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.

Everyday Racism

This short clip (7:08) is the second half of a story that the ABC “20/20” news show did called “True Colors.” It features Julianne Malveaux as one of the experts. The whole piece is 19 minutes long (part 1 is here) and is one of the most powerful teaching tools I’ve ever used for demonstrating how everyday racism works:

Basically, what the ABC crews does is set up a “matched study” – a white guy and a black guy are matched on every quality except skin color – and films the results. They put these two gentlemen, both recent college grads, in St. Louis, Missouri to establish themselves. They are sent to find work and a place to live. Hidden cameras record the very different treatment that they receive at almost every turn. It’s a compelling look at how everyday racism operates and the way that it “grinds exceedingly small,” as Malveaux says.

You can purchase a licensed copy (the one above is definitely a pirated copy) of the full video here. Unfortunately, the official copy is priced for institutional buyers ($595), not the individual user. The original story aired in 1991, about the time current college sophomores were born, so the video is vulnerable to being dismissed as “the kind of thing that happened a long time ago, in the distant past.”

Of course, those of us who study racism know that this continues to happen and it continues to “grind exceedingly small” for those who experience it. It’s definitely time for some enterprising investigative reporter to re-make this classic video about everyday racism.

March Madness and Pimps: Forms of Contemporary Slavery in America

It is that time for the 2011 NCAA college basketball championship. The NCAA teams have been courageously whittled down to only 2. This month, those two will stand on the national stage while many of you will be celebrating by enjoying young athletes giving it their all for their school on the wood court. Did you know March Madness earnings were second to the earnings of the Super Bowl? While downing beers, sodas, pizza, and other Americana delectable treats while wearing some form of clothing symbolizing your loyalty to a particular college team; I am sure many of you are not cognizant that an atrocity is occurring right under your carbohydrate induced noises. This atrocity I have ideologically catalogued as prostitution and contemporary slavery. “Wow,” you may say. “Me, support prostitution?” Well that answer is best answered through a quick and critical analysis of the big money college sporting programs such as basketball and football.

Last week, the television show Frontline, on PBS, televised “Money and March Madness.” In addition, HBO televised Bryan Gumbel’s Real Sports. Gumbel presented an hour-long show dedicated to the college sports, money, the NCAA, bribes, and exploitation of players on March 30, 2011. Michael Lewis, the author of “The Blind Side” noted that college sports are not what the NCAA say they are. In an interview for Frontline, Lewis said, “College sports is professional in every aspect, but one. They don’t pay the labor. You got a labor force that is essentially indentured servants.” These students have the economic value, but can’t benefit from it due to a system that operates opposite of the free market. The current system does not allow students to make the money they are valued as players to the NCAA and their university of attendance. In the episode, Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls and former star player for the University of Florida describes the system as “exploitation.” An interesting and unknown fact is that these amateur athletes are required to sign their rights away before they can ever play a down, or run the courts to make a point. Part III of a NCAA 440-page manual states that as 17 and 18-year-old amateur athletes, they promise to give up their rights for compensation. They also give up the rights to the likeness as athletes. That means for your favorite player on NCAA basketball or football video game on your Sega or Play Station will never see one penny from the sale of these games. In fact the money you collectors use to purchase well-known game DVDs, and retired athletic apparel that is put out by the NCAA never goes to these players as well. You are padding the pockets of the NCAA.

The President of the NCAA, Mark Emmert, would agree that it is a fair exchange. He reported on Frontline

We provide [athletes] with remarkable opportunities to get an education at the finest universities on earth…to gain access to the best coaches and the best trainers to develop their skills and abilities. So if they have the potential, that small proportion to play in professional sports, we’re helping them to develop those skills and they can do it if they choose to…If they choose to not go on or don’t have the skills and abilities, they get to go on in life and be successful as a young man or young woman.

First, the scholarships that are offered are on average $3000 shy of paying for essential expenses. Next, for those who do have the potential to become professional athletes, their numbers are small. Approximately 1% of college athletes go on to be successful at the professional level. The remaining will have to reach the stars through other arenas. But this daunting pathway is usually paved with many sharp jagged stones and boulders. What do you expect when 16 of this year’s March Madness basketball teams have a track record of graduating half of their players. The Baylor University basketball team during the 2009-2010 academic year graduated 29% of their players. Their football team graduated less than half. The 2008 Georgia National football champions graduated 55% of their players while that year’s basketball team graduated 38%.

For the students that do graduate, such as the promising wide receiver from the University of Alabama, Tyrone Prothro who won an award from the 2006 ESPY ceremony, as well as the Pontiac Game Changing Award, and thought of as once a potential Heisman winner; his professional life now involves being a bank teller down the street from the stadium that he once played at in Alabama. Due to an injury in an Alabama vs. Florida game during his junior year, he never played again. On the other hand, many do not end up like Rigoberto Nuñez of the 1996 Final Four University of Massachusetts basketball team. After graduating, he has a successfully career in college admissions. He asserted on Real Sports that he is not the norm. In fact, many athletes are not so lucky. He even jokes with the term “college athlete.” Nuñez said, “You are not there to graduate. You’re there to stay eligible or take enough courses that will keep you on the court.” Chaz Ramsey, University of Auburn football player in 2007 reported to Real Sports that his coach was famous for saying that academics is number one (while holding up 2 fingers) and football is number two (while holding up one finger).

Many of these players who are injured later are dropped from the team and lose their scholarship. Some later drop out of school completely. Due to a 1973 ruling, college and universities cannot offer more than one-year scholarships at a time to any player. If a player gets hurt or does not produce the stats expected by coaches, they have the option to not offer additional scholarships. Simply put, these players are seen as unsalvageable and dispensable. To many economists, this transaction would be deemed as a compensation for specific skills. Therefore it is a professional job.

As Wu Tang put it in C.R.E.A.M, “cash moves everything around me, cream get the money, dolla dolla bill ya.” In 2009 the University of Texas football program earned $94 million. During the same year, 14 top executives of the NCAA earned $425,000. The top executive in charge of the Sugar Bowl made $645,386 in 2008. The 2008 Georgia bulldog football team earned 18 million. During Tyrone Prothro’s time at Alabama, the football program earned 125 million over a three-year period. The current coach of Kentucky basketball earns $4 million a year. The University of Kansas basketball coach, Bill Self makes 3 million. The predecessor of Mark Emmert earned 1.7 million. In a 14-year contract between the NCAA and CBS, Turner Broadcasting, to televise March Madness, the NCAA will earn 10.8 billion. This estimates to approximately 700 million a year. We cannot forget the millions and millions that come through endorsements to teams and coaches through companies such as Nike, Addidas, AT&T, and etc. The NCAA would note that the 90% they earn (ticket sales, media rights, and etc.) as a non-profit organization goes to support the sports that do not earn the amounts basketball and football earn. An argument I find imprudent.

It is evident that the majority of players on college football and basketball are Black males. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida released its annual study, “Keeping Score When It Counts: Graduation Success and Academic Progress Rates for the 2011 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament Teams.” They noted that 91 percent of white and 59 percent of African-American men’s Division I basketball student-athletes graduated in 2010. Moreover, the gap between Black and White basketball players increased to 32 percentage points. In regards to football,

among the 70 bowl-bound teams this year, the [graduation rate] for African-American football student- athletes is 60 percent, up from 58 percent in 2009. The [graduation rate] for white football student athletes went from 77 percent last year to 80 percent this year. Overall, this reflects a 20 percentage point gap, which is up one percentage point from last year.

The exploitation of Black males is nothing new in this country. Not counting slavery, one could account for today’s Black males incarcerated. Angela Davis argues that the prison industrial complex pumps through the veins of capitalism. For example, the proliferation of the prison industrial complex is enmeshed with the U.S. economy and major companies in an effort to produce good for companies such as IBM, Texas Instruments, Microsoft, Boeing, Nordstrom (produces jeans called Prison Blues), Compaq, Motorola, Revlon, Chevron (prisoners enter data), Victoria Secrets, and TWA (telephone reservations). Prisoners work at a fraction of the pay that the general public would make. This from free labor of Black males is nothing new to this country. Pulitzer Prize recipient, Douglas Blackmon, unmasked the lie that many Americans walk around believing in regards to the end of the enslavement of Blacks within the United States.

Within his national bestseller, “Slavery by Another Name,” Blackmon exposes that Blacks, especially Black males, from the end of the Civil War until World War II were forced into involuntary slavery within states such as Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, through human labor trafficking for companies that dealt with pine tar, coal mines, road construction, timber mills, farm laborers, digging drainage ditches, These men were horribly abused physically and mentally. A narrative of a man who was forced into slavery said that he was whipped due to the fact that he did not know to ditch:

I was whipped because I did not know how to ditch—laid me down flat on my stomach, one man on my head and another man to hold my legs, and whipped me across my back, my cloths were on. I was whipped with a piece of stick about as big as a broom handle. I got 25 licks. I was whipped about every day.’

Others were sadistically flogged with leather straps dipped in syrup and sand, fists, and clubs. Men like him were initially jailed on trumped-up charges and kidnapped by local law enforcement. In order to pay off court cost or fines for these false charges, many were sold to rich land and business owners for as low as 25 dollars. Once bought, the men could not leave until the money owed the new master. This never occurred. All of this occurred under the proverbial noses of the federal and state bodies of government. The end was not insight until Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Due to the fact that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt that U.S. enemies within the World War II could exploit the status of Blacks as second-class citizens, he then called federal prosecutors and J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director, to mount an aggressive stance to eliminate the enslavement that was occurring.

Today’s high profile college sports are simply a continuation of the exploitation of Black males. The cycle of oppression continue to flourish and engulf us all. My goal of this was not to cause you to no longer love sports or cheer for those you admire. I simply want that the next time you think before you buying a Nike endorsed jersey or attend your next over priced college stadium sporting event, or take a bite from that fatty hotdog. Just recall that we as a society need to become more aware of the wealthy males we are helping as they continue to bleed out mostly poor and Black males. Ignorance is no longer an excuse in the oppression of the immobilized in the 21st century.

The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 43 Years Ago Today

[Note: Professor Rubén G. Rumbaut sent this out to his class today. It reminds me of my own experiences that terrible day. Joe]

Martin Luther King, Jr. (born on January 15, 1929) did not live to see his 40th birthday, but he left us a legacy for all seasons. A religious man of modest origins, who like many of you majored in sociology in college (at BU) and became perhaps the greatest orator in American history, he was murdered in Memphis, TN, on April 4, 1968, at the young age of 39 — a brutal, senseless assassination that changed the narrative arc of history in ways we can scarcely imagine.

Each year I send my students a note on this fateful anniversary, with varying content — not least because I remember the date as if it was yesterday: I was a teenager in college, working 30 hours a week while going to school in St. Louis, Missouri, with hardly any savings… but enough to buy a plane ticket to Atlanta, Georgia, and make it in time to join the tens of thousands who lined the streets and marched in the funeral procession that followed his mule-drawn casket. I was not even a citizen of the United States then; but I was shocked and dismayed by the senselessness of the assassination of a man of peace at a time of war, and felt that the only meaningful way in which I could respond to was to make an acto de presencia, in silent solidarity. In a way, I have been making that trip of remembrance ever since.

What had brought Dr. King to Memphis the day before was the struggle of 1,300 black sanitation workers for economic justice. Seeking to join the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1733, they had gone on strike in February to protest years of poor treatment, indignities, discrimination, dangerous working conditions and two recent work-related deaths, while being denied the right of collective bargaining. Their picket signs had a simple but profound message: “I Am A Man.” On April 3, the last full day of his life, Dr. King had marched with the garbage workers, facing down the armed forces of a city and state, declaring that “work that serves humanity… has dignity and it has worth.”

This year, 2011, marked the 82nd anniversary of his birth–and the 56th of the Montgomery Bus Boycott that he led as a newly appointed minister (at an age not much older than most of you in this class), after a young woman, Rosa Parks, refused to sit on the back of a bus as required by the norms of the white supremacist Jim Crow system of caste segregation that had been in place since the previous century. That boycott brought both to national prominence and catalyzed a modern civil rights movement, the legacies of which continue to reverberate into the 21st century.

Beginning officially on January 20, 1986–after much controversy and nearly two decades after his assassination–the third Monday of every January became designated a national holiday to commemorate his life. [But not all states agreed to honor it; amazingly, it was not until 2000 before all 50 states did so. Arizona finally did under pressure after the Super Bowl was moved by the NFL from Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe to the Pasadena Rose Bowl in 1993.] Much of what is said and done in those annual days of remembrance amount to little more than a 30-second-sound-bite version of a man, a life, and a historic period that defy trivialization. Given the central relevance of his life and legacy to our course, this e-mail is an effort to do more than join in the collective trivialization, and to urge you to do likewise.

For those of you interested in exploring the extraordinary life, work, times and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., there is now a treasure trove of information–not only of most of his entire collection of published writings but also of his speeches on audiotape (so that you can listen to them just as they were delivered), as well as biographies, articles, an interactive chronology, videos in Real format, etc., plus information about the remarkable project that makes this possible–available online at: The link is also posted in our Soc 63 website: “Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University.”

I encourage you to visit the Stanford site and spend some time exploring it. For instance, you might want to find the audiolink to listen to selections from his remarkable speech at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his assassination (the war at that time was in Vietnam, not in Afghanistan or Iraq, but what he had to say then remains eerily prescient now), and also read or print out the text of that speech, which is at: Martin Luther King, Jr., Beyond Vietnam, 4 April 1967

I am attaching … on the anniversary of his death, links to his shortest and best known speeches: the one he gave in Oslo when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 (he was but 35 years old at the time): December 10, 1964 – Acceptance Speech at Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony — and perhaps his most famous oration at the base of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963 (the occasion for which was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom coinciding with the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation): Martin Lu ther King, Jr., I Have a Dream, 28 August 1963. Yet Dr. King was no dreamer, but a man of action par excellence: Not one of you should graduate from college, or leave this class, without reading the classic essay he penned from jail in April of that same year: “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963). In it he wrote that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly… Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” He sought, indefatigably and with few illusions, economic and political power and justice for a people long downtrodden, as you’ll read in his August 1967 speech, “Where Do We Go From Here?”, but yet driven by the conviction that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

And he could be prophetic, never more so than in his last speech on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, exactly 43 years ago, the night before he was assassinated: “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”. In it he told the crowd about a bomb threat on his plane from Atlanta to Memphis that very morning, adding that he knew that his life was constantly in danger because of his political activism: “I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountaintop, and I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.”

Today, even as we are once again shocked by assassinations in a ratcheted-up climate of hate (as in Tucson, AZ, last January, and around the world, as in the murderous rampage in Afghanistan this week provoked by the burning of a Koran by a self-proclaimed fundamentalist “pastor” in Gainesville, FL), do take a moment and go to the King project site to expand your awareness and knowledge of a life that made and continues to make a difference… and a voice for reason that is missed, and needed, more than ever.

Manning Marable, African American Studies Scholar, Dies at 60

Manning Marable, the author of a long-awaited new biography of Malcolm X to be published Monday and director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University, died Friday at the age of 60, his wife, Leith Mullings, has confirmed to the New York Times.   His new biography of Malcolm X is scheduled to be published on Monday by Viking.


Here is his website on Malcolm X. Our condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.  He was a great scholar and a kind man.  He will be missed.

African Americans’ Social & Racial Identity Under Attack

The social identity of individuals is linked to their racial and cultural identities which give them a sense of purpose in life. It is common knowledge that Italians, Greeks, Russians, Germans, French, Swedes, Finns, Norwegians, Spaniards, to name a few, have identifiable cultures that are linked to their social and racial identity and that this identity is embraced, welcomed, and accepted throughout the Western world. These cultural groups are known for their goods and services, foods, modes of production, religions, and regions. However, a radically different story emerges about people of color, specifically African Americans. When reflection is given to individuals of African extraction, what thought comes to mind? Naturally, racialized societies throughout the world associate negative images to persons, groups, or things they do not understand or to those things they perceive as different (See Images of the outsider in American law and culture: Can Free Expression Remedy Systemic Social Ills, Chapter 21, pp. 225-235.) These negative images usually come from a white racial frame that is sustained and maintained by systemic racism.

African Americans have been the subject of racialized and discursive discourse that has socially constructed them as criminals and amoral human beings, which challenges their humanity and their right to a legitimate social and racial identity. Such racialized discourse has its roots in slavery, was reproduced during the Jim Crow era, and is maintained today through systemic racism to keep them from having a healthy identity, one that the world can appreciate and respect. When CNN’s Black in America aired during the month of July 2008, Fox News invited both black and white contributors to share their perceptions of the CNN documentary. These contributing sycophants used offensive and racially-charged statements to demean African Americans. To this end, African American guest speakers were expected to express bigoted and inflammatory statements against their own racial group with reference to crime and out-of-wedlock births, suggesting that African Americans lack moral character and can only be identified as criminals and an amoral people. Earl Ofari Hutchinson writes that

The image of the malevolent black male is based on durable and time-resistant bedrock of myths, half-truths, and lies. The image was created during the European conquest of Africa, nurtured during slavery, artfully refined during the nadir of segregation, and revived during the Ronald Reagan-George Bush years. . . . To maintain power and control, the plantation masters said that black men were savage and hyper-sexual. To strengthen racial control, late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century scientists and academics concocted pseudo-theories that said black men were criminal and mentally defective. To justify lynching and political domination, the politicians and business leaders of the era said that black men were rapists and brutes. To roll back civil rights and slash social programs, Reagan-Bush Limbaugh type conservatives say black men are derelict and lazy.

When racist media, such as Fox News, use black intellectual mercenaries to pander to white audiences to denounce a cultural practice or particular behavior in African Americans in general, they are, in essence, identifying African Americans as subjects worthy to be oppressed, absolving a racialized society of all blame for their oppressed condition and the reason such behavior has become a normalized practice.

With this said, many African American men and women do not have the luxury of marrying and raising a family together under normal circumstances because of many black males’ difficulty acquiring gainful employment with medical benefits. Without gainful employment, African American men are essentially unmarriageable. With so many African American men lost to the prison system and with little economic advantage, many are reluctant to marry because they cannot support a family.

Finally, Kenneth Estell, as well as many other black scholars, documents African Americans’ contributions to America. Estell documents both black achievements and chronicles their accomplishments, such as Blacks’ creation of national organizations, involvement in politics, entrepreneurship, gains in education, religion, literature, the media, performing arts, music, sports, military, science, medicine, military, and many other achievements.