You’re probably well aware that there were great numbers of African-American people who “never thought they’d live to see the day” that a Black man would be elected President of the United States.
If you remember November 2008, like I do, then you certainly also recall seeing video clips of Black folks crying, praying, rejoicing and “thanking their lucky stars” that Barack Obama would be moving into the White House.
For them, it seemed, that election was the best thing ever. It surpassed their every expectation. It was, in fact, many of them said, the final proof that racism was now dead in this country.
“Long live post-racialism!” That’s what they said.
Well ... if that’s what they drew from Barack Obama’s election — that racism was finally in ignominious retreat, in America — then I have something that may very well make those same people even more optimistic that the ultimate victory over that devil, racism, is actually on the horizon.
Here it is — drum roll, please...
Last week, researchers at Oxford University announced that they had identified a commonly prescribed drug that MAY REDUCE RACIST ATTITUDES IN PEOPLE WHO TAKE IT.
Did you hear me?
Let me run that by you, one more time — slowly.
Scientists in “merry old England” reported last week that a medication called Propranolol, which is frequently recommended to people fighting high blood pressure and other heart-related ailments, also impacts the parts of the human central nervous system that affects subconscious attitudes about race.
Although the findings were based on a relatively small sample, the University’s researchers announced that those who took 40 mg. of Propranolol scored “significantly lower” on a Harvard University Implicit Association Test (I.A.T.), which measures “subtle and spontaneous biased behavior.”
By the way, if you want to test your own subtle, racist tendencies (and most of us, I suspect, actually do have some of those), you can simply Google “Implicit Association Test” and select the “RACE IAT” on the site. Don’t try it on your iPad or Apple mobile device, however, you’ll need Adobe Flash to complete the exercise.
I recommend that you try it. It only takes a few minutes. After all, you may find that the rest of the world is actually okay, but that you, yourself, are the racist.
I took it. I’m not telling what it said about me.
In any event, the initial wave of unbridled joy I felt when I heard that science had discovered a way to “cure” racist attitudes was tempered considerably when I dug a little deeper and discovered that the “new wonder drug,” Propranolol, was actually not so new, at all, but rather, the first successful “beta blocker” pharmaceutical ever developed.
If that sounds a little heavy on the scientific jargon side, it’s understandable; let me give you a bit more, in plain English, about why I’m not all that excited about the anti-racism drug.
Beta blockers have been identified in numerous medical studies for two principal reasons; one, they have proved to be useful in combating high blood pressure and other heart diseases, and, two, they also...are...a...direct...cause...of...impotence, in men who take them.
Those dots having been connected, my “conspiracy theory” alarms are ringing off the hook, now. First, we’re all told that Black men are the most vulnerable population segment to the ravages of high blood pressure and related diseases and strokes. Then, we’re told not to worry because there are drugs, such as Propranolol, available to fight those diseases.
Fortified with that information, Black men have been marching off, taking their annual physical exams, being diagnosed with high blood pressure and dutifully running right out to use their prescribed beta blockers. Can someone out there say “declining Black birth rates?” Very good!
What’s especially unnerving is that high blood pressure/hypertension is described in medical literature as the “silent killer” because the disease has no symptoms or warning signs. That doesn’t stop it from being diagnosed, however, among more than one in three African Americans, as compared to less than one in four whites, 18 years of age, or older.
Although there is general agreement that high blood pressure can be treated through lifestyle changes, weight loss, increased exercise and improved diet, the medical profession still aggressively pushes beta blockers to patients and, disproportionately, it’s been proved, to Black men.
But, here’s where the whole story gets really tricky and convoluted: Members of the medical profession, in general, also agree that stress caused by racial discrimination plays a critical role in the high rate of hypertension among African Americans, in the first place. So — Black folks get hypertension, at least, partially, from being treated in racially discriminatory ways, and then, we are prescribed beta blockers, which are designed, we now discover, to make US less inclined to be racially biased.
Is this some kind of cruel hoax, or what?
Now that we see the perverse game being played on Blacks diagnosed with high blood pressure, should we, somewhat facetiously, extend the benefits of this impotence-producing, supposedly racism-reducing drug to a list of high-profile racially offensive people?
After all, wouldn’t we actually be doing the avowed racists a favor, and making the world a much better, more racially tolerant place, all at the same time?
For example, shouldn’t people who are opposed to racist comments and behaviors get together and send a case or Propranolol to ex-Ku-Klux-Klan leader, David Duke? How about Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn, who complained that trying to work with President Obama on the debt-ceiling issue was “like touching a tar baby?” How about an overnight, special-delivery crate of Propranolol to Pat Buchanan who said recently, “Blacks bought a lot of propaganda on the liberal plantation?” And how about Jennifer O’Brien, the Paterson, New Jersey first-grade teacher who described Black and Latino children, on her blog, as “future criminals?” Do you think an extra-large shipment of beta blockers will successfully reduce her racist observations?
God, I hope so.
If all of this weren’t absolutely tragic, it really would be funny; but the fact is that the largely unregulated use of pharmaceuticals and the disparity in treatments of patients, based on their race, has grown to become a grim, national embarrassment, in this country.
As early as 2004, for example, the American Journal of Public Health disclosed that, between the years 1991 and 2000, 886,202 Blacks had died who would not have, if they had only had equal access to non-discriminatory health care.
If any of this really has been malicious and designed to do specific damage to Black patients and their families, then there is really no excuse for not mobilizing to address these issues.
It’s long overdue.
Ask yourself a question: If some physicians and healthcare administrators have been socialized, throughout most of their lives, to harbour negative attitudes toward Black people, do those attitudes miraculously disappear when they slip on their lab coats, step into their offices, their clinics, their E.R.s, or into their operating rooms, to perform surgery?
Even today, in 2012, according to Minority Health and Health Equity Archives, “Black patients generally receive lower quality health care than white patients.”
There’s still apparently, a great deal of work to be done to eliminate racial disparities — on a wide variety of playing fields in this country — including, unfortunately, in the health care arena.
Until we all get there, together, perhaps we need to send a couple of doses of Propranolol to our personal physicians, too.
If Oxford University is right, and if the stuff really does work to reduce racist attitudes, it just may improve the quality of health care that Black folks have been receiving.
That would be a good thing.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
How do you say Black History Month in Spanish?
Since this still is Black History Month, I want to raise what has long been a nagging question for me on the whole subject of racial categorization: Why is it that the Census Bureau includes "Hispanics" together with "non-Hispanic whites" to comprise a total U.S. "white population," but fails to include the significant numbers of "Hispanics" of African descent as part of the country's overall Black population count?
According to everything I've read, the Hispanic population in the U.S. — both citizen and "undocumented" — is estimated at about 50.5 million people. Of that number, it's been reported, only about 26.7 million are "white." Of the remaining 23.8 million people, 22.5 million of them identify themselves as either "Black," "two or more races," or "some other race," categories which do not include American Indians, alone, Asians, alone, or Pacific Islanders, alone, who constitute the remaining 1.3 million Spanish-speakers.
Potentially, it seems, the inclusion of those 22.5 million visibly black, visibly Mulatto or mixed race, and genetically African- descendent Hispanics, when added to 42 million Census Bureau-counted blacks, that have already been identified, would increase the U.S. black population count to 64.5 million people in this country. That would equate to 20.6 percent of the overall U.S. population.
Wouldn't that be interesting?
Why is it, after all, that the Census Bureau and the rest of U.S. society separates Spanish-speaking Blacks from the rest of the country's Black population?
People of European descent, regardless of the language they speak at home, or their country of origin, are pretty much classified as "whites" here. Blacks, at the same time, who speak any other language other than Hispanic, are considered, simply "Blacks." They can be absolutely fluent in German, French, Russian or Italian. Doesn't matter, they're classified, simply, as "Blacks."
Take me, for example. During all the years that I tried in vain to become fluent in the Japanese language, I suffered no delusions, whatsoever, that people, here, would start referring to me as "that Japanese guy." It just doesn't happen.
So what's the deal with "Spanish," and how does an ability to speak that particular language convey the power and authority to make people of African descent no longer "Black," once they arrive in places such as New York City, Philadelphia or Cleveland?
As a further example of this curious phenomenon, the headline on a recent story carried on CNN read: "Hispanics Drive Growth of U.S. White Population." It went on to quote Census Bureau data that disclosed that the growth in the U.S. white population, in the decade ending in 2010, was due largely to a rise in the number of the country's Hispanics.
Even though America's "white" population grew by 6.5 percent to 231 million people over the period, 74 percent of that growth was traced to the increase of "Hispanics," many of whom had been counted as "white," even though they self-reported as "multi-racial white," i.e.,"white and black," or "white and Asian" (a much smaller percentage).
It's curious to me that if you are a Spanish-speaker in the "good old U.S.A.," you can be counted as "white," even though you self-describe as "multi-racial white." On the other hand, an English-speaking "multi-racial white" person, can "aspire" only to be classified as "mixed race" or "two or more races," but certainly not "white."
Seems as though the Census Bureau has been overcounting people as "whites," and seriously undercounting people who should be categorized as "blacks."
The more you drill down into the curious history of racial categorization for Spanish speakers, the stranger it actually gets. For example, most Americans don't know that George Washington, himself, approved the Naturalization Act of 1790, which actually barred any Puerto Ricans who were not of the "white race" from applying for U.S. citizenship, and that, up until the middle of the 20th Century, only Puerto Rican immigrants of the "white race" could become naturalized citizens of the United States.
With that as context, we can readily understand that racial-self identification in Puerto Rico, despite the population's strong African slave heritage, is a much different thing than it is here. In fact, Puerto Rican racial categorization is done almost 180 degrees differently than in the U.S.
It's common knowledge, for example, that the Census Bureau and virtually all of American society, beginning early in the 20th Century, has used the "one-drop rule," by law, to determine whether an American citizen is either black or white. If a person has had "one drop of black blood," by those laws, they were considered black.
On the other hand, due largely to a desire to be able to move freely onto the U.S. mainland, Puerto Ricans who could demonstrate having at least one white ancestor, over four generations, could legally be classified as "white." As a result, especially up through the 1950's, every Puerto Rican, no matter their appearance, hair texture, or Negroid features, who could prove "one drop" of white blood was classified as "white," and could be approved for entrance into the U.S.
Strange, huh? Who knew that language and cultural history could have the power to actually change a person's race, on an as-needed basis?
It'll be interesting to watch whether, in the not-too-distant future, people, here, or in Latin America, or in other parts of the world, will still be compelled to place a priority on claiming a stratified, white, self-identification, given the shifts taking place in global economic and military power -- away from the West and toward the East, Middle East, Africa and South America.
Won't it be great, finally, for people to be able to freely claim African and any other diverse heritage, and not feel that their non-white status will bring with it economic and social disadvantage?
Won't it be much better to take pride in our collective heritages and no longer have to, as blacks, continue to address the lingering effects of slavery and second-class citizenship, which still impact our residential patterns, job opportunities and ability to generate family wealth?
Won't it be a real sign of progress to be able to explore the world's various races, ethnicities and cultures -- those that are part of our genealogy, and those that are not -- and not have to be concerned, at all, about how they fit into some racial or social hierarchy?
Won't it be good, finally, to be able to walk into a place of business, anywhere in this country, and to no longer have to wonder if the deck might be stacked against us, simply because we are considered Black, somewhat Black, or not entirely white?
As I watch how the world is evolving, and how nations across the color and language spectrum are now beginning to be recognized as "equal players," in emerging global power centers, I have to think that such a day is coming, fairly soon.
To get a head start on all of this, let's get on with the rest of Black History Month; then, let's get ready for Asian-Pacific Islander Month, in May, National Hispanic Heritage Month, in September, and American Indian Heritage Month, in November.
Hey, we'll know we really have "overcome" when we can all comfortably take interest, also, in German-American Heritage Month, Italian-American Heritage Month and Polish-American Heritage Month, all of which are observed during the month of October.
Oh, and by the way, the way you say "Black History Month," in Spanish, is "Mes de la Historia Negra."
With so many enlightened Spanish-speakers of African descent now living in the U.S., that might just come in handy.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
As long as I can remember, Philadelphians have laid claim to being a “City of Neighborhoods.”
When you ask people in the largest city in Colorado, where they live, they quickly say “Denver.” When you ask people in the largest city in North Carolina, where they live, they proudly say “Charlotte.”
On the other hand, when you ask people in Pennsylvania’s largest city, where they live, they are likely to say “North Philly, South Philly,” or “West Philly.”
In Philadelphia, you see, we’ve always taken our neighborhood roots very seriously, sometimes more seriously than we have taken our overall municipal identification.
That cuts several different ways.
For one thing, it can “bend us out of shape,” unnecessarily, when we see racial and ethnic shifts in housing patterns that affect our old notions of who actually owns one of our beloved “neighborhoods.”
In that regard, I recently noticed that New York City’s legendarily African-American Harlem community has experienced a 400 percent increase in white residents, since the year 2000, and is no longer a majority Black neighborhood.
Over the same period, Bedford-Stuyvesant, that longtime Black, residential stronghold in Brooklyn, has seen its own white population increase by an astounding 633 percent, while its Black population has declined to 60 percent and its real estate prices have doubled.
That news sent me back to the June 2011 report by Pew’s Philadelphia Research Initiative that disclosed that Philadelphia’s white population had declined by 31.9 percent (263,254 people), over the past twenty years or so, and that there is clear evidence that demographic shifts very much akin to the Harlem and Bed-Stuy experiences have also occurred in certain sections of the “City that Loves You Back.”
For example, over that period, the greatest white population increase in the city was a seven-zip-code-area that includes western North Philadelphia (49.1 percent), Brewerytown (270.7 percent), North Philadelphia/Yorktown (55.8 percent), Fairmount South (16.5 percent), Washington Square (38.2 percent), Society Hill (40.3 percent), and North Philadelphia/Northern Liberties (103.5 percent), all neighborhoods that had been predominantly African-American, over 50 previous years.
So, while the overall number of whites in the city declined about one-third, the white population in the recently gentrified areas actually increased by an average of 82 percent.
The report also indicates that the Black population count increased by only 3.3 percent, over the last twenty years, as hard as that may be to believe, while the number of Hispanics increased by 110.3 percent, and the number of Asians rose by 126.6 percent.
The flip side of the gentrification issue, of course, is the question of where Black Philadelphians move to, after they are displaced from their “traditional” neighborhoods. As their numbers dropped in the city’s “historically Black” communities, Pew points out, African Americans fled to far-flung areas in the city and near suburbs, where real estate was cheaper, property taxes were lower, and which had previously been overwhelming white. The actual numbers are quite shocking. The Black population, over the period, dropped by 35.2 percent in Fairmount North (zip code 19121), by 23.4 percent in Kingsessing/South West Philadelphia (zip code 19143), and 26.1 percent in Northern Liberties (zip code 19123).
At the same time, the Black Philadelphia presence increased from 1.2 percent to 16.1 percent in Tacony; from 0.3 percent to 21.5 percent in Mayfair/Oxford Circle; from 0.6 percent to 19.7 percent in Fox Chase; and from 8.7 percent to 30.5 percent in Frankford.
Who would have thought?
Let me say, at the outset, that what is happening here — this sweeping demographic shift, wherein the most desirable, most accessible-to-work, most well-built-homes and neighborhoods are being gentrified — is just the most recent manifestation of economically and racially based housing pattern shifts that have routinely taken place in our city, and in other cities, north and south, over the past 100 years, or so.
Thirty and forty years ago, the recently gentrified sections or North Central, South Central and West Philadelphia’s “Bottom,” (now called University City) were overwhelmingly African-American neighborhoods.
In the main, that was the case because ethnic whites — Italians, Jews, Irish and Germans — who previously “owned” those communities and raised their families there, left in droves, fleeing the northern migration of Blacks from the South. They also left Philadelphia, and other cities, to take advantage of racially discriminatory FHA and commercial bank residential mortgage policies.
That didn’t happen so long ago, but it was far enough back that too many Black folks now mistakenly believe that Strawberry Mansion, right near beautiful Fairmount Park, was always predominantly Black; that the stately mansion-style homes in West Philadelphia, that were built for wealthy whites, from about 34th Street out to 63rd Street, were always predominantly occupied by Black people. Many of them also mistakenly believe that formerly bustling urban shopping districts, such as parts of Ridge and Wadsworth Avenues, had always been situated in Black communities.
Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong, again.
The truth is that those and many other neighborhoods became Jewish, after the Irish and Germans left for the suburbs and for the edges of the city. Only when the Jewish residents subsequently left, did those communities turn predominantly Black.
As young Black people, we, naively used to wonder whose “bright idea” it had been to locate so many Jewish businesses in the middle of our “Black” community, in North Central Philadelphia. What we didn’t appreciate is that those businesses didn’t move into those neighborhoods to serve us, at all. They were there; in the first place, to service the specific needs of a resident Jewish clientele. They just happened to be among the last of their community to leave what had, over time, become “our” neighborhood.
Indeed, many Black families in North Philadelphia, West Philadelphia, or Lower Germantown have members who clearly remember being the “first Blacks on their street” and then, sadly, having to witness the disappearance of their new white neighbors, virtually overnight.
Well, they’re b - a - a - a - c - k!
If we have perspective, a sense of history and good common sense, we will begin to grow comfortable with the realization that, even though we’ve lived in those communities, as Black people, for at least five or six generations, now, they aren’t now and, really, never were, “ours.”
We have no “right” to them that transcends an ability to purchase a property. Never have.
In my opinion, African Americans shouldn’t get overly nostalgic or possessive about neighborhood identification. On the other hand, we should develop our political and economic leverage, so that we can live wherever we choose, including being able to afford the new prices and increased tax rates in what had been our old neighborhoods. That’s a “change” in approach we’re going to have to master.
At the end of the day, Barack Obama’s use of the “change” slogan in his campaign for U.S. president, in 2008, has proved to be just that — a slogan.
Regrettably, his “handlers” never took the time to help us understand that we should be preparing ourselves for so much more than an ad campaign, or for more than the simple “change,” from a white U.S. president, to one who happens to be non-white.
As Alvin Toffler, author of “Future Shock,” warned his readers many years ago, “Change is not merely necessary to life — it is life.”
On the other hand, too many African Americans mistakenly came to believe that the “change” we needed had effectively been completed, once the last vote had been counted in 2008.
Maybe now we will realize, as Toffler pointed out so clearly, that “change” is never-ending, and that it is certainly something that we, ourselves, will have to learn how to manage.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
Someone has sold all of us on the “fact” that Black Americans are more criminally inclined, that they deserve to be disproportionately incarcerated, and that they are fundamentally unemployable, in a high-tech society.
Since 1953, the United States has worked through an agency called the United States Information Agency (USIA), shaping world opinion about every issue in which our country has an interest. The agency maintains 190 offices in 142 countries and reports to the U.S. State Department. It clears and instructs all external messages about the United States, so none of the things that people in Europe, Asia, Latin America, or the Middle East hear about our country is the result of happenstance. It’s all very strategic and very focused.
That ability to sell and to influence doesn’t begin and end overseas, certainly. The U.S. communications juggernaut has also been especially effective at selling goods, services, elected officials and political issues to poor, unsuspecting, domestic, Black people, and to other Americans.
Both the federal government and Corporate America have always been very good at this stuff. They’ve been especially effective because the “customer” usually didn’t even realize that he/she had been “sold.”
In that context, one of the things we’ve been “sold,” as a Black community and as a nation, is the new, inherently criminal image of Black people. African Americans have been here for nearly 400 years but, it’s only been over the past 35 years that someone has sold us on the fact, and we have accepted, being classified as America’s permanent, criminal underclass.
As a result of these efforts, the U.S. has changed the image of African Americans from “hard working,” “industrious,” “family-oriented” and “honest” (what we were, for all but the last 35 years we’ve been in this country) to “lazy,” “irresponsible” and “inherently criminal” and it has all happened, as I have said, in the past 35 years of our 392-year tenure in this country.
It’s really not too difficult to trace the point in time when all of the new imagery about Black Americans began to emerge.
Older African Americans will tell you, for example, that they can recall when their community was not called “the ghetto,” or the “the hood,” but, simply, the Black neighborhood. They’ll also mention that they can recall when people believed that Black folks had a real sense of community, that they really did support one other, worked hard, and, yes, partied hard. They also, no matter where in the country they live, are quick to point out that in the Black community — in the South and in the North, right up to about the late 1960s — you could sleep with your windows open and your front doors unlocked, without fear or concern.
As the most visible example of how strong Black communities had grown and how much talent and vibrance they had, there is the so-called “Harlem Renaissance.”
Those words described conditions in New York City’s substantially Black Harlem community, following the Great Migration of Black, former farm workers, from the South to the North.
They came not to be “lazy,” “irresponsible,” or to be engaged in criminal activities. They came North — and, specifically, to Harlem, by the thousands — to escape blatant, overt Southern racism, to work in factories in the industrialized North, to write, to play music, to exercise their other creative talents and to build a community.
It’s been said that “by 1918, Harlem, New York had the highest concentration of Black people in the world.” It was there that W.E.B. DuBois (author of “The Philadelphia Negro”) and others formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It was there, working out of the same heightened sense of racial pride and dignity that the legendary Jamaican-born activist Marcus Garvey founded the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and initiated his “Back To Africa” movement.
Having survived the Great Depression and World War II, Harlem, like North Philadelphia, parts of South and West Philadelphia, and many other large Black communities across the country, could not as easily withstand the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), passed by the U.S. Congress in 1970, and the related importation of wholesale amounts of illicit drugs into Black communities. Those drugs were brought into the country and transported to Black communities to be sold at the retail level by small, Black “Amway/Tupperware”-type distribution methods. Those “dealers” were the people subject to arrest and conviction, even though they wouldn’t be in “business” at all, unless some other more-wealthy, more-influential trafficker, with global connections, didn’t import the product into their communities, in the first place.
The Controlled Substances Act “changed the nature of federal drug law and policy, expanded the scope of federal drug laws and expanded federal police power enormously.” The CSA has had dramatic effect on the national Black community because it really did coincide with massive increases in drug importation, even as government leaders told the country to “Just Say No.”
The fact is that, from 1925 to 1975, the Black rate of prison incarceration had ranged from about 60,000 per year to about 130,000 per year. Surging in 1970, at about the same time of the implementation of the new, harsher penalties for “controlled substances,” including marijuana, cocaine and heroin, the Black incarceration rate grew to about 750,000 per year, by 1990.
Since 1972, the U.S. prison population has increased seven-fold and that upsurge has affected young Black men more than any other group. In 2004, the white incarceration rate was 393 per 100,000, the Latino incarceration rate was 957 per 100,000 and the Black rate of incarceration was 2531 per 100,000, nearly seven times greater than the white rate.
It was also true, at that point, that one in three Black men between the ages of 20 and 29 were under some form of criminal justice control. By that same year, it was disclosed, a Black male born in 1991 stood a 29 percent chance of being imprisoned, at some point in his life, compared to 4 percent, for a white man born that year. In a related issue, 1.4 million Black men, or 13 percent of the African-American adult male population, have lost the right to vote due to their involvement in the criminal justice system.
Here’s the problem: The government has categorized marijuana, for example as a controlled substance, even while it recognizes that that very drug, had grown, by 2006, to be America’s number one cash crop ($35.8 billion for marijuana, $23.3 billion for corn, $17.3 billion for soy beans, $12.3 billion for hay, $7.4 billion for wheat, etc.). That situation clearly gives the appearance that the recent history of wholesale Black criminalization may very well be orchestrated by those who are not actually members, themselves, of the Black community.
As a recent example, 15 percent of all arrests in NYC, in 2010, were marijuana possession-related and 86 percent of those included in low-level marijuana arrests in that city are Black or Latino, even though whites use the drug at higher rates.
Its also clear that if one in three Black men are largely, through these processes, now under some form of criminal justice control, then it’s going to be difficult, in the foreseeable future, to find gainful employment opportunities for a significant part of the Black community.
Ask yourself: Just who is making these decisions?
When will Black Americans begin to have more substantial input in shaping their own futures?
And, finally, whether you believe or not that all of this is taking place with input from the previously described, government-sponsored U.S. image makers — I hope it isn’t so.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
I remember that my friends would laugh uncomfortably when I explained to them the reason why I was always so diligent in reading newspapers and listening to broadcast news reports, every day, early in the morning, before doing anything else.
I would only half-jokingly say: “I do that because, if the day ever comes that they pass laws that make it illegal for black people to walk outside, in public, I want to be the first to know.”
At that point, we’d both chuckle; they would wander off to continue their day, and I would go right back to reading everything I possibly could in that day’s paper.
One part of me was having a funny little joke and getting a rise out of my friends; another part, on the other hand, was dead serious. In the back of my mind, I really did have a sneaking suspicion that the day would actually come when I would no longer feel comfortable living in Philadelphia, or even in the U.S.
I had pretty much forgotten those days, until a couple of months ago, when I began to notice a very disturbing pattern: While Black Americans had been “movin’ on up,” listening to Hip Hop, assimilating into the larger culture, moving away from each other and becoming “post-racial,” somebody reintroduced the concept of slavery to the broad American consciousness.
No, I’m not talking about the “sex slavery” stories, or the "adolescent workers in developing nations” kind of slavery that pops up in news reports, from time-to-time. I mean the good, old fashioned, no-paying, manual labor, second-class citizenship, devoid of voting rights, kind of slavery.
For example, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution carried a story, just a few weeks ago, that described a Georgia teacher who used slavery-themed questions in teaching math to her third-grade students.
You remember the old grade school test about the train that traveled at 50 miles per hour, and took three hours to get to its destination? The question was always, predictably, “How many miles, therefore, did the train cover in those three hours?”
Well, the questions in the Georgia teacher's math class were a little bit like that, except they went like this: “Each tree has 56 oranges. If eight slaves picked them equally, then how much could each slave pick?"
If that one didn’t shock you quite enough, then how about this one from the same math teacher: “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in a week?” It turns out that these racially demeaning questions actually spread to four classrooms, in all. In each, the teachers said they were simply trying to make their history lesson about Frederick Douglass a bit more interesting.
Hey, they certainly got my attention.
And, here’s the worst part: The school in Gwinnett County, Ga., has a student population that's 88 percent comprised of Blacks and Hispanics.
Curiously, just a few weeks later, in another elementary school, in the same Gwinnett County, another teacher allegedly organized and played a game of “tag” with his students that included some students pretending to be “slaves,” while some of their classmates pretended to be “slave catchers.”
The slave-catching teacher, a man whose name happened to be Luis Rivera, adamantly denied that he was being, in any way, “malicious or offensive” in putting his students through that insensitive ordeal.
Is that right, Luis?
Then there was the candidate for U.S. president, a man with the extraordinarily uncommon name of "Newt Gingrich," who, at a FOX News presidential debate vigorously defended his earlier proposal that black youth be employed as janitors in their own schools.
When well-respected, African-American journalist and FOX correspondent Juan Williams challenged Gingrich’s statement, Williams was roundly booed and shouted down by the overwhelmingly mainstream audience members, who applauded every snide, condescending comment Gingrich made to Mr. Williams. All that, just when Williams had started — working for FOX TV, and all — to believe that he had finally entered the American mainstream, himself; just when he had grown comfortable in the belief that he had become a “journalist first” and was, now, just a Black man, by happenstance.
No, there was not much sympathy for that particular Black journalist, in that room, but there was a whole hell of a lot of support, it seems, for the idea of taking young black males back to an earlier 20th century focus on janitorial careers. They seemed to think it was a great idea, judging by the standing ovations they gave ol’ Newt.
If you were thinking, despite Gwinnett County, and despite the cold-bloodedly condescending, racially insensitive Gingrich, that it was still safe to leave your house in the morning, perhaps you didn’t hear about Jesse Lee Peterson. That’s the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, of South Los Angeles, to you.
Not only does Rev. Peterson find no fault with Gingrich’s comments, he is obviously prepared to “out-Newt Newt” on the subject of black servitude in this country. In fact, the Rev. told the "Huffington Post" last week that, if it were up to him, the government would “take all black people to the South and put them on the plantation so that they would understand the ethic of working."
What comes after that, Rev, re-introducing lynching so that Blacks “would understand the ethic" of dying by asphyxiation?
Peterson, you may recall, is the same questionably African-American man who is the founder of the Tea Party of South Central Los Angelas. Tea Party organizer, return-to-slavery advocate; he sounds like a candidate for President Gingrich’s cabinet. He’d fit right in, it seems, as Gingrich’s Secretary of Agriculture.
Just when I thought those isolated circumstances and gross racial insensitivities were enough to turn me forever against living in the South, or even in South LA, I stumbled across a 2008 report by Thomas J . Sugrue, Professor of History and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. Sugrue documented that, at the outset of the 21st Century, the 15 most segregated metropolitan areas were in the Northeast and Midwest, that racial segregation “Is still the norm in northern public schools,” and that the five states with the highest rates of racial segregation are all outside the South – in states such as New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Michigan and California.
Sugrue also points out that, despite the relatively low-level focus upon those phenomena in northern news media, “cross-burnings, arson, window breakings and mobs greeted black new comers in white neighborhoods in nearly every major northern city between the 1920's and the 1960's."
That stuff was getting old, fast, and with more-subtle, but still racially insensitive trends continuing into the early 21st century, a growing number of black Americans decided they were ready to evacuate their homes in the North and return to the South, where racial antagonism is not actually as severe as it has been in the North.
Today, in fact, the percentage of Blacks living in the south (57 percent) stands at its highest level in the past 50 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Most of the Black population shift has been concentrated among younger, more educated African Americans, who moved south to seek jobs and business opportunities.
The Census Bureau also tells us there are now one million African Americans living in the South, who were born in the Northeast, and one in four, like my own son, has, at least, a four-year university degree.
I guess I wasn’t totally wrong, after all.
It looks like there were at least one million other Black people in the North who felt the same way I was feeling. The difference is ….they did something about it.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Milennium 3 Management Inc.
Some of you may recall the old General Motors ad campaign, and its slogan: ”This is Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile.”
The point the company tried to make was that, while the car was still called "Oldsmobile," it had been transformed to be different, in virtually every way, from the vehicle that car buyers used to know.
Unfortunately, with the presidential elections breathing down our necks, the same can be said about the national electoral process. This is "not your father’s politics," and the comparison of the new to the old is certainly not favorable.
It appears now, from my review of the findings of the most recent USA Today/Suffolk poll, published on Wednesday, that I’m not the only one who’s frustrated by the electoral process and the choice of candidates in the upcoming presidential election.
According to the USA Today poll, there may be as many as 90 million U.S. citizens, who are eligible to vote, but who probably won’t, in November, who say it’s a “50-50” chance that they won’t show up, at all, on Election Day.
Just a few years ago, these kinds of sentiments would be unthinkable, especially in the Black community.
You don’t plan to vote? How dare you think such thoughts, given how many Black freedom fighters gave up their lives, so that we could have the right to cast our ballots?
That’s what they used to say. You don’t hear that as much, anymore. What you do hear, in the Black community, these days, is that Barack Obama has had an exceptionally difficult time as the “first Black president,” given all of the right-wing and racist opposition he’s had to deal with, since he’s been in office.
Right after that, the argument usually goes, “Black people have suffered under white presidents since 1787, so how can we expect conditions to change, in just four, short years, under the Black guy?” That's when they throw in: “What did we realistically expect him to do, anyway?”
Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the whole point in voting for Barack Obama, in the first place, to change the 225-year pattern of arms-length and disrespectful treatment of our community that had been shown to us by the previous U.S. presidents?
Didn't we finally just want to have a White House resident who had a vision for including Black folks in each of the country’s important issues, as appropriate? Not preferring, just including. I think we wanted, also to have someone in the Office who would make a reasonable effort to reduce the Black unemployment rate, as compared to that of other racial and ethnic groups in this country. I think we may have even had an outlandish idea that a Black president would fairly and rationally figure out a way for Black-owned businesses to participate in more than one-half-of-one-percent of all of the country’s gross sales.
As I recall, back in 2008, when we were really thinking like crazy people, we secretly hoped that schools in Black communities would receive sufficient resources and government attention to bring them up to par with schools in largely white school districts.
I know, I know, that was, perhaps, unreasonable. But some of us were hoping … and trusting, that some of that might actually happen.
Taking a quick glance at the most recent, national unemployment data, however, reminds us that the Hispanic unemployment rate stands at 11 percent; the white unemployment rate is 7.4 percent; and the Black unemployment rate is an astoundingly unacceptable 14.4 percent, twice as much Black joblessness as white joblessness.
But Black voters are apparently not the only ones who have lost faith in both candidates, and in their parties. Indeed, six out of ten of the USA Today survey respondents said they don’t pay attention to politics anymore, because “nothing ever gets done.” Fifty four percent of them are convinced that the political environment is "corrupt;" less than a third of them believe the “two parties do a good job,” and 53 percent now believe that multiple party options, or at least a third party, is necessary to restore confidence in the electoral process.
Perhaps what should be especially frightening to the political “movers and shakers” is that 42 percent of Americans don’t “believe there’s a dime’s difference between the Republicans and the Democrats,” and 37 percent of them say that a national presidential election “doesn't make much difference in my life.”
Oh … and by the way, an overwhelming 87 percent of Americans say they believe that “the recession” is not over, regardless of what the federal government has told us, over the past three years.
And a full 19 percent are now saying that “nothing" could persuade them to vote, in November, for the next president.
In the final analysis, American voters have been beaten down by an unrelentingly cruel economy, an arrogant and oppressive mainstream media that has restructured and subverted the traditional processes for the selection of presidential candidates, the loss of their jobs and homes, and by the outrageous cost of a decent education for their children. And, if you believe the USA Today report, they’re finally unwilling to “play the game” any longer.
To add insult to injury, in 2004, Pew Research Center found that nearly 49 percent of all voters believed that their votes had been counted accurately in national elections. Alarmingly, by 2010, only about 28 percent believed that.
No, this really is not “Your Father’s Politics” anymore … now, CNN and FOX dictate who deserves to get in, or stay in, the national electoral process, whether voters like it, or not.
During the era of “Your Father’s Politics,” American voters actually believed that, if a candidate made campaign promises, there was at least some likelihood that he/she felt an obligation to live up to them. The survey tells us, regrettably, that’s no longer the case — no more delivering on promises, no more trust in the candidates.
If “Your Father’s Politics” were still in effect, chances would be mighty slim that the Republican candidate for U.S. president would be a guy named Romney, who happens to have a 51 percent “unfavorable” rating in the USA Today poll. Back during the days of “Your Father’s Politics,” the U.S. Congress didn’t have the same 51 percent "unfavorables," as it does now.
This should all be especially difficult for Black voters, who wanted so desperately to believe in this political process, from which they had been so systematically excluded, for so many years.
There really was a time, not too long ago, when Black Americans did, literally, risk their lives, if they dared to approach polling places. But, as the Civil Rights Movement gradually took effect, Black voter registration increased from three percent, in 1940, to 29.4 percent, in 1960, and to 43 percent, in 1964.
Perversely, even though an amazing number of Black households had portraits of President Kennedy right up there next to Martin Luther King and Jesus Christ, on their living room walls, most of them still hadn't been eligible to vote for Kennedy, in the 1960 presidential election.
With that background, when Black females produced the highest turnout rate of all voting blocs in the 2008 presidential election, many of us, somewhat naively, believed that we had reached post-racial nirvana, and that we had finally figured out how to make this unwieldy, too-often disrespectful U.S. government responsive to our needs.
Well, it looks like that didn’t really happen, after all.
And, just like the rest of the Americans who make up the 90 million voters who have lost confidence in the candidates and, in the process itself, we’re sitting here, now, wondering whether any of it matters, anymore.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
Despite a lagging economy, some of Philadelphia’s business, civic and community leaders have a positive outlook about what’s in store for 2012.
Urban Affairs Coalition Executive Director Sharmain Matlock Turner is cautiously optimistic about what lies ahead.
“I’m cautiously optimistic, I think by nature because I believe even in the toughest times, especially in the African-American and the poorest of the communities, we do try to figure out how to help each other and to make sure we are doing everything we can to try to supportive of each other,” Turner said.
“I guess what has me somewhat cautiously optimistic is at least the economists are calling for growth to continue, even though its going to be somewhat anemic at a two percent growth rate,” she said, noting that more than 100,000 U.S. jobs have been added per month.
Turner is very concerned about the rate of job loss in the public sector — an area that has traditionally employed high numbers of African Americans.
“The fact that we are still losing public sector jobs adds some additional pressure to really make sure that in the private sector that there is equal opportunity, that people aren’t being discriminated against and that they’re being paid a fair wage for fair work,” she said.
Employers expect to add new jobs in 2012 but are waiting to see how the economy shapes up before they ramp up their hiring, according to CareerBuilder’s annual job forecast.
Nearly one-in-four hiring managers plan to hire full-time, permanent employees in 2012, similar to 2011. Employment trends among small businesses, which account for the majority of job creation in the U.S., are expected to show some improvement over last year. The nationwide survey, which was conducted by Harris Interactive© from Nov. 9 to Dec. 5, 2011, included more than 3,000 hiring managers and human resource professionals across industries and company sizes.
“Historically, our surveys have shown that employers are more conservative in their predictions than actual hiring,” Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder said in release.
“Barring any major economic upsets, we expect 2012 to bring a better hiring picture than 2011, especially in the second half of the year. Many companies have been operating lean and have already pushed productivity limits. We’re likely to see gradual improvements in hiring across categories as companies respond to increased market demands.”
Mayor Michael Nutter expects Philadelphia to make progress during 2012.
“I am an optimist by nature, but I’m also a realist. Philadelphia has contended with a national recession, the after effects of which are still very much with us, but we’ve also experienced real progress in the last few years, a trend that I fully expect to continue in the coming year,” said Nutter.
“I expect to see more business coming to Philadelphia, more sustainable development in our neighborhoods, along the Delaware and at the Navy Yard, a growing population, more young Philadelphians graduating from high school and going to college and a police department working closely with neighborhoods to further reduce crime and make our streets safer.”
A. Bruce Crawley, president of Millennium 3 Management is hopeful that things will improve for the New Year.
“I think that change will come from inside our community, specifically, rather than from government and places that we have historically gone for support,” said Crawley.
“I think that our people are starting to understand that if they are going to have any kind of a more successful future, than there are going to have to get more engaged in addressing their own problems.”
“They’re not so content, I think, to wait for the powers that be to bring consolation. You’re starting to see that in local and state government elections and I think you’re going to start to see that in national government elections,” Crawley added.
“People around the world are starting to realize that the economy is so bad that the distribution of wealth has been so skewed, that they have to get engaged. I think that we’re going to see a reawakening in our country as a whole and specifically in the African-American community because I think that our people are starting to understand that unless they have a focus, unless they push for the things that they need from the bottom up, then we won’t get any satisfaction.”
Karen A. Lewis, Executive Director, Avenue of the Arts says she’s optimistic for the coming year.
“I’m definitely optimistic. I think there’s been a lot happening in the city despite the economy,” said Lewis.
“I think there were some good indicators towards the end of the year. I think that the retail sales and predictions were really good according to some of the analysts and when people are shopping that fuels the economy. Maybe I’m just one of those optimistic types of people but I do like to see the glass half-full.”
Chad Dion Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn, Inc. says he doesn’t feel pessimistic or optimistic about the New Year.
“I’m what you call a prisoner of truth, and the truth is we have some tough economic times ahead. We have a lot of challenges and hurdles that we have to overcome, but I fundamentally believe in the human spirit. I fundamentally believe in a better tomorrow,” said Lassiter.
“I see tough times ahead, but I think it will build character and teachable moments for what we must go through, in order to come out on the other side.”
During a brief conversation at an event last week two apparently well-educated African Americans tried to carefully “explain” to me that President Barack Obama has no choice other than to ignore Black political issues because he wants of course to be re-elected and “there are more white voters than Black voters.”
I was deeply disappointed by their easy acceptance of what has become a predictable pattern of second-class economic and political treatment for the Black community over the past few years. Not only did they seem willing to endure 16.2 percent Black unemployment levels (as long as it didn’t include the loss of their own jobs, I guess) but they were also apparently resigned to having four more years of the same if that’s what it will take to return the Obama family to the White House.
There are “more white voters than Black voters?” Is that what went through Harriet Tubman’s mind as she fought to navigate the Underground Railroad and free Black slaves?
Did the fact that there were virtually no “legal” or unharrassed Black voters in many of the Southern states prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act stop Blacks in those states from speaking out for what was fair and reasonable and for social and economic inclusion?
Did their lack of a voting majority ever stop Black Americans from expressing their outrage over having their men lynched by Klansmen?
Have African Americans ever had a voting majority in any national election in the history of this country anyway? Did that ever stop us from pressing our political issues?
What has happened to us? Why the recent complacency? How dare we try to characterize this curious new brand of self-defeatism and cowardice as “political sophistication?”
Have Jewish Americans ever “bitten their tongue” when they sought support for their issues — here or in Israel— simply because they represented less than 2 percent of the U.S. population?
Where did we learn this new politically spineless behavior?
As much as I and others have been critical of the “Occupy Wall Street” organizers for their lack of true inclusion of Blacks and other diverse economically desperate people, at least the “Occupiers” have demonstrated the courage to stand up for what they believe to be right.
Do you think they took a headcount to determine if they were outnumbered before they put up their tents?
So where do we get this from?
Some of those who have adopted this new laid-back voiceless form of African-American politics seem to be oblivious to how far we continue to fall behind collectively as we express blind support for a presidential administration that treats us as an annoyance.
It was the “hope” of many of us that President Obama would simply find a way to broaden the national dialogue so as to include 40 million African Americans to their full economic and social potential.
In the aftermath of the short-lived euphoria of 2008, however, what we have come away with — in addition to rampant African-American unemployment — is a recent report from the Federal Procurement Data System that informs us that Black-owned businesses received just 1.2 percent of all federal contracts in the fiscal year ended September 30 2011. To put that into context, Blacks constitute nearly 13 percent of the national population and own more than 7 percent of all U.S. businesses.
Adding insult to economic injury we also endured a $787 billion Stimulus Program that produced precious little business/contract stimulation in our community. Indeed nine months into the program $150 million in contracts had been let to companies for streets highway and bridge construction but “not a single dollar had been allocated to any African-American-owned business,” according to the Transportation Equity Network.
Many of these economic disparities pre-dated Barack Obama, including the fact that only 14,500 of the nation’s 1.9 million Black businesses report annual sales of $1 million or more or that 97 percent of Black firms report gross receipts of less than $250,000 per year.
But shouldn’t the president using his bully pulpit establish a task force to explore why these challenges have existed for so long certainly not to disadvantage white Americans but rather to level the playing field once and for all.
Shouldn’t we expect at least that much from a President to whom we gave 95 percent of our votes on Election Day in November 2008?
Here’s the sad thing: We had grown to almost take for granted here in the U.S. dating back to the Kennedy Administration that our country would be working consistently if not always perfectly to bring about racial inclusion in the workforce and in the area of federal contract participation.
Then right after the 2008 election “post-racialism” broke out and all of those beliefs started to evaporate.
It’s hard to believe that 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the use of the term “affirmative action” by the U.S. government. It wasn’t until March of 1961 that President Kennedy’s Executive Order #10925 was introduced and the Committee On Equal Opportunity was created. That was the one that mandated that all projects financed with federal funds “take affirmative action” to ensure that hiring and employment practices would be free of racial bias.
It’s been 39 years since President Richard Nixon in his own Executive Order #11625 established the national Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) contracting program. In that same vein the 28 years since President Ronald Reagan issued Executive Order #12432 mandating each federal agency with substantial procurement authority to establish an MBE development plan seem to have just flown by.
And wasn’t it just July 1995 (seems like only yesterday) when Bill Clinton after a 4 1/2- month review of federal affirmative action programs and under extreme political pressure from right-wing conservatives gave an historic public endorsement of the program by encouraging the nation to “mend it, don’t end it?”
My, how some things have changed.
Unfortunately there’s been a clearly evident and quantifiable shift in this country away from the spirit and letter of concepts such as “affirmative action,” “equal opportunity,” “minority business enterprise” and even “Black economic development.”
Those who use such terms today in “polite company” risk being called “out of touch,” being accused of “fighting a war that has already been won,” and being branded as excessively hopelessly “politically correct.” Right after those things are said, the term “playing the race card” is usually thrown in for good measure. There’s also been the convoluted argument unsupported by any facts whatsoever of something called “reverse discrimination.”
This is a monumental paradigm shift for this country and like all paradigm shifts the change in attitude that launched it has clearly “flowed down from the top.”
We have a president who has consistently said to any media correspondent with a camera and microphone and to any Black person who has the courage to ask that he has no intention whatsoever of taking any action that would specifically correct years of economic disparities that still impact Black people and contribute directly to runaway Black unemployment levels.
Here’s the question: If Mr. Obama doesn’t want the responsibility, isn’t there anyone else out there with the courage and skill set required to lead this nation in a fair, forceful and inclusive way?
Don’t tell me that if the next president is not Barack Obama we may be stuck with a guy named Perry or a woman named Bachmann. There are more than 300 million Americans, 40 million of whom as I mentioned earlier happen to be Black.
Surely there must be at least one more capable person in this country who wants to do the job.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
If you’re Black and you’ve been feeling marginalized, disrespected and overlooked by all that’s been going on in the Republican primary campaign, trust me, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” Wait until you see what the 2012 Obama campaign has in store for Black folks.
Here’s a helpful tip: Be sure to carry a mirror around with you between now and November, and glance into it from time to time to remind yourself that you actually still do exist as a Black voter.
As you do that, also try to periodically remind yourself that you and 15.9 million other Black voters in the 2008 election, which Obama won by 6 percentage points, accounted for 13 percent of every vote cast, and that you gave the “first Black president” 96 percent of your vote to sweep him into office.
But hey, this is 2012, and none of that, it seems, has been factored into the “first Black president’s” 2012 re-election strategy. In a recent Newsweek article, “Yes We Can (Can’t We?),” a reporter named Andrew Romano promised to give the inside scoop on “Team Obama” and the “Juggernaut Reelection Machine” it’s building in Chicago.
Get your hands on a copy. My guess is that you’ll feel highly informed, deeply disappointed, a little bit frightened and finally, outraged by the story.
Highly informed? That’ll be the part where Romano points out that “With ten months to go before Election Day, the president’s job-approval rating is loitering around 46 percent, which is a problem, because the incumbent party has lost the last five times its president started Election Year below 49 percent. Likewise, no president since Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 has been reelected when the unemployment rate is as high, or higher, than it is now (8.6 percent).”
Despite a lackluster Republican primary field and deep campaign pockets, 2012 is not shaping up as a slam-dunk for the basketball-loving Democratic president.
Did I say “deep pockets?” Take this from the Newsweek feature: “Obama raised $15.6 million from financial-sector workers through September, more than the entire Republican field.” Add to that the campaign’s expectation that it will raise $1 billion by November, a new record for a presidential election.
A “little bit frightened?” According to Newsweek, Team Obama is currently “tinkering away” on a “micro-listening computer model” that will track every conversation that every single Obama volunteer has, every door they knock on, every action they take.” They’ll use it “to collect online and off-line behavior patterns on individual voters.” I don’t know about you, but this all seems a whole lot more “up close and personal” than I was looking for from a presidential election campaign.
Did I also mention “disappointed?” Go on YouTube and check out “Jim Messina: Paths to 270 Electoral Votes – Obama for America.” As Messina explains it, the “Five Paths” include the West, Florida, the South, the Midwest and the “Expansion.” Sounds reasonable, analytical and geographic on YouTube. Then you read the Newsweek article closely and you see where Messina explains that several of the paths “hinge on the president increasing his margins among Latinos, the fastest growing subset of the electorate.” In fact, Messina went on to say specifically, “The Latino vote will be absolutely crucial in this election.”
Break out that mirror, Black folks. If the Hispanic community that sent 9.7 million people to the polls in 2008, and gave Obama 66 percent of that vote, is “crucial,” shouldn’t Black people, who represented 15.9 million voters, in November 2008, and who gave Obama 96 percent of that total, also be “crucial enough” to mention in Newsweek?
All of this leads to why I also said that I was “outraged” by how Team Obama presented itself in the Newsweek story. On page 43 of the magazine was a full-page “Team Obama” organization chart. There was “the first Black president” himself, positioned at the very top, as he should have been, I imagine. But then there were nine other people — six men and three women. Included were, of course, Messina, and the all-powerful David Axelrod, who’s described as “Obama’s long-time message guru.”
Despite the country being comprised about 33 percent by Blacks, Hispanics and Asians, and despite Black voters having consistently been the single most loyal portion of the president’s base, there wasn’t a single Black or African-American face anywhere on the entire page.
Make no mistake, our national elections have evolved to become nothing more than massive brand marketing campaigns. Obama’s the brand; you’re the consumer. Get over it! In that regard, however, would McDonald’s, General Motors or Nike be so naïve as to sit back and assume that Black consumers would continue to buy their products without satisfactory results, and without the input of senior-level, African-American marketing strategists? The answer to that is “No!”
Or is it that Axelrod and his decidedly non-diverse minions simply believe that they “understand Black voters” sufficiently that they don’t even need senior-level Black input to develop their outreach strategies?
Having worked with David Axelrod fairly closely during both of John Street ‘s mayoral campaigns in Philadelphia in 1999 and 2003, I absolutely believe the Obama campaign now feels, as Axelrod believed then, that there is absolutely no reason to spend reasonably significant amounts of time or money reaching out to Black voters. His assumption then, as it probably is now, was that the African-American electorate in the 2012 election simply has nowhere else to go.
In Philadelphia during both elections, Axelrod spent virtually every one of his very-well-compensated “campaign hours” focused on attracting the “white swing voter.” Today, very similarly, he’s focused on the so-called “Independents.” In the Street campaign, he left the cultivation of, and outreach to, the Black vote, to African-American campaign consultants — including D.C.-based pollster Ron Lester, campaign manager Lana Felton Ghee and me, on the advertising and public relations side. Despite attracting less than 20 percent of the overall white vote in both elections — well below the percentage of the city’s white registered voters — Street won in ’99 and ’03 because Black turnout broke records across the city, and because he successfully attracted 96 percent and 98 percent, respectively, of that vote. In fact, if Street’s outcomes had been solely dependent on the Axelrod strategy of attracting “white swing voters,” he would have lost badly both times.
For example, in three predominantly white wards in South Philadelphia, the 1st, 26th and 39th, Street averaged 20.7 percent of the vote in 1999 and 28.2 percent, in 2003. In four predominantly white “Far Northeast” wards, Street averaged 11.7 percent of the vote in 1999, and 15.1 percent in 2003. By comparison, in 1999, Street won 91.3 percent of the vote in eight predominantly Black West Philadelphia wards and, in 2003, he won 96.5 percent of the vote in 10 predominantly Black wards in North Philadelphia. It was just like that all over the city.
Do the math.
In 2008, encouraged by Obama’s surprisingly strong showing in the caucuses in overwhelmingly white Iowa, Black voters launched their own grassroots efforts to elect the “first Black president,” Obama won, despite receiving just 43 percent of white voter support nationwide.
The problem in 2012 is that Axelrod and “Team Obama” seem intent on delivering the same basic approach they used in 2008, wrapped in high-tech gadgetry and bolstered by more money than has ever been spent in a presidential campaign.
At its core, however, the outreach strategy, is flawed, and unless the campaign takes steps very soon to ensure African-American senior-level strategic input, and an effort that reflects a healthy respect for Black voters, the “First Black president” will only get to serve one term in office.
Maybe it’s time to desegregate “Team Obama.”
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
There are still people in our politically challenged, sharply divided country to whom the “Spirit of Christmas” is still a very magical thing.
happened to be in attendance at a school in Chester last week during a visit to first-grade students by Santa Claus. The kids were 98 percent Black. Santa was 100 percent white. And you know what? Nobody cared.
When the old dude with the white beard and red suit walked into the classroom, the kids from one of the country’s most economically depressed cities, lit up like, well... a Christmas tree. They literally couldn’t contain themselves. What was clearly evident was the pure joy on each of their faces at seeing the guy who was about to make the holiday happier for them. They sang “Jingle Bells” to him; he “ho-ho-ho’ed” right back in their faces … and they loved it.
The old guy’s assistants (who happened to be the kids’ teachers, on days when they themselves weren’t decked out in green and red, and wearing floppy hats with white balls on the top) started to pass out beautifully wrapped gifts – one for each of the youngsters. The kids were completely ecstatic. They bounced in their seats, they held their faces in glee.
One little girl volunteered to an onlooker that this was “the very first time she had ever seen Santa Claus,” in real life. Another child pointedly asked Santa, without raising his hand for permission, where the reindeer were.
This was about as real and as honest as it ever gets.
Still another, more introspective, young man, toward the back of the room, started to wonder out loud if he was actually entitled to receive a gift, at all, given, by his own admission, that he had done a few “naughty” things over the past year. To his great delight, Santa “tightened him up” anyway.
There were shrieks of total satisfaction when the youngsters ripped the carefully applied Christmas wrappings from their Barbie dolls, game sets and GI Joes. The most commonly heard phrase repeated by the little ones was “This was just what I wanted!” A few of the braver kids actually ran right up to Santa, grabbed him by an arm or a leg and thanked him personally.
By this point, any sane adult in the room wanted to cry at seeing just how happy this one situation, on this one day, had made these totally innocent, and certainly deserving, children.
As I wiped one of my own tears away … quickly, so that no one really noticed, I began to reflect about the whole “Christmas thing,” about the importance of children and about their complete belief in what we tell them … up to a point. I also thought about how sad it was that we adults, just like clockwork, are eventually so successful in making these babies as unbelieving, cynical and nontrusting as we grownups are in this country.
How do we do that? Let me count the ways.
When I talked to my friends after the Santa Claus visit, one of the first questions was: “Did they have a Black Santa Claus?”
On an intellectual and cultural level, I knew it was a valid question. It always is … for grownups. But what came crashing home to me last week was that the babies, who only wanted to enjoy a moment when they could enjoy their major fantasy, be happy and take home a precious gift, absolutely did not care about that.
As difficult as it was for a long-time activist like me to come to grips with, I have now fully realized that the race of Santa Claus only really matters to those of us who have to bear the adult burdens of racism, economic disparities and societal divisions.
Let’s spare the kids all of that for as long as we can. If a white Santa visits Black kids, if a Black Santa visits white kids, if an Asian Santa visits Hispanic kids, so be it. Trust me, without adults telling youngsters how “inappropriate” that all is, they won’t mind. They’ll be too busy smiling. I saw it with my own eyes. The Christmas season with all of its cultural, religious ideological complexities, still really is for the babies. Yet, we too often want to rush them into our world, to take away, far too soon, their time of total innocence and their willingness to fully appreciate kind acts without the need to question a giver’s motives.
There’s more: As a former banker, a large part of my cynicism about the “holiday” was that I had realized early on that there was absolutely no proof that Jesus Christ actually had been born on, or about, the 25th of December.
I also realized that there is a strong belief that the day had been selected by retailers who were interested in clearing out their inventories with a special promotional push, prior to the close of their books on Dec. 31, the end of the fiscal year.
True or not, coincidence or not, it was a slick idea when it was originated, and still is today. According to the National Retail Federation, nearly 20 percent of annual retail sales last year took place during the Christmas holidays, and for some retailers, the “season” constituted 25 to 40 percent of their annual goods sold. Do the young people care about this at all? They don’t know, and trust me, they don’t care.
Finally, in this age of political correctness, the Christmas season, curiously, provides us just one more opportunity to reflect on our differences, and we adults are delighted to do so, and to leap at the opportunity. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a respected fact that the idea of Christmas harks back to a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Complicating that, however, is the fact that our country is now, more than ever, composed of millions of people who aren’t Christian at all.
In years past, come early December, folks would confidently shout out to friends, relatives and passersby: “Merry Christmas!” They would place mangers and images of Santa, himself in their work places. You can’t do that, now.
We have all grown terribly, excessively, sensitive to even the remote possibility that we might, by wanting to spread the Christmas spirit, offend somebody.
Instead of “Merry Christmas,” we responsible adults have increasingly been trained to say, “Happy holidays.” Instead of Christmas cards, we now send generic “Season’s Greetings.” I guess we don’t buy Christmas trees anymore. Those things by now are probably called “holiday trees,” or “season’s trees,” or just plain old pines.
Here’s my take on that: Maybe we should all just lighten up! Maybe those of us who believe in Christmas should feel comfortable in sharing that spirit and those greetings, without reservation. Maybe our Jewish friends, who believe in Hanukkah, should feel equally comfortable in expressing the joys of that particular season to those who happen not to be Jewish. The same should apply, of course, to our Muslim, Hindu or Yoruba friends, or those who believe in Kwanzaa.
Rather than take umbrage at innocent expressions of seasonal goodwill, maybe we should just roll with it, not be offended, and take full advantage of the opportunities to learn more about cultures and celebrations about which we have not been familiar.
God knows we need it.
This year let’s take a cue from the little ones and let’s spare them, as long as possible, from having to adapt to our own curmudgeonly lifestyles.
Life’s hard enough as it is.
And, hey, before I forget: “Merry Christmas!”
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.