I will be doing a Book Presentation/Signing at Jefferson High School Adult School on Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 8:00 p.m. Address: 1319 E. 41st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90011
Archive for November, 2011
Why African Americans aren’t embracing Occupy Wall Street
By Stacey Patton, Published: November 25
Occupy Wall Street might seem like a movement that would resonate with black Americans. After all, unemployment among African Americans is at 15 percent, vs. almost 8 percent for whites. And between 2005 and 2009, black households lost just over half of their median net worth compared with white families, who lost 16 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.
However, these numbers have not translated into action. A few prominent African Americans, such as Cornel West, Russell Simmons, Kanye West and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), have made appearances at Occupy protests. “Occupy the Hood,” a recent offshoot, has tried to get more people of color involved. But the main movement remains overwhelmingly white: A Fast Company survey last month found that African Americans, who are 12.6 percent of the U.S. population, make up only 1.6 percent of Occupy Wall Street.
“Occupy Wall Street was started by whites and is about their concern with their plight,” Nathalie Thandiwe, a radio host and producer for WBAI in New York, said in an interview. “Now that capitalism isn’t working for ‘everybody,’ some are protesting.”
From America’s birthing pains to the civil rights protests of the 1960s, blacks have never been afraid to fight for economic or social justice. Crispus Attucks, a former slave and the first person killed by British soldiers in the Boston Massacre of 1770, is considered the first martyr of the American Revolution. Frederick Douglass, a slave turned abolitionist, stressed in the 19th century that black and white laborers’ fortunes and freedom were intertwined, saying that white labor “was robbed” of fair wages so long as it competed with unpaid black slaves.
In 1969, James Forman, former executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a civil rights organization, called on blacks to not perpetuate capitalism or contribute to the exploitation of blacks in the United States and elsewhere. He urged black workers to take over America by sabotaging U.S. factories and ports “while the brothers fight guerrilla warfare in the street.” And Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party renounced the American Dream as defective and called for the destruction of the capitalist system.
Blacks have historically suffered the income inequality and job scarcity that the Wall Street protesters are now railing against. Perhaps black America’s absence is sending a message to the Occupiers: “We told you so! Nothing will change. We’ve been here already. It’s hopeless.”
While the black press and civil rights groups such as the NAACP and the National Urban League were critical to past protest movements, black churches were the organizational force behind the rhetoric. Church leaders mobilized famous names and unsung heroes to end segregation through meetings, marches, demonstrations, boycotts and sit-ins. But where is the church now?
Some argue that the black church is losing its relevance, especially among young people who have been turned off by the religious theater of celebrity preachers. Even after lenders were accused of targeting black churches and communities as fertile markets for subprime mortgages, these churches are not joining Occupy protests en masse.
And despite their inclusive mission statements, major civil rights organizations and leaders appear to be selling out black America for corporate money. Beginning in the 1980s, for example, the tobacco and alcohol industries meticulously cultivated relationships with leaders of black communities. Institutions such as the NAACP, the United Negro College Fund and the Congressional Black Caucus have counted those industries as major donors — at the expense of the health of the black community.
More recently, the Congressional Black Caucus and other civil rights groups have received strong financial backing from telecommunications companies such as AT&T and Comcast. These firms support regulations that would be barriers to the goal of universal Internet access, stifling economic opportunity for black communities. We can’t expect our civil rights organizations and political leaders to help blacks rage against the corporate machine when they are part of it.
And what about Jay-Z and other hip-hop stars? For all their influence on American culture, they haven’t tackled big challenges such as poverty, police brutality, voting disenfranchisement and the racist prison complex. Jay-Z hasn’t shown up at any Occupy gatherings, but his clothing company appears to be trying to capitalize on the protest wave. Rocawear is peddling “Occupy All Streets” T-shirts for $22 a pop — with no plans to donate profits to the movement.
Beyond a lack of leaders to inspire them to join the Occupy fold, blacks are not seeing anything new for themselves in the movement. Why should they ally with whites who are just now experiencing the hardships that blacks have known for generations? Perhaps white Americans are now paying the psychic price for not answering the basic questions that blacks have long raised about income inequality.
New Jersey comedian John “Alter Negro” Minus says he won’t participate in the Occupy protests because black people are being besieged by so many social injustices, he can’t get behind targeting just the 1 percent.
Banks’ bad behavior “just gets lost in the sauce, so to speak,” Minus said. “High joblessness and social disenfranchisement is new to most of the Wall Street protesters. It’s been a fact of life for African Americans since the beginning. I actually think black people are better served by staying out of the protests. Civil disobedience will only further the public perception that black people like to cause trouble.”
Is there a chance that the movement can become more diverse? Leslie Wilson, a professor of African American history at Montclair State University, is not optimistic.
“Occupy Wall Street cannot produce enough change to encourage certain types of black participation,” Wilson said in an interview. “The church cannot get enough blacks out on the streets. Some students will go, but not the masses. Black folks, particularly older ones, do not think that this is going to lead to change. . . . This generation has already been beaten down and is hurting. They are not willing to risk what little they have for change. Those who are wealthier are not willing to risk and lose.”
Black America’s fight for income equality is not on Wall Street, but is a matter of day-to-day survival. The more pressing battles are against tenant evictions, police brutality and street crime. This group doesn’t see a reason to join the amorphous Occupiers.
But if the Occupy movement does not grow in solidarity with other constituencies of exploited and oppressed people, and if black America does not devise new leadership strategies to deal with today’s problems, the truth of Frederick Douglass’s wisdom will hold — the powerful undertow of race and class in America will keep both blacks and whites from being free.
November 15, 2011
Middle-Class Areas Shrink as Income Gap Grows, New Report Finds
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
WASHINGTON — The portion of American families living in middle-income neighborhoods has declined significantly since 1970, according to a new study, as rising income inequality left a growing share of families in neighborhoods that are mostly low-income or mostly affluent.
The study, conducted by Stanford University and scheduled for release on Wednesday by the Russell Sage Foundation and Brown University, uses census data to examine family income at the neighborhood level in the country’s 117 biggest metropolitan areas.
The findings show a changed map of prosperity in the United States over the past four decades, with larger patches of affluence and poverty and a shrinking middle.
In 2007, the last year captured by the data, 44 percent of families lived in neighborhoods the study defined as middle-income, down from 65 percent of families in 1970. At the same time, a third of American families lived in areas of either affluence or poverty, up from just 15 percent of families in 1970.
The study comes at a time of growing concern about inequality and an ever-louder partisan debate over whether it matters. It raises, but does not answer, the question of whether increased economic inequality, and the resulting income segregation, impedes social mobility.
Much of the shift is the result of changing income structure in the United States. Part of the country’s middle class has slipped to the lower rungs of the income ladder as manufacturing and other middle-class jobs have dwindled, while the wealthy receive a bigger portion of the income pie. Put simply, there are fewer people in the middle.
But the shift is more than just changes in income. The study also found that there is more residential sorting by income, with the rich flocking together in new exurbs and gentrifying pockets where lower- and middle-income families cannot afford to live.
The study — part of US2010, a research project financed by Russell Sage and Brown University — identified the pattern in about 90 percent of large and medium-size metropolitan areas for 2000 to 2007. Detroit; Oklahoma City; Toledo, Ohio; and Greensboro, N.C., experienced the biggest rises in income segregation in the decade, while 13 areas, including Atlanta, had declines. Philadelphia and its suburbs registered the sharpest rise since 1970.
Sean F. Reardon, an author of the study and a sociologist at Stanford, argued that the shifts had far-reaching implications for the next generation. Children in mostly poor neighborhoods tend to have less access to high-quality schools, child care and preschool, as well as to support networks or educated and economically stable neighbors who might serve as role models.
The isolation of the prosperous, he said, means less interaction with people from other income groups and a greater risk to their support for policies and investments that benefit the broader public — like schools, parks and public transportation systems. About 14 percent of families lived in affluent neighborhoods in 2007, up from 7 percent in 1970, the study found.
The study groups neighborhoods into six income categories. Poor neighborhoods have median family incomes that are 67 percent or less of those of a given metropolitan area. Rich neighborhoods have median incomes of 150 percent or more. Middle-income neighborhoods are those in which the median income is between 80 percent and 125 percent.
The map of that change for Philadelphia is a red stripe of wealthy suburbs curving around a poor, blue urban center, broken by a few red dots of gentrification. It is the picture of the economic change that slammed into Philadelphia decades ago as its industrial base declined and left a shrunken middle class and a poorer urban core.
The Germantown neighborhood, once solidly middle class, is now mostly low income. Chelten Avenue, one of its main thoroughfares, is a hard-luck strip of check-cashing stores and takeout restaurants. The stone homes on side streets speak to a more affluent past, one that William Wilson, 95, a longtime resident, remembers fondly.
“It was real nice,” he said, shuffling along Chelten Avenue on Monday. Theaters thrived on the avenue, he said, as did a fancy department store. Now a Walgreens stands in its place. “Everything started going down in the dumps,” he said.
Philadelphia’s more recent history is one of gentrifying neighborhoods, like the Northern Liberties area, where affluence has rushed in, in the form of espresso shops, glass-walled apartments and a fancy supermarket, and prosperous new suburbs that have mushroomed in the far north and south of the metro area.
Lawrence Katz, an economist at Harvard, said the evidence for the presumed adverse effects of economic segregation was inconclusive. In a recent study of low-income families randomly assigned the opportunity to move out of concentrated poverty into mixed-income neighborhoods, Professor Katz and his collaborators found large improvements in physical and mental health, but little change in the families’ economic and educational fortunes.
But there is evidence that income differences are having an effect, beyond the context of neighborhood. One example, Professor Reardon said, is a growing gap in standardized test scores between rich and poor children, now 40 percent bigger than it was in 1970. That is double the testing gap between black and white children, he said.
And the gap between rich and poor in college completion — one of the single most important predictors of economic success — has grown by more than 50 percent since the 1990s, said Martha J. Bailey, an economist at the University of Michigan. More than half of children from high-income families finish college, up from about a third 20 years ago. Fewer than 10 percent of low-income children finish, up from 5 percent.
William Julius Wilson, a sociologist at Harvard who has seen the study, argues that “rising inequality is beginning to produce a two-tiered society in America in which the more affluent citizens live lives fundamentally different from the middle- and lower-income groups. This divide decreases a sense of community.”
Pasadena-Star News newspaper link:
PASADENA – President of the Pasadena-branch NAACP Joe Brown blasted Pasadena Unified School District officials Tuesday characterizing the district as a “pipeline” to prison.
“Black males are … disproportionately disciplined within this district,” Brown wrote in prepared remarks. “Suspension and expulsion rates are linked to incarceration rates. Couple their discipline records with their literacy rates and we have created a veritable school-to-prison pipeline for our black sons here at PUSD.”
Brown’s comments came during a rally by dozens of black Education Get the scoop on schools, teachers and students.
Nearly 200 residents Tuesday night crowded PUSD headquarters as part of a promised 100-man march on the district led by local attorney and newspaper publisher Joe Hopkins.
The purpose of the march was to air grievances against three members of the PUSD board Hopkins accused of promoting Latino issues at the expense of black students, as well as alleged meddling and micromanaging by Pasadena Unified School District school board members.
Hopkins touted the march for more than a week in his paper, the Pasadena Journal and on its website.
In his editorials, Hopkins equated the march with the grass-roots efforts led during the Civil Rights Movement.
Hopkins and many of the parents assembled challenged whether board members favored student achievement over politics.
“This board fails week after week to come together on issues that concern our students,” Hopkins said. “Instead we have three members who are busy micromanaging the various schools in the district, flexing their muscle and terrorizing principals instead of carrying out their mandate to make policy that keeps all of our kids on the path to success.”
Hopkins pointed much of his wrath at the board minority composed of members Ramon Miramontes, Scott Phelps and Kim Kenne.
Offering a prepared speech to reporters prior to addressing the board, Hopkins questioned ongoing PUSD programs geared toward Latino students. He said similar programs are not in place to help black students.
“The district has a policy that guarantees there are special programs for Latino students to bring their scores up,” Hopkins said.
“This march is to ask what is being done for black students at the Pasadena Unified School District,” Hopkins said. “We challenge the district to do the right thing as it relates to black students.”
Miramontes declined to comment.
“I’ve got nothing to say,” Miramontes said.
While the board minority didn’t fire back during Tuesday night’s meeting, Phelps counter-punched during a break in proceedings.
“I just hope what Hopkins had to say leads to something good,” Phelps said.
In an emailed statement issued Tuesday night Randy Ertll, head of El Centro De Accion Social agreed the PUSD board needs to address the needs of all students in the district.
“African American and Latino community members and leaders need to come together to discuss how the achievement gap for African American and Latino students need to be addressed immediately with a simple, straightforward, plan that can be effectively implemented across PUSD schools,” Ertll said.
Ertil said the board should directly address some key questions: “How are Title I funds being used? are they equitably distributed to help our most needy students?
“We need to come together – in a civil and constructive manner. Not destructive. We need to build up PUSD – together as one community.”
In an op-ed published Sunday in the Valley Sun, Phelps lauded the board minority’s efforts to keep budget cuts as far away from the classroom as possible, their fight to keep Norma Coombs Alternative and Jackson Elementary schools open and the creation of a dropout task force.
Former Muir High School student Marisol Salcedo, 23, a student at PCC, said she was saddened by divisions in the community.
“It looks like we’re divided,” Salcedo said. “It’s sad to see when I drive by John Muir High School police cars are there when instead they should be at Victory Park asking kids why the aren’t at school.”
In her remarks to the board Salcedo defended the district’s focus on Latino students.
It starts with parent involvement,” she said.
In recent days, Hopkins has also questioned Miramontes’ comments and involvement in the criminal investigation of John Muir High School football coach Ken Howard.
Howard was involved in a physical altercation with a student on Sept. 28.
The scuffle led to Howard’s indefinite suspension from his coaching duties and misdemeanor battery charges. Hopkins is Howard’s attorney.
Staff writer Brian Charles contributed to this story.
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR reports:
By Mike Allison, Guest blogger / November 7, 2011
On Sunday, just over 50 percent of registered voters turned out to help former general Otto Pérez Molina of the Patriotic Party (PP) defeat Manuel Baldizón of the Renewed, Democratic, Liberty (LIDER), 54 percent to 46 percent with 98 percent of the vote counted.
This year’s election campaign was marred by violence (over 30 candidates and campaign-workers killed), the utter disregard of electoral laws (campaign spending and donor transparency, a failure to abide by the official start date) except when it suited them (Sandra Torres’ disqualification), outlandish proposals (Mr. Baldizón’s promise to lead Guatemala to the World Cup), and a one size fits all mano dura solution to crime and insecurity in Guatemala.
The president-elect does in fact confront a difficult situation (El Nuevo Herald, Telesur, NYT). Over 50 percent of the population lives in poverty. The percentage of the population living in poverty is much greater in the countryside and among the indigenous. Even though Honduras and El Salvador are now much more violent, statistically speaking, Guatemala remains one of the most violent countries in the world, especially for women. The country’s economy is expected to grow by less than 3 percent this year which is among the region’s lowest and that was before the most recent storm damaged infrastructure and crops.
Think you know Latin America? Test your geography knowledge.
On the other hand, President-elect Pérez Molina probably has more going for him than President Alvaro Colom did upon taking office. First, while the country’s murder rate remains alarmingly high, it is on a downwards trend. Guatemala is on pace to record 4,000-4,500 murders in 2011, down from 6,451 in 2009 and 5,960 in 2010.
Mr. Colom added about 6,000 police officers during his term. However, after removing over 2,000 or so corrupt police officers, it’s only a net of 4,000. To fulfill his promise of putting 10,000 more police on the streets and reaching 35,000, Pérez Molina will probably need to add 15,000 while continuing to remove those officers who are corrupt or are abusing their power (~5,000). Increasing the number of police should go a long way towards Pérez Molina’s goal of lowering the country’s murder rate by half during his four-year term.
Second, Pérez Molina has Claudia Paz y Paz and Helen Mack. Ms. Paz y Paz was appointed by President Colom as the country’s first female attorney general and Ms. Mack as police reform commissioner. Even though some Guatemalan elites have tried to sabotage their efforts to reform the judicial system and police force, from all indications they have done an exceptional job. While not completely eradicated, extrajudicial killings carried out by the police and security forces appear to have declined significantly.
President-elect Otto Pérez Molina inherits poverty, crime issues in Guatemala (video)
Guatemala has also made important steps to address its past. President Colom apologized on behalf of the Guatemalan state to former President Jacobo Arbenz’s family for its complicity in the 1954 CIA-led coup that removed him from office. Among other things, the state has promised to more accurately depict Arbenz’ accomplishments and faults in schools.
Four former military officials have also been sentenced to over 6,000 years in prison for one of the worst civil war massacres, the killing of over 200 men, women, and children at Dos Erres in December 1982. Authorities also arrested several high-ranking officials, including former General Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes, former intelligence chief José Mauricio Rodríguez, and former general and de facto president Oscar Mejia, for their responsibility in the execution of the government’s 1980s scorched earth program.
Finally, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has had its mandate extended until 2013. While not perfect, CICIG and its commissioner, Francisco Dall’Anese, have taken important steps to provide the Guatemalan people and its institutions with the tools necessary to tackle impunity.
While these are some areas where Pérez Molina can continue the work of Colom, he also has to do more than Colom did to reform the country’s tax base, to promote transparency and the institutionalization of the government’s social programs, to tackle land inequality and respect for indigenous rights, and to provide long-term human security to the people of the Petén, Alta Verapaz, and the rest of Guatemala.
— Mike Allison is an associate professor in the Political Science Department and a member of the Latin American and Women’s Studies Department at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. You can follow his Central American Politics blog here.