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Julianne Malveaux

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.

Is Secretary Gates Disloyal to Obama?

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(NNPA) Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates isn’t the first political appointee to analyze the work of an administration he served, even if that administration remains in power. In 1999, while President Bill Clinton was still in office, longtime staffer and confidant, George Stephanopoulos wrote of his disenchantment with his political mentor after the Monica Lewinsky story broke.

Stephanopoulos’ memoir was achingly personal because even as it offered a look at the way the Clinton White House worked and a bird’s eye view of the 1992 campaign, it also offered a look at a man’s inner life, and the emotional turmoil he experienced as he struggled to reconcile the Bill Clinton he admired with a Clinton he, perhaps, reviled. At the time, many marveled at the perceived disloyalty of Stephanopoulos. Shouldn’t he have waited until the Clintons had left the White House? What did the Clintons think? How would this frank disloyalty play out? Fifteen years later, President Clinton is sitting on top of the world with his Global Initiative, Hillary Rodham Clinton is the leading contender for the 2016 presidential nomination, and George Stephanopoulos is front and center at ABC News.

Now Robert Gates has written a tell-all about his time as Secretary of Defense, titled Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War. Many hoped that he would write something as personally searching as George Stephanopoulos did. Instead, he’s got fingers to point, axes to grind, bridges to burn, even as the Obama administration continues to deal with issues that Gates had the opportunity to weigh in on while he served as Secretary of Defense. Duty is pointedly critical of nearly everyone – Congress, Vice President Biden, President Obama, the National Security Council staff, the White House staff, you name it. People have focused on the hits the Obama administration took from Gates’ poison pen, and many have raised the question about his lack of loyalty to the Obama administration. From my perspective, Gates was disloyal to himself and to our nation, not to president Obama personally.

If he felt as strongly as he says he did, that the Obama administration should have made different defense decisions, why didn’t he say so? He talks about biting his tongue while in the White House. Why? So he could loosen it up when he got out. Had Gates been loyal to those who he pledged to serve, he would have immersed himself in the work of being Defense Secretary instead of describing himself as both contemptuous and bored. It’s that question of loyalty that plagues me with Gates, more so than Stephanopoulos. Does truth trump loyalty? When?

I think of these men when I think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his unwavering loyalty to social and economic justice. He didn’t care that his opposition to the War in Vietnam was seen as disloyal to a president who responded to Dr. King’s activism on poverty issues by creating a war on poverty. King didn’t care that his opposition to Vietnam got him uninvited to some of the venues where he had been quite sought. He could have waited until “later” to write and talk about what would have happened. Somehow he knew, though, that there was no later, and so he wrote a book, Why We Can’t Wait (1964). It is perhaps unfair to compare the moral fiber of Stephanopoulos and Gates to that of Dr. King, but one cannot help note that Stephanopoulos and Gates have been criticized for being disloyal to presidents. What about principle?

There is such a thing as misplaced loyalty, as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s aide Bridget Ann Kelly is about to find out. Kelly is said to have been the mastermind behind the several-day shut down of lanes on the George Washington Bridge during peak traffic hours to cause a little retaliatory confusion for Fort Lee, N.J., whose mayor did not support Christie’s re-election. Christie says he doesn’t know anything about the bridge scandal, but that his loyal (and now resigned) aide did this on her own. Really? Not without a nudge from above? Kelly may value loyalty to one man over her commitment to serve the people of New Jersey (or just Chris Christie), which is not unusual. Just disappointing.

Both Kelly and Gates should ponder King in the aftermath of the King holiday. King talked about what it meant to be unpopular because of political decision, and declared himself a drum major for justice. Bridget Kelly, Robert Gates, George Stephanopoulos, what are you drum majors for?

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

Fighting Poverty on Two Fronts

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(NNPA) Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Baines Johnson declared a war on poverty. Appalled by the way too many Americans lived, he empowered federal workers to develop and implement programs that created jobs, health care, housing and legal assistance. Some of the funds were given to states, and some were given to cities. In any case, President Johnson was committed to closing income gaps, and up to a point, he was successful.

He had to overcome two sets of obstacles. One was Republican resistance (Sounds familiar?); the other was competing needs, especially, in 1968, of the war in Vietnam. Johnson poignantly explained his choices. He said he had to give up “the woman he loved – the Great Society – to get involved in that b—- of a war.”

President Obama, too, interested in issues of poverty and inequality. To be sure, these are not issues he focused on during his first term as president. Indeed, I’ve described his actions as late and great. He has spent this past month in speeches and gatherings addressing poverty and ways to eliminate it. Like Johnson, he is likely to face a hostile Congress and budged constraints to get these programs. Still, in highlighting just a few areas – Los Angeles, San Antonio, Philadelphia, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and Southeastern Kentucky – the president picked a good mix of urban and rural areas, as well as population diversity. Were I choosing, however, I’d add the District of Columbia, where President Obama could throw a stone to find the poorest area in Ward 8, and one of the richest areas in Ward 3. On this matter, though, I’ll not be a distractor. It’s about time the poor got some attention.

Tea Party Republicans, with waning power, are still insisting that any new program must be offset by cuts in existing programs. Their cuts in food stamps, for example, can be eliminated if the president and Democrats are willing to give something else. The president’s new poverty program must be matched, they say, by other cuts. These folks have effectively tied President Obama’s hands behind his back. Only Congress can loosen the restrictions of these ropes.

I often wonder whether Republicans represent any poor people, because their attacks on things such as food stamps hurt the people that keep voting for them. You’d never know they represent any poor people by the votes they take, their resistance to higher wages, and the ways the block programs designed to help the needy.

There is a movement afoot, though, to increase the minimum wage. At the federal level there are proposals to raise the wage by as much as $10 an hour. Some cities and states have already raised the wage that exceeds $10. This is the long-term result of the Occupy Movement that, whole failing to articulate specific goals, raised consciousness about the 1 percent. Now, people are considering tax breaks on the wealthy and insisting hat Congress look at ways that the poor are disadvantaged compared t the rich.

Some Republicans operate with an amazing arrogance, using the Bible to make their points against public assistance and food stamps. At least two have cherry picked the Bible, using that Thessalonians verse that says, “If you do not work, you cannot eat.” The Bible also talks about feeding the hungry, but these seem to be parts of the Bible that have escaped their notice.

Bible or not, the economic recovery is moving more slowly that anyone would like. The stock market has had tremendous gains, but the unemployment rate has dropped slowly for the overall population, and even slower for African Americans. The status of African Americans is hardly mentioned as economic analysts gloat about poverty, and some members of Congress have been downright derisive toward those who are jobless. These are the same people who voted down the president’s American Jobs Act I 2011.

President Obama is moving in the right direction by paying attention to poverty. Let’s hope Congress allows him to move from conversation to implementation.

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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