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.
Sometimes, just a little thing, a passing statement, can be enough to wake you up, snap you to attention and energize you.
Happened to me just the other day, when I read a piece by my good friend, Ken Smikle, at Target Market News (TMN).
In one of his recent editions, Ken published an interview with Tim Mahoney, executive vice president of Volkswagen of America. I was struck by two key points in the story: One, that Volkswagen has a goal of increasing the number of cars it sells in the U.S., from 280,000 last year, to about 800,000 and, two, that despite such an ambitious marketing goal, “Volkswagen is one of the few auto companies that has yet to hire an African-American ad agency.” Even worse, when asked if his company was doing ads directed at the Black market, in the way it is working through their Hispanic agency, Mahoney said, “No, not yet...we’ll get there, but I can’t say when.”
Remember...African Americans constitute 8.6 percent of total U.S. spending power. Maybe our response to Volkswagen’s sales plan ought to be that “We can’t say when” we’ll get around to buying any of their cars. Seriously!
I drew three conclusions, right away, from Mahoney’s poorly chosen comments. The first was that Volkswagen is probably not the only consumer or durable goods company in the country that has not used Black talent to reach Black and mainstream markets. The second was that Volkswagen, and other companies, probably don’t have a real understanding of the critical importance of African-American purchasing power, or how to tap into it, and, finally, that the reasons for that situation are just as much Black folks’ fault as Volkswagen’s.
Let’s start with exploring the importance of Black spending power, especially in the midst of a declining, overall, U.S. economy.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, African-American total earned income for 2009 was estimated at $836.6 billion. In that same year, African-American households spent, after taxes, about $507 billion. Even though the Great Recession contributed to a drop in Black household income by 1.4 percent, that year, African Americans still pumped a great deal of cold, hard cash into the American economy. This happened despite the fact that the average Black household in the Bureau’s Consumer Survey reported income of just $44,400 vs. $64,900 for the average white household, and $76,600 for the average Asian household.
In fact, in certain key categories, despite having a household income level only 68 percent of white households, African Americans still managed to outspend white families. For example, in that year, Black households spent more for meats than white households, $845 vs. $835. Specifically, in that category, African Americans bought more fish and seafood, $144 vs. $128; more poultry, $183 vs. $149; and, to the great chagrin of many in our community, we spent substantially more on pork, $193 vs. $165. Based on 14.7 million Black household units, that’s $2.8 billion we spent on pork, alone, in 2009.
Do America’s “other white meat” producers have an African-American marketing communication’s firm? Do they use Black print, radio, cable, or Internet services?
On another subject, we know that, even with relatively limited budgets, Black Americans have long been recognized as trend setters in both men’s and women’s fashions in the U.S., the media hype about French and Italian runways, notwithstanding. With that as background, no one should be surprised to learn that Blacks — on a per-household basis — actually outspent whites, $1755 to $1704, in the category of apparel and apparel-related services. That amounted to an estimated $25.7 billion in the apparel category, spent by Black folks, in 2009, alone.
Are Christian Dior, Claiborne, Dockers, Armani, J. Crew, Lacoste, L.L. Bean and Ralph Lauren paying attention? Who’s helping them tap into that lucrative market? How are they letting the highly valuable, fashion-conscious, Black consumer know they are specifically interested in having that business?
Then, there’s telephone services. It’s no secret that African Americans have always been early users of telecommunications, mobile and internet services. In that regard, telephone services continue to receive a disproportionately higher percentage of Black household spending.
In fact, it’s just one more category wherein Black households outspend white households, on a unit-to-unit basis, with Blacks spending $1224 per year for such services, as compared to $1115 per year, for white households. That, my friends, is a lot of money, representing a total of $17.9 billion a year spent by African Americans on phone services, or 2.7 percent of Black household income vs. 1.7 percent of household income spent on such services by whites.
Do the Apple, Samsung, Blackberry, Kyocera and Nokia people know about these numbers? How about Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile? Are they satisfied that they are getting their appropriate share of the multi-billion dollar Black telephone services share of the market?
I think not.
Other than that, we wouldn’t continue to hear the terrible sounds of feet dragging as large corporate marketers and their media buyers are invited to utilize Black marketing talent and to buy Black-focused and Black-owned media outlets.
This isn’t Affirmative Action I’m talking about. The facts make it clear that it’s simply smart business. Regrettably, far too many otherwise bright marketing and communications decision-makers, such as the distinguished Mr. Mahoney, at Volkswagen, haven’t quite figured that all out yet. And, every day, they continue to cost their companies important market shares, brand awareness levels and net income.
What will it take to get private-sector America to fully realize that African Americans also spend, each year, $203.8 billion on housing and housing-related goods and services, $65.2 billion on food, $29.1 billion on cars and trucks, Mr. Mahoney, $23.6 billion on health care, $6.1 billion on consumer electronics and $3.6 on computers?
In the interest of perfect disclosure, and in anticipation that there may be some few out there who think African Americans are also squandering their hard-earned money on non-essentials, let me admit that we do spend $3.0 billion on alcoholic beverages, but that compares to $47.8 billion spent by whites in that same category. It’s also important to point out, since we’re talking about it, that black household expenditures on alcoholic beverages constitute only 42.6 percent of that spent each year by the average white household.
Old stereotypes die hard. Let’s hurry and put this one to a quick and painless death.
Earlier on, I mentioned that a part of the responsibility for the way in which our spending power, marketing expertise and media outlets are underutilized, or totally ignored, is also, very much the fault of the Black community itself.
Let me explain.
When we don’t shop with companies that respect our dollars, utilize our media, or that are constructively engaged in our communities, we take away the incentive for Corporate America to do those things and to provide jobs and contracts in our community.
On the other hand, when we continue to buy goods and services from companies — such as Volkswagen — that clearly don’t appreciate the importance of our market, have no intention of investing in it, but expect us to buy their products, anyway, then we are being foolish.
And, when we fail to support African-American media outlets that bring us messages that help us build our community and help us recognize who our true business friends are, then we contribute, directly, to a weakening of our own agenda-setting capacity and economic leverage.
There’s a great opportunity, now, for an informed and focused African-American consumer base to bring economic and, even, political power to Black communities.
When are we going to make that, too, a local and national Black agenda item?
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
The truth is, Nov. 22 wasn't just Thanksgiving Day, or a day to recall the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy.
For hundreds of people across North Philadelphia and the city, as a whole, there was a whole other reason to remember that date. It was — and is every year — the birthday of Rogers
"Lucky" James Jr.
"Lucky," a true North Philadelphia icon, happens to have been one of my best friends, back in the Richard Allen Homes, dating back to the fifth grade, when we were classmates at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament School.
We were altar boys, serving Mass at the church. We were on the safety patrol together; we played on the school's CYO basketball team together.
Lucky was always a "hustler," in the good sense of the word, holding down several money-making "gigs" at the same time. His father, Rogers James Sr., or "Rock," as he was affectionately known, and his doting, but hard-driving mom, Felicia, wouldn't have had it any other way.
One of his earliest "hustles" was working as the paper boy, in the projects. No matter what, you knew, if you happened to look out your window at five a.m., on any given morning, you'd see Rogers "Lucky" James delivering his papers and — if he was fortunate — collecting his money, on his paper route. Pouring-down rain, a foot of snow, freezing temperatures, didn't matter to him. It was simply his job to get the papers to his customers, and he took pride in getting that done, every day. I didn't really appreciate his early perseverance.
As teenagers, our group, in the projects, was known as hard partiers, and "Lucky" took that role, perhaps, more seriously than any of the rest of us. On the weekends and, even, during the week, there weren't many places in town that we wouldn't go — on public transportation — to find a party, and we could always count on "Lucky" to tell us exactly where it was being held.
I imagine "Lucky's" love for nightlife played a role in his finding his way to one of his other beloved gigs, working at the Barber's Hall club, on Oxford Street, in North Philadelphia. Through all of this, over time, "Lucky" has become one of those people in North Philly that "everybody knows."
Looking back, I'd have to admit that there was one little thing that used to tick me off about "Luck," when we were kids. It was the fact that, no matter what, he always claimed that he had done, and seen, "everything" first. Even if you could have gone to the world premiere of a new Hollywood blockbuster, and run right back to the neighborhood to brag about it, there "Lucky" would be, frowning his face, explaining that he had already seen it--last week. That got old -- fast -- but, hey, it was just "Lucky" being "Lucky."
"Luck" has also been a natural athlete, all his life. Once, when he was participating in a tournament, as a green belt, at the Philadelphia Karate Club, "Lucky" was matched against a wiry-looking, bearded, black belt, who turned out to be Alex Sternberg, a former bodyguard to Meir Kahane, the head of the Jewish Defense league. Reportedly, Sternberg was also ultimately responsible for all self-defense instruction for the organization. Totally unaware of the guy's reputation, "Lucky" simply went out, and "dusted him off." As I said, the "birthday boy" has always been a natural athlete.
Following on his early years as a neighborhood paper boy, "Lucky," for years, also operated his own fully-enclosed newsstand, on the corner of 8th and SpringGarden, in North Philly, just a few city blocks from where we were all raised.
Did I mention that "Lucky" eventually became a Democratic committeeman, in the 14th Ward?
In 1995, during the Primary Election in the Fifth Councilmanic District, I was serving as the media adviser for the incumbent councilman, John Street, and there had been an ongoing dispute between Street and Temple University.
Temple desperately wanted the councilman's approval to develop its Apollo project, but Street had informed the University that he would only do so, if Temple kept its commitment to build 500 units of low-income housing, in the district.
Street's opponent, Julie Welker, sided with the University and began saying publicly that Street should spend less time cracking down on Temple and more time fixing potholes, in the neighborhood. The councilman, naturally, vehemently disagreed.
A reporter for the Inquirer wrote that I said Street's position was "an example of constituent service of the highest order." Further down, however, I found a quote from a North Philadelphia Committeeman, a guy named Rogers James, Jr. ("Lucky," to you).
Here's what my childhood friend, who, unbeknownst to me, was a strong Julie Welker supporter, said: "He (Street) talks about things like they aren't important. Potholes are important, if they are in front of your house."
Did I mention that "Lucky" never hesitates to say exactly what he feels?
I remember being extraordinarily proud of how he had reduced that whole issue to a clear, neighborhood-level concern.
We laughed about it all, later, and talked about how strange it was, for the two of us, after all those years, to be on opposite sides of an issue. That didn't happen often.
It's no secret that one of the reasons that we all have so much respect for "Lucky" is the courageous way in which he has handled his long-standing health problems, and his great fortune, through all of that, to have found and married his wonderful wife, Michelle. No matter how difficult his health challenges have been, "Lucky's" positive, upbeat approach to everything and everybody, his willingness to speak out on community issues, and his commitment to serving as a deacon in his church, never changes.
As proof of that, Lucky is still part of a group that, even now, holds dances and social events, to have fun and make a few bucks.
In recent years, "Lucky" has taken on another responsibility. He's now the guy who calls everybody when someone we all know is sick, or has passed away. Sometimes, you're kind of nervous taking a call from "Lucky," when you see his name and number come up on the screen of your iPhone.
Just two weeks ago, I was on my way to a noon-time reception for a developer in North Philadelphia, and my cellphone rang. There it was on the screen: "Rogers 'Lucky' James."
When I answered, "Lucky" explained in his characteristic, rapid-fire delivery, that the nephew of an old neighborhood friend had passed, and that a group of the guys we grew up with was going to meet at Savin's Funeral Home, at 12th and Brown Streets. He asked if I would join them — in 25 minutes. Hey, how do you say "no" to Rogers "Lucky" James?
After stopping into the business reception, briefly, I drove directly down 12th Street and walked into the funeral parlor, where I found "Lucky" and a group of our other friends. To "Lucky's" right, on the front row, was an empty chair with his hat on the seat, saving it for me.
If we're all very "lucky," Rogers James, Jr., a fighter, a committeeman, a deacon, a dancer, a community activist and a loving husband, will never change.
As I said earlier, while we certainly recognized Thanksgiving and the assassination of President Kennedy, for a whole lot people across the city, November 22nd was really a day to celebrate the birthday of one of Philadelphia's most beloved, hard-working, loyal and committed citizens.
Hope you had a happy birthday, "Luck."
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management, Inc.
The Chester Upland School District can now count the Chester Community Charter School as an ally in CUSD’s fight to keep its doors open and for an increase to the state’s education budget for Chester.
With that in mind, more than 100 parents of students in Chester boarded a pair of buses on Tuesday to hand deliver petitions signed by more than 1,000 people to Gov. Tom Corbett’s office; the group also sat in on a Senate education committee hearing.
“What we accomplished was obtaining a greater recognition amongst the legislators and the governor’s office of the real role that Chester Community Charter School has in that community,” said Chester Community Charter School spokesman A. Bruce Crawley. “It is unfair to balance the woes of the state budget on the backs of students in Chester.”
Crawley said the parents were “respectful, yet resolute,” when they first met with Corbett’s staff before taking in the Senate hearing. Although Corbett himself was unavailable, Corbett’s staff promised to deliver the petitions and inform the governor of the action by the group of parents.
Count Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams as one of the elected officials supportive of the movement.
“I was impressed and inspired; it bought me to ask questions of the Education Secretary in regard to funding,” said Williams, who sits on the Senate Education Committee. “I am very grateful they showed up, and it’s very important. I am very interested in this matter.”
Lost in the broiling debate between Chester Upland School District and the state over the education budget is that CUSD and the CCCS represent the very same thing: the education of Chester students.
There is no hostility between the two education providers; in fact, both rely on, and need each other, if both are to exist.
“There are people who long believe charter schools take money from the school district, and that is a misperception,” Crawley said. “The reality is, when a kid is no longer in a school district and the parent opts to send him or her to a charter school, the Pennsylvania Department of Education provides funding [for that student] to the charter school.
“Those funds are restricted,” Crawley continued. “Those funds were never intended to be a part of the school district’s budget.”
Crawley said that the school district acts like a conduit for the state to get money to the charter school; it’s that mode of money transfer that sometimes confuses people, Crawley explained, but it is how the laws were drawn up — and doesn’t mean the state is somehow funding charter schools and not the school district, or vice versa.
“We had research done last week. … 40 percent of Chester Upland parents also have a child in the Chester Community Charter School, so these kids are living in the same house,” Crawley said. “The parents don’t want either-or; they want them both to be funded — and for both to provide an excellent education.
“This [friction] is just something that has been created; it’s a fallacy.”
Crawley illuminated his point further by noting that Chester Community Charter School only serves students from kindergarten through eighth grade, and all Chester high school students are generally routed through the CUSD.
“There’s no way for anybody to be against one or the other; we said we want our schools funded — both schools,” Crawley said. “The parents went up there and fought for both.”
Williams, also wanted to clarify the relation among the two schools and the state.
“That’s the whole point: charter schools are public schools, just like magnet schools are,” Williams said. “People need to accept the fact that charter schools are publicly driven, — although they work on a lesser budget — are still proctored the same way. It would be shocking if Chester Upland did only allow funding for certain schools.”
“Even the most hard-hearted elected official can see there’s no viable option other than to provide the funding,” Crawley said. “So we are cautiously optimistic.”
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.
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.”
Had jury duty on Thursday.
If it sounds to you as if I wasn’t exactly thrilled by receiving my summons to participate, then you have a mind “like a steel trap.”
Like far too many people, my first reaction to being “invited” to serve on a jury was “Why me?” Then, I moved, immediately, to: “What did I do wrong, now?” That was followed by: “Have they already gone through all the other 1.1 million Philadelphians over the age of 18, and gotten back to my name already?”
That’s what I was thinking, if you want to know the truth.
At the end of the day, though, I actually wound up in an entirely different place.
One of the things I took to read while I waited to be assigned to a jury panel and to an actual case, was the book “Tasting Freedom,” a biography of Octavius Catto by Daniel Biddle and Murray Dubin. It’s a stark reminder of all the things that Black folks have gone through with the legal system and the struggles we’ve had to endure, just to have an opportunity to serve as a member of a “jury of our peers,” in a criminal or civil case.
But, I’m getting way ahead of myself.
I arrived at the Criminal Justice Center, in Center City, at 8:01 a.m.
The summons had “suggested” that I arrive at 8:15.
There was the obligatory security checkpoint at the entrance to the Jury Assembly Room. If you closed your eyes and went through the motions, you might think, for just a minute, that you were actually at the airport, about to catch a plane. No such luck. Same drill, nonetheless: Empty your pockets, take off your belt. My suspenders, they said, were okay and didn’t have to be removed.
When I told the very pleasant lady at the reception desk on the first floor that I hadn’t actually been smart enough to bring along a copy of the summons, she directed me up to Room 204 where, she said, they would be delighted to give me a replacement form.
I picked up a copy of the “Juror Information Questionnaire” on the way back down to the Jury Assembly Room, and grabbed a seat in the back of the room where more than 200 other summons-holders had been gathered.
Very few of them looked pleased to be there.
Not wanting any trouble, I put my head down, resigned myself to my fate, and started checking off little boxes on the questionnaire:
“... anyone close to you ever been a victim of a crime?” ... Yes.
“... Have you or anyone close to you ever been an eyewitness to a crime”... Yes, and so on.
I made a mental note that, if I had been an Asian juror, I would have been “hot.” In the “race” box, the form asks potential jurors to check whether they are “white,” “Hispanic,” “black” or “other.” There are now more than 80,000 Asian residents in Philadelphia. Isn’t that enough to get an “Asian” racial designation on the City’s official juror questionnaire?
In any event, as I was working my way through the form, and arguing with myself over the contents, I looked up, and in walked Albert “Sonny Boy” Ricketts, who also went by the name “Frenchie,” when we were growing up in North Philadelphia.
It was already starting to feel like “old home week” in the Jury Assembly Room, as Ricketts and I got caught up on what was going on “down the way.”
Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted another face from the past — Tyrone Sistrunk, a classmate of mine, back in the first grade, at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament School, at Broad and Parrish Streets. The school closed years ago, but the building is still deserted and impromptu car wash hustles are known to pop up, from time to time at the site.
Trying to “kill time,” Ty, Frenchie and I began to make wagers about which of us might get called to a jury panel first, and who might be lucky enough to actually be dismissed, without serving any jury time at all.
Eventually, we sat through the orientation video, got assigned our all-important “juror numbers,” and were given our little, yellow, stick-on, “juror” badges. They, then, formed us into panels of 50 persons each, and gave us the names of the judges who would preside in our cases. We were ready to go.
By 11:00 a.m., however, we were still waiting for our panels to be called up. People had begun to doze off around the room. Frenchie was actually snoring out loud, but I didn’t bother him. Maybe he had had a rough evening. Who knows?
It was then, however, that I started to dig deeply into my O.V. Catto book, and it began to remind me, unexpectedly, why it was important for me, and others, to be in that Jury Assembly Room, in the first place.
In fact, the book pointed out that Charleston, South Carolina, where Catto’s grandparents lived, had “become the only colony in North America with more Blacks than whites” and that “The Assembly passed curfews for Blacks and empowered town constables to arrest any Black ‘who had no good reason’ to be out at night, and lock him up until morning...”
Sounded painfully familiar to me, living in Philadelphia in 2011.
That made me recall a 2007 report by the Sentencing Project, by Marc Mauer and Ryan S. King, which had disclosed that, nationwide, there had been a significant disparity in incarceration rates between Blacks and whites, even for the same, non-violent crimes.
For example, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, African Americans constituted 14 percent of drug users, “only slightly higher than their percentage in the general population.”
Yet, the report went on to say, that African Americans represented 36 percent of those arrested during that year for drug offenses. Blacks also constituted 53 percent of drug convictions, and 45 percent of drug offenders in prison, in 2004.
Even more blatantly unfair, there’s evidence that even when whites are incarcerated, they are far more likely to be assigned to local jails, rather than prisons, experiencing less separation from their families, a reduced impact on employment opportunities, all in a less-severe incarceration environment.
Not surprisingly, therefore, according to the ABA Journal, “A judge’s race or gender makes for a dramatic difference in the outcome of the cases they hear ...”
Of course, when most Black folks are called for jury duty, we’re not thinking about all of that. We’re thinking, instead, about how much we dislike having to take a day off from our normal lives, in exchange for a paltry $9 jury fee. In fact, once a Black friend returns from a stint in the jury pool, the single most commonly asked question, usually posed in jest, probably is, “Did you get your $9?”
Reflecting on so many wrongly arrested Black men and women, whose futures are routinely snatched away from them, in the courts, I began to think that maybe we should be taking all of this a lot more seriously.
Nevertheless, when Frenchie’s panel was called up to Judge Hill’s court room to hear its case, and Sistrunk and I were informed that our panel would be “freed” at noon, because Judge Ervos had decided, at the last minute, not to take any cases that day, I couldn’t resist calling Ricketts on his cell phone, and laughing at my good luck — and his misfortune — as I walked briskly away from the Criminal Justice Center.
We’re getting there, but we’re not serious enough about it, yet.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
Given the current health challenges facing former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, this may not be the very best time to bring up this subject, but I can’t help but reflect back to the time in 1988 when Texas Agricultural Commissioner Jim Hightower commented on Mr. Bush’s privileged life, saying he was “... born on third base and thought he had hit a triple.”
I, of course, mean absolutely no disrespect to Mr. Bush, especially during this critical period for him. What that quote described, however, even in a way that was clearly understandable to the mass of whites in this country, was the longstanding existence of “white privilege." While it is packaged significantly more attractively now, it still negatively impacts far too many political, academic, economic and media decisions in the U.S., every day.
That brings me to the seemingly never-ending debate over the past four years or so about “post-racialism.” Has it arrived? Is it a myth? Was the concept created by our friends or by our enemies? Have elected officials been compromised by it? Has the promise of it put Black people to sleep politically? Has it helped any of us to put food on our tables? And, finally … if this is all it actually is, then why should we care about it at all?
I’ve come to the conclusion that “post-racialism” is not, never was and never will be a political and social reality in this country and we shouldn’t expect it to be. The greater issue for us as Black people, and for the nation as a whole, is how we have to learn to more constructively address the vestiges of that dangerous old bugaboo, “white privilege," which is described as the advantages that whites have available to them beyond those commonly enjoyed by Blacks or people of color in general. It also reflects unspoken, but real, advantages that white people may not even realize they have, including “greater presumed social status,” “cultural affirmations of their own worth,” and the freedom to “work, play and speak freely.” It also extends to whites being able to perceive, even sub-consciously, that their own culture and experiences are “normal,” and that those of other racial groups are different, “reflective of a minority view,” or “less appropriate.”
I once heard a speaker who said that “white privilege” also includes the presumption that a white person who visits the central city of any new municipality should expect that any barber shop would be willing to cut his hair (or, if female, “do her hair”). They would also feel comfortable in assuming they would be made to feel welcome, if they chose to visit any tavern or bar in the strange city or in new surroundings.
That, by the way, resonated with me immediately, when I thought back to the time that four black friends and I, in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, for a week-long martial arts camp, stopped into a community bar to have a beer, one hot June afternoon.
When we walked in, the music from the sound system was blaring and there was a notably loud din from the conversations being shared by the 75 or so white males in the room.
As they turned and saw us enter, just like in an old “B” cowboy movie, every conversation seemed to stop and all eyes focused intently on us. We approached the bar and I asked for a beer. In an arrogant and condescending tone, the bartender said, rhetorically, "You won’t be needing a glass, will you?” Then, he made a crack about one of my friends looking like Sammy Davis Jr.
I drank half of that one beer — from the bottle — paid, and the five of us backed out of the bar. We could hear the conversations resuming immediately after the doors closed behind us.
What we experienced that day was what happens to a group of Black men when they incorrectly assume that they are automatically entitled to enjoy the same social privileges, in this country, that men of European descent, commonly and unthinkingly, enjoy every day.
White privilege doesn’t just have negative consequences for Black people, in the U.S.
I recently read a story in the New York Times that said that the enrollment of Asians at Harvard University and other Ivy League institutions, since about 1995, has declined, and now stands at a curiously similar percentage, today, as it had, back then, despite a growth of 18-21-year-old Asians, in the general population, from about 175,000 to approximately 440,000 persons.
In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of Asian Americans enrolled at Harvard, dropped by more than 50 percent, over the period. At the same time, the percentage of whites enrolled at the university remained about the same, despite a significant drop in white population percentages, since that time.
All of this has occurred, despite the fact that, over the period, there has been a huge increase in the number of Asian students who have won top academic awards and who have been named National Merit Scholarship semi-finalists.
According to S.B. Woo, former lieutenant governor of Delaware, “Top colleges are clearly limiting the number of Asians they admit," despite the fact that Asian high school students, as recently as 2006, constituted 27 percent of the nation’s Presidential Scholars, the government’s highest recognition for high school academic excellence.
This is all especially disturbing when we compare university attitudes about admittance of Asians and other minorities to their long-standing support for “legacy admissions," i.e., students admitted to universities based primarily on their family relationships to alumni. The effect of such admissions has been equated to adding 160 SAT points to a prospective student’s application, and increases that student’s chances to be admitted by a whopping 20 percent, as compared to other students, including applicants of color. In addition, a recent study by Harvard University, itself, found that “legacy applicants" are seven times more likely to be admitted to universities than “non-legacies.”
The history of “legacy admissions" is not an honorable one. It dates back, in fact, to the post-World War I period, when U.S. colleges and universities wanted to ensure that coveted seats in their classrooms wouldn’t be filled, excessively, by too-strongly qualified Jewish immigrants. Today, it’s estimated that “legacy-admitted" students comprise around 10 to 25 percent of the student bodies at elite colleges and universities.
The saddest part about all of this, perhaps, is the false sense of superiority many legacy students feel, as compared to students of color, even when they are quantifiably lesser-qualified.
Indeed, a recent poll conducted by Georgetown University and the Public Research Institute disclosed that 57 percent of Americans aged 18-to-25 are opposed to racial preferences being utilized as part of college admissions and hiring decisions.
Maybe somebody should explain to these hopefully well-meaning young white people that students of color aren’t the major reasons for the scarcity of available seats in our nation’s college classrooms. More so than ever, it’s due to those categorized as “legacy applicants."
In 2007 Peter Schmidt, a senior writer at the Chronicle of Higher Education, wrote that about 15 percent of freshmen enrolled in America’s highly selective colleges are white teens who failed to meet their institutions' minimum admissions standards.
Schmidt went on to explain that “a sizable number (of those students) are recruited athletes … but a larger share are students who gained admission through their ties to people the institution wanted to keep happy, with alumni, donors, faculty members, administrators and politicians topping the list."
These are, clearly, students who think they “hit a triple.”
Is this Affirmative Action, or is it simply “privilege." In any event, there hasn’t been much of a public outcry about any of it.
There should be.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management, Inc.
I just saw that the International Keystone Knights of the KKK has applied to adopt a section of a highway in Appalachian Georgia. That’s the program where organizations volunteer to keep a stretch of highway clean and, in exchange, they get recognized by having a sign with their name on it erected on the side of the road.
It was interesting, but it didn’t actually surprise me. After all, I had always had a sneaking suspicion that the Ku Klux Klan was already in charge of the highway systems in the United States of America.
What, that’s not true?
Well, how do you explain the findings in a federal study, in 2005, that informed us that Black (9.5 percent) and Hispanic (8.8 percent) drivers were “much more likely to be searched (after traffic stops) than whites (3.6 percent), and that Blacks (4.5 percent) were more than twice as likely as whites (2.1 percent) to be arrested” as a part of such highway stops? Let’s not forget that the same report disclosed that in police-public contacts, force was used against Blacks 4.4 percent of the time, but against whites just 1.2 percent of the time.
A 2007 study by the Arizona Department of Public Safety disclosed that African Americans and Hispanics stopped by Arizona State Police were more likely to be searched “on all major highways included in this analysis.” In fact, African Americans and Hispanics were searched 2.5 times as frequently as whites were. Even worse, minorities, including African Americans, were also consistently stopped for longer periods of time than whites, on all interstate highways, in Arizona.
A related 2004 report, by Dr. Frederic Solop of Northern Arizona University, concluded that: “Hispanics and African Americans are consistently stopped….at rates disproportionately greater than their representation within the violator population….These differences are statistically significant and fit the Supreme Court’s definition of the presence of racial and ethnic discrimination.”
A 2003 report by the University of Nevada Las Vegas, found that, while Blacks comprised about 6 percent of Nevada’s population, they, somehow, represented 12 percent of all highway stops by state police. Also, Black drivers were more likely (4.6 percent) than whites (2.8 percent) to be handcuffed at some point during the stop. As in Arizona, Black drivers were searched at a rate twice that of white drivers. Oh, and by the way, the police also found in their searches that drugs were less frequently seized during stops of Blacks and Hispanics, as compared to whites.
Nevertheless, Black drivers were arrested at more than twice the rate as white drivers (4.5 percent versus 2.5 percent).
It’s good to know that none of this activity has escaped the attention of professional observers. Two member/ authors of the American Sociological Association — Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, of the University of Massachusetts, and Patricia Warren, of Florida State University — have found that “racial profiling — stopping or searching cars and drivers based primarily on race, rather than any other suspicion or observed violation of the law — is particularly problematic because it’s a form of discrimination, enacted and organized by federal and local governments.”
I couldn’t have said that any better, myself.
In Missouri, the authors found that, in 2007, Blacks were 78 percent more likely than whites to be searched and Hispanics were 118 percent more likely, even though contraband was found 25 percent less often among Black drivers and 38 percent less often among Hispanic drivers.
Here’s the interesting part: The authors have also shed a bit of much-needed light on what causes the disparity in Black, white and Hispanic treatment by police officers, on the highway.
“The two most common sources of individual bias,” they wrote, “are conscious prejudices and unconscious cognitive bias.” But, they make a very strong point (I hope it’s true) that individual “prejudices against African Americans (is) on the decline in the United States.”
They do, however, go on, then, to explain that, despite that pattern, “implicit” biases against minorities are widespread in the population. While only about 10 percent of the white population will admit they have explicitly racist attitudes, more than three-quarters display implicit, anti-Black bias.
So, there it is.
Maybe that explains, finally, why Black folks, even in “post-racial America” are still disproportionately unemployed, underemployed, incarcerated and socially ostracized. While it’s no longer socially acceptable to SAY you are a racist, it’s apparently still “cool” for three-fourths of the country to do racially biased things to Blacks, at virtually every level of social and economic interaction.
My guess is that the members of the Klu Klux Klan, bless their hearts, have figured all of this out, and are just fine with it. Rather than appear overtly racist, therefore, the Klan is now adopting, “officially,” the attitude of the three-fourths of Americans who “display implicit, anti-Black bias.” No real change in their mission statement, just better PR efforts.
According to a lady named April Chambers, the secretary of the International Keystone Knights of the KKK, “All we want to do is to adopt a highway. We’re not doing it for publicity.
We’re doing it to keep the mountains beautiful. People throwing trash out on the side of the road … that ain’t right.”
For a minute, I almost found myself agreeing with those sentiments. The Klan lady actually had me going, right up to the point where she added: “We’re not racist. We just want to be with white people. If that’s a crime, then I don’t know. It’s alright to be Black and Latino and be proud, but you can’t be white and proud. I don’t understand it.”
That’s where she lost me. That’s when I started to wonder: As bad as it already is to be “driving while Black(DWB)” through America, how much worse it would probably be to be a Black driver and to have your car break down, one late night on Route 515, in Georgia, and to look out of your car window and read the sign that says that the road you’re traveling is officially under the guidance of the friendly, local Klu Klux Klan, whose members, by the way, “only want to be with white people.”
Because, I imagine they read the same research that the rest of us read, Klan members clearly understand that many of their attitudes are held, in a private way, by most Americans. So, they are simply changing their tactics. They’re attempting to “re-brand” themselves, as we have suggested African Americans should have done, a while ago.
This is no longer “your father’s Klu Klux Klan;” you know … the one that used to terrorize the South (and many, many parts of the North); the one that was irrevocably committed to stopping Black folks from exercising their right to vote; and the one that, from time to time, found it convenient and appropriate to lynch the occasional Negro. No, this is the new and improved Ku Klux Klan.
This isn’t, of course, the first time that the Klan has tried to adopt a highway. They made a similar application for the Adopt A Highway program, in Missouri, in 1997. The rejection of their application was overturned in federal court and, for a brief period, they were the official guardian of a section of that state’s highway.
Maybe that had something to do with the point I made earlier about Black drivers on Missouri highways being 78 percent more likely than whites to be searched, when their cars were stopped.
As I said at the outset, when I saw the news about the Georgia Klan’s Adopt a Highway application, I wasn’t surprised at all. I had longed believed that they, or their “cousins,” were in charge of our nation’s highways, anyway.
Keep an eye on all of this … and, by all means, watch where you’re driving.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
Okay, I admit it. I’m tired of Tiger Woods.
I’m tired of his ongoing string of poor finishes; and his weak excuses for not playing better since the “scandal.” I’m also tired of the media, at this week’s Memorial Tournament, for example, interviewing a guy who has become, now, just another average pro golfer, at this stage of his career. Finally, I’m still, quite frankly, tired of the whole “Cablinasian” thing.
There was a time, of course, when Eldrick Tont Woods was not only the greatest golfer in the world, he was also the planet’s most popular and highest-paid athlete.
He was, in addition, extraordinarily rare in a sport that had been totally populated and dominated by men of European descent. When non-golfers thought of the sport, at all, up came images of rich, white men, of racially exclusive golf courses, and of Black folks being primarily engaged in the game as caddies — bag carriers, humble, on-the-course, servants and facilitators. There was, also, on the part of many Black folks, the lingering belief that some of those Black caddies could have beat the pants off many club members, if allowed to compete against them.
Some people could come up with the name of a few “break-through” or “pioneer” black PGA golfers — guys such as Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder, the first Black player in the Masters, in 1975. They might also remember Althea Gibson, the tennis great, and first African American to compete as part of the Ladies’ Professional Golfer’s Association (LPGA) tour, and Renee Powell.
The United Golf Association (UGA) was established in 1925 as a place for Black golfers to play in professional tournaments, because the PGA bylaws, at the time, still h said the organization was “for members of the caucasian race.” The UGA is where Sifford, Elder and other mid-twentieth century Black luminaries got their start.
As all of this was unfolding, along came the Civil Rights-inspired influx of Black managers into corporate America. In retrospect, there weren’t very many of them, but a significant percentage of these aspiring Black executives believed that it was critically important to their careers to learn to play the game of golf. The myth was that golf, the recently Caucasian-only sport, was not only a good and officially condoned form of exercise, it was also the place where “big business deals” were actually “cut.”
It was within that context that the world awaited the long-anticipated emergence of Tiger Woods, the young Black phenom, the man who would prove that Black folks could, indeed, be competitive and win major golf tournaments.
Right on schedule, Woods starred on the varsity golf team at prestigious Stanford University, and turned pro, in 1996. One year later, at the age of 21, he won his first Masters Tournament.
Remember, that made Tiger the first “Black” Masters winner, at Augusta National Golf Club, a course that had long refused to accept Black members. The Masters Tournament was also the event wherein all of the caddies, prior to 1982, were Black.
Although he was arguably about five shades darker than Woods, Vijay Singh, from Fiji, who won the Masters Tournament in the Year 2000, has never been referred to as a “Black” winner. But hey, that’s a whole, other, complicated story.
Black corporate golf enthusiasts, ever-alert to new ways to enhance their rate of assimilation to “big business insider,” were absolutely ecstatic to have Tiger as a new role model, one who validated their very presence on the golf course.
In addition, millions of non-corporate, non-golf playing Black folks, across the board, were also mesmerized by the young man’s talent and charismatic approach to the game. They began to follow the PGA in ways they previously never had, driving up PGA TV viewership and sponsor interest.
Both Black and white folks loved the fact that Tiger continued to rack up tournament victories and multi-million dollar commercial endorsements. In a Gallup Poll, conducted in the year 2000, he was ranked as the world’s most popular athlete, with an 88 percent favorability rating.
But African Americans took the whole “Tiger thing” a step further. They “adopted” him as a racial standard-bearer, named their babies after him, and sang his praises in barbershops, hair salons and churches. Even before Barack Obama, Tiger Woods seemed to be the “one” we had been waiting for.
The only problem with all of that, of course, is that Tiger Woods wanted no part of the whole “Black race” scenario.
In fact, in a 1997 interview with Oprah Winfrey, he famously said that it bothered him to be referred to as an African American. He then went on to describe himself as a “Cablinasian” — a combination of Caucasian, Black, Native American and Asian.
Technically, the guy was probably correct, the country’s “one drop rule, “notwithstanding. Tiger’s father, Earl Woods, claimed a mixed, African-American, Chinese and Native American heritage. Perhaps to Mr. Woods’ great disappointment, in America, all of that simply made him a Black man.
He should have explained that to his son.
Tiger’s mother, Kutilda, claimed to be a combination of Thai, Chinese and Dutch ancestry.
According to one source, with parents so comprised, Tiger, himself, was “officially” one-half Asian, one-eighth Native American, one-eighth Dutch and just one-fourth African-American.
Black Americans, who recognized that their pure African blood lines, in most cases, had long been mixed in a “Tiger” kind of way, know that this society treats them as Black people, nevertheless. They expected Tiger to understand that, and to conduct himself, with dignity, accordingly.
When he persisted in his arms-length relationship with the Black community — other than with people such as Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley — Black support for the man began to chill noticeably.
We still watched him play, and still rooted for him as a person of color in the predominantly white world of professional golf, but, at the same time, we were almost pleased when Tiger’s fellow-golfer, Fuzzy Zoeller, made the “fried chicken” and “collard greens” insults, to him, after he won the Masters. We thought, somehow, it would wake him up and bring him “home.”
When he got caught up in the family-destroying scandal, Black folks didn’t feel all that sorry for Tiger, especially after noting that not one of his 13 reported mistresses was a Black woman, or even a “woman of color.” Even when he was doing the wrong thing, it seemed, Tiger couldn’t resist demonstrating his lack of preference for Black people.
After the scandal, of course, Tiger’s once-brilliant career went into a tailspin. After 2009, in fact, he went 923 consecutive days without a PGA victory. He’s won just one PGA tournament since the scandal, and his annual golf-related earnings, which had averaged $9.5 million per year, from 2005 to 2009, dropped to $1.3 million in 2010, and $660,348, in 2011.
Tiger’s PGA ranking, which had stood at first or second, for most years throughout his career, dropped to 68th in 2010, and to 128th, in 2011. His favorability ratings fell from 85 percent in 2005, to 33 percent, in 2009. In addition, 19 percent of people polled said they would have a “less favorable” opinion of companies that used him to endorse their products.
As a result, Tiger has lost the majority of his commercial endorsements. To make matters worse, as part of his divorce settlement with his wife, he was ordered to pay her an estimated $100 million.
Finally, because he so adamantly denied being Black, African Americans that I run into believe what has happened to Tiger is simply “poetic justice.”
Usually, they offer words to this effect: “I guess he realizes he’s Black now.”
At this point, however, does anyone really care?
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.