To be Effective, Apprenticeship Programs Must Address Systemic Racism

President Obama giving speech

Beginning with his January 2014 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama has repeatedly praised apprenticeships and vocational education when discussing the jobs crisis.  It is curious that the nation’s first black president is advocating for a policy that has been historically exclusive and harmful to African Americans.

In his autobiography, Malcolm X recounts telling his middle school English teacher of his aspirations to be a lawyer and the teacher advised him to instead become a carpenter. The astute Malcolm noted the stark contrast between the advice he received and theYoung Malcolm X overwhelmingly affirming advice he gave to less-promising white students. Malcolm X’s story is not an aberration, but rather reflects a general trend of structural and systemic discrimination that operates through vocational education programs, where African Americans were tracked into lower-paying jobs. It’s also true of apprenticeship programs.  The history of vocational education and apprenticeship programs is one that depends upon reifying and reinforcing class divisions along racial lines.  Intended to be ladders out of poverty, apprenticeship programs can, in reality, be problematic. Instead of offering equal opportunity to all who apply, apprenticeships are often awarded to relatives or friends who share the same racial background as the master technician. There is a lot of research that confirms this: white social networks often function to exclude African Americans from potential jobs.

Exclusive policies designed to maintain white male privilege remain a problem in American workplaces some fifty years after legislation barring racial discrimination in employment.  In many ways, typical apprenticeship programs are illustrations of Bonilla-Silva’s theory of colorblind racism.  While it a program may appear to be a colorblind program on the surface, it can also serve to reproduce the existing racial hierarchy by keeping white jobs white and excluding people-of-color from good jobs that pay a living wage. In fact, as this recent study finds the real problem is less overt discrimination and more a kind of hoarding. In other words, whites help other whites (exclusively) and thus hoard resources and opportunities while at the same time expressing colorblind ideology.  This is why apprenticeships must take systemic racism into account or risk reinforcing it.

If apprenticeship programs could be such a nefarious means of excluding women and minorities from high-skill jobs, why would President Obama pursue such policies?

TCOSTUE Cover Photo

There is substantial political pressure on the president to address the “jobs” situation in the U.S.  These proposed efforts by President Obama seek to address the problem of heightened unemployment rates in recent years, which has led some to speculate that a structural shift in the labor market has occurred.  Often the term “structural unemployment” is treated as synonymous with “skill mismatch”.  I co-authored a new book with Thomas Janoski and Christopher Oliver titled The Causes of Structural Unemployment: Four Factors That Keep People From the Jobs They Deserve.  Our book complicates this structural unemployment story by introducing three additional factors in the discussion of structural unemployment, but skill mismatch continues to be a factor.  The basic problem is not that the labor force is untrained, but that the labor force is trained in areas where there is not substantial economic need; on the other hand, the labor force lacks training in areas of great need.  So the skills possessed by laborers do not match the needs of the economy or the needs of employers.

We explore the responsibility of the employer, the employee, and the state in dealing with skill mismatch.  Solutions to the problem of skill mismatch often surround education reform.  We propose a change in the education system that is highly influenced by the German system, which generates skilled laborers at the age of 18 who are eligible for good jobs and are needed in their economy.  President Obama’s proposals, in some ways, fit with some of the educational reform recommendations we propose in our book.

The education reform we propose will allow students who may be less “college-oriented” at the age of 16 to pursue an alternate career path which involves hard skill training during the final two years of high school.  This training will position a young man or woman to be able to earn a good, living wage upon high school graduation.  While current high school graduates have no discernible skill set, these individuals will have specific marketable skills that meet the needs of the economy.

These policies, we argue, would promote job growth.  Additionally, the nature of manufacturing jobs is changing, and the training provided in the new educational system will empower workers with the skills needed to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.  This, in turn, would have a positive impact on the balance of trade, which has declined dramatically along with the shift from manufacturing to services in the U.S.  Service exports do provide a positive balance of trade, but they are not nearly enough to outweigh the cost of manufactured goods imports as shown in the graph below; the U.S. needs to do some manufacturing to bring that balance to a positive, which will ultimately reduce the national debt as well.

Balance of Trade

On an individual level, for those who may not be oriented toward college, they will graduate with much higher potential earnings than they currently have.  Additionally, these earnings could be used to help fund higher education endeavors in the future and minimize (to the extent possible) the amount of student loan debt required, should they decide to seek a new career path or additional training.  This type of retraining, some have argued, could be part of a “new career contract” in the future.  By providing a higher earnings potential for high school graduates and making higher education more financially feasible, our proposed education reform increases social mobility for many people of lower socioeconomic-statuses, and is intentionally designed in this way to be advantageous for economically disadvantaged African Americans, contrary to prior apprenticeship programs.

Apprenticeship programs could still be a valuable and useful tool, but President Obama must be mindful of the history, understand these past failures, and actively work to prevent similar outcomes.  A recent study has shown whites now believe anti-white bias to be a larger problem than anti-black bias. We also know that the majority of the American public has opposed the most popular race-based social policy (affirmative action).

This puts President Obama in a challenging political situation.  When viewing the outcomes of affirmative action, it is notable that diversity gains generally ceased during the 1980s, while Ronald Reagan’s administration dutifully weakened enforcement provisions of civil rights laws and lessened the funding for agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  For President Obama, these proposed apprenticeship programs are very promising, but in light of the history of these types of programs, significant oversight is necessary to prevent systemic racial bias.

~ This post was written by guest blogger David J. Luke, Department of Sociology, University of Kentucky.  An earlier version of this post originally appeared at the Work in Progress blog. 

Racial/Gender Homogeneity in Corporate Board Leadership

In response to criticism from two major shareholders about the lack of diversity in its board of directors, Apple Inc. recently added language to its governance charter committing to seek women and minorities for consideration. The board currently consists of seven white males under the age of 50 and one Asian American woman. In an industry known to be built on the need for innovation, the singular homogeneity of Apple’s board is surprising, although far from unusual.

Other Silicon Valley companies have faced similar questions about their male-dominated leadership including Facebook and Twitter who were criticized for not having female directors prior to their initial public offerings.

The biannual report of the Alliance for Board Diversity reveals that both women and minorities are underrepresented in Fortune 500 boardrooms. Only about 17 percent of the 5,488 board seats are held by women. And minority women comprise 3.2 percent of these positions, while minority men hold 10.1 percent. The report also notes that African Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, and Asian/Pacific Islanders have experienced losses or only small gains in corporate board representation in the past year.

In our new book, The New Talent Frontier: Integrating HR and Diversity Strategy in the Private and Public Sectors and Higher Education , Alvin Evans and I argue that talent is the primary strategic asset needed for organizational survival in a globally interconnected world. As a result, organizations need to optimize their talent resources by building synergy between HR and diversity programs. Maximizing organizational capability requires that organizations respect, nurture, and mobilize the contributions of a diverse and talented workforce.

In an article entitled, “Does a Lack of Diversity among Business Leaders Hinder Innovation?” Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall, and Laura Sherbin share the results of a survey conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation of 1800 men and women in white-collar professions that also included Fortune 500 executives. The authors found that due to homogeneity in the leadership ranks, the majority of companies fail to realize their full innovative potential. Fifty-six percent of the respondents indicated that leaders at their firms failed to find value in ideas that they have difficulty relating to or don’t see a need for. As a result, senior leaders lose revenue-generating opportunities when they do not create a “speak-up culture” in which employees can contribute innovative or out-of-the-box ideas. The findings appear to support a strong correlation between inclusive behaviors and acquired diversity.

As Joe Feagin eloquently observes in Racist America:

When Americans of color are oppressed in this country’s institutions, not only do they suffer greatly, but the white-controlled institutions and whites within them often suffer significantly if unknowingly. Excluding Americans of color has meant excluding much knowledge, creativity, and understanding from society generally. A society that ignores great stores of human knowledge and ability irresponsibly risks its future.

In this sense, the exclusion of minorities and women from the board rooms of American corporations indeed irresponsibly risks the future of American entrepreneurialism by overlooking the innovative contributions of diverse leadership.

Labor Day: Considering the Legacy of Stolen Labor

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:

(Graph from Demos – Stats from 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances)

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?

Not really.

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:

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.

(Source)

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 U.S. federal prison labor statistics are from Prison Policy (pulled from UNICOR Annual Reports):

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.

Does Cultural Diversity Promote Economic Growth?

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.

Increasing Racial Gaps in Wealth and Income: The Real U.S.

The organization United for a Fair Economy has a good website with data-filled reports on issues like the racial wealth divide in the U.S. Here are a few excerpts from their most recent report on the “state of the dream”:

The official unemployment rate is 15.8 percent among Blacks and 13 percent among Latinos as of December 2010. The White unemployment rate is 8.5 percent. Including discouraged and under-employed workers would push these unemployment numbers up significantly.

They add this:

With fewer assets to fall back on in hard times, Black and Latino families rely more heavily on unemployment insurance, Social Security and public assistance in times of need. For example, a new analysis shows that well over half of older Blacks (59.1 percent) and Latinos (64.8 percent) depend on Social Security for more than 80 percent of their family income, as compared to only 46 percent of Whites.

They have some data too on the reality of African Americans and Latinos working disproportionately in the government sector (historically one impact of Jim Crow segregation), one reason that blacks are more likely than whites to be in today’s unions:

. . . Blacks are 30 percent more likely than the overall workforce to work in public sector jobs as teachers, social workers, bus drivers, public health inspectors and other valuable roles, and they are 70 percent as likely to work for the federal government. Public sector jobs have also provided Black and Latino workers better opportunities for professional advancement.

They provide data showing how the Bush era tax cuts regularly favor whites, especially those with higher incomes. Recent taxation law too is very racialized in the U.S.:

… income tax extension heavily favors Whites, who are three times as likely as Blacks and 4.6 times as likely as Latinos to have annual incomes in excess of $250,000, according to original analysis in this report.

They also take political aim at the white leadership of the Republican Party, essentially now, as I have shown in here, the “white party” of the United States:

The Republican tax cut agenda rewards wealth for those who already have it, and limits opportunity for those who do not. . . . preferential treatment of capital gains and dividend income further exacerbates the racial wealth divide. . . . Blacks earn only 13 cents and Latinos earn eight cents for every dollar that Whites receive in dividend income. Similarly, Blacks have 12 cents and Latinos have 10 cents of unrealized capital gains for each dollar that Whites have.

There is much additional information on income, employment, and wealth inequality in this useful report (available free in pdf at their website). The current trends in income and wealth inequalities for racial groups in the United States are very disturbing for the future of a supposed “democracy”–and its unrealized ideals of liberty and justice for all.

In 2008, Institute for Policy Studies researcher, Dedrick Muhammad, summarized glaring U.S. racial inequalities in a report similarly titled–“The Unrealized American Dream.” He showed then that the income gap between black and white Americans was closing extraordinarily slowly, for at the rate of change then black Americans would only gain income equality with white Americans in about 537 years. The wealth gap between black and white Americans would take 634 years to close. After his analysis, from 2009 to 2010, the income gap actually increased a little. In addition, the wealth gap has increased significantly over recent years. (See reference and my further discussion in Chapter 9 of this book.)

US Workers Invented “May Day”

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.

Is the Bush Depression Killing the Black Middle Class?

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.

The Message of Occupy Wall Street: Return to Social Justice



“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.

Black Migration South: Economic, Racial, and Emotional Reasons



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.)

How Much is Enough?



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.