Municipal “Violations” as Racial and Class Injustice

Municipal violation you say? Such a lofty term, but to many it simply translates to a heedless financial hassle. Many of us have received parking and/or speeding tickets in our past. I myself have racked up my share as a lead-footed and non-paying-metered teen and college student.

Boring topic, right? But when one begins to peel the layers back, they encounter a metaphoric fetid smell surrounding an intricate topic of injustice, judicial misappropriation, and economic subjugation concerning the poor. For many with the monetary means and legal resources, a hit to the bank account and possibly some time with your attorney is procurable. But for a certain segment of the U.S. population that continue to be overlooked (with the exception of amusing attempts during presidential elections) due to their economic status or racial makeup, these so-called small municipal violations can lead to dire financial and criminal consequences.

Case in point, the findings of the Department of Justice (DOJ) during the week of March 5th. They revealed that the city council of Ferguson, Missouri was successful at maximized their city fiscal revenue by urging the local police department to issue more tickets for minor offenses. With very little applicability toward the ultimate goal of ensuring public safety, Ferguson police not only habitually, but competitively amongst themselves conducted traffic stops and issued citations. The DOJ report went as far to state that,

“‘Issuing three or four charges in one stop is not uncommon. Officers sometimes write six, eight, or, in at least one instance, fourteen citations for a single encounter.”

The moral and legal corruption did not stop with the police department and city council. The DOJ described how municipal court judges are influenced by their appointed city council members to generate revenue from the bench as well. In fact, their job performance is partly based on their abilities to financial generation proceeds to the city’s coffers.

An internal report in 2011 noted that regardless of municipal judge Ronald Brockmeyer’s failure to perform justly (i.e., not listening to testimony, reviewing relevant reports/criminal records of defendants, or allowing relevant witnesses appear for testimony before issuing a verdict), a requested reappointment was denied due to his illustrated previous ability to contribute to the city revenue from the bench. Further, the report stated:

“…it goes without saying the City cannot afford to lose any efficiency in our Courts, nor experience any decrease in our Fines and Forfeitures.”

The impact of said findings are even more pronounced when accounting for population trends. In 2013, Ferguson, a city with a population of 21,135 citizens issued approximately 32,975 arrests warrants. These warrants were issued for people mostly accused of non-violent driving violations, parking tickets, and housing code intrusions. In 2012, the city of collected 2.6 million dollars in municipal court fines and fees. Racially, statistics indicate that Blacks are disproportionately affected. Respectively, it has been shown that 86 percent and 12.7 percent of Black and White motorist were stopped. This is astounding when one recognizes that the population of Blacks and Whites are 67 and 29 percent respectively. In addition, In regard to traffic stops, Blacks citizens are stopped, searched, and arrested approximately two times more than their White counterparts.

Since there are no public defenders assigned to municipal courts, many of the 22 percent living below the poverty line who may have been on the wrong side of luck and consequentially arrested for frivolous traffic accounts, do not have access to free, and definitely not paid legal representation. Due to their inability to pay court fines, many defendants perform the “Curly Shuffle” and avoid court. Even if they did happen to appear, employees of the court have reported that hearings have a likelihood of beginning 30 minutes before their designated time. Doors are often locked at least 5 minutes before the official time began. This sort of court supervised shell game leads to additional charges mounting for those appearing before the court.

But do not worry; there is help. But this type of assistance comes with an unadorned high price. But this is not uncommon in our nation. As always, there are parasites falsely disguised as saviors who prey on the weak and suffering. Unscrupulous companies such as Judicial Correction Services (JCS) and Sentinel Offenders Services are blindly used by the judicial system to subjugate countless people living in poverty. If you are unfamiliar with the scheme, here is how it goes:

Let’s say you received a speeding ticket in Alabama for driving less than 25 miles over the posted limit. The actual fee and cost of the ticket is 20 and 162 dollars respectively. This brings you to a whopping total of 182 “American dollars (insert verbal emphasis).” But do not forget you are working two part-time jobs and attempting to provide for your family alone. It is hard enough simply keeping the lights on and some food in your baby’s belly. You try, but ultimately you cannot pay the total cost of fines and cost of the speeding violation.

The city in which you live then puts you on “pay-only” probation. The state of probation is not to ensure that you are avoiding the bad elements of street or drug life. It is merely a form of probation that is in place to make sure the state collects that cash money (ex. Any fines, fees and associated court costs). But in order for this to occur, you must first pay a fee of 10 dollars to be enrolled in the probation (set up fee). Once enrolled, your new monthly obligation is to visit (regardless of your employment obligations) your local JCS to pay 140 dollars. The problem is, a place such as JCS pockets 40 dollars. But you find yourself now falling behind on your payments. Additional fees are accrued alongside your standing debt. All of which prolongs your involvement in the court system. This is how these for-profit companies get their take. Slowly but surely, you find yourself sinking more and more into that all too familiar financial pit of misery. A bothersome, but easily dealt with obligation for the financially able, is a heavy yoke not easily removed from the neck of the poor.

In response to such practices, advocacy and social justice groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) have begun to fight for the marginalized. On behalf of Roxanne Reynolds, a federal lawsuit was filed on March 12, 2015 accusing JCS of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act due to their effort to extort funds from economically poor citizens of Alabama who fell behind on their payment plan. To coerce people, JCS used the threat of jail (debtors’ prison) to force people to continue with their payments. Attorney for SPLC stated that through court manipulation, places such as JCS have created a “two-tiered system of justice.” One tier houses those who can afford to pay and quickly settle all financial obligations. The other is occupied with those without the means who get entombed for months and possibly years in their system. ” In regards to Mrs. Reynolds, SPLC stated:

Reynolds earned very little on an assembly line making automobile parts. Plus, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and had to miss three months of work. When she fell behind on her payments, a JCS employee threatened her with jail. She did everything she could to pay. She ignored her mounting medical and utility bills. Once, she barely ate for a week. She was terrified about what would happen to her health in jail…Last year, Reynolds was finally able to pay off her debt – after 15 months and a four-day stint in jail.

Similar lawsuits have been filed throughout Alabama and Georgia. In Georgia for example, companies such as Sentinel Offender Services were extending “pay only” probation periods when citizens were unable to pay their costs. Further, in Sentinel Offender Services, LLC., v. Glover et al, (S14A1033 and S14X1036 et al., 2012, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously ruled that municipal courts cannot “legally lengthen a person’s misdemeanor sentence beyond what was originally ordered by the sentencing court.” In fact, the Court declared that probation companies do not have the authority to “put fee collections on hold–a practice called tolling–or extend a probation sentence.” There is a maximum sentence of twelve months for a misdemeanor conviction.

Now that I am thinking, this practice seems very familiar. Oh yes, white America has a funny way of revising its racial practices of oppression to fit with the times. If we look back throughout the American history books, one would stumble upon a period from the end of the Civil War until World War II were Blacks, especially Black males were forced into a state of compulsory slavery in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia. In the eyes of Pulitzer Prize recipient Douglas Blackmon, these poor Blacks were seen to be involved in the practice of human labor trafficking. They were essentially sold to White owners of labor farms, timber mills, pine tar companies, and coal and road construction operations. These men were often physically and emotionally abused. Before being imprisoned, these men were initially jailed on trumped-up charges by paid off law enforcement officials (on the take of wealthy owners and compensated for their collection of Blacks). Once appearing before court, these kidnapped men were ordered to pay overpriced court costs or fines that resulted from their false charges. If they we unable to pay in court, local law officials gave them to rich land and business owners for as low as 25 dollars. Once the men were traded, they were told that they could not leave their employer until their debt was paid in full. Of course, this almost never occurred. Not only state, but also federal bodies of government knew of this practice. This custom continued in some form or fashion until the 1960s (Counter to Blackmon’s claim that it ended after WWII).

History does truly repeat itself. Again and Again, and . . . . . .

Equality for None: Public School Education Finance

I challenge you all today to venture toward new discoveries as you ride, walk, cycle, or brazenly skateboard to a few public schools within your community. Beyond the overwhelmingly barren architecture most buildings display to the public, most would assume there is nothing visually odd about the settings. But the figurative blood that runs through the bodies differs. Some are on the verge of going into shock, while others possess platelet-rich plasma and function quite well.

Few of you would imagine that their lies a level of social and economic inequality that has garnished little outcry from the media, governmental entities, and public. Indeed, this pursuit of true social and economic justice has gained few attendants. The inequality that I speak of is disguised within complicated fiscal formulas and legislation few could comprehend without finding themselves in need of an anti-depressive. Through these means, existing public school education finance apportionment systems have allowed for the existence of legal systems of oppression that target racially marginalized populations. This is explicitly clear when observing the effects of public school apportionment systems on Black students.

During the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education Tokepa (1954), Chief Justice Earl Warren once argued that:

Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education in our democratic society. It is required for the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today, it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

What his statement forgets to mention, notwithstanding the final decision of the courts, principles for educational rights are in fact limited. Many are actually unaware that the decision of Brown has never been interpreted as embracing protections regarding educational funding inequalities. This overlooked detail has historically had an adverse effect upon Black students since the 20th century. Currently, the effects have become direr.

But what else would one expect within a country that is founded on racial injustice and isolation. I am not alone, for the works of prominent legal and race scholars, such as Derrick Bell, Joe Feagin, and Albert Memmi mirror my argument. All mentioned would maintain that the overall stance of the Brown, “equality for all,” is impossible to achieve. Why? One must realize that all U.S. institutions are profoundly designed to only benefit the White majority. Consequently, they majority simultaneously deny opportunities and economic power to racially marginalized populations occupying “so-called” inferior positions upon the White fashioned racial hierarchy. “What did you say? What about all of the legislation that history has shown that was created by Whites for the benefit of Blacks?” People such as Derrick Bell would argue that a majority of White initiatives that seek to address racial justice are only brought forward if said action serves the economic and social interests of Whites. In regard to the argument, it is important to remember that in order to protect White interests, the barring of groups such as Blacks through the means of systemic oppression is compulsory. Within this country, oppression is preserved through U.S. constitutional protections and laws. This is indeed mirrored within the public school financial apportionment structures.

In order to understand this injustice, it is important to know that all U.S. states’ legislatures authorize and control public education. Under state funding formulas (which vary), states deliver predetermined funds to schools. Through state formulas and schemes, they determine the level of financial need regarding the maintenance of individual elementary and secondary schools. In addition to the menial contribution from the federal government, schools rely heavily on state and local revenues. All states have provided 17% and 50% to public schools since the 1930s. Therefore, the majority of funds are derived from local contributions. These local contributions are determined by local property taxes formulas. Further, the establishment of utilizing local property taxation by the state voters is as old as the common school movement.

This reliance upon property taxes has historically handicapped Black communities. But with the occurrence of white flight in the 1960s (due to school busing initiatives and the push for integration), Black students began to feel upon their proverbial little chins the snapping of a one-two punch combination. Racial isolation and the economic hardship of the poor within urban settings consequently lowered property value. As urban settings became less populated with Whites and middle class Blacks, community urban education settings began to house predominately Black and Brown students. These schools began to show a heavy reliance upon federal and state allocations in order to fill the missing property tax gap. Today, the country has shown a decline in spending dedicated to public education. This has also trickled down and affected special education students as well. Some states (Iowa and Kansas) have even gone as far to seek federal and state permission (waivers) to cut special education funding from their state budgets. These cuts drastically affect Black students disproportionately. Specifically, in comparisons to White students, Blacks are the overwhelming population in segregated special education classrooms.

Today within the 21st century, Whites strive to rid themselves of sharing school monies with people of color. This is illustrated by the actions of wealthy Whites in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana. They currently seek to succeed from attending schools with their poor Black neighbors (four out of five live in poverty). They have stated that they seek to create a separate school district that will be funded by their own, unshared wealthy property taxes. This is also seen within states such as Texas, Alabama, and Georgia. Once again, this is nothing new for America. After the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, White upper class southerners abandoned their public schools and established private white schools. In the north, racially like-minded parents followed suit and did the same. This is an illustration of an old game upon a new playing field.

Specific examples of inequality can be collected though the National Center for Education Statistics. Through these means, one can find countless examples of blatant financial and racial inequality. For example, in Illinois, wealthier school districts on average receive as much as three times the revenue for per-pupil expenses than poor school districts. In 2013, school districts such as Rondout Elementary District 72 and East Aurora Unit District 131 have a property tax collection level of $30,381 and $2,816 per student respectively. Mostly White school districts such as Glencoe, Skokie, Glencoe and La Grange gain more local funds that that which is observed within the almost all Black districts of W. Harvey-Dixmoor, Park Forest, and CCSD 168. This trend is observed with Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Further, the Texas Civil Rights Project in 2012 reported that inequitable funding was actually endorsed by the Austin Independent School District (AISD). The report stated, “AISD allows and supports the private subsidization of higher-income (or “higher-equity”) schools, sometimes by as much as $1,000/student more than the amount of funds that support students in lower-income (or “lower-equity”) schools.”

If one believes in Derrick Bell’s argument, in order for change to occur, a proposed change to the manner schools are financed must be arranged in a way that illustrates a threat of some sort to White interests due to the increasing international complex and competing world economy. Maybe. Maybe we all should just stand up and challenge the machine and seek justice for all our children.

The Race of Birth: Systemic Racism Again?

The other day I was reading and came across this:

Prior to 1989, the race on a newborn’s birth certificate was determined by the race of the parents. An infant with one White parent was assigned the race of the non-White parent. If neither parent was White, the child was assigned the race of the father. Since 1989, the race of the mother has been indicated as the child’s race on the birth certificate.[Note 1 below]

Of course being the mother of a multiracial Asian child, my curiosity was massively peaked. I didn’t remember identifying my son’s race/ethnicity after he was born. Did nurses mark it for us? What did they put considering both my husband and I are multiracial Asian too? I rushed to find my son’s birth certificate. No race listed. End of story? Of course not.

A birth certificate is a vital record documenting the birth of a child. In the U.S., State laws require birth certificates to be completed for all births, and Federal law mandates national collection and publication of births and other vital statistics data.The data is managed by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What I pulled from my files was a Short Form Birth Certificate, an unofficial document containing very little information. The short form does not list race. It merely certifies that an actual official birth certificate exists somewhere else. A Long Form or Certified Birth Certificate is the official document; a duplicate of the hospital birth record that is prepared when a child is born. The long form certificate does list race.

The manner in which birth race is recorded has changed over time. The most recent 2003 revision included the important update of allowing multiple-race selection. As far as I can tell a “multiracial” option has not yet been added (as it was to the 2010 Census).

And here’s where it gets complicated.

First, although the NCHS has expanded its race/ethnicity codes extensively and allows multiple-box-checking, doing so has created a statistical dilemma. How does the system compile answers when some people check 1 box and others check 2, 3, or more? I poured over many online documents (including those posted on the NCHS website) and found myself drowning in confusion. I am certainly open to being corrected on this point if someone else can figure what in the world the NCHS is talking about – but it appears that complex algorithims are used to bridge multiple-race responses into one single response, a single race response. What??

Second, despite collecting race information on both parents, birth data is still reported, in most cases, by the race of the mother.

Third, states have been slow to adopt the newest certificate form. As of 2007, 26 jurisdictions had not yet implemented it.

The last explains many online birth certificate discussions between confused mothers of mixed race babies:

Carmen: “When my daughter was born the hospital put black on all of her documents (immunizations etc). I am black and my hubby is white, I thought it was a little weird that they should ignore the fact that my child is bi-racial. The nurses told me, (a little condescendingly mind you) that ALL government doc default to the race of the birth mother. So I had a question for the white mothers with bi-racial children with black fathers, did they put white on your child’s documents? Or was this some backwards thing they do just to black mothers?” –Circle of Moms (2010)

Ultimately this all gets pretty sticky when we consider birth certificate data has played a long-standing role in public health planning, action and funding. Leaving me, as always, with more questions than answers. How does the inaccuracy of recording mixed race impact the lives and representation of multiracial people? And how do us parents experience this inaccuracy as we are asked again and again to identify our multiracial children?

See my blog here.

1. Tashiro, Cathy J. “Mixed but Not Matched: Multiracial People and the Organization of Health Knowledge”. The Sum of Our Parts. Ed. Teresa Williams-León and Cynthia L. Nakashima. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001. 173-182. Print.

The Sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation

This is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s signing, on January 1, 1863, the famous Emancipation Proclamation. The mainstream media have over the last few days recognized this date and commented on it, usually too briefly.

In the New York Times, scholar Eric Foner has an interesting commentary on this proclamation. Foner summarizes succinctly what many scholars have long documented and discussed:

Contrary to legend, Lincoln did not free the nearly four million slaves with a stroke of his pen. It had no bearing on slaves in the four border states, since they were not in rebellion…. [and exempted] parts of the Confederacy occupied by the Union. All told, it left perhaps 750,000 slaves in bondage. But the remaining 3.1 million, it declared, “are, and henceforward shall be free.” The proclamation did not end slavery in the United States on the day it was issued.

Lincoln also made clear in the proclamation that military necessity justified the proclamation, which got more emphasis than the moral justification.

Foner also points out that during the Civil War’s first couple of years Lincoln persisted in his dislike of slavery, but his view was that the (white) country could not handle thousands of free African Americans, so he

devoted considerable energy to a plan for ending slavery inherited from prewar years. Emancipation would be undertaken by state governments, with national financing. It would be gradual, owners would receive monetary compensation and emancipated slaves would be encouraged to find a homeland outside the United States — this last idea known as “colonization.”

Lincoln was voted a few years, by historians, as the number one U.S. president of all time. Presumably this is because he presided over the country during the difficult Civil War, and much action he took, such as the Emancipation Proclamation and belatedly accepting Blacks as Union soldiers, during that era deservedly gets this high level of praise.

Yet, few of the current discussions of Lincoln-–in this hagiographic mood the country is in–seriously focus on Lincoln’s extensive racist framing of U.S. society and what that has meant, then as now. Most historians dealing with Lincoln now touch on his racism, but only a few like Lerone Bennett, Jr., in his much debated but pathbreaking Forced into Glory, get to the heart of the matter. Even left historians seem to lack the conceptual tools to make sense out of Lincoln’s deep racism. Their discussion usually focuses on just a few of Lincoln’s views and actions, with an argument he got less racist over time–and not centrally on the much bigger picture of racial oppression being the foundation of the nation, then as now, and on the white racial frame that was essential to rationalizing that foundation, then as now. And not centrally on how the war and Lincoln, and the war’s aftermath, were shaped by and shaped that systemic racism and its rationalizing frame. And what it meant that Lincoln stayed racist in his views to the end.

Lincoln was a willing servant of that foundational racism. Several years before he became president, in his famous debate with Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln demonstrated that he operated out of a strong version of the white racist frame. For example, he argued in that debate that the physical difference between the “races” was insuperable:

I am not nor ever have been in favor of the social and political equality of the white and black races: that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters of the free negroes, or jurors, or qualifying them to hold office or having them to marry with white people…. I as much as any other man am in favor of the superior position being assigned to the white man.

Soon to be called the “Great Emancipator” because of his Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln had made his white supremacist views clear, and his racist framing would later be cited by southern officials many times, including in their 1960s struggle to protect Jim Crow segregation against civil rights demonstrators. They are still quoted by whites, especially in supremacist groups, today. One reason is clear: They reflect in some ways a deeply held white racist framing of African Americans as inferior to whites that is still all too commonplace.

At the time of the Civil War, a majority of whites, like Lincoln, in most northern areas held to a white-nationalist view of this country. African Americans were routinely seen as aliens. Across the country, in all regions, the overwhelming majority of whites held an image of this relatively new nation as ideally a “white republic.” Lincoln and other whites unsympathetic to the spread of slavery also saw the nation as fundamentally white.

Early on as president, Lincoln was willing to support a constitutional amendment (the first 13th amendment, which is ignored in the recent Lincoln movie) making slavery permanent in the existing southern states if that would prevent a civil war. Some members of the Republican Party talked with representatives of the southern planters and proposed a thirteenth amendment to the Constitution that would guarantee slavery in the South. Lincoln was willing to accept this. However, the southern slaveholding oligarchy rejected this compromise proposal, apparently because they thought they could win a war.

December 18, 1865 is arguably the date of the real birth of a United States committed substantially, if still rhetorically and haltingly, to expanding human liberty. That was the day that the actual Thirteenth Amendment freeing all enslaved Americans was finally ratified. This legal action would not likely have taken place without the active resistance to oppression by African Americans, who thereby played a central role in bringing their own liberation. At base, it was not Abraham Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation that did the most to bring an end to slavery in these late years of the Civil War, but rather the active efforts of those who had been enslaved.

The African American soldiers and support troops in Civil War somehow get left out in most of the public discussions of US history, and in too many accounts of contributions as well. As a result of successful recruiting by the outspoken Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, and other black (and some white) abolitionist leaders, during the last years of the Civil War several hundred thousand African Americans (men and women), many formerly enslaved, served as Union soldiers and support troops. Without them the war might have ended in a draw or worse. Lincoln was having trouble getting enough white men to right for the Union.

Like the black abolitionists, most of these Union soldiers and support troops undoubtedly held some version of a black liberty and justice counter-frame to the dominant white-racist frame in their minds. For example, the formerly enslaved John Washington, who ran away and became part of the Union Army’s support troops, described his new situation thus:

Before morning I had began to feel like I had truly escaped from the hands of the slaves master and with the help of God, I never would be a slave no more. I felt for the first time in my life that I could now claim every cent that I should work for as my own. I began now to feel that life had a new joy awaiting me. I might now go and come when I please This was the first night of freedom.

Another formerly enslaved member of Union support troops put it this way:

The next morning I was up early and took a look at the rebels country with a thankful heart to think I had made my escape with safety after such a long struggle; and had obtained that freedom which I desired so long. I now dreaded the gun, and handcuffs and pistols no more.

For formerly enslaved men and women, liberty and justice were much more than rhetorical abstractions. Their sacrifices on Civil War battlefields and behind the lines helped not only to free those enslaved, but also to put the United States on track to become a freer country.

Thus, this is also a day to remember and give thanks for the circa 500,000 African American soldiers and support troops, many formerly enslaved, volunteered for the Union Army at its low point. We should also remember the great “strike” of black labor against the treasonous Confederate slaveholders and other farmers–the thousands of black laborers who fled slavery to the North or sabotaged the slave plantation economy during the war.

Even President Lincoln belatedly admitted the Union forces would have had trouble winning indeed without the black volunteers for the Union cause. That is, in a very real sense, “the former slaves freed the slaves.”

Significantly for the country’s future, the antislavery white legislators who composed and fought for the Thirteenth Amendment in the U.S. Congress understood it to mandate an end not only to slavery but also to the “badges and incidents” of slavery. (“Badges” referred to indicators of racial rank, while “incidents” referred to heavy burdens accompanying enslavement.) Senator Lyman Trumbull, an Illinois Republican, introduced the Thirteenth Amendment in the U.S. Senate in 1864. Two years later, when he and his colleagues sought passage of a comprehensive 1866 Civil Rights Act to eradicate those “badges and incidents” of slavery, Trumbull aggressively defended the view that this Thirteenth Amendment gave Congress the authority to

destroy all these discriminations in civil rights against the black man, and if we cannot, our constitutional amendment amounts to nothing. It was for that purpose that the second clause of that amendment was adopted, which says that Congress shall have authority, by appropriate legislation, to carry into effect the article prohibiting slavery. (This was, interestingly, quoted in the important 1968 Supreme Court decision, Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., on racial discrimination in housing.)

That is, this white “Radical Republican” was thinking in systemic terms, and breaking to a significant degree with the white racist framing of Lincoln and others of his day.

Today, the final Thirteenth Amendment, as well as the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, should still be read as exerting significant pressure for the eradication of the many vestiges of slavery that appear in the guise of contemporary racial discrimination that is still at the heart of our systemic racism. We have in 2013 not yet ended the still widespread “discrimination in civil rights” against African Americans and other Americans of color.

Little Known Executive Order on Diversity & Inclusion: Obama’s Pragmatic Progressivism

Executive Order 13583 issued by President Obama in 2011 is perhaps one of the least-discussed and little known executive orders, despite its significant contribution to diversity and inclusion in the federal government. Lyndon Johnson’s Executive Order 11246 issued in 1965 was undoubtedly the watershed presidential Executive Order in the field of Affirmative Action for federal contractors. Now, nearly a half century later, President Obama’s Executive Order 13583 breaks new ground by setting the stage for progress in the field of diversity and inclusion in governmental agencies.

This forward-looking Executive Order directs executive departments and agencies of the federal government “to develop and implement a more comprehensive, integrated, and strategic focus on diversity and inclusion as a key component of their human resource strategies.” The alliance of HR strategies with diversity and inclusion is specifically designed to create “high-performing organizations for the 21st century” — workplaces that attract, develop, and retain diverse and talented employees.

The government-wide Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan issued following the Executive Order in 2011 articulates the business imperative for inclusion and has three specific goals:

1. Workforce Diversity. Recruit from a diverse, qualified group of potential applicants to secure a high-performing workforce drawn from all segments of American society.
2. Workplace Inclusion. Cultivate a culture that encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness to enable individuals to contribute to their full potential and further retention.
3. Sustainability. Develop structures and strategies to equip leaders with the ability to manage diversity, be accountable, measure results, refine approaches on the basis of such data, and institutionalize a culture of inclusion.

And the Executive Order called for federal agencies to develop a Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan within a 120-day time-frame that addresses recruiting, hiring, training, developing, promoting, and retaining a diverse workforce. Veronica Villalobos, the Office of Personnel Management’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, is responsible for designing and developing strategies to promote a diverse federal workforce. As a model for organizations seeking to implement more diverse workplace practices, the governmental plan articulates clear strategies, actions, and accountability structures that promote the attainment of inclusion.

Stemming the Tide: Underrepresented Faculty Turnover

For roughly the past two decades, the percentage of African American faculty holding full-time faculty positions has hovered persistently between 5 and 6 percent. Taking into account the number of these faculty that teach at historically black colleges and universities, this percentage falls to just four percent, according to a 2008-2009 report in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (JBHE). And a 2007 JBHE survey of 26 high-ranking institutions finds that the representation of black faculty at our most prestigious universities ranged from only 1.4 percent to 6.8 percent with Emory University, Columbia University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill leading the way.

What are the factors that have caused this flatline? We know with certainty that the most significant barriers are the hiring process, the tenure process, and attrition through the revolving door. None of these barriers are inconsequential. First, the hiring process. In the current polarized climate within the United States, we have seen considerable backlash against affirmative action and the rise of claims of reverse discrimination. In an allegedly post-racial society, recognition of the existence of discrimination has eroded. In fact, as Girardeau Spann points out, “the Obama presidency has served to embolden those who wish to deny claims of current racial injustice.” Hiring committees still ask about quotas, interpret affirmative action to mean hiring “less qualified” minorities, and refer to the lack of diversity in candidate pools as the reason for not selecting minority candidates. Minority candidates face additional hurdles in conforming to the dominant culture and norms of the hiring department and in overcoming the similarity-attraction paradigm that can persist in the hiring process.

Once hired, the perils of the tenure journey are comparable to the twists and turns of whitewater rafting, since structural, behavioral, and cultural factors that affect the decision-making process coalesce in a single administrative action that impacts a faculty member’s career trajectory. As Alvin Evans and I note in our book, Are the Walls Really Down? Behavioral and Organizational Barriers to Faculty and Staff Diversity (2007), the cultural environment of the academic department determines how underrepresented faculty are welcomed and supported, how power is shared, and how conflicts are resolved. Department chairs play a key role in influencing organizational outcomes and tenure committees may often be made up of predominantly male, majority group members. Lack of sponsorship, differential standards, and stereotypes can influence the faculty evaluation process.

And the third barrier–the revolving door– has been well documented, as in the landmark study of 28 colleges in California conducted by Moreno, Smith, Clayton-Pedersen, and Teraguchi (2004) which found that 58 percent of all new underrepresented minority hires were replacing similar faculty who had left the institution. Stereotyping, isolation, and marginalization still can pervade the day-to-day experiences of diverse faculty on our campuses. Pearl Stewart’s article in the July issue of Diverse Magazine highlights a number of incidents of blatant racial intolerance affecting minority faculty members that have poisoned the collegial atmosphere of higher education.

What then can institutions of higher education do to promote a more welcoming and inclusive climate for minority faculty and create a sustainable talent proposition for higher education? In our recent book, Diverse Administrators in Peril: The New Indentured Class in Higher Education (2012) Alvin Evans and I highlight key components of building an architecture of inclusion that apply to both faculty and staff. These components include the design of formal processes to ensure equity and fairness, the creation of integrated conflict management systems, the preservation of due process and procedural rights, opportunities for coaching and mentoring, creation of institutional safety nets, support for professional development, and organization of support and affinity groups. We also emphasize the need for broader minority representation in leadership positions, since, for example, over 93 percent of Provost positions are held by majority group members.

The Initiative for Faculty Race and Diversity undertaken at MIT in 2010 under the leadership of then-president Susan Hockfield represents one of the most definitive efforts to address and ameliorate the experiences of minority faculty. The Initiative provides structural, mentoring, and climate recommendations as well a concrete plan for institutional implementation and assessment. As Susan Hockfield explains:

Creating a culture of inclusion is not an optional exercise; it is the indispensable precondition that enables us to capitalize on our diverse skills, perspectives and experiences, so that we can better advance the fundamental research and education mission…. A productively diverse community…will make us better at what we do: broader and deeper as thinkers; more effective as collaborators; more creative as teachers; and more understanding as colleagues and friends.

Voters of Color and Obama’s Future

Journalism professor and New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall has a perceptive overview of some racial politics issues in the current presidential campaign. He notes the 16 groups Obama’s campaign is now focusing on:

People of Faith; Veterans and Military Families; Rural Americans; Seniors; and Small Business Owners.

And then the ones in his base are the rest:

African Americans, Environmentalists, Latinos, Young Americans, LGBT Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, Educators, Jewish Americans, Nurses and Women. … Obama is actively courting all of these constituencies: ending the deportation of many young workers who are in the United States illegally; endorsing same-sex marriage; loosening work requirements for welfare recipients; pressing Congress to keep student loan rates low; rejecting the proposal to build the … Keystone pipeline from Canada to Texas; and promoting health-care reform….

He notes then that the problematical group is white men without college, and notes that Obama is doing commercials to appeal to these white men, many of whom have faced difficult unemployment conditions. But this is where his support is so low in the polls; he is getting only 28-29 percent of these white men without college degrees right now—the lowest percent ever in the modern era for the Democratic Party. In contrast,

Romney and the Republican Party must achieve the highest possible turnout level among whites. Republicans, including Romney, have adopted anti-immigration stands that have extinguished the possibility of boosting margins among Hispanics. … Demographic trends — the steady decline of the share of the population made up of non-college whites, from 86 percent in 1940 to 48 percent in 2007 – have made winning these voters by increasingly large margins crucial to the Republican Party….

Meanwhile, Obama is still getting strong support from his base, which includes growing numbers of voters of color.

The political “wisdom” of Democratic officials, including the Senator Obama, in running the 2008 campaign from a colorblind version of the old white racial frame–that is, ignoring issues of racism–could be seen in the significant proportion of white voters, some 43 percent, who voted for Obama in 2008. Without this significant minority of white voters, Obama would not have become president. The political “wisdom” of course contradicts a deeper morality of social justice, equality, and liberty, but then this country is not a just, equal, and free country. Even our best and most progressive politicians operate in the societal straightjacket imposed by our plutocratic and systemically racist political and economic institutions.

So, not surprisingly, in the 2008 election McCain did win 12 percent more of the white vote than Obama. CNN exit polls for 2008 revealed very significant variation in who voted for Senators Obama and McCain. Overall, whites made up about 75 percent of voters, compared to 12 percent who were black voters, 9 percent who were Latino voters, and the rest who were from other racial groups (mainly Asian). Yet only 43 percent of white voters went for Senator Obama, including just 41 percent of male voters and 46 percent of female voters. These percentages are significantly lower right now.

Perhaps the most dramatic aspect of the voting patterns revealed in 2008 exit polls concerned the fact that voters of color cast ballots in very large majorities for Senator Obama. Some 95 percent of black voters went for Obama, and so did 67 percent of Latino voters and 62 percent of Asian American voters. In addition, one evaluation of counties with numerous Native Americans in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado estimated that roughly 62 to 87 percent voted for Obama. Most of these voters were very aware of the pathbreaking character of having the first major party candidate of color running for the presidency, and their significant turnout for Obama was critical.

If the election had only been up to white voters in the pivotal states that Obama actually won –Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia—McCain would also have won these states, and thus the national election.

Voters of color were thus essential to Obama’s win in these states. Of course, the minority of white voters who did vote for Obama in these and other states were also important in the coalition that put him into office. Fortunately for Obama, a significant minority of whites did gravitate to the point of being willing, in the middle of a very severe economic recession, to vote for a black man, with many perhaps viewing him as an “exception to his race.

But will they do it again. In my view it is clear Obama’s chances again depend very heavily on voters of color.

Net Migration from Mexico: Now Zero or Less!

The Pew Hispanic Center has an eye-catching headline on a May 3 press release, which I have not seen much coverage of in the mass media: “Net Migration from Mexico Falls to Zero—and Perhaps Less.” The research account headed by a former student of mine (talented demographer Jeffrey Passel) at University of Texas begins with this:

The largest wave of immigration in history from a single country to the United States has come to a standstill. After four decades that brought 12 million current immigrants—most of whom came illegally—the net migration flow from Mexico to the United States has stopped and may have reversed, according to a new analysis of government data from both countries by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. The standstill appears to be the result of many factors, including the weakened U.S. job and housing construction markets, heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations, the growing dangers associated with illegal border crossings, the long-term decline in Mexico’s birth rates and broader economic conditions in Mexico.

Lots of interesting and revealing data in this report (pdf for researchers here), some of it countering much political conventional wisdom.

Do these data pose a problem for our many nativistic politicians and anti-Mexican-immigrant pundits, and their often racist arguments?

Red Tails (the movie) and Racism

The famous moviemaker, George Lucas, has reported he could not get mainstream Hollywood studios to provide funding for his new movie, just out this weekend, called Red Tails. It deals with the famous African American fighter pilots in World War II, who went up against not only the Axis powers but also white racism throughout the U.S. military.

On The Daily Show, Lucas said the reason the movie could not get outside funding (he funded it himself) was contemporary white racism:

“This has been held up for release . . . since it was shot, I’ve been trying to get released ever since . . . . It’s because it’s an all-black movie. There’s no major white roles in it at all . . . .I showed it to all of them and they said no. We don’t know how to market a movie like this.”

A major New York Times story on the movie starts this way:

This was a new feeling for George Lucas. He made a movie about a plucky band of freedom fighters who battle an evil empire — a movie loaded with special effects like no one had seen before. Then he showed it to executives from all the Hollywood studios. And every one of them said, “Nope.” One studio’s executives didn’t even show up for the screening. “Isn’t this their job?”

Significantly, the rest of this article seems much more interested in Lucas, his older movies and lifestyle, and does not give us much more information on the funding racism, or indeed on the Tuskegee airmen themselves.

The movie features African American actors Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Terrence Howard, and is directed by African American director, Anthony Hemingway, something very rare for these blockbuster movies. Significantly, the movie is extremely rare in not having a central white figure who is key or saves the day, called the “white savior” phenomenon by scholars like Hernan Vera and Andrew Gordon.

One news report at HuffingtonPost also noted that Lucas was afraid that if the movie did not do well, then it would affect other movies centered on black issues with numerous central black actors:

I realize that by accident I’ve now put the black film community at risk [ … $58 million budget far exceeds typical all-black productions]. . . . I’m saying, if this doesn’t work, there’s a good chance you’ll stay where you are . . . . It’ll be harder for you guys to break out of that [lower-budget] mold.

Over at a new Tuskegee Airmen website, funded in part by a Lucas organization, we have this summary of who the “Tuskegee Airmen” were. They were

all who were involved in the so-called “Tuskegee Experience,” the Army Air Corps program to train African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.

And the website is set up for

Honoring the accomplishments and perpetuating the history of African-Americans who participated in air crew, ground crew and operations support training in the Army Air Corps during WWII.

It is getting mostly poor mainstream reviews, as one can see from its 33 percent rating of the mostly white movie critics at rottentomatoes:

Despite a worthy fact-based story and obvious good intentions, Red Tails suffers from one-dimensional characters, corny dialogue, and heaps of clichés.

Apparently (I have not seen it yet) it also suffers from not digging enough into the structural racism that kept virtually all African Americans in the service then (and for many years after) in subordinated jobs in the military. Few got even the opportunities of the Red Tails. (For another take on this, see here.)

Yet also on the rottentomatoes website, the movie gets an 81 percent rating from the viewing public so far–One of the most dramatic critic-viewers differences ever seen at that reviewing website. If you go to see the movie, let us know your reaction to it, and especially how it deals with white racism in the military and World War II era.

The Common Good and People of Color

In an upcoming chapter in Governing Washington: Politics and Government in the Evergreen State Luis R. Fraga and I examine the political incorporation of ethnic and racial communities by asking the question: Do ethnic and racial communities fit within the state’s general understanding of the common good and the public interest? This is important because the choices political leaders make regarding the state’s growing ethnic and racial diversity will have long-term consequences for how inclusive and responsive state government will be to all citizens and residents in the state of Washington. If Washington State serves as a model for the rest of the country, then political incorporation of people of color as the nation continues to get more diverse does not look good.

Like many states across the nation, the 2010 census reveals that during the last decade Washington State has experienced notable growth and profound shifts in its population. In 2000, it had a total population of 5,894,121; in 2010 its population rose to 6,724,540, a growth rate of 14.1 percent. It is estimated that 73% of all population growth in the state over the last decade was due to increases in its nonwhite population. Over the last ten years, Hispanics/Latinos increased by 37.8%, Whites increased by 27%, Asians by 18.8%, people of two or more races by 8.6%, African Americans by 5.4%, Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders by 1.9%, and American Indians/Alaska Natives by 0.4%. Whites were 78.9% of the state population in 2000, but by 2010 they had declined to now comprising under three-quarters of the population at 72.5%. How will this growing racial and ethnic diversity affect politics and policy-making? Will Latino, African American, Asian/Asian American, and Native American communities and their interests will be included within the state’s and in the larger country’s general understanding of the common good and the public interest?

In Protest is not Enough, Rufus Browning and his colleagues define political incorporation as “the extent to which group interests are effectively represented in policy making” (1984, 25). Looking at just a couple of measures such as political representation and material well-being through poverty measures and unemployment levels help us to answer the level of political incorporation of people of color in Washington. For example, ethnic and racial minority groups in Washington are not particularly well represented at any level of government. It was only in 2010 that the first Latina was elected to Congress. She is the only minority member of the state’s congressional delegation. There are two Asian Americans and one Latina serving in the state senate, comprising only 6% of the 49-member body. There are also only three Asian Americans, one Latina, one Latino, one African American, and one Native American serving in the 98-member state house of representatives. Together they comprise only 7% of all the members of the House, 27.5% of the population of the state is comprised of ethnic and racial minority communities.

Another way of gauging the political incorporation of communities of color is by examining levels of material well-being that, in part, result from the distribution of national- and state-level policy benefits. Overall, an estimated 15% of all people living in Washington live at or below the federally-established poverty level. Based on cross-group comparisons, Latinos have the highest poverty rates in the state; it is estimated that 30% of all Latinos live below the official poverty level. While 12% of Whites live at or below the poverty level, and over a quarter (27%) of African Americans live at or below the poverty level according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s March 2009 and 2010 Current Population Survey. Rates of unemployment by racial ethnic group statewide, demonstrate that both Latinos and African Americans have unemployment rates that are noticeably higher than that of their White counterparts. It is estimated that 9.2% of Latinos across the state are unemployed, whereas the figure for Whites out of work is 6.4%. African Americans have the highest estimated unemployment rate of any racial/ethnic group, registering 12.3%.

In sum, measures of policy benefits regarding poverty rates, and those who are unemployed reveal that Latinos and African Americans do considerably worse than Whites in the state of Washington. Undoubtedly, this pattern of systematic inequity in condition can be documented in virtually every state in the nation.

We are at a critical juncture to determine whether politics and policy-making processes have the capacity to effectively engage the growing ethnic and racial diversity in America. The choices made by the national and states political leaders will directly affect whether the country will incorporate communities of color. They will affect how well local communities of all classes, races, and backgrounds are empowered by the way they decide to adapt to demographic changes. Whatever path political leaders choose, the results of their decisions over the course of the next decade will be with us for generations and will impact how diverse communities are included in conceptions of the common good in America.