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Julianne Malveaux

Obama Keeps Promise to Use 'Power of the Pen'

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(NNPA) During his State of the Union address, President Obama promised to use the power of his pen to achieve the policy objectives that Congress continues to block. After advocating fairness and being rebuffed by Congress, the president chose to use the power of his pen to require federal contractors to pay workers at least $10.10 per hour, or $21.800 per year. That puts a single parent with two children below the poverty line.

Now the president is using the power of his pen to ensure that workers receive overtime pay. Currently, the only workers required to receive overtime pay are those who earn $445 a week, about $11 an hour or $23,000 per year. The president has proposed that that amount be raised to somewhere between $550 and $970 a year. Splitting the difference means that those who earn about $760 a week or $39,500 a year would be entitled to overtime.

Already the business lobby has said that both a higher minimum wage and mandatory overtime cuts into their profits. Already they have talked about cutting the number of workers they will employ, and the number of hours they will employ people. These greedy corporate giants fail to note that while wages and salaries for the top one percent soared by nearly a third in the past three tears, the wages of those in the remaining 99 percent rose by a fraction of one percent in three years. A worker earning $30,000 a year saw her wages rise to $30,300; someone earning $300,000 a year saw his wages rise to $396,000.

Clearly, those who earn $30,300, if not poor, are a stone’s throw away from poverty. These are the folks who struggle from paycheck to paycheck, who make decisions about whether to buy their children new shoes or pay the cable bill. These folks aren’t trying to purchase luxuries, and they aren’t looking for handouts. They just want to live decently, with enough food on the table, with bills paid, and with a little breathing room. These are folks who don’t take vacations. Luxury for them may mean a couple of days off to visit neighborhood parks. Summertime, when the living is easy for children, may be a burden to those parents who can’t afford childcare.

With his effort to reduce income inequality and improve the lives of those at least the President is moving in the right direction. Unfortunately he can’t get enough members of congress to follow, because they are committed to obstructionism. Aren’t there poor people in these republican districts? Are they willing to sacrifice the well being of their constituents to hold fast to party principles? Researchers should look at the levels of poverty in each Congressional district and shame these miscreants into doing the right thing.

Republicans forget, and some Democrats fail to argue, that increasing the economic well being of those at the bottom improves the nation’s economic status. Those at the bottom will use added wages to pay bills, to buy some of the things they’ve put off purchasing, to pump money into the economy. In contrast, those at the top are likely to save their money or invest it, failing to spend enough to trickle down their spending to benefit those at the bottom.

It is said that a rising tide lifts all boats. But some folks are riding a luxury yacht, while others are struggling to survive on a raft. The rising tides argument only works for those at those at the top who have seen their wages grow dramatically. Those at the bottom are barely floating on a tottering raft that has dozens of holes, as evidenced by their small pay increases, low wages, and lack of overtime.

To the extent that President Obama has the power of the pen he can both improve the lives of those at the bottom, but also remind us of the meaning go fair labor standards. This is a conversation our nation has not had in awhile. We have been content to let the wages of those at the bottom continue to drift downward, while using tax policy and fiction (rising tide) to enrich those at the top. What does it take to sensitize those at the top to the plight of those at the bottom? The Occupy movement looks better by the day.

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

(Black) Women's History Month

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(NNPA) Do you know about Elizabeth Keckley? Maggie Lena Walker, Sarann Knight Preddy, Gertrude Pocte Geddes-Willis, Trish Millines Dziko, Addie L Wyatt or Marie-Therese Metoyer?

What about Ernesta Procope, Dr. Sadie Alexander, Or Dr. Phyllis Wallace? What about Bettiann Gardner, Lillian Lambert, or Emma Chappell? What about Ellen Holly, Mary Alice, or Edmonia Lewis?

If we knew anything about these women, it might cause all of us, African American men and women, to walk a bit more lightly, hold our heads a bit higher, and revel in the

March is Women’s History Month, so it’s an ideal time to celebrate Black women who often get overlooked by other women as well as their own race.

History belongs to she who holds the pen, she who will speak up, speak out and tell the whole story. If the names of the sisters listed above aren’t as well known as others – like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Mary McLeod Bethune – it is because no one has chosen to tell their stories.

There are a thousands of unsung heroines for every one we lift up and know, women who have made phenomenal contributions to the arts, literature, money, finance, and economic development.

Why write this now? African American History month (February) is usually about notable Black men. Women’s History Month (March) is usually about notable White women.

A book edited by Gloria T Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith is titled, But Some Of Us Are Brave: All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men: Black Women’s Studies,

As the title suggests, some of us are brave – and our young girls need to know that.

What difference would it make to our daughter and nieces if they knew about Septima Clark or Claudette Colvin? Had they read Lucille Clifton’s poetry, would they find it easier to breathe life into their words?

It pains me to watch Black Women’s History so swallowed that we are almost invisible. The most benign interpretation of this phenomenon is that those who lift history up are too myopic to consider African American women. Is there is a sinister interpretation? Is it that both racism and patriarchy combine to swallow Black women’s history?

International Women’s Day was March 8. Annually, the United Nations sets a theme for the commemoration. This year it was, “Equality for Women is Progress for All.”

According to the UN, countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women “means progress for all.”

We can’t make progress if we bury our history. We can’t put Melody Hobson in context if we don’t understand Maggie Lena Walker. We can’t truly celebrate women’s history unless we celebrate Black women’s history. Black women’s history is women’s history, too. It should be realized that both the African American community and the world community cannot progress if any segment of that community is relegated to the sidelines.

The place African American women hold in our history celebrations is quite similar to the space we occupy in contemporary life. We can get tens of thousands or more folks to turn out (as they should) in response to the massacres of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, but the killing of unarmed Renisha McBride has caused much less of an outcry. Theodore Wafer, the White man (yes, race matters) who shot young Renisha, will be tried for second-degree murder in June. Will we remember this effrontery in the same way that we rallied for Trayvon and Jordan?

The sidelining of Black women is one of the reasons that the late C. Delores Tucker worked tirelessly for more than a decade to ensure that a bust of Sojourner Truth be placed in our nation’s capitol. And why not? Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are there. The fight to get Sojourner Truth to the capitol was led by Tucker, a lifelong leader and a founder of the National Congress of Black Women, Unfortunately, she did not live long enough to see the fruits of her labor. Wondering who was Delores Tucker? That’s be a whole column by itself.

If you know nothing about the women I’ve mentioned, Google them, or check my website, www.juliannemalveaux.com for more information.

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

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.

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