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Julianne Malveaux

Work is a Necessity

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(NNPA) I consider myself something of a wordsmith, so I am always amazed in the work of others, especially when they are government bureaucrats. The most recent unemployment figures, which show the unemployment rate rising, and the pace of job creation slowing, are interesting and incisive. The Employment Situation says that the unemployment rate is “essentially unchanged” as it has moved from 9 to 9.1 percent. In April more than 200,000 jobs were created; in May it was a scant 54,000. Still, the situation was “essentially unchanged”. Give me a break. That means someone is fudging and smudging the fact that our economy is sputtering.

This could well be expected given the fact that most cities and states are now grappling with ways to balance their budgets, and that includes layoffs of government workers. Furthermore, we can expect a sputtering economy given the drama that is taking place in Washington around increasing the debt limit. The Tea Party folks, if they had their way, would fully dismantle government, throwing hundreds of thousands of workers into the streets. Rising unemployment? That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Yet in a society where most people work for a living, public policy must embrace work as a necessity. We have to ensure that any able bodied person who wants to be gainfully engaged in the capitalistic system has an opportunity to do so. That means that work has to work that people have to work, that people have to have the opportunity to work, that government must promote the creation of work, and that when necessary government subsidize the development of working opportunities.

Instead, we have seen a recession and a so-called recovery that has not embraced the centrality of work in our society. Too many people are living at the periphery of the economic mainstream. Those people were told, when the May unemployment rates were released, that their misery is none of the government’s concern. Yet they are homeowners and taxpayers, parents and producers, people who didn’t plan for their factory to close or for the demand for their products to simply dry up. Economic recovery is a bitter pill for some to swallow when their lives have not recovered from the drama also known as a massive shift in the ways that Americans deal with work and economic integrity.

It seems that we have all sipped on the Kool-Aid that deifies the rich. They must have it going on, and why don’t we? Why can’t we spur a populist economic movement that says something else, instead? Why can’t we embrace Dr. Martin Luther King’s message when he said “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, peace and freedom for their spirits." In other words, how come we can’t decide that everyone can eat and be educated? How come we can’t make eating and educating a cultural imperative?

To put some meat on the official numbers we should note that nearly 14 million people are officially unemployed, with 6.5 million (45 percent) of them being unemployed for more than half a year. These are just the official numbers. The unofficial numbers make these look miniscule. This is not a double the flavor, double the fun situation. It’s called double the pain.

What do we do with all this pain? How do we begin to respond to our fellow citizens? The future of our nation hinges on our ability to engage more people in the business and the work of this economy. We engage people by involving them, educating them, empowering them. Yet, we are cutting education funds because we can’t raise the debt ceiling, because we are broke.

At the end of the day, here is what we need to know. When work doesn’t’ work, life doesn’t work for too many Americans. When work doesn’t work, too many people are kicked to the curb, told they are usefulness and left to their own devices. In an entrepreneurial culture that can be a good thing. If we encourage entrepreneurship, people can invent, and promote their ideas. But when there are no open arms for those who have been sidelined, they are likely to engage in actives that can be interpreted as less than wholesome. Too many people speak of the centrality of work without understanding how to make work happen. The most recent unemployment rates remind us that too many of our friends and neighbors have been placed outside the economic mainstream. What must we do to make it better, especially when this is a burden that falls heavy on the African American community?

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Show Me Your Passbook

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(NNPA) I am glad that President Barack Obama has a sense of humor about the birthers. I don’t, and I am disgusted that Donald Trump, lacking in both sense and scruples, was able to push the President to releasing his “long form” birth certificate. Now that the birth certificate has been released, perhaps, we can get back to some of the business of government, except for the fact that those who want to embrace their racism and believe that President Obama was not born here, did not star at Harvard (despite his position on the competitive Law Review), did not “deserve” his election (which did not depend on hanging chads”), will continue to promulgate their nonsense.

Meanwhile, President Obama was maneuvered into analogously showing his passbook, the very same passbook that Black South Africans had to show before the end of apartheid to prove their citizenship. They could be forced to show the passbook at any time, by any White person who questioned their right to be somewhere. While I never quite saw Mr. Trump as one of the arrogant Afrikaners who perpetrated the apartheid system, his use of birther logic was similar to the logic that White South Africans used to maintain their supremacy.

The birther demands remind me of the grandfather clauses of the post-Civil War era, when people of African descent were only allowed to vote if their grandfathers could. Since most of our grandfathers were enslaved and lacked birth certificates, the grandfather clauses were an effective way to limit, if not completely exclude, the Black vote. The Trump cry to “show me your birth certificate” is reminiscent of the grandfather clauses that impeded equal rights.

The birthers who wanted to see President Obama’s passbook are not only challenging his legitimacy, but the legitimacy of many of African descent who live in these United States and have achieved positions of power and influence. In their minds, African Americans are not “real” Americans, those who have immigrated here are not “real” Americans, and (gasp!) those of different religions are not “real” Americans. Thanks, President Obama, for skewering them with humor and with a bit of an edge. Masterful, to suggest that Congresswoman Michelle Bachman is Canadian. But, Canadians are White, and they’d never be asked, as Latinos often are in Arizona, to show their passbooks. They can pass.

If the birthers want to see the passports of those who have come to this country from the African continent, they might try looking at the footprints of our nation’s capital, the same capital that enslaved people built, the capital from which they spew their distortions. If birthers want to see passports, they might want to go to the Underground Railroad Museum to look at the chains slaveholders used to contain others. In showing the chains, we show the passports.

These birthers have a lot of nerve. They attack immigration, but they, too, are the descendants of immigrants. Just because they rode on the top of the boat (not in the hold, as cargo), does not mean they can claim superiority to those who have become immigrants just because they changed borders (remember, Texas and Arizona used to be Mexico). In demanding that President Obama show his birth certificate/his passbook, they are challenging the roots of our nation’s already flawed immigrant history.

President Obama is a better American than I am. He put Trump and his birthers in their place with an incisive and biting humor while I have been hammering them with a silent rage. That Mr. Trump could not manage to crack a smile speaks volumes for his nature, and that he would take credit for pushing the President into releasing his birth certificate shouts out his shallowness.

Now, that passbooks have been shown, it is time to get back to the salt mines. Debt ceiling, anyone? Budget cuts? Back in the day Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Today, candidate Trump talks trash and incites invective while the real issues around the future of our nation are neglected. Now that the long form birth certificate has trumped Trump, are there legislators who will deal with education, employment, health care, and human services?

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. Her most recent book is Surviving and Thriving: 365 Days in Black Economic History (www.lastwordprod.com).

Women in Prison: What About the Children?

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(NNPA) There are more than 200,000 women who are currently incarcerated, 115,000 in federal or state prisons and 99,000 in local jails. Nearly one million women are on probation – representing 26 percent of those on probation and 98,000 are on parole. Women’s incarceration has grown by more than 800 percent in the last three decades, while men’s incarceration has not grown as rapidly. African American women’s incarceration has grown more quickly than the incarceration of other women, at 838 percent.

Why do women collide with the criminal justice system? Twenty-eight percent are there because of drug-related offenses, often associative offenses (they were in the car with the drugs, but they weren’t theirs); an equal number are in jail for property crimes – stealing, shoplifting, kiting checks, all crimes that are crimes of poverty. If these women were rehabilitated and given good jobs instead of incarcerated, we might save both money and lives.

Between 66 and 80 percent of the women who are incarcerated are mothers. Most of them provided primary care to their children before they were locked up. Many of the children whose mothers are incarcerated are in foster care, although some remain with relatives. Some are allowed to visit their mothers in jail, but what kind of maternal bonding experience is that? The children of the incarcerated are likely to be incarcerated themselves a generation later. In some ways they serve time for their mama’s crimes. Why, in some of these cases, is rehabilitation not an option?

White women are the majority of those incarcerated, at 45 percent. African American women, just 13 percent of the population, are 33 percent of those incarcerated. Latina women are 16 percent of those incarcerated. This is not a “Black thing” though Black women are so disproportionately incarcerated that it is striking. Why? Perhaps because the criminal justice system is a system that is mostly White male, and there is little sympathy for women of African descent.

The well-documented reality of prosecutorial discretion cuts a break for some women, but not for Black women. Police officers, prosecutors, parole officers, and judges are disproportionately White male. They bring all their biases about Black women to the table when they arrest, charge, and sentence Black women. Why else would an Ohio court (thank you Boyce Watkins for lifting this case up) sentence Kelley Williams Bolar to days in jail because she sent her children to the “wrong” school, using her dad’s address to allow them access to a better education? Had Williams Bolar been a White woman, she would be a poster child for the school choice movement. Instead, this sister will not be able to pursue her dream to teach (as she completes her education), if she is convicted of the crime she is accused of. How dare Connecticut prosecutors go after Tonya McDowell for grand larceny because she used a friend’s address to send her child to school? Homeless, what was she supposed to do? Keep her child out of school and support ignorance? Again, a White woman might be described as enterprising for taking these steps. A Black woman is incarcerated.

What about the children? What happens when a child sees her mother fighting for her rights only to end up in prison? What kind of bitterness and anger does this engender? What does it mean for the next generation? When mothers choose to fight for their children they should be affirmed, not jailed, for their tenacity. When we choose to recklessly disregard the power of mother advocacy and motherlove, the result is a multi-generational cycle of societal indifference.

Michigan State University’s African American Studies Department produces a biennial race conference, and this year’s theme was Race and the Criminal Justice System. In preparing my closing keynote on the Economic Impact of Women in the Criminal Justice System, I had the opportunity to revisit some of my old work, and to think about the many complex ways that gender collides with a “just-us” system that is replete with bias. I am grateful to colleague Curtis Stokes for the opportunity to review this issue once again, but I am mostly chagrined that things have gotten worse, not better, for women who connect with the criminal justice system.

The United States incarcerates more people than any other country – about 753 people per 100,000 in 2008. The next highest countries are Poland, at 224 per 100,000, and Mexico at 209 per 100,000. Ten percent of those we incarcerate are women, and too many of them have children. Can we do better? If we prioritized rehabilitation over incarceration we could. And if we can’t, we will have hell to pay next generation.

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women and author of Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History (www.lastwordprod.com).

Japan and Infrastructure

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(NNPA) I am among the many who are stilled, freighted, and challenged by the tsunami and nuclear power breakdown in Japan.

The tragedy raises all kinds of questions including a very selfish one – what would we do if a tsunami hit the United States? As we see people missing, and watch the tragedy, I wonder how we would cope if anything like that happened here. What would happen if New Orleans happened in Washington, New York, or San Francisco? How prepared are we for tragedy?

President Barack Obama has talked about infrastructure development and the many ways that we might improve our highways, byways, and roads. This is a first step. It seems to me that 2001, 2005, and Japan are reminders that all of us need to be concerned about the quality of our infrastructure and our emergency responses to unexpected acts of nature.

What might we do if 10-foot gales of water hit one of our major cities? Is this something that we have even thought about?

At a time when we must be prepared to do much more, it appears that we are prepared to do much less. In other words, we are in the middle of an economic meltdown, and people are talking about spending less money. Doesn’t Japan suggest we should spend more to shore up our infrastructure?

The fact is that we in the United States have chosen not to invest in infrastructure for more than a generation. We drive over potholes, look at detours in roads, and send children to school in dilapidated buildings, and we think it’s okay. We know that we could invest more, and we could achieve more, but we have decided that we don’t want, to quite move in that direction. We have to, we say, pay attention to money. But, we also have to pay attention to our future and to outcomes.

Among the outcomes we must be careful of are outcomes in education. It is challenging to find that so very many people think we should cut educational spending because we are in a budget crunch. Cutting education is like a farmer eating her seed corn, deciding to sacrifice consumption today for investment tomorrow. If we are to excel as a nation, we need to invest fully in education.

We’ve not done so. Why do we have crumbling schools and state of the art prisons?

The United States leads the world in having educated people who are 55-64. Nearly 40 percent of us have AA or BA degrees. We have not improved our ability to deliver educational services in 30 years, so that nearly 40 percent of those 25 to 34 have AA and BA degrees. We lead in the education of seasoned people, but we rank 10th in the education of younger people. That speaks poorly to our possibilities for the future.

What must we do? We must spend the dollars that we need to strengthen our infrastructure. We must put dollars into education. This is hardly the time to cut back on an investment on the future.

Instead of holding back, we must move forward, boldly, with our investment.

Japan should be a wake-up call for all of us. A country that was seen as stable has been destabilized by a natural disaster.

Could that happen here? Further, what else could happen here to hurt us? We are so complacent about education that we run the risk of being run over by dozens of other world powers. Yes, there are dozens of others now, and even that might be disconcerting for those of us who are wedded to a paradigm that places the United States first.

If we take the call to wake up then we will look at infrastructure and opportunity.

Can we learn from Japan, or will we simply offer the compassion that we offer to so many others? Learning means doing something different. Is that within the realm of our possibility?

Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro North Carolina and author of Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History.

Gender Equity is Everybody's Business

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(NNPA) March is Women’s History Month, and the White House Council on Women and Girls, led by Valerie Jarrett, commemorated it by releasing a report on the status of women. According to the report, we’ve come a long way sisters, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Despite the fact that we out-enroll men in college, we under-earn them in the workplace. There are so many phenomenal women accomplishing amazing things, and at the same time there are so many women whose economic attainment is constrained by gender.

We in the African American community must be concerned with the social construction of gender and the ways that patriarchy shapes the futures of our young people, both young women and young men. The face of African American leadership, mostly all male, sends a signal to young women. It suggests that women’s voices don’t matter, that we have to scrap our way to the table. It denigrates the enormity of African American women’s accomplishments.

From this perspective, I am grateful that Roslyn Brock is the Chairman of the Board of the NAACP. The sister exhibited her leadership chops when she gave her Chairman’s award at the NAACP Image Awards to Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin and lifted up a stalwart medical leader who has, against all odds, given of herself. That’s women’s history!

Dr. Regina Benjamin stands on the shoulders of other outstanding African American surgeon generals, including Dr. David Satcher, Dr. Jocelyn Elders, and others. She has the opportunity to deal with the crushing effects of health disparities, and she has the experience to illuminate the many inequalities that shape our health care system. Both race and gender shape the way that health care services are delivered, and we look forward to the ways that Dr. Benjamin will share that with the nation.

Anna Julia Cooper said, “When and where I enter, the interests of my race and my gender come with me.” She was asserting the many ways that African American women make a transformative difference in the development of educational, social, and public policy. When and where I enter, I represent, our sister said nearly a century ago. Today, the same is true. Yet, for many this women’s history month is not about us, not about women of African descent. But, it can be our month, if we assert it.

We must claim this month, not simply as a statement of history, but also as an opportunity to remind the nation and the world that gender equity is a human imperative. In other words, we don’t just want pay equity for women, but we want pay equity for families and for a nation. When women aren’t well paid, families aren’t well cared for. When women are kicked to the curb economically, children suffer and we experience generational reverberations. Fair treatment of women is an investment in the growth, development, and success of our nation.

While women’s leadership is not as rare as it was a generation ago, it is still fairly scarce. Women represent less than one percent of the Fortune 500 leaders, are nearly absent in the civil rights leadership, and are fewer than 20 percent of our elected national leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Indeed, with elected leadership, our numbers are dropping. We must celebrate this scarce leadership, and more importantly commit to find new leaders, young women who have been nurtured and encouraged to step up and step out into leadership.

In these harsh economic times, it makes sense to pay attention to the macroeconomic beat down that the African American community has experienced, which often fully manifests itself with the marginalization of African American men in the labor market. Concomitantly, the status of African American women cannot be ignored. We lead too many African American familes, are responsible for too many of our children, and are paid too inequitably to be able to manage. Gender equity is not a women’s imperative, it is a community imperative. During this Women’s History Month, and moving forward, our community must commit to our women as a way of committing to our future.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women and author of Suriving and Thriving: 365 Days in Black Economic History, available at www.lastwordprod.com.

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