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Julianne Malveaux

Cherishing History that's in your Attic

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(NNPA) We gather together this month to lift up the names that have been frequently lifted, to call the roll of those African Americans who have made a difference. While some names are the tried and true names of important leaders, we need to pay as much attention to the legacies of those whose lives and contributions have been swallowed.

Madame CJ Walker’s life and legacy is no secret. There is a woman who shares her name though, and she is rarely lifted up when the roles of Black women in our nation’s history are mentioned. Maggie Lena Walker, with a second grade education, established Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, Va. She was the first African American woman to establish such a bank. Through the Great Depression, and through bank regulation shifts, some version of Penny Savings Bank existed until the early 21st Century. This woman’s contribution has been overshadowed because it is easy to ignore her contribution to history.

Madame CJ Walker garnered public attention, and few realize that she was not the first to do “black hair.” Annie Malone developed a thriving hair care business in St. Louis and surrounding areas. According to some sources, she had at least two dozen training schools in the early 20th Century. Some say she mentored Madame CJ Walker. Many acknowledge that her hair care educational foci were a model for Madame Walker. Did Walker, more flamboyant and better connected, establish a place in history while Annie Malone and Maggie Lena Walker could not? What does it say about Black history when the glitz and glitter are substitutes for sacrifice and substance?

Far too often, we expect leaders to embrace and lift up our Black history. And far too often, we ignore the history in our attics. We forget the uncle who was a member of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, independent union of sleeping car porters and maids established in the 1920s to advocate for their rights. We forget the aunt who was a domestic worker in New York City. We remember the cousin who was a teacher in Mississippi, Alabama, or Louisiana (the last states to desegregate schools), but we have never explored the sacrifices she made to manage such a segregated environment.

We glorify those whose names are represented in the headlines. We ignore those whose contributions, albeit important, hover on the sidelines. We know that we stand on mighty shoulders, but we are unwilling and sadly sometimes unable to call their names.

These are the names we must call. We call them when we pour libation. We call their names and say “ache.” Our next responsibility is to lift their names up, to claim them as the postal workers, the civil rights workers, and the activists. Our next responsibility is to remind ourselves and those around us that we don’t have to have a name to have “cred.”

We call their names when we read Howard Zinn’s A Peoples History of the United States that exemplifies “the people’s history,” not the celebrity history. We own our history and affirm our connection to it, when we own the papers in the attic.

As I move around during this Black History Month, people tell me stories that they need to tell others. There was the uncle who took his horn through the “chitlin circuit” backing up major artists, and leaving the circuit when the pull of family took him home. These are the revolutions that will not be televised, the stories that will only be told when we tell them.

We need to tell them year round. It is a travesty of history to reduce an accounting of our heritage to a one-month commemoration of the history that defines our nation. When we are unable to recount the occurrences of Tulsa and Rosewood, of the Red Summer of 1919 and the Poor People’s Campaign, we allow our history to be swallowed and appropriated.

Commemorate Black History Month, if you will. Attend the gatherings at your churches and colleges. And then go home and pull the history out of the attic. If you are a citizen of the world, race notwithstanding, you have some hidden history in your attic. When you share your family stories, you take ownership in a Black History Month that is not about those named, but those unnamed who have made a critical difference in our lives. Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based in Washington D.C.

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based in Washington D.C.

Poverty Doesn’t Have to be a State of Mind

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(NNPA) The racial differential in the poverty rate is staggering. Last time I checked, about 12 percent people in the United States, one in eight people are poor. Depending on race and ethnicity, however, poverty is differently experienced. Fewer than one in 10 Whites are poor; more than one in four African Americans and Latinos are poor.

Differences in occupation, income, employment and education are considered the main reasons for poverty, with current and past discrimination playing a role in educational, employment and occupational attainment. We see the discrimination when we consider that African American women with a doctoral degree have median earnings of about $1,000 a week, compared to about $1,200 a week for Black men and White women, and $1,600 a week for White men. White men earn 60 percent more than African American women, and a third more than Black men and White women.

It would not take much to recite the differences, by race, or education, unemployment, earnings and occupation. The recurrent question in reviewing the data is: What are we going to do? It makes no sense to just recite the data and then wring our hands as if nothing can be done. The three steps in social change are organization (especially protest), which leads to legislation (with pressure) and litigation (when legislation is not implemented).

Often laws preventing discrimination have been passed but not adhered to, forcing litigation to get offenders to do the right thing. Of course, it takes more than a minute. It takes people who are committed for the long run. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Dr. Martin Luther King said in 1964.

Carter Godwin Woodson understood the long arc when he founded the Journal of Negro History and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915. The organization and the journal have changed their names to reflect the nomenclature of these times, and they are now called The Journal of African American History and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Both the organization and the journal have now existed for 100 years which is perhaps why ASALH chose “A Century of Black Lives, History and Culture” as its 2015 theme. (ASALH choose a Black History Month theme each year). This year, their focus on the long arc of African American life in our nation and asserts that “this transformation is the result of effort, not chance.”

Carter G. Woodson made many choices that led to his education and to the creativity and brilliance that motivated him to uplift Black History through Negro History Week, now Black History Month. Woodson was the son of former slaves, and a family that was large and poor. He worked as a miner in West Virginia, and attended school just a few months a year. At 20, he started high school and by 28 he had earned his bachelor’s degree. He was only the second African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard (W.E.B DuBois was the first in 1895). He was a member of the Howard University faculty and was later a dean.

He wrote, “If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.”

In other words, poverty can be the reality of living, but it doesn’t have to be a state of mind. Many are trapped in poverty because that may be all they know, and because protest, legislation, and litigation have not provided a passage out of poverty. No one provided a passage out of poverty for Woodson. He worked as a miner to earn a living, and he transcended his status as a miner to make a life of embracing his people and our history. He wrote about the ways that our thinking could oppress us as much as living conditions can. He is a role model and example for African Americans today because, motivated by a desire to be educated, he fought his way out of poverty. There is a difference between thinking you can live like Carter G. Woodson, and thinking that you can’t. (CHECK OUT www.ASALH.org for more information on Carter G. Woodson and his organization.)

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based Washington, D.C.

Making No Progress on Race with 'Progressives'

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(NNPA) I like Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Her progressive ideas are just what we need while Hilary Clinton is straddling the fence, and still cozying up with bankers. Warren says she isn’t running for president, but there are quite a few political action committees urging her to run.

Like President Barack Obama, she released a biography (A Fighting Chance) just two years before the 2016 election. It provides details of her hardscrabble childhood, her early pregnancy and marriage, and her struggles combining work and family when she had a small child. Men and women can relate to her story, as well as at the way she became the guru for consumer rights and financial literacy. When senators would not confirm her for the permanent position in the Department of Treasury, she ran for the Senate. It was her first time running for office and she won.

Warren has consistently articulated a progressive agenda focused on those at the bottom. As progressive as she is, she has consistently ignored race matters. Perhaps this is because progressive politicians feel they will alienate part of their base if they talk about race. This makes Warren and the others not much different that conventional politicians, ignoring the economic differences between African Americans and others.

How would Elizabeth Warren deal with declining revenues for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)? Would she step in to close the unemployment rate gap or the achievement gap? Would she deal with the housing discrimination that too many African Americans face? Or, would she hide behind the common progressive refrain that when challenges at the bottom are addressed? That is: African Americans are lifted up and their circumstance will change as the plight of everyone else improves.

Another impressive Senator, Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), has articulated a progressive agenda in the Senate for more than a decade. He hails from the swing state of Ohio, and many are wondering why he doesn’t command the same kind of attention that Elizabeth Warren does. While his ideas are solid he, too, has pretty much ignored the issue of race.

At the same time that progressives have been ignoring race, we have been barraged with proof that race matters. Whether we are talking about those in kindergarten or in high schools, African American students face stricter discipline (with some of them, regardless of age, handcuffed and expelled from school), while teachers rely on their sociology classes to justify keeping White kids in school for the same infractions. Conversations about disproportionate rates of incarceration, and racial disparities in the application of the death penalty are rarely raised in Congress unless members of the Congressional Black Caucus bring it up.

Progressives should not talk about race matters exclusively, but they exhibit a pathetic myopia when they fail to talk about race at all.

African American Democrats will hold their noses and vote for Elizabeth Warren, or if they are Clinton loyalists, they will vote her instead. Indeed, Elizabeth Warren has as much a change of winning a presidential contest as I do, but her committees will challenge the Clinton positions on domestic public policy. If she is able to get Senator Clinton to alter her positions on just a few matters, she will have done her job.

Still, like President Obama, the matter of race is off the table. The president addresses race gingerly, mainly because as an African American president he must debunk the myth that he is racially biased. I don’t agree with position, or the way he dealt with it in the State of the Union address when he had nothing to lose by dealing with race or simply saying the words “African American” or “Black.” Race still matters in our nation. What national leader has the courage to say it? Warren, Clinton and Brown have more leeway than President Obama, but they have as much fear as President Obama does for addressing a key national issue.

There is significant excitement about the role Senator Elizabeth Warren will play in the 2016 election. Maybe she will garner enough delegates to force a roll call, or at least the opportunity to nominate Senator Clinton. Maybe she will have a chance to address the nation in one of the prime-time spots during the convention, just as President Obama did in 2000. Certainly, her name will be whispered or even shouted as she gains popular support. But if she is unwilling to talk about race, she will not have met the expectations of some in the African American community.

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based in Washington, D.C.

The Real Barack Obama Re-Emerges

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(NNPA) President Barack Obama knocked it out of the park during the State of the Union address. He was strong, progressive, firm, and relaxed. He was almost cocky as he offered a few jokes, smugly announced that he would have no more elections, and just generally exuded confidence. Instead of the kumbaya thing, he laid out his priorities to a Republican Congress that will likely block much of what he proposed, especially when it comes to raising taxes on the wealthy to support his free community college program.

President Obama “threw down” in the hour-long speech that was frequently punctuated by applause. Republicans frequently withheld applause, but his confidence suggested that whether they offered applause or withheld it was of no concern to him.

Michelle Obama wasn’t playing, either. While she has usually worn her trademark sleeveless dresses with pearls, once a puffy skirt, once with long sleeves. The shift look certainly flatters her figure and her toned arms tout her fitness. Her two-piece tweed suit, though, was a business suit. It reminded us that she is a lawyer (with a nod and a wink to CBS hit show “The Good Wife”) in addition to being a stylish first lady. Hopefully, the business attire signals that she will take care of business in the next two years. Her “Get Fit” initiative is much needed, and her partnership with Jill Biden to focus on military families is consistent with the president’s in providing jobs and other assistance for veterans.

In these last two years, perhaps the first lady can spread her wings and focus on the work and family issues she lived and that so many women juggle. I hope for too much, I think, when I suggest that she deal with the gender pay gap, but that is also an issue that would benefit from her attention.

While the president highlighted efforts to benefit the middle class, he mentioned poverty just once. There are 45.3 million people who lived in poverty in 2013, the last year for which data are available. The rates are 9.7 percent for Whites, 12.3 percent for Asian-Americans, 25.3 percent for Hispanics, and 27.2 percent for African-Americans. In mentioning poverty without mentioning that some experience poverty differently than others, the president failed to put a tiny pin in his own celebration. I wouldn’t expect him to mention race explicitly, but he could have said, “And while poverty rates are falling, one in four families in some communities still experience poverty.”

Similarly, President Obama justifiably touted falling unemployment, which dropped from 6.7 percent a year ago, to 5.6 percent in December. The decrease has been across the board and included African-Americans and Hispanic as well.

However, there are 700,000 fewer people in the labor market than a year ago, indicating that more people are entering the labor market in response to its perceived strength. Without indicating race, the president could have talked about the high unemployment rates among some groups.

Of course, presidents traditionally offer a laundry list of issues, with few getting more than a couple sentences worth of attention. Still, since the economic success story is one that President Obama correctly touted and it would have been appropriate for him to simply mention the unevenness of recovery.

And since the Affordable Care Act is a successful part of the Obama legacy, with nearly 7 million more people enrolling in the program, and some of the 2014 glitches eliminated, it would have been appropriate to mention it, specifically and in depth. Some might consider that waving a red flag in the faces of bullish Republicans, but in some ways the speech was a red flag, anyway.

When I listened to the State of the Union address, I thought “this is the Obama I voted for – twice, the Obama that was but a rising star in 2004, whose rousing speech at the Boston Democratic convention propelled him to national attention.” This Obama seemed presidential, not conciliatory. He stood by the executive orders he issued in 2014, and stated that he will his veto pen if Congress attempts to overturn his effort.

As he did in Boston, President Obama ended on a unifying note, a line that he has used often: “We are more than red states and blue states, we are the United States of America.” He was motivated when he said, “let’s start the work right now.” Bravo, Mr. President. Welcome back!

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist and author based in Washington, D.C.

World is Indifferent to Missing Nigerian Girls

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(NNPA) One could not help but be impressed by the millions that turned out in Paris to stand against the Islamist terrorists who killed workers at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and four others at a kosher grocery store. Two law enforcement officers were also killed, bringing the total to 17.

About 40 heads of state and more than a million others crowded into Republique Square; even more rallied around France. In total, it is estimated that 3.7 rallied for freedom. They wore shirts and carried signs that said, “I am Charlie.” Some said, “I am Muslim and Charlie” or “I am Jewish and Charlie.” Those crowds transcended race, religious and political lines.

President Obama got mixed reaction to his not attending the solidarity rally. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley, someone with much less status, represented the United States. Critics said the president could at least have sent Vice President Joe Biden; Attorney General Eric H. Holder was in Paris and could have attended. The president may be doing something much more substantive by convening a summit on world terrorism at the White House in February.

I wonder if these gatherings will address terror in Nigeria, where the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram abducted 276 girls, and still holds 219. A hashtag campaign, #BringBackOurGirls was joined by First Lady Michelle Obama, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, British Prime Minister David Cameron and others. Few of the 40 who rallied in Paris have ever mentioned the abducted girls and those terrorists who took them. Indeed, the abducted girls have all but disappeared from the headlines and from the public consciousness.

The girls were abducted on April 14, 2014. Since then, our attention has been riveted by other news from the African continent, as the Ebola virus killed thousands (we in the U.S. were mostly focused on our handful of casualties), and as ISIS has escalated its activity around the globe. While some have forgotten about the Nigerian girls, many have not. Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former Nigerian government official who is now vice president of the World Bank’s Africa Division, has been among those continuing to focus attention on the girls.

People fear that Boko Haram may have sold the schoolgirls into slavery, forced some into marriage, or killed others. Given the fact that Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the UN Security Council have decried the Islamist militant terrorist group, it is alarming that the world community has been so indifferent to the plight of the abducted young girls. Some of the indifference does not start with the world, but in Nigeria. Will Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian president who is running for reelection, mention the girls at all before February, when voting takes place? Or, has the fate of 219 kidnapped girls been forgotten?

Demonstrations have taken place daily in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, despite the fact that the police have ordered these demonstrations to stop. Meanwhile, Boko Haram continues its terrorist plundering in Nigeria, destroying villages and towns in the northeast part of the country and killing thousands. It is estimated that they have destroyed more than 3,700 structures – homes, churches, and public spaces. Tens of thousands of Nigerians have fled to bordering Chad because they fear for their lives.

I don’t know if it would be effective for world leaders to rally in Abuja to pressure Boko Haram to return the girls. I don’t know if T-shirts or signs saying, “We Are the Nigerian Girls” would do much more than direct attention back to these young students whose hopes and dreams have been stomped on by irrational terrorists. I don’t know if it would make a difference if Nigerians all over the world came together to demand return of the girls. I don’t know the efforts of feminists around the world would make a difference.

I do know that about 219 Nigerian girls are gone, and a terrorist group is responsible for taking them. I know that they are reputed to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda and with ISIS. I know that while the world has rallied to show solidarity in the fight against terrorism in France, there has been no such gathering to show solidarity in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria. I don’t know (and I might be misinformed) if offers to help contain or eliminate Boko Haram have been made by the world community.

The war against terrorism has been embraced in Paris, with millions there, and thousands in the rest of the world, taking it to the streets to express their outrage. Where is the outrage for the more than 200 Nigerian girls? Nine months after they have been snatched from their school, who remembers? Who cares?

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist in Washington, D.C.

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