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Julianne Malveaux

Obama Slights his Loyal Following

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(NNPA) President Barack Obama has the opportunity, in this second term, to put his feet on history. He won an election that his opponent had essentially claimed, he has been firm about that which he would negotiate on, and he has offered a progressive inauguration speech that offers up a liberal agenda, embracing Social Security and Medicare, uplifting immigrants and gay rights, and embracing ways to address inequality.

One could not help but applaud the strong direction of President Obama’s speech. But those of us in the African American community wonder why we could not get a shout out about high unemployment and poverty rates, inner city challenges, and income, economic and unemployment disparities. Failing to address the community that offered him 97 percent of their vote indicates that there is a reckless disregard of his strongest supporters.

I understand that President Obama is the president of the whole United States, not the president of Black America. At the same time some of the evils that affect African Americans are issues that any president would address. To be sure, some of the gaps that are recorded and experienced have not changed since the 60s. Imagine the impact this president could have if he made a minor attempt in closing the gaps.

The inauguration speech spoke to all of us when it offered a progressive agenda. It spoke to some when it called out other communities and offered advancement some of them, but it spoke to none of us in the African American community unless we chose to parse the subtleties, the Bible, the references to Detroit, and the acknowledgement of inequalities.

Hundreds of thousands of people thronged to the site of the inauguration speech. Many of them were parents and grandparents who were determined that their children and grandchildren had the opportunity to witness history. A second term for President Obama is actually more exciting than a first term because now this president is freed from the shackles of reelection possibilities and free to do his thing.

Will his thing improve the lot of all of us, some of us, or none of us. In the African American community, many think we won’t get a thing but an amazing and uplifting symbolism. There are still those who cheer simply because we have an African American president. Can we put our cheer on for results?

In the next 18 months, President Obama has the opportunity to do whatever he wants to do. He can target resources and opportunities to any community he choses to embrace his targets. For example, more than $500 million was directed to a failed wind experiment in California. What about offering the same opportunity to inner cities?

Liberal agenda we heard during the president’s inauguration suggested that all of us would have the opportunity to benefit from progressive economic plans. He called out some communities, which suggested that some of us would get special attention. He to fail to give a shout out to the African America community suggests that none of us can count on special attention.

President Barack Obama can make a difference by targeting the African American community, either directly or subtly in his choices about pubic policy. While this president has a window of opportunity, who will gain? All of us, some of us, or none of us? Our president will leave a legacy when he decides that African Americans deserve the same focus that other communities do. We need our President to target disparate unemployment, unequal wages and wealth, and differential access to education and opportunity. Immigration and marriage equality addresses some of us. Why can’t we address the inequality that faces all of us?

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

Lance Armstrong was Following an American Tradition

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(NNPA) Who is surprised that Lance Armstrong was doping? Who thinks he was the only one? Who is surprised that he used the Oprah Winfrey show as his platform to “come clean”? We are a nation of cheaters and Armstrong is one in a long line of our nation’s cheaters.

Indeed the very foundation of our country is the result of cheating. The Pilgrims cheated the Native Americans that befriended them out of their land. Later, the United States Army continued that cheating by slaughtering Native people, kicking them off their land, and consigning them to reservations. As a result of this thievery and chicanery Native American people have the shortest life expectancy of any ethnicity in these United States.

Enslaved people were cheated with the fruit of their labor, not to mention their lives and liberty, by our nation’s “peculiar institution.” After slavery was abolished, the cheating continued. The sharecropper system was nothing but an official method of cheating. Land owned by African Americans was stolen. Those African Americans who managed to amass wealth had to pretend they had less because economic envy sparked the wholesale appropriation of land and communities. Examples include the destruction of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the 1898 destruction of property (and life) in Wilmington, N.C. Some historians estimate that there were more 200 of these kinds of incidents.

We cheated Mexico by appropriating half their land in a murky “trade” through the Louisiana Purchase. Now we have the nerve to talk about “illegal immigration” because people are returning to land that was once stolen from them. And daily, employers cheat undocumented people because without legal documents, they have no bargaining power against unscrupulous employers.

Cheating? George W. Bush and his minions cheated Al Gore of the presidency in 2000, and the Supreme Court aided and abetted him in this cheating. Imagine the course of history had we a kinder, gentler president who might not read a children’s book upside down in the moments before September 11?

Let’s not even talk about the theft implicit in the banking bailout. These banks were lent money to aid in economic recovery by lending money, but instead of lending, they’ve tightened up credit requirements, making it more difficult for some people to borrow. And figuring out ways to cheat on one’s taxes may be one of the great American pastimes.

There are more ways to cheat that putting your sticky fingers on things that don’t belong to you. African American men are cheated of their dignity and freedom of mobility, whenever empty taxis speed by them. African American women are cheated of the ability to see themselves reflected in the public space when advertisers treat us as stereotypes. And racism cheats us of the ability to have equality of opportunity.

I’m not at all condoning Lance Armstrong’s doping, and I fully agree with the decisions to pull his titles and banish him from biking. Yet there is much irony in the way people are handling this. The Today Show had cheater Pete Rose commenting on Lance Armstrong’s cheating. That’s like asking the fox to comment when his brother breaks into the henhouse, or like asking George W. Bush to comment on an election. And not to play the “race” game, but don’t you think all hell would break loose if this were an African American athlete?

We send young people mixed messages when we both say “play fair” and “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” We live in a win at any cost, winner take all, society. Lance Armstrong wanted to win so he doped up, and some of those around him probably did the same. No excuses. But in a winner take all culture, what do we expect?

Now Armstrong has humbled himself by admitting he was wrong after adamantly denied he was doping. Why now… to clean up his name, to get back in the game, to keep raising money for his cancer-fighting organization? Like the foundation of our nation’s culture, though, Armstrong is both a liar and a cheat.

It is a shame that Lance Armstrong chose to cheat during his biking career. If we had to recite a litany of cheaters, we’d have to start with the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers that condoned slavery, and move on from there.

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

Connecting the Past with the President

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(NNPA) One hundred and fifty years ago, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It was a flawed document that freed enslaved people in Confederate areas that he did not control. At the same time, it was a progressive document because it initiated discussion about the “freedom” Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteen Amendments.

One hundred years later, in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. riveted the nation with his “I Have A Dream” speech during the August 28 March on Washington. Many will remember that he said, “I have a dream that one day people will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Somehow people forget that in the same speech he said, “We have come to the nation’s capital to cash a check that has been marked insufficient funds.” If people said “cash the check” as often as they said “I have a dream,” we’d move more quickly forward in closing the economic gaps that African American people experience.

We’ve been doing this 50-year thing for the past couple years, and we’ll be doing it for another few. The “Greensboro Four” North Carolina A&T State University Students (with the help of Bennett College students, who are often ignored) sat in at Woolworth counter on February 1, 1960. The March on Washington happened 50 years ago. The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, and beyond that the 60s will resonate for the next few years with commemorations and anniversaries.

These celebrations are important historical moments, but who remembers? The median age of the population in the United States is about 37 years old. Many of these folks remember the civil rights moment through twice and thrice told tales. Those who are under the median age see the civil rights movement as something like a fable, something they heard about, but doesn’t really matter to them. Many of these young people see themselves as “post-racial.” They hang out with their peers, race notwithstanding. They have never experienced discrimination. Even when they experience it, they are slow to embrace it. They are post-racial, whatever that means.

If some of these young people had been immersed in history, they might understand why the Black unemployment rate is twice that of the White rate. If they had books and speeches by Dr. King, who spoke of racial disparities in much of his work, they would understand the many ways the struggle continues. But popular culture suggests that when Black folks and White folks can both act extreme fools on reality shows (I think I blanked out after about a minute of “Bad Girls Club”); there is some measure of equality.

There has been a rich history and legacy of struggle and protest that has been swallowed by the notion of post-racialism in the first decades of this century. It is laudable that President Obama will use both the Bible of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and that of President Abraham Lincoln, connecting the 150-year-old dots. President Obama’s choice in using both Bibles in this anniversary year is a testament to his sensitivity and ability to juggle the tightrope he must manage as both president of the United States and the first African American president of our nation.

Most folks 50 and older get it. What about those who are both younger than our nation’s median age and unschooled in the nuances of history? Is our conversation about race in America stuck in some kind of time warp, where we are unable to speak cross generationally because we have extremely different memories, recollections, and knowledge about that which happened fifty years ago?

We do our nation a disservice when we duck and dodge our racially tinged history. We have to grace and embrace the past in order to move forward with our future.

Somehow this is a message that needs to be transmitted to young people, especially in this 150th year after emancipation, this 50th year after the March on Washington, this season of embracing and celebrating our history.

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

Boehner: Intemperate, Ignorant and Out of Control

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(NNPA) Congressman John Boehner was re-elected speaker of the House of Representatives with a narrow vote. Needing 218 votes, he barely clinched it with 220. His narrow vote reflects the fact that no Democrat would vote for him and that many Republicans are disillusioned of him. Perhaps it also reflects the fact that he has so poorly comported himself that he does not deserve reelection.

Most folks who curse do it behind closed doors. In deference to their position, they attempt to parse their public statements to reflect the dignity of the office they hold. Not Mr. Boehner, who dropped the “f” bomb at Senator Harry Reid not once, but twice, in the middle of fiscal cliff negotiations. To his credit, Senator Reid did not respond, but behaved as if he perhaps did not hear the out-of-control Boehner. The Speaker of the House of Representatives comported himself as intemperate, ignorant and out of control.

The fact that Boehner appeared out of control is no surprise to those who have observed him over these past two years. He leads with bombast and bluster then backs down into defensiveness and profanity. Last December, he refused to compromise with President Obama on fiscal matters surrounded by a defiant set of Republicans who agreed with him. When he backed down, he was surrounded by not a soul, virtually abandoned by his party.

Déjà vu. After pontificating, and offering a nonsensical Plan B for a House vote, his party rebuked him and he had tuck tail and sit down at the negotiating table. No wonder he managed so much ire that he cursed the Senate Majority leader.

You can cuss in public and you can cuss in private. The fact that Boehner chose to kick New York to the curb as a big an “F” bomb as the one he offered Senator Reid. After being promised that relief for Hurricane Sandy was forthcoming, Boehner broke his promise and pushed the vote back to the 113th Congress. Only after Democrats and Republicans, governors and Congressional representatives excoriated him on the House floor, did he agree to vote on $9 billion plan on January 5, with another $53 billion up for vote on January 15.

Meanwhile, many New Yorkers are still living in the backs of their cars, lacking electricity and other basic needs, eating in soup kitchens, bathing in shelters, no better off than they were when the hurricane hit. Have we not learned lessons from Hurricane Katrina? Can we not get relief to people just a bit sooner? Must New Yorkers be treated as pawns in this partisan nonsense? Should Boehner have the right to metaphorically fling the “f” bomb at them?

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, have expressed their righteous rage at Congressional chicanery. This has not moved a Congress that bootstrapped fiscal cliff legislation with goodies for Puerto Rican rum producers, some Hollywood moguls, and other assorted pork. The day of the earmark has supposedly expired, but those with special interests spent more time promoting them than they did no repairing the damage from Hurricane Sandy.

Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.) calmed down after a private meeting with Boehner. He had it absolutely right before he calmed down though. Then he raised questions about the way Congressional representatives run to New York for fundraisers and support, but have not rushed to support New York and New Jersey in this crisis. While monies may yet be forthcoming, it should have hit New York, Connecticut and New Jersey at least a month ago. And while $9 billion is seemingly assured, with a new Congress, the affected areas may be lacking much longer.
I’d bet that if one of Boehner’s Ohio’s eighth district constituents complained about sleeping in a car, he might care more. I am sure he wouldn’t bristle and use profanity (or behave profanely) with those who presumably vote for him. But Boehner has abdicated all claims to decency in the past year or so. He has led a nonproductive and incompetent Congress, and tainted fiscal cliff negotiations with earmarks and set-asides. Why not an earmark for hurricane victims? Why not pure decency for his peer, Senator Harry Reid? Why not pretend to have good sense, even if you don’t. Can Boehner stoop any lower? Let’s see what other stunts he pulls as House Majority Leader of the 113th Congress.

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

Mentoring, Hard Work and the Hook-Up

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(NNPA) How will African Americans improve our situation in 2013? Right now, we have higher unemployment than any other population in our nation, less wealth, higher school dropout rates, and more crime in our communities. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that African American communities had twice the number of negatives and half the number of positives in our country. While the numbers may have shifted somewhat, it is still true that we are more likely to experience negative consequences (teen pregnancy, incarceration, crime) and less likely to experience positives (college graduation, high net worth).

Those of us who focus on public policy will look at past discrimination and ways it manifests itself in the present. We will look at the way race-neutral public policy has a racial impact (for example, changing the terms of the Parent Plus loan hits wealth-poor, credit-challenged Black families disproportionately). We will suggest ways to close gaps, some of which may include ways that government investment, such as job creation and job training, can help close these gaps. And we will be right.

Whether we fall off the fiscal cliff (final negotiations are taking place even as I write this), the focus on the level of debt our nation faces suggests that tax reform will reduce tax deductions, some in ways that may increase income inequality, and that spending cuts are imminent. Many of these cuts will be in social programs and educational spending. Again, some of these cuts will widen, not narrow, the wealth and income gaps.

What does this mean for Black America in 2013? Pretend that it is Groundhog Day, if you saw the movie. The protagonist wakes up every day to the same day when everything happens the same way. If you keep doing what you have been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting. For Black American, this means that if we keep looking external without looking internal, not much will change for us.

Yes, it will change for some of us: Those who are educated, middle class, well networked and disciplined are likely to find significant opportunities in our stagnant economy because even stagnant economies churn and create new opportunities. But it won’t change much for those who are less educated, working class, un-networked and undisciplined, or some combination thereof. Education, networks, and discipline can be fixed. But few have an interest in fixing these things in Black America except for Black Americans. So what are we going to do?

Susan Taylor has been a passionate advocate of mentorship in the African American community. She began the work when she editor-in-chief at Essence magazine and left the magazine to expand her reach in that area. She continues to advocate mentorship and to teach us how to be mentors. Her work supports education, networking and discipline.

Similarly, in Southeast Washington, D.C., Cora Masters Barry leads the Recreation Wish List Committee and works with the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center to nurture more than 150 young people year-round (full disclosure – I am treasurer of the Wish List Board). Students are trained in physical fitness through tennis, and are encouraged in their academics through learning. Most board members have hands-on relationships with our young people, who are held to the highest standards. Again, this work supports education, networking and discipline.

Most historically Black colleges do the same thing, bringing corporate partners to campuses and exposing students to the many ways they can access employment opportunities. In many cases, the entire campus offers students engaged mentorship. Education, networking and discipline.

When people tell the story of the American Dream, they talk about the many ways that hard work will help someone transcend class. They talk about hard work. People who earn the minimum wage work hard. People who make ends meet on public assistance work hard. It’s not just about hard work. It’s about hard work – and the hook up.

A corporate leader who is a wonderful friend once said that she could use her position to hook up women and African Americans who needed a hand up. She also indicated that the hook up could help individuals, but we also, and always, need a hook in to public policy decisions that affect our nation.

That means we need a seat around every table where public policy is being made, whether on issues of race, or on issues that seem race-neutral. We should be talking about the deficit, about tax reform, about government spending. We should be talking about international affairs, about world areas of conflict, about our fluctuating currency. As long as we live in this flawed nation, all issues are Black issues.

Even with the hook in, we need to offer the hook up. That means embracing or mentoring a child. That means providing an opportunity to someone who is unemployed. That means supporting education through contributions to colleges, but also by providing help to individuals. It’s the same hymn book we’ve been singing from for more than a century. Now we need to sing with more energy.

Things won’t change in Black America unless some of us do. We need to both hook in and hook up!

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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