Archive for August, 2011
President Obama lives with the reality of racism on a daily basis and must contend with Republican obstructionism that blocks his presidential efforts to make any real economic progress. Does Obama need black enemies when he has the GOP? When I read West’s article titled “Dr. King Weeps From His Grave,” I was quite surprised by his statement when he said:
The age of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy. Instead of articulating a radical democratic vision and fighting for homeowners, workers and poor people in the form of mortgage relief, jobs and investment in education, infrastructure and housing, the administration gave us bailouts for banks, record profits for Wall Street and giant budget cuts on the backs of the vulnerable.
“Tragically”? This kind of elminationist rhetoric sounds a bit Republican. Perhaps West could physically continue the work that Dr. King could not finish. Is West critical of Obama because he feels ignored by him? West is not actually talking about poor people; he’s talking about impoverished African Americans. I do not recall Obama running on a platform to help African Americans only. Majority of the African American community is under no illusion that Obama can improve their economic circumstances overnight. African Americans have been faced with poor economic conditions for over two hundred years since their so-called emancipation from slavery. And West has ignored that black poverty is the result of whites turning them out of slavery into a hostile racist society with no material assistance to help them build their own lives. Brooks offers the most plausible answer to African Americans’ inability to achieve racial and economic justice and equality in U.S. society, even today. This allegory helps clarify the long-term economic problems facing African Americans today:
Two persons—one white, the other black—are playing a game of poker. The game has been in progress for almost four hundred years. One player—the white one—has been cheating during much of this time, but now announces: ‘From this day forward, there will be a new game with new players and no more cheating.’ Hopeful but somewhat suspicious, the black player responds, ‘That’s great. I’ve been waiting to hear you say that for some four hundred years. Let me ask you, what are you going to do with all those poker chips that you have stacked up on your side of the table all these years?’ ‘Well,’ says the white player, somewhat bewildered by the question, ‘I’m going to keep them for the next generation of white players, of course.’
This allegory suggests that if whites wanted to create a society where racial justice and equality prevailed, they would have shared a portion of the wealth with newly freed slaves, giving them the necessary resources to provide for themselves, their families, and their posterity. By doing so, government social programs on which many impoverished African Americans rely today would not be an issue and stir the hatred of whites who are deliberately ignorant of black history and believe African Americans want the government to take care of them.
Even though African Americans have seen some improvement since the death of Dr. King, they still have a long economic way to go. When West claims that Obama has failed to articulate “a radical democratic vision and fighting for homeowners, workers and poor people in the form of mortgage relief and jobs and investment in education,” he is being political and his rhetoric sounds much like that of the Republicans, eliminationist rhetoric. How can poor African Americans afford mortgage relief when intergenerational poverty has prevented the masses of them from becoming homeowners? The unemployment rate among African Americans (15.9%) is greater than the national average, 9.1% and generally has been the highest among all racial groups for many decades. Moreover, I do not recall any African American males touting that West has visited them in prison, have helped them get a college education, have created any organizations to help them achieve basic math or reading skills, or have visited depressed urban areas to plead their case before Congress.
West, like the GOP, has failed to acknowledge Obama’s many accomplishments, and they focus too much on what Obama is not doing rather than how they can join him in a national effort to help ease the problems of African Americans and American citizens in general, as West suggests in his statement. Carter G. Woodson, considered the father of black history, informs us that elite African Americans who have been so long inconvenienced and denied opportunities for development are naturally afraid of devoting themselves to uplifting the black race.
We should now understand the reason Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) cannot get her history straight. She claims the “founding fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery,” even though southern founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, owned them.
Bachmann also believes that African American children born during slavery were better off than African American children born after the election of the President Obama. Lacking any real historical knowledge of American history and viewing black history through a white racial frame, Bachmann does not understand that black families were broken up and sold like chattel on the auction block. Marriages between a black man and black female were not legal, but took place with the blessings of the slave master. “But the wedding vows they recited promised not ‘until death do us part,’ but ‘until distance’ or, as one black minister bluntly put it, ‘the white man’ – ‘do us part.’”
Revisionist GOPer David Barton and other conservatives want to rewrite the history books by “shifting black history away from the civil rights movement.” Barton wants the Republican Party to receive credit for liberating African Americans from the atrocious treatment at the hands of white racists:
Barton, who was hired by the GOP to do outreach to black churches in the run-up to the 2004 election, has argued elsewhere that African Americans owe their civil rights almost entirely to Republicans.
Barton goes on to argue that Martin Luther King should not be given “credit for advancing the rights of minorities. As Barton put it, ‘Only majorities can expand political rights in America’s constitutional society.’” Are we to accept the position that the majority would have freely given African Americans their civil rights had they not fought for them under the leadership of Martin Luther King? It is understandable why Rep. Allen West (R-FL), an African American Tea Party darling, believes his membership with the Republican Party has given him a one-way ticket off the “21st century plantation.”
But Barton has a point. Only majorities can set the record straight, since they are in power to change laws after minority groups raise a political ruckus for their civil rights they have so long been denied. It is obvious that Barton and other conservatives are trying to rewrite American and black history and to woo African Americans to an unfriendly, racist, and obtuse Party that has ignored their economic, political, and legal woes, which is no more than “propaganda masquerading” as pretentious outreach to carry out their quest among many to destroy the Democratic political base. During his second term as president, former President Bush gave a speech before the NAACP where he
acknowledged that whatever prestige the Republican Party once had with African Americans has been squandered, telling the NAACP on July 20, 2006 that he understands why “many African Americans distrust my political party” and that he considers it “a tragedy that the party of Abraham Lincoln let go of its historic ties with the African American community. For too long my party wrote off the African American vote, and many African Americans wrote off the Republican Party.
[Prof. Smith continues his previous discussion]
There are three consequences that immediately appear as a result of this type of bias in academe:
(1) an applicant for a faculty position is likely to be asked if they have been the recipient of federal grant funds, as a initial condition of employment, which is ideal for both preparing a 5-year plan for scholarship as well as bringing the highly valuable “in-directs” ($$$) into the department; if not, they are less likely to be offered a job than a candidate who already has secured federal funding. If African Americans are less likely than their White counterparts to exit graduate school and/or a post-doc with grants, they will be less likely to be offered tenure line positions.
(2) often securing external funding is a condition for tenure and promotion to associate; thus discrimination at the level of funding agencies translates into lower rates of tenure and promotion for African American scholars, a fact that has been proven time and time again.
(3) simultaneously, with the majority of departments in all types of institutions from “research one” to “liberal arts colleges” require scholarly publications for tenure and promotion, especially promotion to full. Assistant professors without funded research projects will have a far more difficult time conducting the research and collecting the data that is a necessary precursor to scholarly publications. Thus, discrimination in the awarding of federal grants is most definitely a cause of the lower rates of promotion of faculty of color, especially African Americans, and women. Of course this only exacerbates the proverbial double standard: that minorities and women have to be “twice as good” which is also well documented.
(4) A fourth consequence can be added: the cycle continues: discrimination in awards to pre-docs, post-docs and assistant professors leaves African American scholars without a “track record” of previous awards that leaves them significantly disadvantaged in future competitions for funding awards.
Finally, this cited study allows me to note that the Color Line remains problematic in so called “post-racial” America.
Earl Smith, PhD
Professor of American Ethnic Studies
Wake Forest University
Question: Does the skin color or name of a scientist who may be the discoverer of a cure for breast cancer, diabetes, or sickle cell matter when it comes to being awarded a monetary grant from US funding agencies who on average receive billions of taxpayers dollars each and every year? (NIH = $31.2 billion and NSF=$6.8 billion)
The answer to the question is yes for both skin color and one’s name. And, although the story being discussed here does not go in this direction I am going to say, based on solid evidence presented elsewhere that the same pertains to women scientists who apply for these public funds. (See also here)
In the carefully worded press release accompanying the results of the new study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in the August 19th issue of Science we learn that:
Though information on race and ethnicity of the applicant is not available to reviewers, an applicant’s name or institutional affiliation included in the application biography can be suggestive of their race or ethnicity.
I was not totally surprised to learn last week that Blacks and others are not treated equally by the agencies that fund scientific research. Any scholar who has applied for a federal grant knows this. Any scholar who has sat on a grant panel knows this; applicants with some qualities receive preferential treatment whereas others face discrimination.
In a review of some 80,000 grant application across a seven year period grant applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a US public funding agency—who we recently learned has been giving research money to Chinese scientists in China—the research scholars found that the funding agency was biased against African Americans who submitted grant applications. Asian and Hispanic applicants also faced discrimination but not to the same degree as the biases against Blacks. And, although the NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins notes that “the situation is not acceptable” and that “the data is troubling” he offers no viable solution for ending this long-standing problem.
I would imagine that Collins, a well-paid public servant whose career is “inside the beltway,” knows the fate of another director of a government agency, namely the Bureau of Justice Statistics ex-Director Lawrence Greenfeld. Greenfeld, appointed to the Bureau of Justice Statistics by George Bush after the 2000 presidential elections, was fired when he would not bury a factually accurate and devastating report on “racial profiling.” Perhaps Collins feared the same if he were to publicly acknowledge what he must have known was true all along, that there were discriminatory patterns in funding with regards to race, ethnicity and gender?
What does all this mean? For years scholars from various academic disciplines have been conducting empirical studies showing the extent of racial discrimination, including research by Professor Joe Feagin who has been warning us that systematic racism persists in the USA. In book after book and essay after essay he notes that these current forms of racial discrimination are not just individual v. individual hostilities but more so institutional racism. In one paper published in the sociology journal American Sociological Review (Vol. 56, No. 1., Feb. 1991: pp. 101-116), Feagin points to a very common form of public discrimination against African Americans today: poor service at restaurants. He illustrates with a story: the couple waited and waited and waited and even though the restaurant was near empty they still waited to be seated. There were no back doors to be entered, no signs (“No Negroes”), no outdoor water hose to get a drink of water from and no take-out only service. Simply, in modern terms, no service at all! As this example applies to the recent paper in Science, we see that trained scientists serving in public service to tax-funded granting agencies take it upon themselves to bar African Americans professionals who are seeking funding for their research projects.
What could further demonstrate the “Continuing Significance of Race” in American society today? Race matters, and no amount of hollow apologies by the administrators at NIH will change this as they, too, must have known that without filling the science and technology pipelines there will be no progress on any level or in any corner of academe. In short, discrimination in funding leads to gaps in PhD completion, hiring into tenure track lines, and ultimately to promotion.
The former head of the National Science Foundation and President of Occidental College, Dr. John Slaughter put it differently –understanding the vital importance of the “pipeline”–but it points to the problem back then and it’s importance today: “if you want Black faculty, you need Black students.” The point being that the pipeline has to begin with the quality education of all students and continue through secondary school up through advanced studies. It is no wonder that in the Science article the authors point to the probable differences in training, mentoring, access to pre-doctoral research projects, etc., as one possible explanation for differences in grant awards by race. Yet they make it clear that this is not the only cause and that racial identification coding is rampant in NIH review panels.
What this means is that the results of the study Race, Ethnicity, and NIH Research Awards demonstrate the following: differential access, bias, gate keeping in science, and racism all remain a problem in the arena of scientific discovery and will not change until the administrators of the agencies want to make significant changes; until there is pressure to define discrimination as costly and transformation as being in the individual and more importantly institutional self-interests of the administrators and agencies.
In terms of consequences and outcomes, first off let me note that this underscores the weakness in the sacredness of the double blind review process in science, letting us know that the “Matthew Effect”—coined by Merton and Zuckerman– in science is alive and well. (See Merton, Robert K. (1968). “The Matthew Effect in Science” (pdf), Science 159 (3810), 56–63; and Merton, Robert K. (1988). “The Matthew Effect in Science, II: Cumulative advantage and the symbolism of intellectual property” (pdf), ISIS 79, 606–623.
Earl Smith, PhD
Professor of American Ethnic Studies and Sociology
Wake Forest University
An interesting post today at thedemocraticstrategist.org, a useful political analysis website that sometimes deals with the racial issues around President Obama’s campaign and presidency. They note that only the second African American since Reconstruction in the 1860s-1870s, the Hattiesburg mayor Johnny DuPree, has been nominated for governor by a major party (in this case the Democratic Party) in any of the former eleven Confederate secessionist states. He defeated a white lawyer by a 55-45 percent margin in a runoff for Mississippi governor, and the
The contest was notably without rancor, racial or otherwise. DuPree overcame a 2-1 spending disadvantage, and showed significant statewide strength.
Now, however, he will have to win against Republican
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who . . . will be a pretty heavy favorite, but you never quite know with off-year gubernatorial races. The last Democrat to win a Mississippi gubernatorial contest was Ronnie Musgrove in 1999.
The first black person nominated for governor since Reconstruction–and also the only one to eventually win the position–was Doug Wilder in Virginia.
What this story does not reveal is that the extreme racial polarization of the parties in most southern states means that DuPree’s Democratic Party and its voters are heavily African American, and the Republican Party and its voters are almost all white. As well as candidate Bryant, of course.
That is why the state with one of the two largest percentages of black residents at 37 percent—but are still only a large minority of all voters–cannot yet elect even one major statewide official who is black. Not one black person has been elected to a major state office since Reconstruction! Taxation without representation? Most whites seem very fearful of such racial change. Something like 85-90 percent of whites regularly vote Republican in what was once a state where whites voted in about those percentages for the Democratic Party, indeed not long ago.
But then the Democratic Party was the “white party” of the South, a designation that now applies to the Republican Party.
Sometimes I can go for weeks in the delusional state of mind that there is nothing that wealthy white men can do to surprise me anymore. I was rocking along in one of those multi-week periods when the walls of my delusion tumbled down with a twister from North Dakota regarding the long debated name change for the university mascot, the “Fighting Sioux.”
Most of you are no doubt familiar with the ongoing discussions around the racially charged names of various sports teams. These debates have been in headlines and courtrooms for decades. With the most notable case being the professional football team in the nation’s capital. After decades of foot dragging and with much chagrin, the NCAA took a firm stance in 2005 regarding names referencing Native Americans. Any team using names deriving from or describing Native Americans must either cease using the name or receive official permission from the relevant Native peoples. After more foot dragging and maneuvering, virtually all colleges changed their mascot names. A select few such as the Florida “Seminoles” received permission from the tribes to use the title.
The North Dakota university alumni tried very hard to achieve the same goal. Much money was spent in lobbying tribal leaders and hiring people to promote the idea to tribal members. In the end, only one group of Indians could be persuaded to allow the continued usage of the name. There is much debate in Indian Country about how even that level of agreement was achieved. The other group, the Standing Rock reserve, refused, repeatedly. Backers continued to promulgate the fiction that the name was an honoring to Native people. And one prominent legislative backer even claimed, “I just feel the Sioux Indians were not treated with respect. They were not included in any of the wording of the NCAA agreement. They were virtually given an ultimatum.”
Let’s just clear up a language issue here. There were no Sioux Indians until this man’s ancestors created a misnomer for the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota people. The word Sioux is not Lakota, it is derived from a Crow Indian word meaning enemy. We are asked to believe that this man who lives on land stolen from these peoples in bloody conflict mere miles from where they live in abject poverty and suffer the shortest life spans of any group in the country honestly cares about whether or not they were a party to the NCAA agreement. It is curious that it is only years after the agreement that he finds this a problem. In fact, they were not given an ultimatum. They were given the opportunity to express their resistance to wealthy white appropriation of all things native and they did.
The NCAA stuck to its guns and its August 15, 2011 deadline. Not to be deterred, the wealthy white alumni, one of whom was a former Republican Speaker of the State House, passed a bill, which the Governor obligingly signed, making it a state law for the University of North Dakota to have the Fighting Sioux as their mascot. In this same legislative session, bills expanding hate crimes punishment and protecting children from bullies were defeated. They were completely committed to continuing to embody and glorify centuries of racial hate crimes, so I suppose it should not be a surprise that they are less interested in protecting vulnerable groups and children from hate.
The blind structural necessity of dominating native peoples, and of proving the inherent might and right of wealthy white men, led them to pass this law even though the NCAA would impose sanctions, forbid events to be held at the university and disallow them to wear the logo in any NCAA games. Keeping this logo would mean their long awaited entrance into the Big Skye Conference would be jeopardized. Still, the legislature passed the law, the governor signed it.
The NCAA didn’t blink. So, just for today, wealthy white men were forced to back down to the will of a small band of willful Native Americans who refused to give their permission to be discounted, disrespected and appropriated. In July 1881, driven by hunger and disease among his band, the great spiritual and war leader Sitting Bull surrendered at Fort Buford, North Dakota and was transferred to the Standing Rock Agency. 120 years later, the Lakota of the Standing Rock Agency refused to surrender. And, surprisingly, so did the NCAA.
The epidemic of rioting and looting that hit cities throughout England between the 6th and 10th of August has its origins in the police shooting of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old black male resident of Tottenham, North London.
The results of the inquiry into the Duggan shooting will have enormous consequences for relations between the police and the black community in Tottenham, where the 1985 riots remain a healing scar. But the racial dimension to proximate cause of the recent riots threatens to point us in the direction of a profound analytical error.
The Scarman Report into the 1981 inner-city riots found their causes in youth unemployment, exacerbated by two powerful factors: disproportionally high unemployment among young black men, and what Scarman called “institutional racism” among police officers.
Poverty, of course, remains the single most important indicator in the recent riots. An analysis of court data from post-riot Manchester by The Guardian establishes that the vast majority of those charged so far come from deprived areas of the city.
But, nationwide, those arrested have included school children, college students, a professional ballerina, an Olympic athlete, and even a trainee social worker. Nor was the rioting confined to poorer areas exclusively, with major incidents in affluent places such as Beckenham and Bromley.
But in terms of race, the rioting crowds were predominantly white in majority white areas, predominantly black in majority black areas. And the remarkable clean-up groups that sprang up spontaneously all over the country have been unselfconsciously racially mixed.
Clearly, we need to guard against any over-racialization of the riots that might stem from the initiating incident. But this does not imply that race and ethnicity have no bearing on the riots and their aftermath. An alleged hit-and-run killing of three young Muslim men by a black male in Birmingham threatens to reignite past tensions between the black and Muslim communities, though the response has been a remarkable peace rally. And, when community self-defense groups emerged during the riots, far-right anti-immigrant organizations in some cases tried to assume the leadership of those groups.
One notorious attempt to racialize the riots came from the historian and broadcaster David Starkey, who argued that the riots happened because young white people were “becoming black.” Equating black culture with lawlessness, Starkey argued that people are “white” or “black” in proportion to their criminality. The near-universal revulsion at his comments illustrates how far Britain’s discussion of race has progressed since the 1980s.
Peter Grosvenor is Associate Professor of Political Science at Pacific Lutheran University, and writes from Manchester, where he is on sabbatical leave.