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Julianne Malveaux

Black Empowerment 'At Last' – or Last?

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(NNPA) When Beyonce Knowles sang the Etta James song “At Last” at President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, the song could have had several meanings. At last we have an African American president? At last, the muscle of the Black vote has been flexed? At last, there is some hope for our country to come together with the mantra “Yes, We Can”.

Watching the President and First Lady Michelle Obama slow dance to the romantic standard reminded us that African American families have not often been positively depicted. This attractive image of an intact Black family had come “At Last”. Thus, the song was symbolic of what many folks, and especially African Americans, believed about the Obama presidency.

Some of us blindly believed that with an African American president opportunity had come “At Last.” Some believed it so fervently that the least criticism of President Obama, no matter how mild and how lovingly conveyed, could cause you to be run out of the race. An alumnus of Morehouse College, Rev. Kevin Johnson, the selected baccalaureate speaker at his alma mater, wrote an opinion piece that was mildly critical of President Obama. As a result, the former director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs and new Morehouse President John S. Wilson, Jr. changed the format of baccalaureate to a panel, not one speaker, as is customary.

The purpose of baccalaureate is to have one speaker to focus on the spiritual dimensions of graduation. There is no way that Rev. Johnson would deliver a political speech. Still, he was essentially disinvited from the baccalaureate because of his views.

President Obama is the president of the United States of American, not the president of Black America, we are often reminded. Yet, it seems that African Americans have been kicked to the curb in terms of focus and attention. Other groups – the LGBT community, the Latino community – have been mentioned explicitly. However, on African American issues, our president has been silent.

Now, some African American people are crooning “At Last.” Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx has been nominated to serve as Secretary of Transportation. If confirmed, Mayor Foxx, an outstanding an eminently qualified candidate would join Attorney General Eric Holder as the second African American to serve in a regular cabinet post.

Similarly, the nomination of Congressman Mel Watt to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency is a step forward. FHFA regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and allows Congressman Watt the opportunity to implement some of the Obama initiatives on homeowner recovery from the Great Recession. The raging right has already come after Congressman Watt. The Daily Caller (a political blog) has reported an unsubstantiated claim by former presidential candidate Ralph Nader that the Congressman disrespected him in a letter. Nader has never produced the letter. Thus, the purpose of the claim is to besmirch FHFA nominee Congressman Mel Watt.

If Watt is confirmed, this represents a step forward for both President Obama and for African American people, and for the entire nation. The issue is, of course, confirmation. Will the White House Congressman, be able to garner the votes Watt needs to be confirmed?

What does the White House gain or lose if Watt is not confirmed. The “At Last” segment of the African American community will credit the president for making the nomination, even if not confirmed. The more critical segment of the African American community will view the ways the White House embraces this nominee, and question commitment. Ask UN Ambassador Susan Rice knows what it feels like to be dropped, when Senate confirmation seemed unlikely.

During President Obama’s first term, his inattention to the African American community was understandable, though not acceptable. He was busy straddling lines, seeking compromise, and leaving a legacy of health care reform. African Americans were patient in the hope that “as last” African Americans would get recognition in his second term. After all, as a lame duck president, he has much to gain, and little to lose in rewarding his most loyal constituency. At last some of us have our disappointment confirmed. Our president’s inaugural speech mentioned every community except the African American community.

President Obama and his supporters should not be thin-skinned. Philadelphia’s Rev. Kevin Johnson should not be “disinvited” from the Morehouse baccalaureate. Nor should a panel dilute his message, when the tradition is to have a sole speaker. Johnson is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Morehouse College, who deserves to be treated with respect. His column pointed out realities – President Clinton appointed seven African Americans to his cabinet, President Bush, four, and President Obama, just one. Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, who leads the Congressional Black Caucus, in a letter to President Obama, wrote, “The people you have chosen to appoint in this new term have hardly been reflective of this country’s diversity.

Are the Foxx and Watt appointments a response to criticism? Based on their appointments, should Black folks sing “at last” or “not yet”?

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 Underepresented in Immigration Debate

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(NNPA) The Senate’s Gang of Eight have put together an 844-page monstrosity known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, legislation that President Obama says he “basically approves” of. The crafters of this essentially unreadable bill was put together by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Michael Bennett (D-Col.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.).

On its surface, the bill provides much-needed relief to many of the 11 million undocumented people who live in our country. The challenge is that it disadvantages some immigrants, especially African and Caribbean immigrants, while helping others.

Further, the Senators crafting the bill put goodies into the bill that only serve to advantage themselves or their states. Senator Lindsay Graham wants more visas for the meat packing industry. Senator Charles Schumer provided special provisions for Irish people with a high school diploma (why?), Senator Marco Rubio, the much touted possible presidential candidate in 2016, asked for more visas for the cruise ship industry, and Senators Michael Bennett wants more visas for workers in ski resorts.

Meanwhile, the legislation would eliminate the Diversity Visa Program, which allows a visa lottery for countries that have low levels (less than 50,000 people) of immigration to the United States. Many African immigrants come here through this program (Ghana and Nigeria each had 6,000 immigrants through this program in 2011; African immigrants are 36 percent of those receiving diversity visas). Thus, while Senator Schumer pushes for special provisions for Irish immigrants, there is no one on the Senate side pushing for special provisions for African and Caribbean immigrants.

Instead of the Diversity Visa Program, the Senate Bill 744 creates between 120,000 and 200,000 visas on a “merit based” system, which gives highest priority to those who have future employment opportunities. Because employers do not seek out African and Caribbean immigrants for employees (as they seek out Indian and Chinese employees), the merit-based point system is likely to provide fewer opportunities for those from Africa and the Caribbean. Senator Schumer’s special provision for the Irish carries no stipulation that these people be employed, essentially granting them a pass from the merit-based point system.

Many hi-tech companies use the H-1B visa program on the grounds that there is a shortage of skilled workers in the United States. There is evidence that this claim is specious and that employers prefer foreign workers who they can pay less and control more. The new legislation will prevent employers from holding workers hostage because their continuing employment is necessary in order to keep their visa. The new legislation gives H-1B 60 days to find a new job. But why do we have H-1B visas at all. With unemployment over 7 percent, and Black unemployment over 13 percent, surely there are unemployed people who could work effectively in technology companies. Howard University economist Bill Sprigs has written that there are proportionately more African American students majoring in computer science than White. Many of these graduates cannot find jobs. Meanwhile, African and Caribbean immigrants get just a small percentage of H-1B visas.

The Immigration Modernization bill will spend $4.5 billion in an attempt to secure the southern border, which will “secure” our country from Mexican immigrants, but ignores the northern border, which makes our country more open to Canadian immigration. Of course, Canadian immigrants are more likely to be White, and thus less feared, than Mexican immigrants. The Congressional Black Caucus is one of many groups that suggest that this $4.5 billion could be more effectively spent, perhaps on STEM education.

The immigration bill is by no means final. The House of Representatives still has to vote on it, and many of them will add amendments and exceptions to take care of their “pet” causes. Meanwhile, President Obama has been urging Democrats to accept the immigration bill as it is, because too many amendments may jeopardize the bill. For example, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) would like to propose an amendment that would allow gay Americans to sponsor their partners for green cards. The Judiciary Committee is likely to pass this amendment, but the whole Senate might not pass it.

President Obama has had a bad year, so far. He didn’t get his way on gun control, and he’s been kicked around by an obstructionist House of Representatives. He needs immigration reform to fulfill promises he made to the Latino community during his campaign. But the unwieldy 844-page piece of legislation contains lots of provisions that don’t pass the smell test. It makes it more difficult for African and Caribbean immigrants to become citizens of the United States.

The African American community must take a closer look at this legislation. If Senator Schumer can give 10,000 Irish immigrants the open door, how many Africans and Caribbeans will he make exceptions for? At the very minimum, Congress should restore the Diversity Visa program. The bill is called the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. Exactly who will have more economic opportunity? And is immigration really being modernized when it locks foreign-born Black people out of the process?

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

Learning to Teach Students How to Learn

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(NNPA) African American students achieve at a different level than White students. Test scores are lower, as are high school and college completion rates, and the number of African Americans attending four-year institutions is falling. The rate of African American suspensions and expulsions from K-12 schools is higher than that of other groups. By almost any metric there are gaps between African American students and White or Asian students (Latinos achieve at about the same rate as African Americans).

Why does this happen? The late sociologist John Ogbu hypothesized that the gap was the result of young African Americans thinking that learning was “acting White.” His theory was batted around as if it were fact, even after Duke economist William Darity refuted the Ogbu theory. Why? Because it fits somebody’s stereotype to describe African American youngsters as culturally alienated from the mainstream, so much that they eschew the very institution that could be a bridge for them into the middle class.

Give the history of African Americans and education; it is hard to swallow these stereotypes. Some states had laws on the books to prevent African Americans from learning to read and write in the pre-Civil War period. Both White and Black people risked flogging, fines and other penalties for “teaching a slave to read.” Millions of African Americans sacrificed for the right to be literate, and ensured that their children would also have opportunities by baking cakes, frying chicken, and raising a few dollars to get to college by whatever means necessary. At the beginning of the 20th century, the only colleges open to African Americans were historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and we went despite the obstacles. Our presence rejected the notion that learning was “acting White.” In fact, we were acting learned and literate.

Still, it is in the interest of some to continue that stereotype. You’ve heard the adage that if you don’t want an African American to know something, just hide it in a book. That kind of ignorance is the very reason that African American people were able, during the Civil War, to spy on Confederates who thought they were only illiterate enslaved people. That is why Mary Ellen Pleasant was able to eavesdrop on conversations on stock and turn them into wealth. Those who write about the achievement gap ought not underestimate African Americans.

Where does the achievement gap come from, then? It comes from the opportunity gap. The average African American household) earns $31,000 a year, compared to $51,000 for Whites. Fifty-one thousand ( $51,000) can buy a lot more opportunity than $31,000 can. If income determines housing clusters, neighborhoods with a $51,000 mean income have better schools and more involved parents than the $31,000 neighborhood does.

Closing income gaps closes opportunity gaps, according to a Ford Foundation-sponsored book written by Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, an Obama education adviser. She says poverty and segregation means that some students attend schools that have fewer resources than others. Indeed, inner city high schools are less likely to offer Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes. Sometimes when these courses are available in suburban high schools, African American students are discouraged from taking them.

Ivory Toldson, a professor at Howard University and a contributor to the Root also refutes the notion that African American students think learning is “acting White.” Most African American students, he says, are interested in attending college but may not because of cost factors. He also says that academic support should be provided to all students, and that the way to close achievement gaps is to “reduce racial disparities in income and to increase equity and inclusion in education.”

For a great deal of students the issue is not “acting White,” but being connected to educational options and outcomes. One of the more important factors in student achievement is parental involvement, yet many parents find themselves “too busy” or too uninformed to interact with teachers. One study says that parents don’t necessarily have to help with homework, but simply to reinforce that homework should be done, and to be inquisitive about it. Unfortunately, many parents, frustrated with the school system, write it off. Further, too many of our community organizations don’t sufficiently emphasize education, or if they do, don’t get into the “down and dirty” of it, preferring to raise much-needed scholarship funds than to take a young person by the hand and guide them through next steps to education.

The majority of African American students are still first-generation college students. They aren’t always sure what next steps are, and they often need help maneuvering through a system with which their parents have no familiarity. Too many smart students don’t have the parental and societal support, they need to achieve. The United States falls way behind the rest of the world when we don’t value students who have the potential to be high achievers, regardless of race or ethnicity. We further disservice ourselves as a nation when we fail to value those who have the intelligences to change our world.

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

Blame a Dark-Skinned Man

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(NNPA) I don’t know where CNN’s John King got the information that a suspect in the Boston bombing was “a dark-skinned male,” but beyond apologizing, he needs to explain himself. How many sources gave him the false tip? If it was fewer than two, then he violated a basic journalism rule. Who were these sources (if you don’t want to out them publicly, tell your editor)? Did King understand that he used the kind of racial/ethnic coding that once got people, even uninvolved and innocent people, lynched?

Remember Charles Stuart? He was riding through Roxbury (used to be the ‘hood) when he says a Black man, wearing a jogging suit with a stripe on the sleeve, shot him and his wife in an attempted carjacking. Pregnant Carol Stuart lived for just a few hours, and their baby, delivered by C-section, lived for only 17 days. Stuart’s report of the alleged incident sparked a national outpouring of sympathy of him, and an excoriation of “Black criminals” who do such senseless things.

The police were going door to door looking for a suspect, and several Black men were interrogated. Stewart identified one man in a line-up, and police were building a case against him when it discovered that Stuart’s wounds were self-inflicted and that his brother had helped him slaughter his wife. Meanwhile, Stuart collected at least $100,000 from an insurance policy on his wife, using the money to pay for a new car in cash, and to buy jewelry. Unable to face the consequences of his actions, Stuart committed suicide by jumping off a bridge.

Stuart was too much a coward to be judged by a jury of his peers, but hundreds of Black men could not escape the injustice of the Stuart accusations. The Roxbury community was traumatized by the results of Stuart’s lies. Innocent men were questioned, many spending time at police stations in an effort to clear themselves. Those questioned and detained included students, professional men, the unemployed, and everybody in between. When in doubt, blame a Black man, any Black man, and let the chips fall where they may.

In 1994 Susan Smith, a South Carolina housewife, said that a Black man stole her two children. Later, she confessed to killing her own children. Again, dozens of innocent Black men were stopped, frisked, and taken to police stations for questioning. Clearly Susan Smith was mentally ill, but she wasn’t so broken that she didn’t know that blaming her children’s disappearance on a Black man gave her lies more credibility.

The Stuart and Smith cases made headlines in the late 20th century. Now, our feet are firmly planted in the 21st century. Does this kind of racist stereotyping still take place? While these kinds of cases no longer make headlines, I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these occurrences continue to be. When in doubt, blame a Black man.

So here comes CNN’s John King, a heretofore respected newsman, who repeatedly said that a “dark skinned man” was a suspect in the Boston bombing. Here we go again. This kind of false reporting makes every dark-skinned man in Boston a suspect, reminds Bostonians of the Stuart hoax, and sends a shudder through those African Americans who remember police officers going door to door in housing projects rounding up the Black men.

Thanks, John King. Your job is to report the news, not make it. I wonder if you will apologize as many times as you said “dark-skinned man” or if you will ever explain where you got your false information. I’d hate to think that you transitioned from journalist to creative writer when you shared this information.

Some will say no harm was done because there was a correction. No harm was done if you don’t know the history. If someone described an alleged criminal as a White man with brown hair, it is unlikely that the police would go door to door looking for a White man with brown hair. That’s the basic racism that is the foundation of our nation’s history. John King’s erroneous reporting reminds us how easy it is to blame a “dark skinned” man.

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

"Obama" as a Prefix

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(NNPA) The right wing seems determined to associate President Obama with any government program that helps people on the bottom. Thus, the term Obamacare was used to attack the health care program that President Obama fashioned and worked with Congress to approve. While Obamacare is not perfect, it brings more people into the health care system, and further solidifies the safety net that many have attempted to fray.

Now these folks are running with the term “Obamaphone,” which speaks to the fact that President Obama has simply extended a Lifeline plan that was authorized by Republican President Ronald Reagan when it was clear that those who were either isolated by poverty or by their rural status needed telephones to connect themselves to the world.

The Reagan program used taxes on some of us to provide telephones for the rest of us. People were able to get a telephone that offered basic service for a basic fee. With the onset of technology, Lifeline customers had the option of getting a landline phone or a cellular phone. This is not an Obama initiative. It began in 1996.

Those who get a subsidized telephone have numerous restrictions. They don’t get to choose their phone, but are offered whatever is available, usually a refurbished phone. They get 250 minutes a month if they get a cell phone. The 250 minutes is about four hours a month, or an hour a week. Is this really some kind of rip off, or is it a reasonable way to bring people on the periphery to the center? What do you do with no phone when there is a medical emergency or even a job call? Absent Lifeline, you are yet again a peripheral citizen.

Obamaphone? Give me a break. Until the Tea Party began to hold sway on our national consciousness, Republicans were among those who embraced the notion that every American should have basic telephone service. Now, anything associated with government assistance is associated with President Obama, despite the fact that both Democratic and Republican presidents have attempted to assist people at the bottom, albeit with different levels of energy.

Let’s not forget that it was Democratic President Bill Clinton who pushed the “welfare reform” that limited government assistance to 60 months or five years. When President Clinton, long a favorite among African Americans, proffered a 1996 reform that I described as “welfare deform,” several of his African American supporters excoriated him. He weathered the storm, as did the public assistance program. Still, nobody describes it as Clintonwelfare. It was an ill- conceived and pandering policy change that allowed President Clinton to brag that he’d gotten “tough” on public assistance.

Associating President Obama with government support to the poor is a subtle way of associating people of African descent with public assistance, and with the pejorative term “welfare.” This is a most understated form of racial coding, a coding that enabled former Congressman Newt Gingrich to describe President Obama as a “food stamps” president and to falsely assert that President Obama “put” more people on food stamps than any other president in history. Does Mr. Gingrich remember the Great Recession that the scion of his party, former President George W. Bush, enabled, or is he too busy purchasing jewelry for his blushing bride of a decade to pay attention to our nation’s economic situation?

One in six Americans lives in poverty. More than one in four African Americans and Latinos live in poverty. One in 10 of all Whites live in poverty. The Great Recession and economic restructuring have kicked these diverse groups of poor people, many who are grateful for food assistance, to the curb. President Obama has been responsive to this group of people to the extent that a hostile Congress has allowed it.

If I were President Obama, I’d be flattered by descriptions of Obamacare and Obamaphones. I would not even mind having food stamps being described as Obamafood. Would we prefer to describe poverty as Romney starve, or sequester starve? Make it plain. Associating President Obama with health care, Lifeline telephones and healthy eating is to his credit, not his detriment.

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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