Archive for economic
On this Labor Day, I’m thinking about the legacy of stolen labor. While Labor Movement-created-holiday is meant to commemorate the “social and economic achievements of American workers,” a post from a friend, Son of Baldwin, has me thinking about labor that was not freely given, but rather was taken from people and for which they were not compensated.
(Facebook post from Son of Baldwin)
What does that legacy of stolen labor look like today? If it were a bar graph, it might look something like this:
As you can see, black and Latino families have much less wealth than white families, even when you compare within the same income groups. Matt Bruenig, writing at Demos, asks, “why is this the case?” and then answers his own question with the following:
“There are many factors, but one in particular looms large. It turns out that three centuries of enslavement followed by another bonus century of explicit racial apartheid was hell on black wealth accumulation. Wealth accumulation opportunities haven’t exactly been evenly distributed in the last half century either. Because wealth is the sort of thing you transmit across generations and down family lines (e.g. through inheritance, gifts, and so on), racial wealth disparities remain quite massive.”
And, indeed, if we look at the wealth accrued to those who enslaved others, just in the U.S., the estimates from economists put those numbers in the trillions, in 2011 dollars.
(Source: Measuring Worth.com)
In their understated, scholarly language, the creators of the chart – Williamson and Cain – write:
“Slavery in the United States was an institution that had a large impact on the economic, political and social fabric on the country. This paper gives an idea of its economic magnitude in today’s values. As noted in the introduction, they can be conservatively described as large.”
So, the impact of slavery in the US was large? Got it. But slavery ended in 1865. Everything’s been fine since then, hasn’t it?
Profiting from Stolen Labor Now
Deadria Farmer-Paellmann is researcher who is documenting the way contemporary corporations benefit from slavery. Many of the companies we use today initially established those profitable entities by profiting from stolen labor. For example, many of the current insurance companies began by insuring slaves, as with an 1854 Aetna policy insuring three slaves owned by Thomas Murphy of New Orleans. Farmer-Paellmann has located evidence of connections to slavery from a number of other corporations, including:
- FleetBoston (purchased by BankofAmerica) traced to slave-trading merchant
- Brown Brothers gave loans to planters to buy enslaved people
- Original Lehman Brother owned seven enslaved people
- Majority of labor for Southern rail companies done by enslaved people
In 2000, Aetna expressed “regret for any involvement” it “may have” had in insuring slaves. Today, the company stands by that statement and says it has been able to locate “only” seven policies insuring 18 slaves. “We stood up; we apologized; we tried to do the right thing,” said Aetna spokesman Fred Laberge.
That was all a long, long time ago. Aetna apologized. Besides, what’s all this got to do with now, today? These companies built their wealth, either partially or in whole, on labor that was stolen from people who didn’t have a choice and who were never compensated for that labor.
These corporations with legacy-connections to slavery are not the only ones profiting from stolen labor now. For-profit corporations are making millions off of locking people up. CCA, which I’ve written about here before, and The Geo Group are among the worst offenders here.
Federal Prison Industries, also known as UNICOR, is a US-owned government corporation created in 1934 that uses penal labor from the Federal Bureau of Prisons to produce goods and services (UNICOR has no access to the commercial market but sells products and services to federal government agencies). The statistics about UNICOR’s use of prison labor, perhaps the quintessence of contemporary stolen labor, are staggering.
These wages at federal prison are criminal, and the ones at state facilities are even worse. Nevada, for example, pays inmates just .13 cents/hour for their labor.
There’s no possibility of organizing these workers, however, since the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a North Carolina warden’s ban on prisoners’ right to form a labor union.
Addressing the Legacy of Stolen Labor & the Contemporary Racial Wealth Gap
To address this legacy of stolen labor, some have called for reparations.
US Rep. John Conyers has introduced H.B.40, Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act, into every session of Congress since 1989, and vows to keep doing so until it is passed into law.
In 2002, a group of U.S. legal scholars led by Charles Ogletree (Harvard) started litigating the legacy of slavery to get redress from some of the corporations that benefited. A number of people, mostly political conservatives, oppose reparations.
More recently, representatives from more than a dozen Caribbean nations are uniting in an effort to get reparations for slavery from three former colonial powers: Britain, France and the Netherlands. Leaders from The Caribbean Community (Caricom) are launching a united effort to seek compensation for the lingering legacy of the Atlantic slave trade.
A much more modest proposal, as Bruenig of Demos suggests, is a steep, progressive inheritance tax in the U.S. If the proceeds of such a tax were directed to a full-fledged sovereign wealth fund that pays out social dividends, we could address a number of social ills at once.
It’s actually not hard to think of ways to address the legacy of stolen labor and stolen wealth. It simply involves the transfer of capital. And, there is precedent for it in the U.S.
The federal government reached a consent decree with a class of over 20,000 black farmers to compensate for years of discrimination by the Department of Agriculture. Previously, the government also approved significant compensation for Japanese-Americans interned during World War II and paid reparations to black survivors of the Rosewood, FL [pdf], massacre.
What we lack to address the legacy of stolen labor and the contemporary reality of a racial wealth gap is the collective political will to do the right thing.
Diversity has sometimes been considered as an abstract principle, divorced from macro-economic trends and global realities. Research by Quamrul Ashraf and Oded Galor of Brown University, suggests otherwise. In a paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2011, Ashraf and Galor crystallize their findings on the interplay between cultural assimilation and cultural diffusion in relation to economic development. They theorize that pre-industrial societies in agricultural stages of development may have benefitted from geographical isolation, but the lack of cultural diversity had a negative impact on the adaption to a new technological paradigm and income per capita in the course of industrialization. This “Great Divergence” in the developmental paths of nations has occurred since the Industrial Revolution.
Ashraf and Galor indicate that cultural assimilation enhances the accumulation of society-specific human capital, reducing diversity through standardization of sociocultural traits. Cultural diffusion, by contrast, promotes greater cultural fluidity and flexibility that expands knowledge allowing greater adaption to new technological paradigms.
One of the prominent questions long debated by scholars is why China failed to industrialize at the time of the Industrial Revolution and suffered from “economic retardation,” a question raised by Joseph Chai in Chapter VI of his new book An Economic History of Modern China. In their paper, Ashraf and Galor outline the early benefits of China’s geographical isolation as the “Middle Kingdom” or the center of civilization as evidence of the benefits of cultural assimilation in the agricultural stage of development. They also refer to the state-imposed isolation throughout the Ming (1368-1644) and Ching eras (1644-1911) that caused China to remain impervious to external influences. Although Ashraf and Galor do not expand upon the further ramifications of their theory in this example, the absence of cultural diffusion was clearly a major factor in China’s late development in the sciences and technology.
What does all this mean for diversity practitioners in the United States today? Clearly, the important benefits of cultural diversity need to be understood in broader, global, and historic terms. As Alvin Evans and I argue in Bridging the Diversity Divide: Globalization and Reciprocal Empowerment in in Higher Education, globalization is a catalyst for diversity change, representing an urgent mandate that can no longer be ignored. With the erosion of barriers of time and place, rapid evolution of technological modes of communication, increasing diversity of the American population, rising demands from diverse consumers, and importance of talent as a differentiator in organizational performance, organizations now must focus upon creation of inclusive talent management practices. In our forthcoming book, The New Talent Frontier: Integrating HR and Diversity Strategy (Stylus, 2013), we examine this global imperative and the emergence of common themes in diversity transformation across all sectors including private corporations, not-for-profits, and institutions of higher education.
As Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, puts it in his blog that discusses Ashraf and Galor’s contributions:
It’s time for diversity’s skeptics and naysayers to get over their hang-ups. The evidence is mounting that geographical openness and cultural diversity and tolerance are not by-products but key drivers of economic progress. . . . Indeed, one might even go so far as to suggest that they provide the motive force of intellectual, technological, and artistic evolution.
Happy May Day, the workers of the world day!
In the past (for example, 2010) we have had major marches on this day in support of undocumented workers, and today we have had numerous marches in support of the “Occupy” causes by an array of workers, students, and others, as well as many other marches in support of unions and workers’ rights and causes.
The Industrial Workers of the World’s website points out that the country that founded May Day (May 1) seems to have forgotten it:
Most people living in the United States know little about the International Workers’ Day of May Day. For many others there is an assumption that it is a holiday celebrated in state communist countries like Cuba or the former Soviet Union.
Most Americans don’t realize that May Day has its origins here in this country and is as “American” as baseball and apple pie, and stemmed from the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane, a celebration of rebirth and fertility.
In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Jack London’s The Iron Heel. As early as the 1860′s, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn’t until the late 1880′s that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class.
Unions and other worker organizations have brought much in the way of better lives for many Americans and others across the globe. And most of the world’s workers are workers of color–-often working ultimately for white-controlled western corporations. They still need much new organization to end various types of class and racial oppression that they face. Many of these workers of color turned out today to protest for better working conditions.
Coming decades will doubtless see important and organized worker challenges to the domination of the mostly white-run corporations (executives) that increasingly control larger workplaces in a great many countries, if only because their most workers (of color) do not share their high-profit interests and often western racialized interests. The US intellectual and critical thinker Noam Chomsky has an interesting recent commentary on the relationship of democratic reforms to more extensive democratic revolutions–which sometimes come from sustained workers movements.
Over at the Organizations, Occupations and Work blog, a fellow sociologist blogger, Matt Vidal, has an important analysis of some recent data on unemployment and employment indicating severe racial inequalities. And he raises the issue of the dicey future of the black middle class. He begins with this statement about this New York Times article:
A recent New York Times article reports on how the long downturn of the US economy has hit the public sector hard, which, in turn, has been devastating for the black middle class. The article notes that black workers are about one third more likely than whites to be employed in the public sector. Blacks have historically been more able to find work in the public sector, as they faced more discrimination in the private sector. Overall, unemployment rates for blacks have consistently been about twice that for whites, with the black unemployment rate peaking at 16.7% last summer.
I call your attention to his good summary of some of the key issues, with some good links. His conclusion will not come as a surprise to readers of this sociological blog:
The upshot is that any way to address the problem most be organizational or structural, not individual.
“We are the 99 percent” – a message powerful in its simplicity and its call for renewed social justice. The Occupy movement took on new dimensions on Wednesday as protesters moved beyond marches and rallies to attempt to disrupt port operations in the nation’s fifth busiest port, while 100 military veterans marched in uniform in front of the New York Stock Exchange to express support for Scott Olsen, an Iraq war veteran injured in the Oakland protests.
The message of Occupy Wall Street that gave rise to this movement refers to the overwhelming majority of ordinary Americans who have lost economic ground in the recession while corporate profits have reached their highest point since 1950. In this regard, the Congressional Budget Office reports that between 1979 and 2007, income grew by 275 percent for the top one percent of households and just 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent. In fact, the United States now has the highest poverty rate among developed countries with 46 million people living in poverty. The stories of lost ground are real, anguishing, and personal: stories of foreclosure, people in debt without health insurance, those who cannot afford to heat their homes, college graduates with student loan debt who cannot find work, and many others whose photos and stories can be found at here. We wonder if this is a new America.
In The Global Auction: The Broken Promises of Education, Jobs, and Incomes (2011), Brown, Lauder and Ashton tell us that emerging economies have leapfrogged decades of industrial development and created a highly skilled, low wage workforce that provides cut-priced brain power. This “reverse auction” for jobs has weakened the trading position of American professionals in the effort to attain a comfortable standard of living. In support of their thesis, the unemployment rate for U.S. college graduates over the past year is 9.6 percent, while for high school graduates, the average is 21.6 percent. And corporations have unquestionably contributed to this reverse demand by outsourcing American jobs overseas. A Wall Street Journal study published on April 19, 2011, U.S. multinational corporations employed 21.1 million at home in 2009 and 10.3 million abroad, with increasing numbers of highly-skilled foreign employees.
The recession has unquestionably deepened the racial economic divide to the extent that some are even calling it a “race-cession.” A Pew Research Center analysis based on 2009 data reveals that the median wealth of white households is now 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households. The report documents the differential impact of the recession upon minority families, with a decline in median wealth of 66% among Hispanic households and 53% among black households, compared with 16 % among white households. Nearly one quarter of black and Hispanic households had no assets other than a vehicle, compared to 6% among white households. And foreclosures have a disproportionate impact on minority borrowers in 2007-2009, with 8% percent of Hispanics and Blacks losing their homes to foreclosures compared to 4.5% of whites.
The statistics for minority unemployment are sobering. Black unemployment has been at 16% or above for several months, the highest level since 1984, with Hispanic unemployment at 11.3% and white unemployment at 8%. The underemployment rate is at least double the official employment rate, including those working part-time who want full-time work, those who work at minimum wage but seek higher wages, and those discouraged workers who have given up looking for work due to the job shortage. Furthermore, the duration of unemployment for minorities has exceeded the average duration of 40.5 weeks or more than nine months. For some minority groups, such as Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and some Asian American groups, at least one third are either unemployed or underemployed. As a case in point, take the startling report, “Only One in Four Young Black Men in New York City Has a Job” published by the Community Service Society that documents the disproportionately high rates of unemployment among young black men ages 16-24.
Given these stark employment realities, will troubled white workers begin to target minority workers more than they do now as the recession deepens? We have seen minority workers blamed for difficult economic times when white farmers and workers reacted to the large numbers of freed blacks during and after Reconstruction, or with the more recent backlash against migrant Mexican workers taking jobs in America even though Mexican immigration has actually declined over the last few years and few many Americans are not willing to work under the abysmal working conditions associated with the agricultural and non-agricultural jobs held by migrant workers.
As the base for the Occupy Wall Street movement expands, it promises to be a movement that returns us to our democratic ideals and unite us in the cause of social justice across the divides of race, gender, age, and class. A recent press release by Ben Jealous, President of the NAACP articulates this unity of purpose:
We are encouraged by the broad national support and by the great diversity of Americans who have been participating in the Occupy Wall Street campaign. The movement and the peaceful protesters who are a part of the campaign share many of the same goals as the NAACP.”
The NAACP shares the protesters’ concerns about the growing disparity in the access to wealth in America, and the decline of economic opportunity for poor and middle class Americans. For over 102 years we have supported the policies which create, preserve and expand living wage jobs, increase economic opportunity and protect the right of every American to build and retain wealth and equity.
And in poetic terms, Archibald MacLeish captures the importance of this new movement in his description of our living democracy:
Democracy is never a thing done. Democracy is always something that a nation must be doing. What is necessary now is one thing and one thing only that democracy become again democracy in action, not democracy accomplished and piled up in goods and gold.
The New York Times has an interesting overview of the many African Americans moving back to the South:
The economic downturn has propelled a striking demographic shift: black New Yorkers, including many who are young and college educated, are heading south. About 17 percent of the African-Americans who moved to the South from other states in the past decade came from New York, far more than from any other state… Of the 44,474 who left New York State in 2009, more than half, or 22,508, went to the South….
The article strongly accents economic reasons, but is there more here? One professor quoted in the article cites many African Americans’ spiritual and emotional (family) ties to the South as reasons for the reverse migration.
Recounting police abuse of her in New York, one black resident who has left suggests that the white racism now in New York is often as bad the old South:
“My grandmother’s generation left the South and came to the North to escape segregation and racism,” she said. “Now, I am going back because New York has become like the old South in its racial attitudes.”
She is likely right. Social science research shows that whites’ everyday racism does not really know geographical boundaries. Is it the case that the white majority in the South did not so much as catch up with the rest of the “liberal” country on racial matters, but rather that much of the rest of white America seems to be acting more like the racial ways that too many in the white South have long been famous for?
What do you make of the reasons given for the large African American migration back to the South?
(Note: Isabel Wilkerson, pulitzer prize winning NY Times journalist and now professor, has a major and fairly new book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration that I have just started looking at, and it may be of interest on the migrations north and south.)
Two articles that appeared on April 1 in USA Today caught my attention. At first you might think they were an April Fool’s joke. Over a million homes went into foreclosure this year and last. Nearly 15 million people are unemployed and, according to a Gallup Poll last year, 30 million more are underemployed. Poverty is pervasive among people of color, especially their children. More than a third (34 percent) of African American children and 29 percent of Latino children live below the poverty level. A report in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine in November, 2009 noted that nearly half of all children and 90 percent of black children will be on food stamps at some point during childhood. And yet we learn that 75 percent of top CEOs received raises in 2010. While middle and working class people are tightening their belts and being inexorably forced into poverty, (one in seven lives below the poverty level in the U.S.), we find that the compensation of the top 25 CEOs ranged from a low of $15,121,370 for David Cordani of Cigna to the “comfortable” $84,409,515 of Phillippe Dauman of Viacom. (USA Today, April 1, 2011:2B)
It would seem the economy is doing well—at least for some people.
On page 12C of the same paper sports aficionados can scan the salaries of all the teams and players in major league baseball. There are disparities there, too, though many people struggling with their rent or mortgage payments, food, fuel and health care bills probably would not commiserate with players on the “low end” of the scale, drawing in a paltry $414,000 annual salary. And who would begrudge Alex Rodriguez, of the New York Yankees his $32,000,000, or Vernon Wells of the Dodgers his $26 million? With average player compensation this year at $3.31 million, they won’t have to worry about cuts in Medicaid, Head Start, and food stamps.
Should we begrudge businessmen and athletes their salaries? The American Dream, based on the concept of a meritocracy, holds out the promise of wealth to anyone who works hard and plays by the rules. Tell that to the victims of Bernie Madoff, and the millions of children who were not lucky enough to be born to wealthy parents or win the genetic lottery as they struggle to survive. I ask you, how much is enough? Is any job worth that kind of money? What will be the effect of the recent budget deal on the lives of American children?
H. Roy Kaplan is Research Associate Professor in the Department of Africana Studies at the University of South Florida, and author of The Myth of Post-Racial America.
It is that time for the 2011 NCAA college basketball championship. The NCAA teams have been courageously whittled down to only 2. This month, those two will stand on the national stage while many of you will be celebrating by enjoying young athletes giving it their all for their school on the wood court. Did you know March Madness earnings were second to the earnings of the Super Bowl? While downing beers, sodas, pizza, and other Americana delectable treats while wearing some form of clothing symbolizing your loyalty to a particular college team; I am sure many of you are not cognizant that an atrocity is occurring right under your carbohydrate induced noises. This atrocity I have ideologically catalogued as prostitution and contemporary slavery. “Wow,” you may say. “Me, support prostitution?” Well that answer is best answered through a quick and critical analysis of the big money college sporting programs such as basketball and football.
Last week, the television show Frontline, on PBS, televised “Money and March Madness.” In addition, HBO televised Bryan Gumbel’s Real Sports. Gumbel presented an hour-long show dedicated to the college sports, money, the NCAA, bribes, and exploitation of players on March 30, 2011. Michael Lewis, the author of “The Blind Side” noted that college sports are not what the NCAA say they are. In an interview for Frontline, Lewis said, “College sports is professional in every aspect, but one. They don’t pay the labor. You got a labor force that is essentially indentured servants.” These students have the economic value, but can’t benefit from it due to a system that operates opposite of the free market. The current system does not allow students to make the money they are valued as players to the NCAA and their university of attendance. In the episode, Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls and former star player for the University of Florida describes the system as “exploitation.” An interesting and unknown fact is that these amateur athletes are required to sign their rights away before they can ever play a down, or run the courts to make a point. Part III of a NCAA 440-page manual states that as 17 and 18-year-old amateur athletes, they promise to give up their rights for compensation. They also give up the rights to the likeness as athletes. That means for your favorite player on NCAA basketball or football video game on your Sega or Play Station will never see one penny from the sale of these games. In fact the money you collectors use to purchase well-known game DVDs, and retired athletic apparel that is put out by the NCAA never goes to these players as well. You are padding the pockets of the NCAA.
The President of the NCAA, Mark Emmert, would agree that it is a fair exchange. He reported on Frontline
We provide [athletes] with remarkable opportunities to get an education at the finest universities on earth…to gain access to the best coaches and the best trainers to develop their skills and abilities. So if they have the potential, that small proportion to play in professional sports, we’re helping them to develop those skills and they can do it if they choose to…If they choose to not go on or don’t have the skills and abilities, they get to go on in life and be successful as a young man or young woman.
First, the scholarships that are offered are on average $3000 shy of paying for essential expenses. Next, for those who do have the potential to become professional athletes, their numbers are small. Approximately 1% of college athletes go on to be successful at the professional level. The remaining will have to reach the stars through other arenas. But this daunting pathway is usually paved with many sharp jagged stones and boulders. What do you expect when 16 of this year’s March Madness basketball teams have a track record of graduating half of their players. The Baylor University basketball team during the 2009-2010 academic year graduated 29% of their players. Their football team graduated less than half. The 2008 Georgia National football champions graduated 55% of their players while that year’s basketball team graduated 38%.
For the students that do graduate, such as the promising wide receiver from the University of Alabama, Tyrone Prothro who won an award from the 2006 ESPY ceremony, as well as the Pontiac Game Changing Award, and thought of as once a potential Heisman winner; his professional life now involves being a bank teller down the street from the stadium that he once played at in Alabama. Due to an injury in an Alabama vs. Florida game during his junior year, he never played again. On the other hand, many do not end up like Rigoberto Nuñez of the 1996 Final Four University of Massachusetts basketball team. After graduating, he has a successfully career in college admissions. He asserted on Real Sports that he is not the norm. In fact, many athletes are not so lucky. He even jokes with the term “college athlete.” Nuñez said, “You are not there to graduate. You’re there to stay eligible or take enough courses that will keep you on the court.” Chaz Ramsey, University of Auburn football player in 2007 reported to Real Sports that his coach was famous for saying that academics is number one (while holding up 2 fingers) and football is number two (while holding up one finger).
Many of these players who are injured later are dropped from the team and lose their scholarship. Some later drop out of school completely. Due to a 1973 ruling, college and universities cannot offer more than one-year scholarships at a time to any player. If a player gets hurt or does not produce the stats expected by coaches, they have the option to not offer additional scholarships. Simply put, these players are seen as unsalvageable and dispensable. To many economists, this transaction would be deemed as a compensation for specific skills. Therefore it is a professional job.
As Wu Tang put it in C.R.E.A.M, “cash moves everything around me, cream get the money, dolla dolla bill ya.” In 2009 the University of Texas football program earned $94 million. During the same year, 14 top executives of the NCAA earned $425,000. The top executive in charge of the Sugar Bowl made $645,386 in 2008. The 2008 Georgia bulldog football team earned 18 million. During Tyrone Prothro’s time at Alabama, the football program earned 125 million over a three-year period. The current coach of Kentucky basketball earns $4 million a year. The University of Kansas basketball coach, Bill Self makes 3 million. The predecessor of Mark Emmert earned 1.7 million. In a 14-year contract between the NCAA and CBS, Turner Broadcasting, to televise March Madness, the NCAA will earn 10.8 billion. This estimates to approximately 700 million a year. We cannot forget the millions and millions that come through endorsements to teams and coaches through companies such as Nike, Addidas, AT&T, and etc. The NCAA would note that the 90% they earn (ticket sales, media rights, and etc.) as a non-profit organization goes to support the sports that do not earn the amounts basketball and football earn. An argument I find imprudent.
It is evident that the majority of players on college football and basketball are Black males. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida released its annual study, “Keeping Score When It Counts: Graduation Success and Academic Progress Rates for the 2011 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament Teams.” They noted that 91 percent of white and 59 percent of African-American men’s Division I basketball student-athletes graduated in 2010. Moreover, the gap between Black and White basketball players increased to 32 percentage points. In regards to football,
among the 70 bowl-bound teams this year, the [graduation rate] for African-American football student- athletes is 60 percent, up from 58 percent in 2009. The [graduation rate] for white football student athletes went from 77 percent last year to 80 percent this year. Overall, this reflects a 20 percentage point gap, which is up one percentage point from last year.
The exploitation of Black males is nothing new in this country. Not counting slavery, one could account for today’s Black males incarcerated. Angela Davis argues that the prison industrial complex pumps through the veins of capitalism. For example, the proliferation of the prison industrial complex is enmeshed with the U.S. economy and major companies in an effort to produce good for companies such as IBM, Texas Instruments, Microsoft, Boeing, Nordstrom (produces jeans called Prison Blues), Compaq, Motorola, Revlon, Chevron (prisoners enter data), Victoria Secrets, and TWA (telephone reservations). Prisoners work at a fraction of the pay that the general public would make. This from free labor of Black males is nothing new to this country. Pulitzer Prize recipient, Douglas Blackmon, unmasked the lie that many Americans walk around believing in regards to the end of the enslavement of Blacks within the United States.
Within his national bestseller, “Slavery by Another Name,” Blackmon exposes that Blacks, especially Black males, from the end of the Civil War until World War II were forced into involuntary slavery within states such as Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, through human labor trafficking for companies that dealt with pine tar, coal mines, road construction, timber mills, farm laborers, digging drainage ditches, These men were horribly abused physically and mentally. A narrative of a man who was forced into slavery said that he was whipped due to the fact that he did not know to ditch:
I was whipped because I did not know how to ditch—laid me down flat on my stomach, one man on my head and another man to hold my legs, and whipped me across my back, my cloths were on. I was whipped with a piece of stick about as big as a broom handle. I got 25 licks. I was whipped about every day.’
Others were sadistically flogged with leather straps dipped in syrup and sand, fists, and clubs. Men like him were initially jailed on trumped-up charges and kidnapped by local law enforcement. In order to pay off court cost or fines for these false charges, many were sold to rich land and business owners for as low as 25 dollars. Once bought, the men could not leave until the money owed the new master. This never occurred. All of this occurred under the proverbial noses of the federal and state bodies of government. The end was not insight until Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Due to the fact that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt that U.S. enemies within the World War II could exploit the status of Blacks as second-class citizens, he then called federal prosecutors and J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director, to mount an aggressive stance to eliminate the enslavement that was occurring.
Today’s high profile college sports are simply a continuation of the exploitation of Black males. The cycle of oppression continue to flourish and engulf us all. My goal of this was not to cause you to no longer love sports or cheer for those you admire. I simply want that the next time you think before you buying a Nike endorsed jersey or attend your next over priced college stadium sporting event, or take a bite from that fatty hotdog. Just recall that we as a society need to become more aware of the wealthy males we are helping as they continue to bleed out mostly poor and Black males. Ignorance is no longer an excuse in the oppression of the immobilized in the 21st century.
If you’re one of those people who are wondering why our so-called economic recovery is passing you by here’s why: Thanks to the devastating economic collapse that has plagued our nation for the last several years we know:
1. Wealth has, with the assistance of federal policies and tax breaks, flowed into the hands of the few to an unprecedented extent. The top decile of pre-tax income earning Americans accounts for 50 percent of the total income of U.S. families—the highest level since 1917, with the top 1 percent of wage earners controlling nearly a quarter of the nation’s total income.
2. Wealth disparities are falling disproportionately on people of color, especially their children. More than a third (34%) of African American and 29% of Latino children live below the poverty level in the U.S.
3. Nearly half of African Americans born into middle-class families have spiraled down into the bottom 20% of income distribution compared to 16% of white children.
4. Between 1984 and 2007 the wealth gap between blacks and whites increased four- fold. (Some sources here and here)
These facts not only reveal the increasing immiseration of people of color, but of working class and middle class whites. They are realizing the fallacy of the American Dream as they struggle to survive in the face of increasing costs for food and fuel and devaluation in personal property and assets.
People of color have long been on the short end, receiving far less compensation for wages and, as I have shown in my book, injuries awarded by judges and juries. The color of one’s skin not only affects employment, housing, educational, and health opportunities and outcomes, it follows some people to the grave. The question is “If you were queen or king for a day, which one of our social institutions would you try to reform and how would you do it?”
(Dr. H. Roy Kaplan is in the Department of Africana Studies, University of South Florida, and is author of The Myth of Post-Racial America: Searching for Equality in the Age of Materialism.