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Julianne Malveaux

A Mixed Obama Legacy

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(NNPA) President Barack Obama announced a “My Brother’s Keeper,” an initiative to help young Black and Brown men succeed. Many present in the East Wing of the White House described the announcement of this initiative as “an emotional moment” for President Obama and for many of the others gathered there.

Several of the African American men who were present at the announcement took to the airwaves afterwards, talking about how it felt to be in a room where the nation’s first Black president talked about his own background and his identification with troubled young Black men. The parents of slain teens Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis were in the room, reinforcing a statement the president made a year or so ago when he said that if he had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon Martin.

While President Obama says he will ask government agencies to work together to create more possibilities for young Black men. He emphasized that the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative is not a new government program. Indeed, early funding will come from private foundations. Few specifics of the program have been released, but preliminary activity will include a review of existing programs to determine what works and what doesn’t. Still, the president has used the power of his pen, the phone and his pulpit to raise awareness about the many economic challenges African American men face.

Using the term “no excuses” President Obama told young men that they had to take responsibility for their own success. That comment gave CNN anchor Don Lemon the opportunity to mouth off at Obama critics, to chide his own critics, and to demonstrate why he might be a more effective opinionator than journalist. Lemon was one of many, also, to describe “My Brother’s Keeper” as part of the Obama legacy. Many said they expect the president to continue be involved in the empowerment of Black and Brown boys and men.

While I think “My Brother’s Keeper” has tremendous potential, given the socioeconomic status of African American men, there is not yet enough meat on the bones of the announcement to judge. President Obama has three years left in office. Is this as good as it gets?

For all the good he will do with the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, the president may leave a different kind of legacy with his recent set of nominees to the Georgia district court. With six vacant seats on that court, our president has chosen to appoint four Republicans, including two social conservatives. In a state that is 31 percent African American, there is only one Black nominee. These judges are appointed for life. Judicial appointments are a clear part of a legacy.

President Obama has been vocal about people’s right to vote, and disdainful of voter suppression tactics from long lines to voter ID. Attorney General Eric Holder has brought suit against counties and states engaged in various gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics. Why, then, would President Obama nominate Mark Cohen, who successfully defended Georgia’s voter ID law in court? Despite opposition from Rev. Joseph Lowery, as well as by civil rights veteran and Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.), the president has refused to rescind the Cohen nomination. The young men he lifted up in his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative may be the same ones denied the right to vote through voter suppression. Cohen, in his late 50s, may serve as many as two decades on the bench. What kind of anti-civil rights rulings might he make?

Rev. Lowery and Congressman Lewis are among those also opposing former state legislator Michael Boggs because of his conservative legislative record, which includes opposition to marriage equality, his vote to keep the confederate insignia on the Georgia flag, and his efforts to restrict access to abortion. Through his votes, Boggs has indicated his opposition to the African American community, to women, and to the LGBT community. What kind of votes might we expect from Boggs, who is in his early 50s, in the decades to come? And why won’t President Obama listen to those African American stalwarts who strongly object to this nomination?

Georgia Rep. David Scott told TVOne’s Roland Martin that these nominations are disrespectful to the nation and to the African American community. The national civil rights organizations have, unfortunately, been silent on this matter. Are they too frightened of losing the president’s goodwill to speak up?

Ten years from now, will we write that the status of African American and Latino boys and men has improved? That Judges Cohen and Boggs have made rulings that have further eroded civil and human rights? A collective Black voice muted by the fact that a community can’t excoriate a White president after giving a Black one a pass? Which is the Obama legacy?

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Blacks Have More Reasons to be Fearful than Whites

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(NNPA) In the years after enslavement, Southern Whites did all they could to return to a manner of slavery. No White “owned” a Black person, but many Whites behaved as if they did. Theoretically, Blacks were free to come and go as they pleased, but if they went to the wrong store, sat in the wrong part of the bus, or failed to yield narrow sidewalks to Whites, they could expect a physical confrontation. All a White woman had to do was cry “rape” for a Black man (and usually the wrong man) was beaten or lynched. Whites expected deference from Black people, and when they didn’t get it, they demanded it with physical threats or worse.

In the months after World War II, 12 million soldiers returned home. Seven percent of them – nearly 800,000 Black soldiers – got something less than a hero’s welcome. Indeed, thousands of Black World II veterans were beaten, often because these men wanted the same rights at home that they fought for abroad. Their sense of dignity and equality seemed to embolden the Ku Klux Klan, which was responsible for soldiers in uniform being pulled off busses, beaten and shot. In some cases, these soldiers had their eyes gouged out; in some cases they were castrated, tortured and lynched.

Whites engaged in the writing of Jim Crow laws that were imposed on Blacks such as vagrancy laws that made it possible to jail a Black man because he had no money. These unequal laws made it as easy to find a nearly free labor market as it had in slavery. There was no relief from this unfairness until the late 1960s and early 1970s. And Whites attempting to reinforce the myth of White superiority by reinstituting the practice of deference found a Black population less ready to defer, more willing to engage the courts (and in some cases the streets) in a quest for equality.

When the myth of White superiority does not work, too many Whites hide behind their so-called fear as a way force deference or provide penalties for those who will not engage in White people’s fantasies. If Michael Dunn were so afraid of Jordan Davis and his friends, why did he get out of his car and confront them about their loud music?

None of us of a certain age loves loud music, but most of us know how to close a window and tolerate it for a moment or two. Dunn says he was afraid of teens playing “thug” music. Those teens might well have been afraid of him, just as the World War II veterans had been afraid of the KKK. Jordan Davis and his friends might have been as frightened as formers slaves were, when they refused to cross the sidewalk into the streets so that Whites could go first. Some of these Black folks ignored their fear and attempted to exercise their citizenship rights. Some were lynched because they would not defer to outmoded customs.

Gary Pearl could be Michael Dunn’s evil twin, with a pecuniary twist. In 1983, Pearl left his job as a city sanitation supervisor in Louisville, Kentucky because he says he had a nervous breakdown, which he attributed to having to work with Black people. A psychiatrist testified that Pearl was suffered from paranoid schizophrenia; judge ordered that he be paid $231 per week. The state appealed the award, it was eventually overturned, and Gary Pearl returned to the obscurity he had before the “fear” defense.

What would happen if every Black person fearing White people got to file for unemployment compensation, or carry a gun around to assuage himself of his safety? Would a jury be as lenient toward that Black man as they were with Michael Dunn? Would they acquit just like the jury acquitted the men who killed Medgar Evers (it took decades for a jury to finally do the right thing). A hard read of history suggests that Blacks have more to fear from Whites than the other way around, but it is Whites, rationalizing their fear, who get to shoot without justification.

A thorough read of history, however, would remind us of the Dred Scott case where the Supreme Court ruled that Black people have no rights that Whites are bound to respect. Clearly, Michael Dunn, George Zimmerman and the others who have Klan sensibilities and invisible hoods, believe a 19th century Supreme Court ruling instead of 21st century realities. For folks like Dunn and Zimmerman, however, the 19th century is not very different than the 21st.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Clarence Thomas' Self-Inflicted Amnesia

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(NNPA) Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is at it again. Whenever he opens his mouth about race, he displays a surprising myopia for a 65-year-old African American man who was raised in the Deep South during a segregated era. During his confirmation hearing, Thomas excoriated his own family, speaking of his sister as someone (and I paraphrase) waiting around for her welfare check.

He was equally contemptuous of other members of his family, even as they were loyal to him and attended some of his hearings. A notable point in his confirmation hearing was a moment when he said he experienced the pain of racism when his grandmother could not use a desegregated bathroom. I’d remind him now, as I did then in a column, that it wasn’t personal, and it wasn’t just his grandmother, it was everybody’s grandmother. That’s the collective and institutional knowledge than Thomas lacks.

The old Clarence Thomas resurfaced when he went to Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla. to deliver a speech.

According to news reports, he said: “My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school. To my knowledge, I was the first Black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a White school. Rarely did the issue of race come up. Now, name a day it doesn’t come up. Differences in race, differences in sex, somebody doesn’t look at you right, somebody says something. Everybody is sensitive. If I had been as sensitive as that in the 1960s, I’d still be in Savannah. Every person in this room has endured a slight. Every person. Somebody has said something that has hurt their feelings or did something to them –left them out.”

People didn’t talk about race much until the 1950s and early 1960s, and when they did, then, they did them with a whisper. When Emmett Till was killed in 1955, there were few African Americans who took White folks to account for this, except for the large African American organizations, such as the NAACP. Because of their very public stance on the issue, the organization was described as “subversive,” their members (and the members of other organizations) were labeled “outside agitators”.

Before Till, there were thousands of incidents, few making headlines. For African Americans, acts that left African Americans lynched and killed, run off their property, and just plain disappear were not much discussed. It was understood that those harassed are those who “stood up to the White man.” For Whites, this fatal harassment of people of African descent, the outright theft of property, rape of women, and a litany of other oppressions, was nothing more than business as usual. White men could rape Black women, beat up or kill Black men, and do whatever they wanted without fearing reprisals. Some of these oppressions are only now being uncovered. Of course, people are talking about race.

Furthermore, things like employment discrimination are not simple “slights” that result in hurt feelings. Instead, they are institutional attacks on a community’s economic well being. Differences in the well-documented ways that interest rates are offered for homes and automobiles are not slights but pernicious economic discrimination. Thomas willfully reduces institutional racism to oversensitivity, when one more cognizant of history might acknowledge that both micro and macro inequities impact economic advancement, and quality of life.

Thomas is joined by George Zimmerman, who says his massacre of Trayvon Martin has nothing to do with race, and has cast himself as the victim in a tragedy he perpetuated. Thus, Michael Dunn, objecting to loud music, aimed multiple bullets at a vehicle holding four young Black men, killing one, Jonathan Davis, who was leaning away from the window of the vehicle, weaponless. Hiding behind the Stand Your Ground law, he says he felt threatened. Others posit (more correctly) that he objected to a young man mouthing off at him when he demanded that they turn down their music. If he felt so “threatened” why did he even bother to approach the car of young men minding their business?

What has race got to do with it? In the time when people didn’t talk about race, this question might not be asked. Today, because people perceive “slights,” (like the murder of young Black men), the question of race inevitably and appropriately comes up. Thomas dissented in the Hudson case, which awarded an inmate $800 after he claimed cruel and unusual punishment when he was beaten so badly that his dental plate was broken in his mouth. I guess he regarded police brutality as a simple “slight.”

People talk about race (and gender) more because they are not muzzled by an institutional racism that made it impossible to have these conversations without consequence, because “race champions” were beaten, firebombed, and killed because they dared seek social and economic justice. Thomas may lack institutional memory but he, frankly, makes a fool of himself when openly displays his ignorance.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

War on Women Harms Children, too

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(NNPA) In President Barack Obama’s State of the Union (SOU) address, he appealed to our nation’s employers to raise wages from the current minimum of $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. He has already signed an executive order that requires federal contractors to be paid $10.10 an hour, an only appropriate move since so many workers on federal contracts are living in poverty.

The plight of federal contract workers at the bottom is especially galling, given that CEOs at the top have no limits in what they can be paid. Many earn more than president Obama’s $400,000 salary. They are awarded contracts by coming up with a minimum bid, which too often means paying people the lowest possible wage.

There are many consequences to workers earning so little money that they often work at a level below the poverty line. The federal government through food stamps, subsidized health care, and a number of other well-deserved benefits subsidizes those with families surviving on low wages. They are also stigmatized by receiving government help. Why not pay these folks enough to make it on their own, instead of railing about those who “depend” on the government?

When women with children earn a minimum wage, they are challenged to take care of their children. If there is not affordable childcare, or a family support system, many of these women are desperate to figure out a way to work and find someone to take care of their children. In Henrico County, Virginia, which is part of the Richmond metropolitan are, 23-year-old Brittney R. Downing admitted her role in the deaths of her two children, aged 3 months and 20 months.

Brittney Downing left her children in a parking lot, inside her vehicle, while she went to work at a Henrico hotel. Both of her children were affected by heat strokes. Her 20 month old son died first, her daughter four days later. She is charged with involuntary manslaughter and can spend as many as 25 years in jail.

Brittney’s children are collateral damage in the war against women and minimum wage workers. As President Obama noted in the SOU address, women are the majority of minimum wage workers. All of them aren’t teens; many are rearing children. Too many of them don’t earn enough to sustain themselves. Brittney Downing’s children, Jelani and Jade, died partly because their mother didn’t earn enough to put them in an affordable child care program.

Some will say that Brittney Downing should have had better sense than to leave her children in a locked car. I would say that those who value life so much that they rail against a woman’s right to choose ought to consider the consequences of choices, especially when they aren’t supported. Why don’t we have a work/family policy that makes child care assessable and affordable? Given these provisions, or a living wage, Brittney Downing may not have found the need to bring her children to work with her, and to keep them in the car.

Some employers provide on-site childcare, allowing employees with the same challenges that Brittney Downing faced to drop their children off and come back for them at the end of their shifts. While many provide this childcare at a small fee, others are willing to subsidize low-wage workers. These employers are more the exception than the rule. Do they understand their productivity losses when they do not institute policies that are friendly to the work of women who have children?

There have been spates of cases where mothers have left their children “home alone.” Not all of them have been cases similar to Brittney’s, when a woman leaves her children because she has no childcare support system. Some of the cases happen to be women who have walked out to buy a soda or get a stamp. That’s likely to be a woman, cooped up with her children, with not enough support to take a break. Other women have left their children “home alone” while they engaged in social activities. While their actions are foolish, the lack of a support system is still quite evident.

There are no excuses for putting a child in danger, or are there? When a woman must work and has no child care, what is she to do? When the research on post-partum depression suggests irrational behavior on the part of some mothers, why are they vilified? How many women have written the post-partum story, while nannies and maids had their backs? How many, without nannies or maids, are challenged to make it on their own?

The low wages that many single mothers earn limit opportunities. The children they try to raise are the collateral damage that our Congress is complicit in when they refuse to raise the minimum wage. Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Julianne Malveaux is an author, economist, and President Emerita of Bennett College for Women.

Awakened from a Dream

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(NNPA) Mid-January is the time when Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday is commemorated. Cities, towns, and colleges across the country lift their voices and rise up the language of Dr. King’s dream that people are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. They cherry pick the King dream, forgetting that he also spoke to the “check marked insufficient funds” and the fact that African American people always got the short end of the economic stick.

Members of Congress, mayors and governors issue proclamations and speak to their constituents about the dream. Some of these speakers have worked in direct opposition to King’s dream, cutting food stamps, refusing to extend unemployment coverage for those whose checks were cut off on December 28, nearly a month ago. They talk the talk and they don’t walk the walk. They are marching to the dream of a different drummer.

I am writing after the fact because it is never after the fact. The hypocrites who rail about social and economic justice need to be held to some standard. They need to be confronted about their hypocrisy around the dream. They need to read all of King, not just the passages that mollify them and make them feel good. They cannot dream a dream of social equity without working for economic equity.

I have the same criticism for my hip-hop brothers and sisters who can set almost anything to music. Why not take the words “cash the check” and educate our young people about what Dr. King really said. The generation who can electric slide from the Negro National Anthem (I am not kidding – I’ve seen it) ought to be able to slide their way to a freedom song. Instead they mostly myopically enjoy the music, not the words.

My preacher brothers and sisters, too, take snippets of the King dream and turn it into a sermon. Why not tell the whole story about Dr. King being rejected by his supporters when he connected poverty and racism with Vietnam. Supporters turned their backs on him. The foundation that once embraced his work dropped him because he told the truth. People who vied for his company suddenly shunned him. Now, in death, he is a hero.

In 1968, 72 percent of all White people disapproved of Dr. King, as did 55 percent of all Black people. Black folks have racial fealty, but not racial radicalism. Were it not for racism, too many African American people would embrace some aspects of conservatism. That’s why too many of us celebrate President Barack Obama without analyzing the work he has done.

Indeed, Africa American people have a schizophrenic relationshiop with President Obama. We like his swag, his confident representation of a powerful Black man. We are ambivalent about the ways he has used his power, too often to essentially ignore the challenges that the Black community faces. He says this year will be his year of action around income inequality, poverty, and unemployment, and we all understand that action trickles down. Will it trickle down to us? Our president, he of Black man swagger and confidence, will not say.

What will this year of action mean? Five areas have been selected as experimental areas where funds and focus will be targeted. Each of these areas has challenges, but it would have been powerful if he had highlighted the area, just a stone’s throw away from the White House, where African American men and women have unemployment rates that exceed 20 percent, where teens who want to work cannot find jobs, where the King dream is nothing more than a nightmare for them, where their pain is hardly addressed.

Hypocrisy and hip-hopcrisy. Elders and young’uns both speak of the dream but hardly embrace it. There is a week of commemoration and then we move on. If the dream is real, it is not a weeklong dream; it is an affirmation of those things Dr. King cared about – the eradication of poverty, social and economic equity, voting rights, and peace. We have attained none of these dreams, yet we commemorate the dreamer.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

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