Just as there are those who formed a Tea party, what would happen if the galvanized marginalized formed the Unemployed Party, the Worker’s Party, or the Economic Justice Party. Then the race to the bottom might turn into an explosion at the top. Or, next month and the month after and the month after, we will continue to read tepid reports about the labor market, and continue to wring our hands about the injustice of it all.

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women. Her book, Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History, is available at www.lastwordprod.com.

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