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Despite Claims of 'Post-Racial' Society, Widespread Bias Continues in U.S.

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By Marjorie Valbrun, Special to the NNPA from America’s Wire –

WASHINGTON—Recent public opinion polls show that more whites than African-Americans believe that the United States has entered a “post-racial” era in which racial bias doesn’t exist. But social psychologists and experts on race relations dispute that, citing wide racial disparities in education, unemployment, housing, health, wealth, incarceration rates and other quality-of-life measurements as proof of persistent structural racism in American society.

“It’s time for us to change our approach to polling,” says Dr. Gail C. Christopher, vice president for program strategy at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which promotes the welfare of children and works to strengthen families and communities. She believes that polls about race are overgeneralized and fail to address whether people understand more nuanced questions about what constitutes modern discrimination.

Christopher says most people are unfamiliar with the term “structural racism,” which has been defined as “a system of social structures that produce cumulative, durable, race-based inequalities,” and likely couldn’t define it if polled. However, most people, she says, could answer questions about specific racial barriers to opportunities.

“What we have done in our polling and in trying to educate the public is interview teachers, doctors, social workers, lawyers, people who have the most interaction with children of color,” Christopher says. “They may not know what structural racism is, but they know that there are barriers to opportunities for these children because of the daily interactions that they have with these children.”

Part of the problem is how Americans think about racial discrimination, says Algernon Austin, director of the Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy program at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

“One of the legacies of the civil rights era is that we have a very powerful visual image of racism coming from media images of the civil rights movement,” he says.

These images make people look for obvious examples of racism that are no longer commonplace — identifiable and openly hostile and racist characters such as Bull Connor or Ku Klux Klan members in white hoods. “Not the sort of day-to day-discrimination that we have now,” Austin says.

“People look for these hateful angry people, but what’s more important is for people to look at these broad institutional practices,” Austin says. “While we have removed the laws that prevent Black students from accessing integrated, high-quality education, we still have the same type of segregated and unequal schools there were in the 1950s. The same goes for housing patterns and criminal justice practices. While there are no legal barriers, we still have de facto barriers. By law, they have been removed, but by practice they’re still there.”

Austin says articles about race relations today often cite absence of blatant racism as an example of improved race relations but overlook less obvious but pernicious effects of institutional racism.

“It does have policy implications because if you believe there are no obstacles for African-Americans to get ahead, then you're less likely to want to support programs that provide opportunities for African-Americans,” he says. “If you look at the research and look at American institutions, you will find significant and very powerful evidence of continuing discrimination against Blacks.”

This is precisely why the “declarations of having arrived at the post-racial moment are premature,” Lawrence D. Bobo, the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University, writes in the spring 2011 edition of Daedalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, of which he has been a fellow since 2006.

“The central tendencies of public opinion on these issues, despite real increasing overlap, remain enormously far apart between black and white Americans,” Bobo writes in “Somewhere between Jim Crow & Post-Racialism: Reflections on the Racial Divide in America Today,” one of a collection of essays on “Race, Inequality & Culture” in Daedalus.

“When such differences in perception and belief are grounded in, or at least reinforced by, wide economic inequality, persistent residential segregation, largely racially homogeneous family units and close friendship networks, and a popular culture still suffused with negative ideas and images about African Americans, then there should be little surprise that we still find it enormously difficult to have sustained civil discussions about race and racial matters,” he writes.

“Despite growing much closer together in recent decades, the gaps in perspective between Blacks and whites are still sizable.”

Andrew Grant-Thomas, deputy director of the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State University that is focused on ending racial and ethnic disparities, says those gaps in perspective are based on people’s different experiences and life circumstances.

“Everyone agrees that there is less racial discrimination, but there’s a huge racial difference in opinion on how much racial discrimination there is and how much it matters,” Grant-Thomas says. “White people are more likely to believe that the socioeconomic status of Black people is better than it actually is.

“African-Americans are in a better position to gauge what is happening to African-Americans than whites are, and they certainly bring different perceptions of race to the debate,” he says. “When whites are asked about their views, whites are more likely than Blacks to think the playing field is level, while Blacks will not agree.”

Therein lies the challenge of improving “race relations,” says Dr. Anthony B. Iton, senior vice president of healthy communities for The California Endowment, a private foundation focused on expanding access to affordable and quality health care.

“Race relations, what does that mean?” he asks. “How I get along with my neighbors or my co-workers, or how I understand the relative status of various groups with respect to their economic status, employment status and health status? The concept of racism is an enormous envelope that holds a lot of issues, some of which relate to racial legacy issues and structural issues. In some ways, we do suffer from an inability to express our feelings on this issue.”

Grant-Thomas says the key to bridging the racial divide is not endlessly talking about it or polling people but working together to find real solutions for decreasing or ending structural barriers that have discriminatory results.

“Polls have a lot of problems,” he says. “For one thing, they assume a sort of static opinion or attitude and that people have more or less fixed opinions and I’m just going to ask them what that is. But most of our opinions are fluid. If you ask white people about affirmative action, you’re more likely to get a much different answer than if you ask them about equal opportunity.

“We’re not going to lead to anything by just having conversations. We need policies behind them and to acknowledge specific problems that are there and identify possible solutions and how we can implement those solutions.”

(America’s Wire is an independent, non-profit news service run by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. America’s Wire is made possible by a grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. For more information, visit www.americaswire.org or contact Michael K. Frisby at mike@frisbyassociates.com.)

Obama's Job's Speech to Congress: Get it Done Right Away!

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By C Stone Brown, NNPA Contributing Writer –

In a joint session to congress last night, President Obama gave his much anticipated speech on his prescription to resuscitate the ailing American economy.

The president’s plan is an ambitious $447 billion stimulus package that would include small business payroll tax cuts, tax credits for businesses that hire new workers, and new construction jobs to repair bridges, build public schools, roads and highways.

If there was a theme in the presidents’ address last night it was the urgency of getting his bill passed “right away,” which he repeated eight times.

“I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away. It's called the American Jobs Act. There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that's been supported by both Democrats and Republican -– including many who sit here tonight. And everything in this bill will be paid for. Everything,” said Obama.

It was obvious from the start; the president had two audiences he wanted to address. The American people and congress, and it would be congress that would get the president’s wrath for their inaction and partisanship over the past 24 months.

“Some of you have decided that [our] differences are so great that we can only resolve them at the ballot box. But know this: the next election is fourteen months away. And the people who sent us here -– the people who hired us to work for them -– they don't have the luxury of waiting fourteen months. Some of them are living week to week; paycheck to paycheck; even day to day. They need help, and they need it now,” said Obama.

The American Jobs Act has tax credit provisions laden with incentives for small businesses. For example, the plan would give a tax credit of $4000 to small businesses when they hire new workers or raise current worker’s salaries. The president also wants to cut payroll taxes in half for small businesses.

“It's not just Democrats who have supported this kind of proposal. Fifty House Republicans have proposed the same payroll tax cut that's in this plan. You should pass it right away,” said Obama.

The president plans to pay for his jobs package with an additional $1.5 trillion in spending cuts on top of the cuts the bipartisan Deficit Reduction Commission is expected to review.

“The agreement we passed in July will cut government spending by about a trillion dollars over the next ten years. It also charges this Congress to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings by Christmas,” said Obama.

However, while the president lost the battle over raising taxes on the top 1 percent to raise revenue during the debt talks last month. He seems to have every intention to revisit the issue. He reminded Congress “Warren Buffet pays a lower tax rate than his secretary –- an outrage he has asked us to fix. We need a tax code where everyone gets a fair shake, and where everybody pays their fair share.”

While the president made the case that his proposals are in fact, proposals Republican and Democrats have worked together to support in the past. He concluded his speech by firmly defending consumer and environmental protections, and the social safety net that his rivals have opposed.

“I reject the argument that says for the economy to grow, we have to roll back protections [regulations] that ban hidden fees by credit card companies, or rules [regulations] that keep our kids from being exposed to mercury, or laws that prevent the health insurance industry from shortchanging patients,” said Obama.

C Stone Brown is the former Washington Bureau Chief of DiversityInc and Contributing Editor of Crisis Magazine. He currently lives in Washington D.C. He can be reached at cstonebrown@aol.com

Zimbabwe President Mugabe Has Prostate Cancer, Says New Wikileaks Release

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By Fungai Maboreke, Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has cancer and was told in 2008 that he had about five more years to live, according to a newly published United States diplomatic cable.

In one of the so-called ‘wikileaks’ cables released, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Dr Gideon Gono, who is also President Mugabe’s personal banker and a close family confidante, disclosed this news to former U.S. Ambassador James McGee during a private meeting.

McGee was quoted as saying, “according to Gono, Mugabe’s doctor had recommended he cut back on his activities,” adding that “Gono told us last year (2007) that Mugabe was ill and that his doctor had urged him to step down immediately.” Further, “Mugabe told his doctor, according to Gono, that he would leave office after the election.”

Rumors of Mugabe’s illness have been swirling around and they have been further exacerbated by his frequent trips to Singapore, where it is believed he is receiving treatment.

Human Rights Watch: Gaddafi Okayed U.S. Prisoner Airlifts for Torture

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Islamic militant suspects were secretly shipped to Libya for harsh interrogation after 9/11 under a U.S. program called “extraordinary rendition,” it was revealed last week by the New York-based group Human Rights Watch.

The program was outlined in hundreds of letters recently discovered in the now-abandoned office of Moussa Koussa, former foreign minister and head of Libyan intelligence, who defected to Britain in February.

The documents expose how the CIA turned over suspects to Libyan authorities knowing they would be tortured.

“Eight or nine individuals” were delivered to Libya, according to the rights group, and not just for questioning, said Peter Bouckaert of HRW in Tripoli. “The CIA also sent the questions they wanted Libyan intelligence to ask. And from the files it's very clear that they were present in some of the interrogations themselves.”

The practice of torture to obtain information, while not permitted at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, received a green light from President Gaddafi in Tripoli, the documents reveal. In return, Libya's secret service reportedly received specific information about Libyan dissidents and was even assisted with the deportations of exiled dissidents back to Libya.

"What’s remarkable is the friendly tone of these files,” observed Bouchaert. “U.S. and British intelligence agents thank Musa Kusa for the crate of oranges and dates that he sent back with the intelligence agent who came to visit. And all of the—these are letters, 'Dear Musa' letters, to a man who is infamous in Libya for his involvement in repression.”

Meanwhile, in an unrelated development, top Gaddafi aides are reportedly taking refuge in neighboring Niger where the former Libyan president has close ties with the Tuareg nomads. Some African countries continue to recognize Colonel Gaddafi as Libya's leader. Niger's government, however, has recognized the anti-Gaddafi National Transitional Council as the country's legitimate authority.

 

U.S. Justice Department Attacked for Fighting Discriminatory Lending

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Wall Street Journal editorial claims agency is “intimidating” banks

By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) Usually when government is criticized, it’s because someone is dissatisfied with a lack of effective performance. But for the U.S. Department of Justice, recent high-profile criticism is due to a series of effective actions.

On August 31, a member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board publicly criticized DOJ’s Civil Rights Division for “intimidating banks” into lending to borrowers of color at below-market rates – a charge that is simply untrue. The piece ignores facts that the newspaper has reported: the rise of reckless lending during the housing bubble, and the fact that more than 60 percent of borrowers who received subprime loans had credit scores high enough to have qualified for standard conventional loans.

The Justice Department did not let the charges go unanswered. Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division responded a few days later with a letter to the Journal that said in part, “All qualified home buyers should have access to sustainable credit without being subject to illegal discrimination. The Justice Department will unapologetically continue to ensure they can do so.”

The full text of the Perez response is available at: http://rspnsb.li/nd5fgA. Unfortunately the space allowed for the rebuttal did not afford a complete account. There are a series of verifiable and appropriate reasons why the Civil Rights Division is so hard at work.

Had the Journal editorial board been familiar with the considerable body of research on foreclosures, it might have learned how communities of color were targeted and financially abused – particularly in mortgage lending. The research developed by the Center for Responsible Lending spans several years and offered early warnings about foreclosures and a 2010 report that showed how Black and Brown communities lost $350 billion in wealth through foreclosures.

I suspect that the victims of predatory mortgage lending are less concerned about editorial rhetoric than they are with more urgent concerns like financially piecing together lives hit hard by foreclosures; the shortage of adequate and affordable rental housing for former homeowners; or their former neighbors who now owe more than the homes are worth. Neighborhoods hard hit by foreclosures have suffered an equity drain on the single most important investment most people make in a lifetime – their home.

Each year, the DOJ’s report to Congress on the Equal Credit Opportunity Act Amendments of 1976 provides an in-depth review of the scope and volume of discriminatory lending over the past year. The 2010 report stated that the DOJ Civil Rights Division received more referrals that year (49) in 2010 than it had received in “at least the last 20 years”. By comparison, from 2001-2008, the total number of referrals received was only 30.

In terms of governmental accountability, DOJ efforts in 2010 brought actions correcting ill-advised practices and fair lending violations, including the following:

The largest monetary award for victims in a fair lending case - AIG Federal Savings Bank and Wilmington Finance settled to pay up to $6.1 million to African-American customers who were charged higher broker fees than non-Hispanic white customers; and

The first time a lender was held responsible for failing to monitor brokers who originated its home loans. The fore-mentioned lenders turned a blind eye to brokers that charged borrowers of color higher fees than other similarly-situated white borrowers.

The DOJ annual report also advised Congress that “Lawsuits challenging redlining and reverse redlining practices are significant weapons in the battle against predatory lending. And we expect that some of the investigations begun in 2010 will lead to suits or settlements in 2011.”

Here’s hoping that DOJ’s Civil Rights Division keeps up the good fight.

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

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