390 Years Minus 100 Days, Pt. 1
Thu Apr 30th, 2009 at 03:34:56 PM EST
It's been pointed out by many — including the president himself — how absurd it is to Obama's success in cleaning up messes that were decades in the making, based on his first 100 days in office. It's equally absurd to expect that 100 days in the administration of our first African American president to even begin to address 390 years of racial history in this country. But it's at least an opportunity to assess where we really are, where we're headed, and how far we've yet to go.
Racism and the social construct of race itself are much older than the United States, with deep roots European colonialism. But its beginnings in this continent can be traced back to August of 1619, when the first Africans in America — 20 or so, stolen from a Spanish ship — were traded for food by a ship's captain, upon arrival at the Jamestown colony, in Virginia. Categorized as "indentured servants," but without vital dates indicating the end of their bondage, some were almost certainly slaves. By 1640, as least one African was listed as a slave, and slavery was underway.
The space between here and there is covered by enough history books to fill entire libraries. Suffice it to say that the election of a person such as Barack Obama reflects much that has changed for the better since then. The spectacle of our first African-American president, though not a descendant of slaves himself, being sworn in on the Lincoln bible — held by his wife, who is a descendant of slaves — was a "pinch me" moment for many of us. Reality, on that day, took on a dreamlike quality.
As I watched the inauguration from home, sitting on the carpet in our family room, with our two sons, I look up at my bookshelf. There, pictures of my father and grandfather seemed be to looking down at the scene. I sensed a division in time was born at that moment. On one side was the America they'd known all their lives. On the other, my family and I — along with the everyone else — were carried along by history into an America forever changed by what was unfolding before our eyes.
Rest of Article at link above.
390 Years Minus 100 Days, Pt. 2
Fri May 1st, 2009 at 01:06:47 PM EST
National Urban League head Mark Morial recently described the state of black America today as "the best of times and the worst of times." He's right. The inauguration of the first African-American president was a moment worth celebrating as an undeniable achievement of the progress we've made regarding race. Many African-Americans from communities across the county traveled to D.C. to witness the moment. Even more of us gathered around radios, television screens and computer monitors.
It was a brief respite, savored for as long as the day lasted, and then we all returned home, or turned off the television and returned to reality. For reality the day before and the day after was, and remains, an indicator of how far we are from "the Dream" so often referenced on that day. For just as much as "everything changed" for African Americans on that day, at the same time nothing changed, as one article noted days before Obama's inauguration.
Nothing will change for black Americans on Tuesday, when the first black president takes office. They will wake up in the same homes, go to work at the same jobs, face the same obstacles.
Just a month after Barack Obama's inauguration, the State of the Dream 2009 report revealed that Black Americans are, in this economy, experiencing a "Silent Depression," based on the following findings:
*Almost 12% of Blacks are unemployed; this is expected to increase to nearly 20% by 2010. Among young Black males aged 16-19, the unemployment rate is 32.8%, while their white counterparts are at 18.3%.
*Overall, 24% of Blacks and 21% of Latinos are in poverty, versus 8% of whites.
*The median household incomes of Blacks and Latinos are $38,269 and $40,000, respectively, while the median household income of whites is $61,280.
*Nearly 30% of Blacks have zero or negative worth, versus 15% of whites.
*On the median, for every dollar of white wealth, people of color have 15 cents. On average, people of color have 8 cents for every dollar of white wealth.
As the Obama administration neared its 100-day mark, the National Urban League published its State of Black America report, examining black progress in education, home ownership, entrepreneurship, health, other areas, and including a message to the president. The report features an Equality Index, a statistical measurement of the status of blacks compared with whites, and while the change in the index — from71.5% in 2008 to 71.1% in 2009 — reflects a continuation of the status quo, it is a status quo defined by disparity, as Morial mentioned in his remarks on the report.
Rest of article at link above.
390 Years Minus 100 Days ... And Counting
Mon May 4th, 2009 at 03:34:25 PM EST
In many ways, the discussion of race in America, particularly as it relates to today's issues (the economy, health care, education), brings to mind the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Different people have a firm grasp on part of the truth in the middle of the room — be it the tail, the trunk, an ear, or a leg — but no one seems able to look at the thing itself. Three examples of a similar phenomenon reveal some of the difficulties in our national discussion on race.
During the press conference concerning his first 100 days in office, BET reporter Andre Showell asked Obama about African American unemployment.
As the entire nation tries to climb out of this deep recession, in communities of color, the circumstances are far worse, the black unemployment rate, as you know, is in the double digits. And in New York City, for example, the black unemployment rate for men is near 50 percent. My question to you tonight is: given this unique and desperate circumstance, what specific policies can you point to that will target these communities and what’s the timetable for us to see tangible results?
And in his answer, Obama reached out and firmly grabbed hold of one part of the elephant in the room.When we put in place additional dollars for community health centers to ensure that people are still getting the help that they need, or we expand health insurance to millions more children through the Children’s Health Insurance Program, again, those probably disproportionately impact African-American and Latino families simply because they’re the ones who are most vulnerable. They have got higher rates of uninsured in their communities.
So my general approach is that if the economy is strong, that will lift all boats as long as it is also supported by, for example, strategies around college affordability and job training, tax cuts for working families as opposed to the wealthiest that level the playing field and ensure bottom-up economic growth.
And I’m confident that that will help the African-American community live out the American dream at the same time that it’s helping communities all across the country.”
His answer echoed and expanded upon his video-taped message to the State of Black America forum a month earlier. He's not entirely wrong, though it depends on what one means by a strong economy. As pointed out in the State of Black America report, the "rising tide" of the so-called recovery during the Bush years did not lift all boats.
Rest of article at link above.
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