In my first career, as Advertising and Public Relations director at a major Philadelphia bank, I was struck, one day, by the fact that the company had eight African-American branch managers — and not one of them was a Black male.
When I called the senior vice president of the bank’s Human Resources Department to ask why that happened to be the case, he told me that: “Black males simply don’t interview well.”
That response, of course, surprised and disappointed me. I thought it was simplistic, condescending and inaccurate. How could this multi-billion dollar banking company really believe that Black male college graduates “interviewed” less effectively than Black females, for the same jobs? In our further discussions on the subject, I learned that, on paper, the Black males and females the bank invited in had virtually the same academic credentials. Both came from similar family backgrounds and, in many cases, had even graduated from the same schools — with the same degrees.
The Human Resources department had brought them into the company after careful screening, and reference and background checks. However, the process fell apart once the Black male applicants moved to the next step of the interview procedure, i.e., meeting face-to-face with the managers in the departments in which they would have to work, once hired.
Somehow, at that point, a harsh, racially tinged subjectivity would set in and, following the interviews, more often than not, the HR department would be informed that “There was something about the candidate that made us think he wouldn’t be a good fit, here,” or “I’m not quite comfortable with that (Black male) candidate’s responses. Who else do you have?”
Curiously, the same interviewing departments didn’t seem to have quite the same reservations about hiring Black females. That “extra bias” against Black males was not unique to the bank where I worked.
With all of that as background, I took special interest in the buzz on mainstream media outlets last week that informed us that Black males now constitute just two percent of all teachers in America’s school classrooms. The version of the story on CNN included a great deal of weeping and gnashing of teeth, and a sympathetic profile of a young, Black, male kindergarten teacher, in D.C., who was trying to make a difference. But then, as is the network’s style, CNN moved on immediately to cover something entirely different.
In a better world, the network could have easily done a more comprehensive and in-depth treatment of Black male employment and unemployment challenges, here in the U.S., but, not unexpectedly, it chose not to do so.
I guess the editors didn’t want to bore or antagonize their largely non-Black viewing audience by putting too much context around that story. If you were looking for a reason why this situation happens to exist, here’s what CNN gave you: “If you ask most African-American men why they don’t teach, they’ll tell you it just doesn’t pay the bills.”
So there you have it, America. We have evidence that only about one in 50 teachers in the county’s schools are Black males, and mainstream media tells us that has nothing to do with lack of opportunity, or discriminatory hiring practices. No, Black males, it seems, just want to get paid more than all white teachers, and Hispanic and Asian teachers, and Black female teachers are earning, so they simply choose not to go into the profession.
At least, that’s the impression the average CNN viewer would get having watched that poorly reported and misleadingly presented story.
If the horrific issue of Black male joblessness and underemployment is as simple as what was reported about the teaching profession, then how do they explain the bigger picture?
How about the fact that 8 percent of Black men in this country lost their jobs from 2007 to 2009? How about the fact that a 2011 report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) disclosed that, contrary to the CNN story, “Occupational preferences ... are not the causes of employment disparities between Blacks and whites.” Indeed, according to the Center For American Progress, by systematically excluding those other causes, EPI concludes that discrimination must exist in today’s job market.”
Wow! Who knew?
Quick! Send an email to CNN and to all those other media outlets, and to the elected officials that keep wanting us all to believe that discrimination has been totally expunged from workplace decision-making in America.
While you’re at it, include in your email some even further, enlightening information on the topic that has been recently announced by New America Media. That would include the fact that “Black men without criminal records tend to have a tougher time finding employment than do white men who have been convicted by the criminal justice system.”
Also, add this one, from the same source: “Black men earn 70 cents to every dollar for a white man.” And then, throw this one in from Education Week: “College-educated Black men who are working still make far less than their white counterparts.”
It’s also important to mention, here, that the employment and unemployment challenges in the African-American community clearly are not limited to Blacks who have achieved college degrees. A report by the University of Wisconsin informs us that Black male employment rates, from 1970 to 2010, have all declined in every one of the 40 largest metropolitan areas in the country.
There is growing evidence that this national phenomenon has little to do with Black males feeling in need for greater salaries than every other job-seeking applicant. The cold fact is that discrimination’s ugly head is clearly visible when we note that only two major metropolitan areas — D.C. and Dallas — had a Black employment rate higher than 60 percent; while, at the same time, only two metros — Portland and Detroit — had a white male employment rate that was less than 70 percent.
As shocking as it was to hear about Black males representing less than two percent of all school teachers, we should be no less alarmed to realize that Black males with less than a high school diploma only represent 1.4 percent of apparel store workers; 1.4 percent of hotel and motel workers; 1.7 percent of trucking service employees; 3.1 percent of department store employees and 5.8 percent of construction workers, according to the Employment Policies Institute.
While most of us in the country seem to be oblivious to these issues, or just “used” to catching these bad breaks in the employment arena, the rest of the world seems to be paying close attention.
Recently, the British-based Economist magazine noted: “Despite all of this, worklessness among less-educated men does not seem to be a priority for American politicians, in either party.”
I happen to believe the Economist is right on the money. If you’re watching the candidates, they all seem committed, instead, to finding jobs, solely, for the so-called “middle class.”
The Economist also let us know that it is wide awake on the whole issue of Black male joblessness; but it added this: “Poor educational performance also interacts perniciously with America’s habit of imprisoning large numbers of young Black men.
Remind me to renew that subscription to the Economist!
Another interesting sidebar to this whole effort of bringing much-needed awareness to the issue of Black male joblessness was the filing in 2010 to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council, which sought a U.N. investigation of the lingering issues of Black unemployment in the U.S., and referred to that situation as a “human rights issue.”
I happen to agree.
This crisis should be taken a lot more seriously by a lot more national decision-makers. We can’t afford to ignore it much longer.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
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.
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.
Even if you’ve never read a sports page in your entire life, I’m sure I really don’t have to tell you that the NCAA Final Four Basketball Tournament is now under way.
It’s impossible to miss.
It’s when college basketball moves from the back of the newspaper to the front page, and when basketball fans finally learn the names of those previously anonymous players, on teams such as Iona, VCU, Lamar and UNC-Asheville.
It’s also the time when virtually every barber shop conversation begins with the words: “Who you got?” It’s when “brackets” and “friendly bets” are drawn up and made in places of businesses, across the country.
If you didn’t look too closely into it, you’d think, from all of the hype surrounding it, that the Final Four is, at least, one of the greatest things since sliced bread.
After all, what’s not to like?
The tournament has such a hold on our collective attention span that we routinely refer to it as “March Madness.” The most hip sportswriters also have recently taken to calling the event “The Big Dance.” Don’t ask me why.
As this NCAA basketball thing has grown ever larger, the Division One women’s teams have also been moved closer to center stage. Their elimination tournament began yesterday and will conclude on April 3, the day after the Men’s Final Four championship is decided.
In any event, when the “Madness” actually started on Tuesday, there were 68 men’s teams involved. By the end of the day, today, there will be 16 teams left in, and they will affectionately be referred to as the “Sweet Sixteen.”
Are you getting excited?
Well, CBS and Turner Sports hope you are. In mid-2010 they jointly signed an $11 billion, 14-year agreement with the NCAA to bring the game into your living room, onto your bedroom TV set, or into your local bar. That’s about $771 million a year, if you’re counting, an approximate 41 percent increase over the previous Final Four TV broadcast agreement.
Who said that we’re living through the Great Recession? Hey, cities, states and the federal government can all be facing austerity budgets but, apparently, the NCAA doesn’t live in that world. There seems to be no limit to what people will pay to watch these teams do their thing.
Everyone, it seems, is getting paid handsomely. Unless, of course, you happen to be a Black player in any one of the games, male or female.
If you didn’t know any better and simply counted the heads you saw during the games — the Black, white, Asian and Hispanic heads — you might be lulled into thinking that everything was just wonderful in “college basketball world.”
After all, according to the NCAA’s own December 2010 report, 60.9 percent of men’s and 51 percent of women’s Division One basketball players are African American. And, it certainly seems that the higher up the Division One teams stand in the national rankings, the greater is their propensity to have predominantly African-American players.
Such a profile of the big-ticket sports teams at major universities can be extraordinarily deceiving to observers who seek to draw accurate conclusions about the diversity of these universities’ overall student bodies.
When I was young and dumb, for example, I used to believe that schools such as Georgetown, Marquette and Kentucky were actually predominantly Black schools, based on the racial composition of their basketball teams. In fact, if you bother to check today, you’d find that Georgetown’s student body is actually just 6.3 percent Black. And, powerhouse basketball schools, Marquette and Kentucky, are both 6 percent Black.
Again, however, even the prevalence of so many African-American players in this annual multi billion dollar event may not necessarily be a good thing. History tells us, in fact, that the simple inclusion of great numbers of African-American people in a profitable enterprise does not automatically lead to equal opportunity, as to economic resources.
For those of you who may be having a difficult time wrapping your minds around that concept, I offer the example of the cotton industry in 19th century America.
We’d all be certainly hard-pressed to deny that there were African Americans involved in that industry, in those days. In fact, if you had an opportunity to slip into a “wayback machine” and to visit a cotton plantation of that era, you would be struck by just how many Black people — of all shapes, sizes and temperaments — were actually engaged in the business of planting, harvesting, packing and transporting cotton. Prior to your visit, you would, of course, have been made aware that, during that period, cotton was the single most valuable product on earth. Its profitability derived largely from its extremely low, slave-based cost structure.
You see, much like 21st century college basketball players, Black slaves did not receive any cash payments, whatsoever, for the work that they did related to the production of the cotton crop. It’s been said that between 1800 and 1860, cotton production had increased to 1.6 billion pounds and the value of cotton exceeded the value of all other American exports, put together.
That constituted real money, in those days, and even though Black slaves played an integral, indispensable role in producing the crop, they shared in virtually none of its economic benefits. As extreme as that comparison may seem, it is directly analogous to the way in which college basketball’s revenues are distributed, in 2012.
While it is increasingly common for NCAA basketball coaches to draw down $3 and $4 million salaries, their largely African-American team members — the Black college students who actually do the running, jumping, shooting and rebounding, get no direct cash compensation, at all.
In an industry with a current $11 billion TV contract and untold more billions in promotional fees, the NCAA says its basketball players and other athletes are not entitled to cash compensation because they are “students first and athletes second” and because they are not employees of their respective universities.
According to “The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sports,” the average college basketball player’s worth is estimated at $265,000, per year. And the above-average players, such as those who generally play at Duke University, are said to be worth the equivalent of a $1 million annual salary.
If that’s not enough to make you put down your TV remote, then consider this: Did you ever ask yourself why virtually every year in the tournament rankings the teams from the HBCUs, such as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) are always “seeded” 16th, or at the very bottom of their regional brackets, which guarantees that their first game in the tournament will be played against the Number One powerhouse, conference-champion team in their region. An early out in the tournament cuts way into the college’s potential for earning big revenues. Not surprisingly, we’re still waiting for an HBCU team to make it out of the first round. I don’t know, is that simply a coincidence?
And, while we’re on the subject, what is there about five 6’9” inch Black guys in a Howard University, Morgan State or Grambling University uniform that makes them automatically inferior to five Black guys who look exactly the same, and who came up playing in the same school yards, as five Black guys who happen to be wearing an Ohio State or North Carolina jersey?
Makes you want to go “hmmm...”
In any event, as much as I love basketball, I really do want to see more Black players and sports-related professionals share in the substantial windfalls that exist in college basketball.
Regrettably, the more you look at the current reality of “March Madness,” the more it begins to look like 1860, on the Reynolds plantation.
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.
If you’re Black in America, it appears that the country’s most important political strategists, and its most visible political candidates, have already written you off. They’ve decided, somehow, that you no longer matter, that your vote is not worth “courting,” as they try to gather the support they need to win the upcoming Presidential election.
Strategists in both parties don’t bother reaching out to you because you’ve already made it abundantly clear that you don’t have any issues that you, yourself, are willing to fight for. Republican strategists, specifically, don’t try because they believe we put allegiance to the Democratic Party ahead of all else.
In fact, following a recent highly questionable poll, conducted on behalf of BET, the pollster announced that Barack Obama commanded 94 percent of the Black vote, and that Mitt Romney could claim 0 percent. None, not a single digit, nothing.
It didn’t sound plausible. After all, we all know there will always be SOME Black Americans who still relate to the “Party of Lincoln.” There will always be SOME who consider themselves “conservative,” “extreme capitalists,” members of the “religious right,” or just plain “anti-Democrats,” for their own reasons.
At the same time, Democratic strategists haven’t felt the need to address our issues, because they know they can count on us, like clock-work, providing high-80 percent, and low-90 percent support levels to their party, no matter what.
To the Republicans, therefore, we’re seen as a “lost cause;” to the Democrats we’re considered “cooked, packaged, and ready for delivery.” With our track record of voting overwhelmingly Democratic in presidential elections dating all the way back to Franklin D. Roosevelt, and our “love and adoration” for Barack Obama, the Democrats, not surprisingly, feel no concern, at all, that we will stray from the “reservation,” on election day.
So where does that leave us with November 6 fast-approaching?
After marching and dying for the right to vote, after the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement, after fighting to register every eligible Black voter in our communities, nationwide, we’ve been reduced to mere “bystanders” in our country’s most important election.
There are 42 million Black people in the U.S. and, as of November, 2010, we constituted 12 percent of all the country’s registered voters. That compares to Hispanics, who represented 7 percent of all registered voters, Asians, who represented 2.5 percent of registered voters, and whites who saw their numbers decline by 2.9 percent, to 77.5 percent of registered voters, by the same date.
When you consider the fact that one out of every eight registered voters in this country is a Black person, it's difficult to accept the fact that both parties, both major candidates, have gone out of their way to exclude us from the national political conversation.
Black unemployment has remained consistently at a level that is about twice as high as white unemployment. In fact, the government recently reported that, as of the end of September, Black unemployment stood at 13.4 percent, while white unemployment was 7.0 percent (Hispanic unemployment, by the way, was announced at 9.9 percent).
Somehow, for some reason, Black folks in this country continue to catch way more hell in the job market than everybody else.
Do we care? Are we holding anybody accountable for that? Do we want that pattern to be turned around by whoever wins on November 6?
If that’s what we want, we certainly haven’t said so. Maybe we’re beginning to believe that it’s normal and appropriate for Black people to be twice as unemployed as whites, more unemployed than Hispanics, and almost three times more unemployed than Asians (4.8 percent).
Maybe what Black folks used to say about themselves, in the South, years ago, is still true: “We’ve been down so long, getting up don’t even cross our minds.”
How about the disproportionately negative impact of high-rate subprime mortgage loans and home foreclosures on the Black community? The Center for Responsible Lending has disclosed that about 11 percent of Black homeowners are in “some state of foreclosure, “ and that more than one million Black families will lose their homes in the year 2012.
The Washington Post has reported that those foreclosure rates would damage the credit scores of future generations of Blacks — permanently.
In addition, due largely to a combination of discriminatory lending practices, and Blacks often being “first-fired” in corporate layoffs, Black home ownership has dropped from 50 percent, six years ago, to 44.8 percent, in 2011. That compares to a 74.1 percent home ownership rate for white Americans.
Who should be held accountable for not interceding with financial institutions and large corporations on our behalf, in these situations? Maybe it should be the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, Mitt Romney and the beloved President Barack Obama. None of them seems to be interested in the job.
Also, schools in Black communities are the most underfunded and the worst-performing in the country, so, as bad as things are now, our futures most likely will be even worse.
How else have candidates demonstrated their complete disregard and disdain for Black voters? Among other things, they leave your communities out of their budgets, and they don’t visit your neighborhoods, when it’s time to make a political speech.
Hey, judging by the content at the last, sorry “presidential debate,” both candidates also seemed to go out of their way to avoid even saying the words "Black," "African American," "West Indian," or "African." Even when the esteemed Mr. Obama talked about his family on Wednesday, he was very careful only to mention the respect and admiration he holds for his grandmother and grandfather, who came from Kansas, while saying not a single word about his grandmother or grandfather from Kenya.
That didn't seem to matter to us.
We were, apparently, too focused on whether the "Republican who ignores us" or the “Democrat who ignores us" put on the best show, during the debate.
There was no outcry about the absence of our issues from the two candidates’ talking points, from any of our so-called Black leaders.
Even worse, since the campaign began, we have been able to identify no senior-level campaign operatives in either the Romney campaign or the Obama campaign. With Black folks having already declared their undying allegiance to Barack Obama and his re-election, we shouldn’t have been shocked by such a situation among the members of the Republican candidate’s brain trust.
But, Team Obama, despite its assumption that Black voters have nowhere else to go, could have benefitted significantly from input at the senior level that might have helped to keep 14 million potential Black voters energized and turned out, on Election Day.
Perhaps we should have gotten a clue when the president opted not to attend the NAACP National Convention, or when he failed to attend the Black Caucus Gala, just last month, or when he joined Romney in declining an invitation from the National Newspaper Publishers Association to engage in a public discussion of Black issues.
After the debate, Team Obama immediately began to circulate among other excuses, the notion that the President’s dispassionate, unfocused and losing performance was based on his concern about being perceived as an “angry Black man."
Hey, there’s a time and a place for everything — including justifiable anger.
What the African-American community needs; in fact, what America needs, is a new generation of intelligent, courageous, issues-focused, “angry Black men and women” to go along with the “angry Hispanics,” “angry Jewish people,” “angry gays," “angry Asians,” and "angry whites” that we already have as part of our national political process.
Until we, in the Black community, identify such people, and put them to work for us, we’ll most certainly continue to be "political bystanders" in our own county’s most important elections.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
The first time I heard the name Mario Balotelli, I stereotypically thought that the man might be an Italian opera singer, fashion designer or race car driver.
Who knew that Mr. Balotelli was actually a 21-year-old, 6-foot-2 Black Italian soccer star, born in Palermo, Sicily, to Ghanaian parents, and raised by Italian foster parents, Francesco and Silvia Balotelli, whose surname he eventually assumed?
I imagine that my surprise at learning Mario Balotelli was actually an African man living in Italy is no less shocking than the reaction that French-speaking Africans would probably have if they, somehow, learned that a person named “Bruce Crawley” was a Black man living in the United States, and not a British person of European descent.
After all, there are numerous people named “Bruce Crawley” across the U.S., many of whom, it seems, are decidedly not Black. There even happens to be a town called Crawley, near London’s Gatwick Airport, in West Sussex, England. And here’s the funny part: the town has its own soccer team, the Crawley Town Football Club.
Cue “TheTwilight Zone” music.
So, who are any of us to raise our eyebrows at a Black African just because his name is Mario Balotelli? Is his name any less fitting or appropriate than my own, for a person of African descent?
Getting back to Mario, himself, his sport, soccer, is called “football” in virtually every other country on Earth, and happens to be the world’s most popular game. I didn’t have a clue about Balotelli’s true identity until a few weeks ago, when I saw the announcements about the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) championships, in a game that was held between the Italian team and Croatia.
What struck me, as a casual observer, were the references in media coverage to a player named Balotelli, who was greeted with “monkey chants” and ape-like noises by the fans, and who had had bananas thrown in his direction, throughout his team’s matches, despite, or because of, his stellar performance on the field.
Why, on earth, I thought naively, were these nice, Croatian people throwing bananas and making crude animal noises at an Italian sports hero? That’s what I thought right up to the point when I saw his photo.
As familiar as I have been with the general experience of receiving racist treatment, I must admit that I was disappointed to see that the resurgence of mindless racism had not been limited to places such as Texas, where the National Republican Presidential convention delegates have included the elimination of the 1965 Voting Rights Act as part of their platform to be recommended to their party’s presidential nominee. How “throwback racist” is that?
It’s not that I hadn’t been aware of the ongoing racist behavior by European soccer fans, and, by European players against African, Black and non-white soccer opponents, and non-white teammates. According to Maurio Valeri, a sociologist and expert on racism in sports, “This past year, there were 59 racial incidents during the Italian soccer championships. Almost all of them linked to color.”
But it’s not just Italy and Croatia. While playing pro soccer in Belgium, a Nigerian player, during the 2009 championship playoff, was repeatedly called a “dirty ape.” Another African player, a member of the Brussels football club, after complaining about racist remarks made toward him, was told by the team’s chairman to “think about other things than trees and bananas.”
It’s been reported that, in Germany, in a move toward adopting a more sophisticated style of racial abuse, the fans have begun to brandish the number “88” at Black and non-white players. The number “88,” of course, is made up of the eighth letter in the English and German alphabets, and, in that configuration, the number is used to represent “HH,” or “Heil Hitler.” Pretty slick, huh?
Still on German soil, in a game in Leipzig, in 2006, one of the German team’s players, a Nigerian named Adebowale Ogungbure, was spat upon and called “Nigger” and “ape” by opposing fans who also made the ubiquitous monkey noises at him.
And, back in Mr. Balotelli’s own adopted country, there have been laws on the books that governed Italian and Black socialization, even in Italy’s African colonies, which dictated that interracial relationships were punishable by the possible arrest of the white partner and by a possible death sentence for the Black partner.
Despite all of that, however, Italy has enjoyed a long and successful stay at, or near, the top of world professional soccer, over the years, and, today, its national team includes two African players, Angelo Ogbanna, of Nigerian descent, who was born in Cassino, Italy, and Mr. Balotelli.
To be selected as a member of a national team, a person must be born or raised in the country they play for and must consider that country their true homeland. The 20 teams that competed in the UEFA matches in the Ukraine and Poland, this year, included a total of 31 players of African descent, on nine teams, including England (8), France (7), Holland (6), Portugal (3), Italy (2), Denmark (2), Sweden (1), and Germany (1).
The longstanding unruliness and race-related tension in the word’s soccer stadiums, are, indeed, a source of great irony for a sport whose advocates refer to it as “the beautiful game,” and whose annual global revenues, at $28 billion, absolutely dwarf those of other major sports. For example, as compared to soccer’s $28 billion in revenues, U.S. football generates $7.41 billion, baseball generates $6.7 billion, and basketball generates just $3.3 billion. To add just a bit more context to the global significance of soccer, its world governing body, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) actually includes more national associations (209) than there are member-states in the United Nations (193).
With so much economic impact at risk, in a world wherein people of color are no longer content to be treated as “global second-class citizens,” soccer’s governing bodies (UEFA and FIFA), fully comprehend that much work needs to be done — quickly — to change the negative racial attitudes that have been so patiently endured, for far too long, in their sport.
As far back as 1999, a network called Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) was established in Vienna, Austria, to counter racism and discrimination throughout the sport, and especially, among the members of its European fan base. As can be seen in this year’s treatment of Mr. Balotelli and other players of African and non-white heritage, FARE’s results have certainly been mixed, to date.
But don’t despair: The global spotlight will be shining directly upon soccer, soon enough, in 2014, when FIFA’s World Cup matches will take place in Brazil, a nation whose 2010 census has disclosed that it is now comprised, predominantly, of people of African descent.
Since its inception, 82 years ago, the World Cup, which is held every four years, has been hosted only once in an African country (South Africa, 2010), and once previously in Brazil, in 1950. In 10 of the 19 World Cups held, to date, the host country has been a European nation, but, reflecting a trend toward globalization, only one of the last four World Cups has been staged on European soil.
Looks like the “world’s game” is moving, ever so slowly, toward becoming a more respectful, less bigoted, member of the global community.
Maybe Mario Balotelli, the young African-Italian, who’s been a reluctant banana-throwing target, in far too many soccer stadiums, will still be around, and will have his dignity restored by his sport’s fans, well before he finally retires from “the beautiful game.”
We can only hope.
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.
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.