Democracy & American DREAMers: DACA & Undocumented Latino Youth

Immigration—particularly undocumented immigration—continues to be an unresolved issue in America; however, it is part of the larger unresolved issue of the political and social inclusion of Latinos (as well as other visible racial and ethnic groups) in the U.S. It is an issue that will increasingly affect us all because of our changing demographics with Latinos at 16.9 percent of the population projected to be 30 percent of the population by 2050 at the latest.

This lack of inclusion is underscored in a new book my coauthors, Jessica L. Lavariega Monforti and Melissa R. Michelson and I recently published which looks at the experiences of undocumented Latino youth who have been raised in the U.S., but because of the inability of our political leaders to pass immigration reform dealing with even the seemingly straightforward aspects of the issue—namely, how to incorporate and legalize Latino youth who have grown up in the U.S—their lives have been severely limited at every turn. In our book we systematically examine the experiences faced by undocumented Latino youth based on in-depth interviews conducted immediately after President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in the summer of 2012. Through 101 interviews conducted in California, Texas, Washington, and Oregon we learn the effects of living in the U.S without the “nine-digit number” (Social Security number). We learn how living as undocumented youth has impacted their decisions after completing high school, their political socialization and self-identity, and their feelings of trust and confidence in our government, and even their personal and intimate relationships.

Regardless of their geographic location, the sample of DREAMers in our book all experienced life with a greater sense of fear, vulnerability, lack of freedom, and obstacles. It was felt while they were shopping, traveling, driving, or in one case, serving as a university student body president who was “outed” and had his life turned upside down. In some cases, their unauthorized status even affected their willingness to call the police if someone had been in a car accident. Living as an undocumented Latino youth in the United States is, even post-DACA (which provides some measure of protection from deportation) as one of our respondents stated, “not full freedom.” Similar to the experiences of immigrants in the past, our sample of DREAMers is affected by the white racial frame in that they are racialized targets at every turn. This racialization places greater limitations on all aspects of their lives. As one of our respondents states,

[B]eing an illegal immigrant shapes who you are, . . . when you’re growing up, like what you become and . . . how you act and whatnot.

Listening to the stories of our sample of DREAMers, we learn about the lives of hardworking, good kids who have grown up in America seeking to achieve the American dream like everyone else. Some always knew they were undocumented, but not quite what it meant; others first learned as teenagers. Just as they were trying, like other teenagers around them, to assert their independence – to go away to college, to get a first job, to learn to drive – they find themselves stopped in their tracks by a system that relegates them to the margins because they are undocumented.

Based on this research, if we truly hope to have a democracy, then we must have the wisdom and the tenacity to continually seek ways to improve our society by extending the promise of America’s most cherished principles to the DREAMers. Latino youth are our future and there will be no real democracy for any future Americans without the political and social incorporation of Latinos. Similarly to the pre-Civil War South and through the 1960’s where nearly half of the population was legally oppressed by the other, an America where one third of the youth entering their voting age, their legal working age, or college age either are excluded from the body politics or are suspected of not belonging to the body politic, democracy is crippled or false. As Douglas S. Massey states,

[T]he most serious task remaining for immigration reformers is the legalization of the 11 million persons who are currently unauthorized, especially the 3 million or more persons who entered as minors and grew up in the United States. The lack of legal status constitutes an insurmountable barrier to social and economic mobility, not only for the undocumented immigrants themselves, but for their citizen family members. Not since the days of slavery have so many residents in the United States lacked the most basic social, economic, and human rights.

The U.S.’s founding values of “establishing justice” or the “blessing of liberty” currently does not apply to 5 million Latino youth who are just kids trying to be kids in the only country they’ve ever known.

If we make a commitment to DREAMers through humane immigration policy such as passage of the DREAM Act, our entire society will be enriched by not only the economic and cultural benefits that they will bestow upon American society, but because we will stop undermining our democratic values through the continual exclusion of undocumented Latino youth who have so much to contribute to society, if only they are allowed to. As one undocumented young woman
we interviewed states:

We are members of this society whether people acknowledge it or not, but we continue to be discriminated against, marginalized and “othered.” We experience rejection on a daily basis, and although we continue to overcome barrier after barrier, it is not a way of life that any person should have to experience. We are talented individuals who want to be able to give back to our communities. Why does legislation continue to prevent us from doing so? Why let our skills go to waste? Why not use them to improve this nation? This problem is much bigger than people want to acknowledge. . . . [W]e are human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

As we document in our book, all of the DREAMers we spoke to recognized that their immigration status had had powerful impacts on their lives.

And yet, as we found time and again in our research, they keep on dreaming as underscored by one of our respondents:

Well, whatever is within my reach I’m going to do it. After I finish my bachelor’s and continue my master’s, and if possible go into the PhD program; if not, I’ll set up a business as I have a business already, so keep going and make it bigger. I won’t stop. If there’s something in my way I’ll just go another way.

Latino Disunity: On Obama’s Delaying Executive Order for Immigrants

In her insightful book, The Trouble With Unity, Cristina Beltrán highlights the intolerance to dissent found in the 1960’s and 70’s Chicano and Puerto Rican Movements, especially with regards to gender issues. This intolerance to debate within the movements weakened the democratic nature of the groups where as Beltrán states, “Disagreement is treated as a pathology” (p. 46). She goes on to say, “In the politics of unity, someone or something must be found and blamed for divisions and disagreements” (p. 46). Are we seeing some of this again in the recent attacks on prominent Latino leaders and activists such as Dolores Huerta who have chosen not to come down hard on President Obama for his Democratic-party-pressured decision to wait until after the November elections to issue any more executive orders on immigration in order to keep the Senate under Democratic control?

In a recent article on the National Institute for Latino Policy a number of authors state:

On the whole, Obama’s Latino defenders all have a financial stake in his regime. They are all recipients of largesse either from the administration directly or through his party or allied private foundations. They belong to the corrupt patronage system and have gladly accepted their proverbial role as house peons who run to save the master’s burning house faster than the master himself. The most immoral observation about their behavior is the lack of transparency about their personal moneyed interests and positions as they implicitly defend massive deportations of historic dimension.

This intolerance to dissent is reminiscent of calls of “traitor” or “sell-out” found in the 1960s and 1970s Latino movements as highlighted by Beltrán.

It is one thing to differ on strategy, approach, and timing of politics. However, not to recognize that there could be differences in approach is short-sighted at best and an excellent strategy for the Republican party at worst.

The Latino community is bigger than ever in U.S. history and our numbers have reached a tipping point whereby Latino issues are prominent issues in the national debate. Latinos have always been from diverse national origins tracing back to many different Latin American countries with different historical experiences in the U.S. as John A. Garcia notes in his book on Latino Politics.

While we also share important common denominators such as the experience of discrimination and lack of inclusion in the U.S. as Feagin and Cobas describe, these subgroup differences are large enough to generate diverse policy interests or at the least differences in strategy. So, it should come as no surprise that there are issues where there is dissent between Latino groups and that is only going to become more frequent.

Intolerance to dissenting views by leaders of Latino organizations seems very out-of-touch, and ultimately very unproductive. Notions of unity in a group (that will soon comprise 20 percent of the electorate) that are intolerant to political dissent will condemn us to a fringe of insignificance. When Latinos are finally having an influence on national elections and therefore eventually on public policy, do we really want to start calling each other “peons” if we disagree with each other? Instead, what we need is to take an adaptable, big-tent approach to building an enduring, influential political coalition in the United States. This is one way to make Latino politics matter in the future.

Racist, Immoral Dehumanization of Immigrant Children

There are two main challenges in addressing the border issue of increased numbers of undocumented children traveling alone from Central America to the US.
The first is that the dehumanization of Latinos in the US has been so tremendously successful that a basic call for decency and humanity is absent from the conversations surrounding this situation. For example, I recently highlighted the issue in an op-ed to a local newspaper and the comments reveal people hiding their racism behind arguments of “legal” and “illegal.”

An absence of decency and humanity can also be seen in the protesters who turned away buses of children or who are protesting detention centers across the country where children are housed because we’re a “nation of laws” or because the children “carry diseases,” “bring crime,” will grow up to “rape women.” This is all to familiar language that uses the same fear tactics, dehumanization, and racism once used towards African Americans during slavery and Jim Crow and towards the Chinese during the late 1800s—language used to justify atrocious acts of oppression of these groups then and language used to justify monstrous cruelty to these children today. One has to wonder if these protesters would have the same response to refugee children coming from Eastern Europe. Perhaps there would still be a backlash against thousands of Eastern European refugee children arriving alone to the US; however, I doubt it would rise to the shameless levels we’ve seen recently, or that it would use the kinds of language being used–language that has roots in removing people of color outside of our human and national family throughout American history. This underscores how effective the racialization of Latinos in the U.S. currently is.

The second hindrance with addressing this issue is the problem of politicians who either do not care or if they do care are acting first and foremost in their self-interests by being in lock step with xenophobic Americans’ preferences. This response by our nations leaders underscores Schneider and Ingram’s research revealing that politicians make laws that benefit certain groups and burden others. This explains why Congress refuses to act in a bipartisan fashion and pass laws addressing this situation. This explains why traumatized children are being put on planes and sent back as a deterrence to others. This is not just, rational, or wise public policy but this is what our political leaders are engaged in.

Instead, there must be another way. There must be collaboration and civility between the nations involved to come up with short-term and long-term policy solutions. For example, Héctor Perla Jr. recently provided examples of both short term and long term solutions in a recent article. Perla gives the example of granting the children refugee status rather than seeing them as undocumented immigrants in the short term, and in the long term he argues we must address economic policies in Central America that are creating the conditions pushing children and their parents to migrate.

Other short term ideas with the goal of preventing further harm to the children immediately by keeping more children from dying or being injured on the train include finding them earlier in the process of migration. This would require creating a coalition between the US and the countries from where the children depart to check the trains and help the kids at that point. Long term of course must address the roots of the problem. This requires taking into consideration why children are fleeing their countries and finding ways to address these issues as Perla suggests. This too, must be done in collaboration with leaders from Mexico and Central America. Of course, civility, compromise, and collaboration across national leaders seems impossible to accomplish when it doesn’t happen across political leaders in this country who follow the desires of many Americans who cannot see Latinos as human beings, not even the children.

To be Effective, Apprenticeship Programs Must Address Systemic Racism

President Obama giving speech

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

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

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

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

TCOSTUE Cover Photo

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

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

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

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

Balance of Trade

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

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

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

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

Patterns and Politics of Large-Scale Poverty

Over the last half-century, since the passage of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty, there has been a major retrenchment of efforts to help the poor. Over the last five decades, the poverty rate of the elderly dropped significantly from 37 percent in 1960 to 9 percent in 2012. Poverty dropped much more modestly for children and the workforce.

In that era, jobs were at the center of efforts to alleviate poverty. Dr. King’s monumental march on Washington on August 28, 1963, was actually called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The Economic Opportunity Act, the centerpiece of the war against poverty, sought to provide work and education for the needy to improve their lives.

Fifty years later, major educational gaps continue to distinguish the poor and non-poor members of the labor force. For example, one-fourth of the poor did not have a high school diploma in 2012 compared to nearly one-tenth of the non-poor. Further, the non-poor are three times more likely to be college graduates than the poor.

According to census public-use data for 1960 and 2012, the poverty rate of the U.S. workforce fell only slightly, from 14 percent in 1960 to 10 percent in 2012 — a mere 4 percentage points over 52 years. While the poverty gap between the minority and white workforce narrowed over the last five decades, black and Latino workers are still about 2.5 times more likely than whites to be impoverished today.

In fact, the poverty rate of the black labor force (17.2 percent) and the Latino labor force (16 percent) in 2012 was higher than that of whites (10.6 percent) in 1960.

Even more disturbing is the ballooning of the unemployment gap between the U.S. poor and non-poor workforce. While the poor were about 2.5 times more likely than the non-poor to be without a job in 1960, the unemployment gap increased to more than 4.5 times today. In 2012, 32 percent of the nation’s poor labor force was unemployed compared to 7 percent of the non-poor workforce. It is likely that the unemployment rate is actually higher, especially among the destitute, due to people leaving the labor force after lengthy periods of unsuccessful job searches.

The unemployment gap between the poor and non-poor was particularly wide among whites, where the white poor (30 percent) were five times as likely to be without a job compared to the white non-poor (6 percent) in 2012. Nonetheless, many impoverished people in the country are searching for employment. Indeed, the unemployment rate of the poor varied widely in 2012 from 43 percent among blacks to 30 percent among whites to 26 percent among Latinos.

However, among the poor, it is Latino immigrants who have the lowest unemployment rate (20 percent). This challenges notions that Latino immigrants come to the United States to live off the largesse of social services. In fact, Latino immigrants are more likely to be employed than other workers. In addition, Latino immigrants among the working poor are more likely than other impoverished employees to work longer hours and to hold jobs that are the least rewarded and desired.

Of course, a job does not ensure that the poor get out of poverty. Indeed, nearly 70 percent of the poor who are in the labor force are working. While the portion of U.S. workers who are poor declined from 1960 to 2000, there has been a reversal since. In 2012, about one of every 14 U.S. workers was in poverty. But being among the working poor is especially likely among workers of color. About one of nine black workers is poor, one in 10 native-born Latinos, and one in six Latino immigrants.

A lot has changed since the eve of the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964. The economy then was one in which manufacturing provided a good living for many Americans who had a high school diploma or less. Over the next few decades, such jobs shifted to the hands of workers abroad who toiled for a mere pittance of the pay of American workers. U.S. labor unions saw a major drop in membership and in bargaining power. The American economy increasingly took the shape of an hourglass where job growth expanded at the highest and lowest levels of the job hierarchy. The middle class progressively shrank.

The latest economic crisis has taken a toll on so many people, many of whom had never been poor before. Many people who are working today are still destitute and still others among the poor are desperately looking for employment. Increasingly, our society consists of a small elite body that controls an expanding share of wealth and income and a growing population of disadvantaged people whose sliver of resources is being whittled down.

In the mid-1960s, President Johnson passionately etched the face of the poor on the American consciousness and forcefully pushed for the establishment of policies to improve the lives of people on the margins. A half-century later, there is a stark absence of political leaders who see the poor as a priority.

Today, Republican-led policies, with relatively little resistance from Democrats, are escalating the war against the poor. Instead of creating opportunities to better the lives of the needy, legislators blame the poor for their dire straits. Congress has slashed food stamp allocations, terminated unemployment payments and thwarted the increase of the minimum wage for people viewed as too powerless to matter.

Over the last half-century, there has not been a more desperate time than today for visionary leaders who boldly push for the establishment of opportunities to improve the lot of our nation’s poor.

This commentary was originally published in the San Antonio Express-News.

Sacrificing Their Own: Republican Abandonment of the White Poor in the Obama Era

Congressional Republicans, through their mean-spirited political agenda, are increasingly abandoning many of their loyal supporters at the time of their greatest need.

In the prolonged economic crisis that has devastated so many lives in its path, victims of policies to cut food stamps and unemployment benefits, nullify Obamacare, and shut down the federal government go beyond those who have been traditionally relegated and abandoned on the margins of society, namely folks of color.

Increasingly rank-and-file whites are being crushed by Republican miserliness. These are individuals who have long identified with the Republican party — people who have always seen themselves as the salt of the earth, people who made America what it is, people who played by the rules.

The white poor and near-poor represent collateral damage in Republican efforts to satisfy its voracious appetite to sink the Obama presidency.

Whites represent the majority of U.S. adults who stand to lose through Republican-led policies designed to gash the safety net in opposition to Obamacare in these trying times. For example, according to the 2011 American Community Survey, whites represented 53 percent of households receiving food stamps, 57 percent of adults without health insurance, 59 percent of the unemployed, and 57 percent of the adult poor. Whites also accounted for nearly two-thirds of federal workers, a group comprising a large chunk of the 800,000 workers laid off and the more than a million who will be asked to work without compensation as the federal government is now shut down.

To make matters worse, whites in red states are more likely than those in blue states to draw food stamps, to lack health insurance, to hold a federal job, and to be poor. Put simply, the white poor in red states are being hurt by the folks that they helped put in office.

It is obvious many Republicans, especially those in the House, are more interested in sabotaging the Obama presidency, making sure that Obamacare is halted, and in supporting the interests of the rich and powerful than they are in assisting needy whites — not to mention poor people in general — during a period that has put many in deep financial straits.

Just as Democrats have long ignored the interests and needs of their African-American, Latino and poor constituents, it is clear that Republicans are taking their strapped white supporters for granted.

This commentary was originally published in the San Antonio Express-News.

Reading for National Dialogue on Race Day

The  National Dialogue on Race Day happening later today at Tufts University Center for the Study of Race and Democracy hosted by Prof. Peniel Joseph will focus on three broad themes and questions. In anticipation of the event, we’ve selected a few previous posts from the six years of blogging here that touch on these topics.

50 Years after the March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom: How Far Have we Progressed as a Nation in Achieving Dr. King’s Dream of Multicultural and Multiracial Democracy?

 Trayvon Martin, Mass Incarceration, and the public school to prison crisis

Race and Democracy in the 21st Century: What does racial integration, justice, and equality mean in contemporary America and how can we shape and impact this dialogue in our respective communities, nationally and globally?

Read up and join the conversation! You can participate lots of ways, by commenting here, by watching the livestream from Tufts (beginning at 7pm ET) or through Twitter at the hashtag #NDRD.

National Dialogue on Race

Trayvon Martin’s tragic death has inspired nationwide demonstrations and calls for action that have reverberated all the way to the White House. President Obama’s spontaneous and heartfeltwords about the plight of race relations in America touched upon the need for a national conversation about race but expressed skepticism that politicians might effectively lead such an endeavor.

Obama is right on this score. It’s time for all citizens to participate in a dialogue on race in America because we all have a stake in our nation’s democratic institutions.

Such a day could go a long way toward jump-starting the dialogue on race, democracy and public policy that is desperately needed around the nation, especially (but not only) in poor communities of color. In contrast to previously called for conversations on race (including one launched by the Clinton administration) that bore little tangible fruit, this dialogue should be purposeful and policy-driven in pursuit of an agenda of democratic transformation at the local, state and national levels.

The dialogue would be led by activists, civil rights organizers, policy experts and community leaders for the express purpose of crafting public-policy solutions connected to issues of racial disparities in criminal justice, employment, public schools, housing, health care and overall life chances in America.

Fifty summers ago, the heroic period of the civil rights movement inspired a national conversation about race and democracy that engaged citizens of all races and affected virtually every sector of American life. Religious leaders, labor activists, welfare mothers, prisoners and politicians participated in this dialogue, one that included roiling street protests often accompanied by the passage of watershed legislation. The idea for a National Dialogue on Race Day is inspired by the collective activism and action of these citizens, many of whom turned out in droves for the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The march united disparate political strands into a mighty and unifying call for racial justice, economic equality and multicultural democracy. The historic event galvanized social, political and cultural awareness of racial injustice and helped lead to substantive public-policy transformations in the form of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The March on Washington’s approaching 50th anniversary should be a time of national reflection and democratic renewal to assess how far we have actually come.

But to continue the conversation, the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University is convening a National Dialogue on Race Day on Sept. 12, and we invite all to participate in local communities across the country.

 

(Download the NDRD Flyer here.)

The agenda for the inaugural National Dialogue on Race Day will be organized around three major issues:

  1. Fifty years after the March on Washington, how far have we progressed as a nation in achieving Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of multicultural and multiracial democracy?
  2. Trayvon Martin, mass incarceration and the public school-to-prison crisis.
  3. Race and democracy in the 21st century: What do racial integration, justice and equality mean in contemporary America, and how can we shape this dialogue locally, nationally and globally?

Community groups, universities and colleges, civic organizations, churches, synagogues and civil rights activists have natural constituencies to organize single panels or all-day symposiums to which students and surrounding community members would be invited to join in the conversation. Citizens seeking to participate might attend a live local event or simulcast of an event at a different location, stream an event online from their own computers and/or share their thoughts on social media with the hashtag #NDRD. Event organizers would publicize their affiliation with NDRD both on and offline. Ideally, a National Dialogue on Race Day could simultaneously occur in every community across the nation, and even those unable to organize such an event locally could easily participate online.

Ella Baker, the founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, famously remarked that “strong people don’t need strong leaders.” Neither the African-American community nor the nation as a whole can afford to wait on politicians to lead a discussion that will cast a strobe light on issues of inequality, racism and injustice. It’s uncomfortable because we’re out of practice — but we need to do it anyway.

The aftermath of the Supreme Court’s recent voting-rights and affirmative action decisions, as well as proliferating urban violence, poverty and mass incarceration, make this conversation more necessary now than ever. A deliberate, widespread dialogue among American citizens is critical to push forward the transformation of our democratic institutions. Now is the time to revisit the energy and activism of the March on Washington to revive the goal of racial justice.

The same summer as the march, in a national television address to the nation, President John F. Kennedy defined institutional racism as a “moral” issue that reverberated through political institutions. Two months later Martin Luther King Jr., during his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, proclaimed that African Americans had come to the nation’s capital to cash a check that had been marked “insufficient funds.” King refused to believe, in his words, that the bank of American democracy could be bankrupt. Despite evidence to the contrary, many Americans of diverse backgrounds continue to believe in King’s dream of racial equality and economic justice.

President Obama’s recent admission that we are not in a “postracial” nation goes a long way toward combating the “colorblind” racism that stubbornly declares racial equality while ignoring growing social, economic and political disparities based on race. But politicians cannot lead this national conversation.

We are capable of being the architects of the democracy in which we want to live. This requires confronting racism openly and educating our fellow citizens that merely discussing, recognizing or “seeing” race does not make one a racist. The idea that one does not “see” race should be reserved for the political satire of Stephen Colbert and not be viewed as a serious political perspective. Only by seeing race can we begin to transform public policy and democratic institutions.

America is well on its way to becoming a majority-minority nation, but we still too often think and speak about race in binaries. A National Dialogue on Race Day should rightfully include the diverse racial and ethnic panorama that makes up 21st-century America.

As we approach the cusp of the 50th anniversary of King’s dream, a national conversation on race and democracy led by activists, scholars, community organizers and active citizens will help us reimagine American democracy while confronting the social, political and racial injustices that threaten King’s dream and our own.

 

~ Guest blogger Peniel E. Joseph is founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy  (follow the Center on Twitter). and a professor of history at Tufts University. Follow Professor Joseph on Twitter. This post originally appeared on The Root.

 

~ Racism Review is pleased to be a participant in the National Dialogue on Race Day.


Race, Space, and History: Power Relations in Government Policy

The intersection of race, space, and history in local government policies and politics illustrates the profound impact of spatial arrangements on the reproduction of systemic inequalities. As Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin point out in Two-faced Racism: Whites in the Front Stage and the Backstage (2007) significant research supports the argument that much of the social space in the United States is highly racialized.

Two articles provide significant insight into how such racialization occurs within the context of the efforts of cities in California to reconfigure historical neigborhoods and nullify and erase the presence of dominant ethnic identities from the landscape. Wendy Cheng’s perceptive article entitled “’Diversity’ on Main Street? Branding Race and Place in the New ‘Majority-Minority’ Suburbs” (2010), describes two redevelopment campaigns in the Los Angeles West San Gabriel Valley cities of Alhambra and San Gabriel that epitomized the struggle for white economic, social and political dominance over Asian American and Latino pasts.

In an area in which Asian immigrants and Asian Americans constitute half the population and Latinos represent more than a third of the population, the polarization of the city of Alhambra is reflected in residential patterns, with the largely white northern area reporting a median household income 50 percent higher in 2000 than the southern area comprised of a heterogeneous mix of working-class to middle-income Mexican-Americans and Asian Americans.

Cheng documents how the redevelopment of Alhambra’s Main Street involved high-pressure tactics by the city to excise small Chinese businesses and replace them with new “mainstream” businesses. For example, the city gave Starbucks a “tenant improvement allowance” using $136,000 of HUD money and bought an 8,000 square-foot building for over $1 million with an additional $350,000 in upgrades to lure Tony Roma’s to open a restaurant on Main Street, after the chain restaurant had refused several overtures. And the redevelopment agency literally gave Edwards Theatres a 43,000-square-foot parcel of land and $1.2 million form a HUD loan to construct a movie theater. To cap these efforts, the merchants in the Downtown Alhambra Business Association invested in a diversity branding effort with banners that included an older blond white woman, a young Latina woman with freckles and dark hair, a middle-aged Asian man, and a young blue-eyed, blond white woman.

Similarly, in his article entitled, “From ‘Blighted’ to ‘Historic’: Race, Economic Development, and Historic Preservation in San Diego, California” (2008), Leland T. Saito chronicles how the determination of historic designation in the city “favored Whites and overlooked the history of racial minorities” (p. 183). The city commissioned studies on the Chinese Mission, Douglas Hotel, and Clermont/Coast Hotels, three properties associated with Asian American and African American history, and concluded they were not historically or architecturally significant. The Chinese Mission, established in 1927, was a major social center for the Chinese American Community. The Douglas Hotel was the most important entertainment venue for African Americans when it was established in 1924 and the only hotel that would accept African Americans in the 1930s and 1940s. The Clermont/Coast Hotel also had significance for the history of the African American Community.

It was only through the lobbying efforts of the Chinese American community and the African American community that the Chinese Mission and Clermont/Coast Hotel were preserved and received historic designation. Due to the lack of a major lobbying effort, the Douglas Hotel was demolished. Saito concludes from these examples that

“public policy is an important site of struggle over the meaning of race” (p. 168) and that “race remains significant in the formation and implementation of development and historic preservation policies” (p. 182).

Community groups, however, can play a key role in counteracting the racial consequences of public policy.

Both these articles present evidence of how space is intertwined with race and history in the identity of place and underscore the importance of community activism and minority participation on city councils. Such activism and solidarity are critical in overcoming divided racial, economic, and geographic interests, ensuring the voice and representation of minority populations, and changing the dynamics of power relationships within municipal governments.

United Nations’ Universal Declaration Of Human Rights: A Personal Perspective

At the conclusion of the forthcoming third edition of Joe Feagin’s Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations, he recommends that a new constitutional convention for a true multiracial democracy begin with the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights ratified in 1948. Feagin points out that the United States has never had a constitutional convention that represented all or even the majority of the population. As he notes, the original constitutional convention that met in Philadelphia in 1787 was comprised of 55 white men, representing only 5 percent of the population, and did not include white women, Native Americans, or African Americans.

Feagin’s identification of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights brings to mind the work of my father, Dr. Hung-Ti Chu, at the United Nations and his great personal admiration for Eleanor Roosevelt who shepherded the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to its ratification by the General Assembly. My father joined the United Nations in 1946 during the time the Declaration was drafted as a member of the Human Rights Division, and remained at the U.N. in the Secretariat until he retired more than twenty years later. He recalled that Eleanor Roosevelt considered the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be the Magna Carta for all humankind. She viewed her role in securing adoption of the Declaration of Human Rights as her greatest achievement. Several years earlier, as a member of the steering committee of the International Student Conference representing the five great world powers, my father had breakfasted with her in the White House and was invited to sit in on FDR’s Fireside Chats over the radio.

My father came to this country as a scholarship student in recognition of his work in the Chinese nationalist movement, receiving his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Illinois in 1937. In 1942, he was invited to become President of Yunnan University in his home province of Yunnan, China, but due to political events and the Communist takeover, was not able to return. After joining the United Nations, he later served as the Principal Secretary of the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea, and gave the opening speech of the first democratically-elected National Assembly in Korean history.

Following the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1946, Eleanor Roosevelt accepted a position offered by President Harry Truman on the first United States delegation to the United Nations. At the time she was the only woman on the delegation and in her words:

I knew that as the only woman, I ‘d better be better than anybody else. So I read every paper. And they were very dull sometimes, because State Department papers can be very dull. And I used to almost go to sleep over them, and– [laughs] But I did read them all. I knew that if I in any way failed, it would not be just my failure; it would be the failure of all women. There’d never be another woman on the delegation.

In a perceptive article titled “Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” John Sears states that many believe that the U.N. Commission on Human Rights that drafted the Declaration of Human Rights would not have succeeded without the skillful leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt in chairing the Commission. Without legal or parliamentary training, she oversaw the drafting of the Declaration through weeks of arguing over the meaning of each word and phrase.

The initial commission appointed to recommend a structure for the Human Rights Commission consisted of Eleanor Roosevelt and representatives from Norway, Belgium, China, India, Yugoslavia and the ambassador to the United States from China, Dr. C.L. Hsia. Dr. Hsia was a close personal friend and mentor of my father.

Furthermore, as Sears notes, Eleanor Roosevelt insisted upon the unequivocal anti-discrimination article in the Declaration. She believed it would support the struggle for civil rights in the United States and was aware of the shortcomings of this country in attaining these rights. She even clashed with members of the State Department who did not believe that economic and social rights belonged in a bill of human rights.

The U.N.’s Declaration of Universal Human Rights adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948 asserts that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and that “all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.” Eleanor Roosevelt’s uncompromising view of universal human rights identifies the source of such rights in events close to home, such as in our everyday interactions:

Where, after all, do universal rights begin? In small places, close to home (…) Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.

In a time when women’s leadership was not widely accepted, Eleanor Roosevelt was truly “the first lady of the United States,” a skillful and practical negotiator, able to maneuver in confidence in male-dominated diplomatic circles, able to build the consensus necessary to forge a lasting testament to the freedom, equality, and dignity of all human beings.