Local Rioters Speak of Crimes at the Top of British Society

Reuters had a very interesting set of comments on the racial and class riots in Britain, titled “Riots shake faith in UK austerity, stability.” The journalist quotes an establishment figure, Pepe Egger, an analyst of London’s consultancy called Exclusive Analysis:

I don’t think the implications of this have been fully thought through or accepted yet . . . . What we have here is the result of decades of growing divisions and marginalization, but austerity will almost certainly make it worse. Yes, the police can restore control with massive force but that is not sustainable either in the long term. You have to accept that this may happen again.

When even some in the elites can see that decades of great inequality can bring down Western political and economic systems, it really suggests to me just how far we are into the decline of Western nations and empires. The article then adds the views of the young people, most of them people of color presumably, in the streets. They add that the “division” involves real wealth inequality and racial prejudice:

Speaking to Reuters late on Tuesday, looters and other local people in east London pointed to the wealth gap as the underlying cause, also blaming what they saw as police prejudice and a host of recent scandals.

By scandals, they mean the massive financial scandals that have created near Depressions in Western countries. The article goes on to suggest for some British folks (maybe even Reuters journalists?) the scandals and crimes of the wealthy outshine what many see as the crimes in the streets from rioting. Fairly insightful for mainstream media? And very interesting that people in the streets are quite aware of the white collar crimes at the top of British society. Are folks in the US as savvy?

Targeting Latino Children is Not the Answer

A recent article published in the New York Times by Kirk Semple reports that federal officials have had to send a memo to various states and school districts informing them that asking for citizenship status before enrolling children is illegal. It seems not only are many school districts (139 in New York State alone) are asking for documentation of students, but certain states such as Oklahoma are considering state bills requiring it. This should not surprise us considering the fact that Congress could not pass the Dream Act, that we have witnessed record number of deportations in recent years which have separated families and placed children in the foster-care maze, and that states have passed discriminatory laws like Arizona’s SB1070. These examples all point to a dark shadow side of America, this land of immigrants.

Xenophobia is nothing new in America, especially during economic hard times. Politicians and other civic leaders historically have succeeded in redirecting the public’s attention to symbolic policy issues that target the most vulnerable, the voiceless, and those who are marginalized. To an American of Asian, African, Middle Eastern, Jewish, Irish, or Southern or Eastern European ancestry, this isn’t news. Immigrants from these groups know all too well what it is like to be needed for one’s labor, but despised for one’s presence. We’ve been down this road before. Recall the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907, halting new Japanese immigration in exchange for non-discrimination against those of Japanese descent already in the U.S., as examples of racist immigration practices in America’s past. Arizona’s SB1070 is not unique in our history. What is different now is that this treatment is now being directed to children too.

The current immigration debate focusing on Latinos is no different from our past. Whether one is a proponent of earned citizenship through some time of amnesty, tougher border enforcement either by building fences or militarizing the border, a proponent of another guest worker program, or is engaged in the on-going debate about whether immigrants cost or benefit society, Latinos in America are experiencing prejudice, discrimination, cruelty and mistreatment from this latest round of scapegoating. The bottom line is that the 50 million Latinos in this country—16.3 percent of the population according to a new Pew Hispanic Report, are not accepted or seen as real Americans, regardless of our legal or professional status as discussed in a forthcoming book on Latino professionals. The current debate on immigration underscores this fact.

People need to remember some fundamental American values, such as the Golden Rule and what it means to walk in the footsteps of another. If we can honestly put ourselves in immigrants shoes, we may see that most of us would make the same decisions that undocumented workers have made. Regardless of the law, we would make the sacrifices necessary to do the best we can for our families. For example, try to sincerely imagine living in an agricultural community that, since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, has suffered tremendous financial hardship. Local corn, grown there for generations, can no longer compete against the corn imports from the United States, which are heavily subsidized by the U.S. government. To clothe your children, your wife has taken to sewing their underwear out of old flour sacks. Your children lack shoes. Your family eats little protein, maybe once a week. Meals mostly consist of “chicken” soup, without the chicken — a watery broth of tortillas or rice and beans. The only hope seems to be to go work in the U.S. While it breaks your heart to leave your children behind, knowing your youngest may not even remember who you are upon your return and knowing your older ones need you to learn life’s lessons, you make the only rational decision a family-centered person can. You give up everything and join the countless numbers of people who have left their communities empty of working-aged men.

Not many of us could sit back and watch our children or elderly parents suffer hunger and destitution without doing something to ease their suffering and improve their lives. Missing from so much of the immigration debate is the humanity of the undocumented immigrants who are making sacrifices such as being separated from their children often for years, or being away and unable to return if a parent dies. These are sacrifices most of us cannot even imagine.

It is only through an understanding of the complex circumstances that lead people to migrate that we can create a much-needed constructive, humane, realistic, and just immigration policy. Blaming undocumented immigrants is not the answer. As Michele Wucker states in her book Lockout, “The population of immigrants who are in this country without legal papers did not grow to more than 10 million people without America’s full participation in the legal charade.”

Instead of focusing on the unjust immigration laws, politicians, political pundits, and anti-immigrant advocates have hypocritically taken the stance that undocumented workers are “lawbreakers” who need to learn to “follow the rules” and “do it the right way.”

They should take note that laws can be, and are often, wrong. When half the American population could not vote until 1920, were women wrong to demand the law changed?

Instead of hiding behind the façade of law, we should remember the humanity of undocumented immigrants. We all lose when we discriminate against one another. We are a better country than to require children to prove residency status in order for them to go to school. Targeting children is not the answer.

Racial Inequality and “Meritocracy”: A Closer Look

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting the nation’s only black four- star general , William E. Ward. His forty year career spanned work in the Middle East, Africa where he was the first head of the U.S. Africa Command, Deputy Commander of the European Command, a stint with the 82nd Airborne, action in Somalia and Bosnia and numerous other assignments. He is a charming, personable man who will be retiring this May. His successes over decades of service to this nation give credence to the belief that hard work can lead to good outcomes and triumph over racism.

I would not want readers to misconstrue the tenor of my previous blogs. I do believe in the virtue of industriousness and the rewards of hard work and individual initiative. I grew up in this society and learned these values as other kids do through our education system. While these virtues often help some people to achieve success and gain recognition, (they certainly help perpetuate the existing social system), they do not guarantee everyone equal outcomes. For example, today’s military is thought to offer people of color access to upward mobility, but African Americans are still underrepresented in the highest ranks. While blacks comprise about 17 percent of the military, they account for only 9 percent of the officers. Only 5.6 percent of the 923 general officers and admirals were black as of May, 2008. Just ten African American men have ever attained four-star rank, five in the Army, four in the Air Force, and one in the Navy.

The highest echelons of the private sector are even more segregated. As of February, 2010, there were only nine African-American CEOs in the Fortune 500. A Wall Street Journal analysisin 2008 found only a tenth of the CEOs of the largest corporations in the United States were racial and ethnic minorities, and their percentage on boards of directors was small and virtually unchanged since 2000. In fact, the percentage of companies in the Standard and Poor’s 500-stock index with no minority directors increased from 36 to 41 percent between 2000 and 2007. (Women don’t fare much better in this white man’s world, with only 25 heading Fortune 1,000 companies in 2007.)

Although over 600 cities today have African American mayors compared to virtually none in the ‘60s (clearly a sign of political progress and demographic trends in the nation’s metropolitan areas), there are no African American members in the U.S. Senate, one black governor (Deval Patrick of Massachusetts), and only two African Americans have ever served on the U.S. Supreme Court. But hope springs eternal—I never thought I’d see a man of color in the White House, or, for that matter, a person of color as the head of the Joints Chiefs of Staff or Secretary of State. (The latter under Republican conservative President George Bush.)

While remarkable changes have occurred in race relations in this country over the last several decades, giving some people of color access to better lives and others (whites included) hope in the future, the fact remains that disparities between whites and people of color exist in important areas:

1. In educational attainment, as measured by graduation rates and standardized test scores in math, reading and science, blacks and Latinos are 30 percent lower than whites, and a disproportionate number of children of color are suspended and expelled and relegated to special education programs.
2. In health, measured in longevity, black life expectancy is as much as eight years less than whites; infant and maternal mortality nearly double that of whites; and blacks and Latinos have lower rates of health insurance coverage than whites
3. In criminal justice, measured in the disproportionate number of people of color incarcerated and the disparities in sentences they receive compared to whites for the same or similar offenses.
4. The net worth of whites is eight to ten times more than blacks. Three times as many blacks as whites live below 125 percent of the poverty level, and black median household income is only 65 percent that of whites.

These disparities have not changed significantly in decades. The gap between whites and blacks and Latinos has even been widening since the onset of the Great Recession. Unemployment among African Americans has been twice as high as whites and 50 percent higher for Latinos than whites.

We are raised believing in the notion of a meritocracy—that one can become successful by embracing the concept. The assumption in this proposition is that of a level playing field where we all have equal opportunities to develop our abilities and potential. Conversely, if someone or group fails in the game of life in America, then that is because of some personal defect of character or even biology. We have seen this theme repeated in attempts of the wealthy and their apologists in the Academy to link intelligence to success and superior genetic endowment. It is a recurrent theme used to blame the victims of systemic, institutionalized racism, sexism, abelism, homophobia and all other forms of discrimination used to marginalize people who have been systematically prevented from participating fully in this society.

While it may be comforting and convenient to believe that only the most highly qualified people are recruited to occupy the upper echelons of the organizations which run our society (and indeed the world’s), it is far too simplistic to assume that the centuries of human pain, suffering and failure experienced by marginalized groups rests solely on their purported social, psychological and physiological imperfections. Certainly, marginalized people have made political and economic advances. They must continue to believe that there is hope for more, but we all must recognize the limitations imposed on people by institutions that are dominated by a white male minority who continue to resist significant changes in their use and abuse of power. I believe in this country and the concept of a meritocracy, but I am also aware of the balance of power and political realities that limit people who have not had the opportunities which prepared them to assume the roles of political and corporate leadership. By analyzing and exposing the weaknesses in our system, it is my hope that we will be able to fulfill the promise of “liberty and justice for all.”

For more information on these points see:
1. Joe R. Feagin, Racist America. Second edition. N.Y.: Routledge, 2010.

2. Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man. N.Y.: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996.

3. H. Roy Kaplan, The Myth of Post-Racial America. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Education, 2011.

4. Stephen J. McNamee and Robert K. Miller, Jr., The Meritocracy Myth. Second edition. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009.

H. Roy Kaplan, Ph.D.
Research Associate Professor, Department of Africana Studies, University of South Florida

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.

Intentional Impoverishment: Washington and the National Trend

What kind of community burdens the least advantaged? What kind of community makes those that are already suffering the most suffer more? The answer is one that is extremely shortsighted—one that neither focuses on justice nor on the next generation. According to a new report by the Washington Community Action Network called, “The Color of Cuts: The Disproportionate Impact of Budget Cuts on Communities of Color in Washington State”, the state of Washington, where one in five residents is a person of color and one in ten residents is an immigrant, is one of these communities. The report argues that state budget cuts will have a disproportionately negative affect on people of color in a state that already has significant racial disparities. Some of the indicators of current racial disparities highlighted in the report include the following:

According to the Education Trust and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), Washington State is ranked in the bottom-five of all states when it comes to closing the racial and ethnic achievement gap. At its current pace it will take 45 to 50 years to close the gap between students of color and their White counterparts.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in the fourth quarter of 2010 unemployment for Whites was 8.5 percent. This was considerably lower than unemployment rates among Latinos or African Americans, 12.9 percent and 15.8 percent respectively.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, African American men and women are much more likely to die of heart disease and stroke than their White counterparts. This is despite the existence of low-cost, highly effective preventive treatment.

According to Washington State’s Sentencing Guidelines Commission, youth of color comprise 45 percent of the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration population despite comprising only 27 percent of the state’s youth population.

According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, in the third quarter of 2010 the homeownership rate for African Americans was just 45 percent. The homeownership rate for Latinos was 47 percent, while the homeownership rate for Whites was 75 percent.

According to the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, people of color in Washington State are far more likely to be living in poverty than non-Hispanic Whites” (p. 4).

The Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs 2009 Assessment reported that median annual earnings in 2007 for Hispanics was $20,238 a year, for blacks it was $25,298 a year, and for whites was $32,482. These numbers are very similar to the figures put out by the Pew Hispanic Center for 2009. The Commission on Hispanic Affairs 2009 Assessment further indicated that 31% of Hispanic children under 17 years of age are living in poverty, 33% of black children are living in poverty, and 10% of white children are living in poverty.

Many people are hurting across the nation during these difficult economic times, especially people of color. Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that state legislators pursue a utilitarian approach to policy making. However, one has to wonder how much different our society would look if they pursued a more Rawlsian approach—one that replaced “the greatest good for the greatest number” conception with Rawls’ belief that “justice is the first virtue of social institutions”. The Rawlsian liberal egalitarian theory of justice sets forth the notion of a society that is established under the veil of ignorance and spelled out in a contract that is public and has clear limits and conditions. According to Rawls, justice would result from collective decision rules that rational people operating under a veil of ignorance would choose in formulating a contract system of government. Rawls believes that “each person in the original position should care about the well-being of some of those in the next generation.” According to Rawls, a just society must have equality of opportunity through perfect procedural justice. He provides an example of perfect procedural justice with in the situation of an individual dividing a cake and picking his piece last. For Rawls injustice is a state in which inequalities do not benefit everyone in society. This describes the budget in Washington state and probably many other states as well. Some of the programs that will be cut or eliminated include: a 300% increase in premiums for people in Apple Health for Kids, a 50% reduction in the State Food Assistance Program, a 1.5 million dollar cut in Refuge Employment Services, the consolidation of the various Ethnic Commissions, and the elimination of the New American Program. Unfortunately, until we can agree to “share one another’s fate” as Rawls would call us to do, people of color and the poor will feel the burdens of state cuts more than anyone else. The results of these cuts will be with us for generations.

Exposing the Real Guilty Party: School Funding and Racial Disparities

Progressive and mainstream media websites in the last few weeks have been abuzz with news of an African American mother in Ohio who was arrested, charged, sentenced to jail time and subject to a $30,500 fine for falsifying records to send her child to a high quality white school outside of her district, rather than the Black one to which her child was assigned. This story represents the pinnacle of racism in a society where, for minorities, sending your child to a school to which he or she might be able to gain access to a quality education is a crime.

We must look at the reason why this brave mother risked jail time to send her child to a white (read: better) school? How is it in America, parents who only want the best for their children have to lie about their address so that their children have a shot at the American dream? And why is no one talking about the fundamental reasons for educational inequality – the school funding structure that overtly privileges white children from wealthy families. This insidious racism masks inequality behind white picket fences, immaculately trimmed hedges and pristine landscaping. This façade allows us to ignore the fact that schools are funded based on the values of the homes surrounding them. No other nation in the world does this, and to such deleterious effect.

What this story has finally done is highlight the central cause of racial disparities in test scores and graduation rates – school funding, the one factor that seems to go ignored in much of the debate regarding “what’s wrong with our nation’s schools.” For the last six months, since the release of the Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, Waiting for Superman, TV, radio, and print news have interrogated the reasons for low minority performance. But only very rarely, have the ways in which we fund our nation’s schools mentioned. Instead, blame is usually placed on the usual suspects, those with the least power within the system – teachers , parents, and the children themselves. The racist school system, the one that has consigned minority students to inferior education since the moment African slaves arrived on America’s shores, is ignored. Many either believe that educational inequality was wiped with the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, or have forgotten that schools were shuttered in many states so that white children could attend “private” (though often covertly state-funded) schools and that Northern schools were not legally desegregated until the late 1960s and early 1970s. And although few white adults have children with friends of different races, we somehow fail to address the fact that our schools are now more segregated than before Brown and during apartheid South Africa.

The reason for this is a confluence of historical and contemporary factors, all of which are intricately woven into a tapestry of place-based racism that has left minority children isolated in urban areas with schools receiving a fraction of the money their peers receive in white areas. The racist policies of redlining and urban renewal trapped many African American in urban areas while restrictive covenants and sundown towns kept them out of suburbs, except of course to work for whites. Displaced into crowded ghettos and housing projects, Blacks lived in areas condemned simply for the color of the residents, rather than the quality of the homes (though this too was often inferior, and cost more than similar apartments in white areas). Those who did own their homes did so in these areas were homes were valued lower because of the “character” (read: color) of the neighborhood. Unable to buy homes in white neighborhoods, these towns have remained white, with high property values, resulting in much more funds available for the schools. In urban areas, where most people rent, values of homes are lower, and businesses receive tax cuts, the revenue simply does not exist to provide children with the same amount of money as their suburban counterparts. As a result, minority children in urban districts often receive a fraction of what white students in suburbs wear.

And these funding differences have real effects on students’ education and educational attainment, Minority students have more inexperienced teachers, older schools, less technology, more crowded classrooms, less playground space, and fewer basic resources such as paper, pencils, and books than white children. It was these resources that Ms. Kelley Williams-Bolar sought when she enrolled her child in a white school. Though recently released because her case was dismissed, she must spend three years on probation. More importantly, this episode raises the simple question of why, in the United States of America, minority parents must risk jail time and fines by falsifying student addresses to allow their children access to the same high quality education white children receive automatically. And why, when we discuss schools, do we blame everyone and everything but the inequalities that force minority parents to do this if they want their children to be well educated?

The DREAM Act and the Failure of White Gay/Lesbian Progressives

This week the U.S. Senate voted on two landmark pieces of legislation: the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” (DADT) and the DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for young people who came to this country as children.  The repeal of DADT succeeded, while the DREAM Act failed to pass. Gay and lesbian activists and their allies who fought for the repeal of DADT are understandably elated with the overturning of the 17-year-old ban.  But, so far at least, white gay and lesbian progressives have failed to see the DREAM Act as part of the same struggle for human rights.

May Day Immigration Marches, Los Angeles
Creative Commons License photo credit: Salina Canizales

Don’t get me wrong, leading gay and lesbian organizations, such as NGLTF have mentioned both the DREAM Act and DADT – but as separate, single issues.   In separate press releases this week, Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) came out in favor of the repeal of DADT and the DREAM Act.    In contrast, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest (and predominantly white) gay rights organization, has had a lot to say on DADT, but has had very little to say about the DREAM Act.  White gay bloggers like Dan Savage and Joe.My.God. have mentioned the DREAM Act along with DADT, as they have been updating their readers about the lame-duck session of Congress.    The Advocate, a magazine popular with white gays and lesbians, has tons of coverage about the repeal of DADT, but has had only one piece about the immigration (in November) but nothing to date in the archive about the DREAM Act, except as the scheduling of that vote threatened to affect repeal of DADT.  And, perhaps most disappointing for me to see personally as a church-going lesbian, the moderator for my denomination issued a press release that heralded the triumph of this single issue.

What’s the matter with single issue politics?  Isn’t this simply a pragmatic strategy for getting things done in the current political climate?  I don’t think so.  And, neither does Urvashi Vaid.  In a recent speech at the CUNY Graduate Center, Vaid, a longtime activist working at the intersections of LGBT rights and racial justice articulated the dilemma of single-issue gay politics this way:

The key structural reason why neither branch of the LGBT movements has operationalized its stated intersectional politics, is quite simple: the default definition for what “Gay” means has been set by, and remains dominated by, the ideas and experiences of those in our communities who are white and this really has not changed in more than fifty years. Issues, identities, problems that are not “purely” gay – read as affecting white gay men and women – are always defined as not the concern of “our” LGBT movement – they are dismissed as “non-gay” issues, as divisive, as the issues that some ‘other movement’ is more suited to champion. We have our hands full we are told. We need to single-mindedly focus on one thing.

This is an argument that many LGBT liberationists and gay-equality focused activists have made to each other and bought wholesale for decade– without malice, without prejudice – just because there has been an unquestioned assumption that this narrow focus works, that we are getting results because we are making a “gay rights” argument, that this is smart and successful political strategy.

My contention is that it is exactly this narrow and limited focus that is not only causing us to stall in our progress towards formal equality, it is leading us to abandon or ignore large parts of our own communities, with the consequence of making us a weaker movement. The gay-rights focus was historically needed but is a vestigial burden we need to shed. It leads to an unsuccessful political strategy where we try to win on one issue at a time, it narrows our imagination and vision, it does not serve large numbers of our own people, and it feeds the perception that we are generally privileged and powerful, and not in need of civil equality.

What this means right now, at this critical juncture when the repeal of DADT has passed and the DREAM Act hasn’t, is that gay and lesbian activists should be calling for the passage of the DREAM Act and other (even broader) immigration reforms.   I’ve yet to hear one white gay or lesbian activist stand up and say, “Let’s use this momentum from the DADT victory to see the passage of the DREAM Act.”  Not one.   As Vaid said, by focusing on one, single issue at a time, we’re narrowing our imagination and our vision.

Instead of this broadening of vision and building toward a common goal, among white gays and lesbians  there’s a kind of collective “oh, well, the Brown people didn’t get their bill, quelle sad, but we got ours – so let’s celebrate!”  What white gay and lesbian progressives fail to understand is that among those young people hoping to achieve citizenship through the (very restrictive) DREAM Act are gay and lesbian teens.  It’s not that DADT and the DREAM Act are separate issues, they’re part of the same struggle.     It’s just that white gays and lesbians don’t see that.  I hope that changes.

Majority of House’s Black Legislators Oppose Tax Cuts for Wealthy–and the Tax Bill

A nearly 60 percent majority of the black caucus in Congress voted against President Obama’s Republican-oriented, compromised tax bill, including House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.

Their website put it this way:

“We are headed towards fiscal disaster.”
— Rep. Bobby Scott, 12.17.10

“Obamanomics is more like Reaganomics.”
— Rep. Jessee Jackson, Jr. 12.10.10

“This measure does not create a single job or stimulate the economy in any way.”
— House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, 12.16.10

24 members of the CBC voted against Pres. Obama’s tax deal with the Republicans. Many cited the huge price tag. The bill will cost 900 billion dollars. More than the Stimulus bill, more than TARP. Other members felt the President should have and could have secured a better deal with the other side and that the legislation sets the Democrats up to be confronted with massive spending cuts to social programs over the next two years.

Jim Clyburn’s full statement was thus:

While I am pleased that the tax package approved by the House tonight extends important tax cuts to middle-income families and unemployment insurance for millions of Americans, adding $25 billion to the deficit to give a major tax benefit to the estates of the richest 6,600 families in America made it impossible for me to vote for the final package. This measure does not create a single job or stimulate the economy in any way. I hope that as we move forward and our economy continues to recover, we will restore some fairness to the tax code and reduce the burden we are putting on future generations.

A very clear indication of the political independence of the representatives of Black America in Congress–and probably of whom President Obama’s and Congress’s tax compromise is skewed toward.

Pew Poll: Americans Support Police-State-Like Tactics on Immigration

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has recently released a national opinion poll (done on on May 6-9, 2010) on the general public’s reactions to the Arizona immigration law (SB 1070), which makes being an undocumented immigrant traveling in or through Arizona a major crime under state law. Here is their summary and here is the full report.

The key and actual questions are these:

Q.10 The state of Arizona recently passed a law dealing with illegal immigration. As I describe some parts of the
law, tell me if you approve or disapprove of each. [The three percentages are for these responses, reading from left to right: approve, disapprove, don’t know/other]:

a. Allowing police to question anyone who
they think may be in the country illegally: 62% 35 3

b. Requiring people to produce documents verifying
their legal status if police ask for them: 73% 23 4

c. Allowing police to detain anyone who cannot
verify their legal status: 67% 29 4

On the face of it, these survey data are pretty chilling, with a very substantial majority of the general population supporting key aspects of laws like that in Arizona. On another question, 59 percent of those polled say they approve of the new Arizona law.

More than two thirds buy into the conservative argument that police have a right to act on their own subjective hunches that a person is in the country illegally. In the Southwest this means routine racial profiling, as white residents will almost never be “thought to be in the country illegally.” Indeed, as legal analyst and scholar Michelle Alexander shows in her great new book, The New Jim Crow, the not so secret “secret” of everyday practice in all major aspects of our criminal justice system is that this system routinely and demonstrably (from tons of research) operates in an well-institutionalized racist fashion, with whites with power (especially police officers, prosecutors, and judges) able to pretty much discriminate against working class Americans of color with impunity — and with the backing of numerous recent court decisions by our arch-conservative Supreme Court (perhaps our most undemocratic political institution). People of color are easily targeted when the Supreme Court and the congress back up routine discrimination in the streets. The subjective “thinking” of police and other criminal justice officials is now the criterion of “justice” when it comes to many crime policing and prosecution decisions.

The second question’s and third question’s huge positive responses might, however, have been different if the supportive respondents (especially the majority of white respondents–Pew does not give a racial breakdown) had routine experience with being mistreated or harassed by the police seeking such information–like many Americans of color. Also, I wonder how they would feel if they were taken to jail if they did not have their key documents (birth certificate?) with them, as this law requires. Apparently a driver’s license is not enough. (Have you ever gone out on the streets without key documents?)

The increasing public support of essentially police-state tactics over the last decade (notice that the large, mostly white employers are not principally targeted–the easier way to stop immigration?) is one of the chilling things about this supposedly “post-racial” America. (Related issues in some of the likely police stops out of this law seem to be the fourth amendment’s protections against government searches without specific evidence and without warrants, and the fifth amendment’s protection against self-incrimination, and its a person shall not “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Have these also been nullified by the routine operation of the justice system, including recent Supreme Court decisions?) Actually, we have now quickly gone to the post-post-racial America.

The “Darkening” Effects of Incarceration

07/23/2009 At 16:54:27 PM
Creative Commons License photo credit: Troy Holden

Research has repeatedly shown that race, rather than being an immutable trait of individuals, is actually quite fluid and may change over time and by social context. In the February issue of the journal Social Problems (v. 57, #1), sociologists Aliya Saperstein (University of Oregon) and Andrew Penner (University of California, Irvine) report their analysis of data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), which demonstrates how incarceration affects convicted offenders’ self-perceptions of their race as well as others’ perceptions of their race (“The Race of a Criminal Record: How Incarceration Colors Racial Perceptions”). The NLSY asked a nationally representative sample of 12,686 young men and women (aged 14-22 years in 1979, when the survey began) a series of questions on a variety of topics, including their racial and ethnic identification; respondents’ race/ethnicity were also classified by NLSY interviewers. After the initial survey, participants were interviewed every year until 1994, when biennial surveying was initiated. In their intriguing and socially important study, Saperstein and Penner analyze NLSY data from 1979-2002 to see if participants’ own racial/ethnic identification changed and whether interviewers’ classifications of respondents’ race/ethnicity changed, depending on whether the respondent was or had been incarcerated in the intervening time period.

Without going into the complexities of the statistical analyses, which included numerous controls to rule out the effects of intervening variables, suffice it to say here that Saperstein and Penner found that NLSY participants who self-identified as European American in 1979 were significantly more likely to self-identify as black in 2002 if they had been incarcerated compared with those who had not been incarcerated. As Saperstein and Penner report, “these findings demonstrate . . . that incarceration leads to changes in racial self-identification and the effect operates primarily through making individuals see themselves as not quite white. To put this into perspective, consider that currently nearly 6 million people in the United States have been incarcerated . . . Based on our results, we would expect that more than 250,000 previously incarcerated individuals no longer identify as white as a result of their incarceration” (p. 103).

Saperstein and Penner also found that interviewers were more likely to change the racial/ethnic classification of NLSY respondents if the respondent was currently or had been incarcerated since the time of the last survey – and the change they made was to “darken” incarcerated respondents. That is, respondents who had been classified by interviewers as white prior to incarceration were more likely to be classified by interviewers as black once they were incarcerated.

Apart from further affirming the socially constructed nature of race, Saperstein and Penner’s study has, as they put it, “real-world consequences for racial inequality.” There is a good deal of research, some of which is cited by Saperstein and Penner, that shows that many white people associate black people, especially black men, with crime. This association is what underlies the practice of racial profiling by police, who, as I have pointed out on this blog before, target black neighborhoods for saturation policing, not surprisingly contributing to higher arrest and incarceration rates for blacks. This association also likely contributes to misidentification of criminal suspects by “eye witnesses,” thus resulting in higher erroneous convictions for blacks. I have also pointed out on this blog how incarceration contributes to poverty – especially poverty among black men due to their disproportionate incarceration rates – because a prison record lowers the likelihood of stable employment in a job that pays a decent wage. Saperstein and Penner’s analysis shows how “actual disparities in incarceration are exacerbated by stereotypical associations about the types of individuals who commit and/or are punished for committing crimes” (p. 110). Interestingly, more states are using early release of prisoners as a way to address fiscal crises, but as the Saperstein and Penner study reminds us, release from prison will do little, if anything, to reduce inequality; we must simultaneously address the invidious link between blackness and crime, not only in the minds of the general public, but also in minds of the formerly incarcerated themselves. Further research on why some people who have experienced incarceration change their racial identification from white to black and the meanings that race has for them, as well as for those who do not undergo this redefinition of self, would be most welcome.