To Blacks: Keep off the sidewalk!

sidewalkIn the aftermath of the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the death of the unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, Robert Zimmerman Jr. in a post-verdict interview said Trayvon Martin was “… armed with a sidewalk.”  Really?

Sidewalks according to Robert Zimmerman Jr. are weapons.  I thought they were paved walkways along streets for walking on.  I imagine Trayvon was walking on a sidewalk before George Zimmerman got out of his car and began to follow him.  By that logic then, anytime a black person is on a sidewalk, they are to be considered armed and by extension dangerous.

It is a sad day in America when blacks are not able to walk on sidewalks without being profiled, criminalized and killed!

If not death then what will inspire blacks to abandon belief in post racial ideology? The Case of Trayvon Martin

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin jury verdict that declared George Zimmerman, not guilty for taking the life of the unarmed black teen, it is my hope that blacks are rethinking whether America is post-racial, coming to the conclusion that she is not and abandoning their embrace of this false ideology. The election of Barack Obama to the U.S. Presidency in 2008 for many blacks, young and old alike signaled a break from America’s founding blemish. If a black man could make it to the White House, surely America must have transcended race; America must be post-racial.

If so, this meant blacks had no more excuses for not succeeding. No more excuses has become the black post-racial mantra the implications of which have been detrimental for blacks in general and deadly in the case of Trayvon Martin, specifically.

Post-racialism dismisses the net effect of more than 250 years of black slavery, 100 years of state sanctioned and Jim Crow racism and the persistent, insidious current day structural racism as reasons for the status of blacks. Instead, post-racialism speculates, racism has just been a pretext blacks use to explain their group’s socioeconomic status relative to whites and other minorities. After post-racialism convinces blacks to believe that racism is not the reason for their deficits, it encourages them to believe that their resulting situation is really their own fault, the result of their irresponsibility.

Confession of post-racialism is widespread among blacks, reaching fever pitch with the election of Barack Obama as President in 2008 about which Will Smith exuded:

“The history of African Americans is such that you want to be a part of America, but we’ve been rejected so much it’s hard to take the ownership and take responsibility for ourselves and this country. It was like, at that second, at that moment, all of our excuses were gone.”

In response to a January 2009 Black Enterprise article No More Excuses, an online comment by an individual named Mary Alice read:

“Praise the Lord!!!

Now we know anything is possible (we knew all along—that is why we kept pushing day after decade after century). No more excuses. It is time for all of us to up our game. Because we can. No more excuses.”

Even President Obama embraces this narrative and frequently uses it when he addresses blacks in general and black males specifically. Using it in his commencement address at Morehouse this past May, he told these black men:

“We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. Growing up, I made a few myself. And I have to confess, sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. …We’ve got no time for excuses … nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned. And whatever hardships you may experience because of your race, they pale in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured….”

And if blacks believe and openly profess these patently false things about themselves then why shouldn’t and why wouldn’t the “Zimmerman’s” of America believe and profess them too?

After all, when asked about whose fault it was that Trayvon was dead, Robert Zimmerman Jr. in his post-verdict interview with Piers Morgan proffered “…I would find… that unfortunately uh he [Trayvon] had the greater hand in his own demise which was causing by his own hand his death. That’s unfortunate but that’s the reality.” When pressed further by Morgan as to whether Robert Zimmerman Jr. believed Trayvon was responsible for his own death, he responded “Absolutely, I believe that.”

It was a bullet in the heart that killed Trayvon Martin, discharged from a gun in the hand of George Zimmerman, yet, post-racialism blames Trayvon Martin for his own death. America is not post-racial and this lie is robbing blacks of their lives and their liberty. Without these, there can be no happiness. That’s the reality.

Affirmative Action

affirmative actionM. Kelly Carr, an Assistant Professor at University of Baltimore’s School of Communication Design recently wrote a piece for the Baltimore Sun entitled Supreme Court signals the end for affirmative action as we know it.  The actions by the high court continue a disturbing trend in the erosion of policies that sustain socioeconomic justice for blacks and other minorities.

Affirmative action is defined as the taking of proactive steps to ensure that minorities and women are adequately (and therefore, from a historical perspective, increasingly) represented in today’s economy.  In an alleged post-racial America, this is a controversial topic; because, the presumption is things are not as bad and they used to be.  Additionally, if a sub-section of society is given preferential treatment then certainly it introduces biases into that system.

Affirmative action is premised on aiding a section of society to ensure an artifice—representation or to redress loss.  The Emancipation Proclamation was the original affirmative action—freedom of African Americans from slavery—following the Civil War.  The next major move for affirmative action was the Civil Rights movement of the fifties and sixties, where Black leaders with support from White Americans, won equal rights and representations for African Americans—or so they thought.

African Americans were given a start in this country. But this did not guarantee them any freedoms as written in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Thus began the establishment of a caste system that stratified America into those that enjoyed rights (whites) and those that did not (slaves).  Even after slavery officially ended in the United States, this caste system persisted—indeed, slaves were asked to make do with a mule and an acre of land, but nothing in terms of equal rights which might serve to blur the lines of this caste system.  This is not different from the religion based caste system that still persists in some communities in India.  Caste system, whether handed down through religious text or by one race’s fiat, seeks to enforce a dictum that one group of people did not deserve to have equal rights.  This is how blacks found themselves inhabiting shanties on the outskirts of most towns.  They were also forced to flee to areas that would accommodate them for fear of backlash from their former owners.

Despite the issues of commitment to diversity and promises of inclusiveness, institutional racism is pervasive in every walk of American life—from schools to factories.  Affirmative action is the only way to restructure this caste-system that continues to be imposed on the social order in this country.  In a putative post-racial society, however, the only acceptable social remedies are those that are on their face, race neutral.

Writing in The Review of Black Political Economy, Darity and Hamilton (2012)[1] espouse the view that to redress racial economic inequalities “Bold Policies for Economic Justice” must be instituted.  These authors offer two race neutral programs that could work toward eliminating racial inequality, while simultaneously benefiting all Americans.  The first is a federal jobs guarantee and the second, child development accounts.

Sadly, the notion that the correction engendered by affirmative action specifically, or race neutral policies, generally in society that overwhelmingly appear to benefit blacks is often represented as reverse discrimination.  Racism that precipitated affirmative action served to undermine blacks based on false criteria.  Affirmative action and facially race neutral policies that seek to facilitate racial and economic justice for blacks do not wish to do that.

[1] Darity, W. and Hamilton, D. 2012. Bold Policies for Economic Justice Review of Black Political Economy, 39(1):79-85. DOI: 10.1007/s12114-011-9129-8

Stop and Frisk vs. Voting Rights Act: The Importance of Contextual Discourse

ArticleHeader-VotingRightsQuestion:  What do you get when you discuss a racial discrimination issue in a racial context?

Answer:  You get a policy that makes the racial discrimination illegal.

Question:  What do you get when you discuss a racial discrimination issue in a non-racial context?

Answer:  You get the invalidation of a policy that makes the racial discrimination illegal.

The above characterizes the difference between the outcomes of the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk and The Voting Rights Act.  Essentially, the difference between the two outcomes is what I call contextual discourse.  Contextual discourse is simply the way we talk about issues and the way they are framed.

The likes of Ben Jealous of the NAACP, Council Member Jumaame Williams and private citizens who were discriminatorily profiled based on race, called for an end to NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policy, highlighting its racial discriminatory and illegal nature.  In short, they addressed a racial discrimination issue in a race based context and there is a good chance that the repeal of Stop and Frisk will survive Mayor Bloomberg’s veto and blacks and Hispanics will not be subject to racial discrimination in this way.

The Voting Rights Act met with a different fate.  There is increased public sentiment that social and structural barriers are no longer impediments to opportunities and outcomes for blacks.  The norms of post-racialism lead society to believe that race no longer defines opportunities and outcomes.  Discussing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act as an issue for all Americans, and not one specifically linked to race, perpetuates the discourse that social and structural barriers are no longer obstacles and perpetuates the post racial norm.

In short, the right to vote for blacks, a racial discrimination issue, was addressed in a non racial context.  The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key section of the Act that protected against racial discrimination.  There is a good chance that in light of this ruling, blacks and other minorities will be subject to racial discrimination in their ability to exercise their right to vote.








President Obama’s Response on Voting Rights Act Fuels Belief that Race Doesn’t Matter

ObamaThe Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in a 5-4 vote ruled that parts of the Voting Rights Act are no longer valid. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, stated the rationale for the repeal is that the country has changed for the better. The conditions over the past 50 years that required certain states, mainly in South, to “pre-clear” no longer portray voting challenges in those regions. Moreover, Chief Justice Roberts stated the formula for pre-clearing these states and districts is not logical in relation to the much improved changes in voting rights for the minorities in these regions. The Court’s ruling is linked to the norms of post-racialism.  There is increased public sentiment that race is no longer a defining feature in opportunities and outcomes for minorities generally and blacks specifically.  Section 4, the formula utilized by the federal government to decide which states and counties are required to submit to oversight, was struck down as unconstitutional.  In essence, because there is no formula in place in Section 4, Section 5 of the Act which deals with pre-clearance cannot be enforced.

Whether we are racial minorities or not the SCOTUS’ ruling should not come as a surprise in light of increased public opinion that things have gotten better, as indicated in the Court’s ruling.  If we are racial minorities, however, we should be concerned. What interests me is President Obama’s discourse on the ruling.  By not talking about the SCOTUS’ ruling in terms of race, but as an issue for all Americans, President Obama also is perpetuating the post-racial norm that led Chief Justice Roberts to get to the point that we are post-racial to begin with.  In sentiment, the President’s response to the Court’s ruling is still advancing a post racial narrative.

When President Obama lays out the issue for Congress to create a new formula, he needs to couch the issue of voting rights discrimination in language and a sentiment that reflects the problem. Every American is not having a challenge with equal access to the right to vote it is mainly racial minorities.

President Obama’s proactivity on race based policies in the face of evident racial disparities tends to be timid. He advocates instead for policies that benefit every American. The opportunity for President Obama to take a stand on racial discrimination is presenting itself. This could be a defining moment in his legacy as the nation’s first black president to shape sweeping policy reform for racial justice. Hopefully, he will not shy away from the opportunity.



Does the “N” word ever mean anything good?

NwordSticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.  I remember this rhyme from my childhood.  I don’t know its origins, but as a black child born during the mid-1960s, I wonder if it was used to shield marginalized people from the taunts and stings of racism.  Nice as it sounds, the Book of Wisdom, Proverbs, has something very different to say about the impact of words.  Proverbs 15:4 says “A deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”

The “N” word is contemptuous, signifies black inferiority and rejection and was inflicted upon blacks.  It seems that some non blacks didn’t get the memo on this. It seems also that some blacks, nowadays have reclaimed and embraced the “N” word, dropping the ‘er’ and adding an ‘a.’  Doing this, somehow, changes its meaning from one of utmost disrespect to one of utmost regard?  “Brother” reclaimed as “Brotha” and “Sister” reclaimed as “Sistah” are still terms of endearment.  To this end, dropping the ‘er’ from the “N” word and replacing it with an ‘a’ does not change its meaning.

The “N” word, no matter who utters it, no matter the reasons one utters it, is still synonymous with contempt and disrespect!


Being Optimistic While Black

Blacks are reporting optimism about their progress and prospects in areas such as financial security, home ownership and employment.  Economic data, paint a stark contrast to black optimism.  Two key areas of black socioeconomic well-being are unemployment and wealth.  These are two areas in which blacks fare especially poorly relative to other races.  Since 1972, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping tabs on labor force characteristics by demographics, including race and ethnicity, the trend has been a demonstrated ratio of 2:1 with respect to the unemployment rate between whites and blacks (Darity & Hamilton, 2012).[1]  Yet, in light of this gap there is now an upward trend in black attitudes about their current economic situation.

In terms of wealth, since the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) began in 1984, the lowest the white to black wealth gap ratio has ever been is 7:1, and that was in 1995.  Since 1984, the gap has remained between 10:1 and 12:1.  In 2009, the white to black wealth gap nearly doubled, from 11:1 to 19.1. Again, in light of these stats, blacks are reporting their lives have improved in recent years.

Based on this economic data, my question is what are blacks so optimistic about?  On its face, black optimism could be cause for celebration.  Indeed 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation granted blacks freedom and citizenship and 49 years after the Passage of Civil Rights for blacks, black optimism might signal blacks feel obstacles keeping them from attaining the American dream are no longer a hindrance.  What blacks feel and think about their progress and prospects, however, are dollars and disparities from what blacks’ real economic situation is.

Dr. King’s 1957 address “A Realistic Look at the Question of Progress in the Area of Race Relations,”[2] cautioned against extreme optimism.  He said the extreme optimist would conclude, based on the gains blacks made “…that the problem is just about solved, and that we can sit comfortably by the wayside and wait on the coming of the inevitable.”

It seems we are observing the outcome of Dr. King’s warning against extreme optimism.  Although racial disparities exist, blacks report things are not as bad as they once were. They are reporting their lives have improved from a few short years ago.  There is no need to act collectively, protest, blame others or complain about inequality.  If blacks just work hard enough and remain optimistic, they can overcome racial inequality.

So, is being optimistic while black the antagonist of black socioeconomic progress?  While it is okay to be optimistic, it is more important to be realistic and ensure that attitudes reflect reality!

[1] Darity, W. and Hamilton, D. 2012. Bold Policies for Economic Justice Review of Black Political Economy, 39(1):79-85. DOI: 10.1007/s12114-011-9129-8

Can common fate and collective action displace discordance to stabilize Howard University?

Originally published June 17, 2013

In Vice Chair Renee Higginbotham-Brooks’ April 24, 2013 letter to the Howard University Board of Trustees, she advised that the University is essentially in financial trouble and failure to act collectively will mean the demise of the institution within three years.

Howard University’s troubles detailed in Higginbotham-Brooks’ letter include:

  • The combination of fewer students who can arrange financial aid, coupled with high school counselors who are steering students to less expensive state and junior colleges, has resulted in lower enrollment and this trend is expected to continue.
  • Howard’s Federal appropriation is expected to be decreased because of sequestration and the rationale for the University’s existence is expected to be challenged since African American students can attend any college or university today.
  • The Hospital has become a serious drain on the budget of the University and we need to either sell it or get the D.C. government to properly reimburse us for the care provided to its citizens.
  • We lack an infrastructure for fundraising to replace decreasing tuition revenue and shrinking Federal dollars, and we lack access to the larger philanthropic community.
  • We have too many employees on our payroll (approximately 5,000 employees to serve less than 10,000 students)

Higginbotham-Brooks also raises issues concerning a lack of common fate and collective action in governance.  She cites concerns about direction and leadership at Howard and failure of the Board to address these issues.

Board Chair, Addison Barry Rand in a statement responded, indicating that the institution and board are working “tirelessly” and the issues are being addressed, adding the institution “remains competitive and is continuing to grow (The Washington Post).”  Faculty member, Richard Wright, who is also on the Board and a faculty member as well, indicated faculty are concerned about the University’s financial situation, but added he did not “…see anything that’s going to shut us down in a few years (The Washington Post).”

One implication noted by Higginbotham-Brooks is the possible shuttering of Howard University within three years.  The financial strain on Howard due to decreased federal dollars, diminished capacity to fund raise and resource demand of its hospital on the University budget, coupled with decreased enrollment, attributed to less expensive alternatives for black students in the form of state and community colleges, has the potential, according to the Vice Chair, to make it difficult for Howard to justify its continued existence.

An additional implication I raise is the elimination of preferences for blacks in education, which serves as a gateway to middle and upper class status.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) “… principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans … (”  As such, Howard University plays an important role in educating and graduating black undergraduates as well as black doctors, lawyers, architects, PhD and other professionals.  If Higginbotham-Brooks’ prediction bears out, this could have the potential to erode black access to educational opportunities that serve as the first step to professions in which blacks are underrepresented.

Historically, when black’s attitudes about their reality have been in alignment relative to their real socioeconomic outcomes, black common fate and collective action served to rally blacks to call attention to their situation and work collectively to improve it.  When black’s attitudes about their reality have been out of alignment relative to their real socioeconomic outcomes, there is “sunny appraisal” and loss of gains.

Hopefully, common fate and collective action can coalesce to displace discordance and put Howard University on stable ground.

© 2013 Lessie Branch. All rights reserved.

The Contrition Effect

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone:  The Contrition Effect
Originally published June 11, 2013

David, God’s handpicked King of Israel, a great political and military leader and one whom God declared a man after His own heart was an adulterer and orchestrated the death the soldier whose wife he was having sleeping with.” That notwithstanding, more often than not, when we think of King David, it is not because of the indiscretions he committed but because of the victories and his humility. Likewise, Moses, a skillful negotiator, who God communicated with like a friend, led the great exodus of the Hebrews out of slavery, was also a murderer. But when people recall the life of Moses, it is with pride for his role in securing the freedom of a nation.

The first point here is that if we are human, chances are we are flawed, and have shortcomings. Flaws and shortcomings are the proverbial glass houses that humans live in and as the idiomatic expression goes, “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” The second point here is that we might be better served by focusing on the good that people have done as in the above examples.

This past May when Anthony Weiner announced his candidacy for New York City Mayor, it was reported in various news media that New York’s Governor said if New Yorkers elect Anthony Weiner as mayor “shame on us.” This seeming rebuke was later stated to be a joke. In fact, public sentiment for a mayoral run by Mr. Weiner was rather cool. According to a May 2013 Quinnipiac poll nearly half of those polled, 49%, felt Weiner should not enter the race, presumably because of his past actions. Even headlines in the media still stigmatize him based on his past. Conversely, a Marist poll shows a slight majority, 53% of registered New York City voters, think that Weiner deserves a second chance.

“Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone,” words Biblical history records directed to the religious leaders of the day, who would have been legally justified in stoning the individual guilty of adultery, should remind us that as humans we are not perfect. After coming to terms with his actions and apologizing, Anthony Weiner, by one media account, is said to be “less aggressive and more contrite (” It is interesting to note what I call the contrition effect seems to have resonated with New Yorkers.

Weiner holds the number two spot after City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, in terms of mayoral candidate preference, despite entering the race after many of the other candidates. The New Yorker writes “…failing to have acknowledged a character flaw is proving a handicap to other candidates….” To be objective, however, Weiner does have, among other things, name recognition and a sizeable war chest. It remains to be seen what impact, if any the contrition effect will have on Anthony Weiner’s race for Mayor of New York City.