- Created on 10 April 2013
“Our nation is moving towards two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.” – 1967 Kerner Commission
In 1963, more than a quarter-million people gathered in Washington, D.C. for the historic Great March for Jobs and Freedom. This was a watershed moment in American history, giving unprecedented voice to the hardships facing Blacks as they sought a fair shot at an elusive dream. In 2013, America witnessed the second inauguration of our first Black president. Much has changed in 50 years.
We now see a fair number of successful Blacks hailed as examples of the progress and possibilities that define American democracy. Most of the legal impediments preventing African Americans from learning, earning and living where they want have been removed. Unfortunately, these apparent indicators of improvement cannot lead us to conclude that Blacks in America have overcome. A veneer of progress cannot remove the stains of inequality that still exist in our country. As we simultaneously commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we are still on the march for economic and social equality.
The battlefield may look different, but the most pressing demands of today mirror the ones faced by those gathered in Washington, D.C. on that August afternoon in 1963: economic equality, educational opportunity and parity, and civil rights. However, instead of fighting against employment discrimination or a $2 minimum wage, we now fight for job training and wage equity. Instead of calling for school segregation to end, we now demand an end to disparities in educational investment. Instead of calling for meaningful civil rights legislation, we now fight to preserve voting rights and affirmative action — those very rights for which our ancestors fought and died.
This week, the National Urban League will release the 37th edition of the State of Black America report, which takes a 50-year retrospective look at economic and educational equality in America. I have seen the findings and studied them, and I am more convinced than ever that there remains much for us to do.
As I pointed out in a recent appearance on CNN, the so-called housing “recovery” clearly demonstrates that we are in “a tale of two Americas” — one where the rich are surging ahead while the average American is getting squeezed out — again. Further Blacks and Hispanics are faring even worse. The findings from the 2013 State of Black America, Redeem the Dream: Jobs Rebuild America make that painfully clear.
America is at a critical juncture. If we are to continue on the road to full economic recovery, every American needs access to jobs with a living wage and good benefits. Every child deserves access to the best schools, the best teachers and the best education in the world. Without that commitment, we will continue to see America, as the 1967 Kerner Commission put it, “moving towards two societies…separate and unequal.”
But persistent problems require sustainable solutions. This week, we will begin to move that conversation forward.
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League
- Created on 10 April 2013
You can call it the "bandwagon effect," or "political opportunism," or, the "wake-up-call effect," or, less cynically, an old American tradition. Whatever you call it, in the last month it seems everybody and their momma in the political arena has been expressing support for gay rights and same-sex marriage.
The support has come from opposite ends of the political spectrum: from Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman, who also revealed that his son is gay, to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said she was free to speak her mind now that she has left office.
Even the Republican National Committee seemed in its white paper exploring the causes and implications of the Party's decisive defeat last November to call for a softening of the GOP's hard line on gay rights and same-sex marriage lest it find itself in "an ideological cul-de-sac."
Martin Luther King, Jr., whose commitment to justice for all got him killed 45 years ago this month, would be pleased. We do know which side this man, who was becoming ever more "militant" in his willingness to challenge the country's fierce dynamic of exclusion, would be on today.
Of course, it's not literally true that the opposition to gay rights has melted away. We can still expect plenty of venomous rhetoric and obstructionist legislative tactics from right-wing clerics, conservative officeholders (and wannabes) and pundits, and the conservative talk-show confederacy.
But the signs are unmistakable that the American public's support-to-opposition ratio on the multifaceted issues of gay rights has shifted significantly. For example, a Washington Post–ABC News poll conducted last month found that a record 58 percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage, a finding the paper called "a remarkable – and remarkably fast – turnaround in American public opinion" on the issue since 2010.
The poll's findings were underscored by the two cases involving same-sex marriage the Supreme Court took up last month: One concerns California's 2008 voter-enacted Proposition 8, which bars same-sex marriage in the state. The other involves the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which forbids federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in the nine states and the District of Columbia where it is legal.
Regardless of how the court rules on these cases – expectations are that the justices will issue narrow rulings effectively gutting both laws – full civil rights for gay and lesbian Americans will become a reality much sooner rather than later.
The fact that this marked shift in public opinion about same-sex marriage became apparent at the moment of another calendar-driven commemoration of King's prophetic mission helps illuminate the similarities between the Black freedom struggle and the gay rights movement.
It's perfectly clear now that the gay rights movement is this era's "gateway" tolerance issue – that it is the movement whose successes are most critical at this moment to advancing tolerance and equal opportunity in American society.
That isn't to say gay rights has pushed into the background the struggle for full equality of Black Americans – or of White women and other people of color.
Rather, it's to acknowledge what hindsight has made apparent: Because the issue of gay rights has been the most contentious issue of tolerance for the past two decades, the advances gays and lesbians have made in gaining their rights, and the recognition of those rights by their fellow Americans have broadened the boundaries of tolerance for all.
That last point goes to the core of the common bond between the Black freedom struggle and the gay rights movement. Both groups were so stigmatized, so disregarded, so exiled from the American mainstream that they, separately and in different eras, had to forge an extraordinary, decades-long movement to change the thinking about them as a critical minority of Americans.
That shift the respective movements engineered led to the social and political breakthroughs for them and, importantly, for other groups. Just as the gay rights movement benefited from the inspiration and the practical successes of the Black freedom struggle of the last 50 years, so now Black Americans are benefiting from the gay rights movement's expanding the "space" for greater tolerance in American society.
Of course, what has happened on the same-sex marriage front over the past month hardly means that struggle is finished. Black Americans can point to an entire catalogue of breakthroughs stretching back to Emancipation; yet, their struggle for full citizenship goes on. So it will be with the gay rights movement. To be sure, this is a watershed moment for the movement. But, as with the Black freedom struggle, it will be some time yet before justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His most recent book is "Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America."
- Created on 09 April 2013
There is this saying that “just because you are paranoid does not mean that people are not out to get you.” This saying is very important in understanding the dynamics of the North Korean’s relationship with the United States.
Nothing in this commentary is to serve as an apology for North Korea. Rather, it is critical that we have a better understanding of dynamics in the North Korean regime in order to avoid a major military clash.
The Korean peninsula was divided in the aftermath of World War II when Soviet troops, coming from the north, moved against the Japanese occupiers and U.S. troops moved up from the South. At the 38th Parallel, the peninsula was divided. Between 1945 and 1950, rather than the peninsula being unified, two separate regimes were established in the occupation zones (in the North it came to be known as the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea;” in the South, the “Republic of Korea”. A guerrilla war started in the South against a U.S.-supported dictatorship aimed at reunifying the peninsula. The U.S.A. remained committed to not only a divided Korea but also one that was led by their friendly dictator in the South.
In June 1950, the formal war in Korea began when North Korean troops moved south in what can accurately be described as a continuation of the civil war that had started shortly after the end of World War II. The U.S.A. was able to convince the United Nations to get involved in the war, which was followed by a massive U.S. intervention. U.S. troops came close to winning the war until they ignored the Chinese warnings to stay away from the border with China. U.S. General Douglas MacArthur seemed intent on provoking a war with China and reinstating the Guomindang government that had just been overthrown. At that point, 1 million Chinese troops came across the border pushing the US/UN troops back to the armistice line that currently divides Korea.
From 1953 through today tensions have flared up at various points. The USA has regularly threatened the North Koreans and for many years placed nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula. In North Korea, a fiercely independent Communist regime was established under Kim Il Sung. Although there is a political party–the Korean Workers Party–that theoretically leads the country, there has been something approaching a “red monarchy” dominating the North that began with Kim Il Sung and has been followed by his son and, now, grandson.
North Korea deeply fears attacks from South Korea and from the U.S. This fear is rooted in the reality of what took place from the end of World War II through today. The U.S.A. and the South Koreans have engaged in a mini-cold war with North Korea that has included both propaganda and military actions carried out by both sides against one another.
Much of what we have been witnessing in the current moment is a continuation of an almost bizarre effort by the North Koreans to get the USA to speak directly with them towards an ending of tensions on the Korean peninsula. That may sound odd since the North Koreans are threatening war, but at base the North Koreans want to have direct, one-on-one talks with the USA where they–the North Koreans–can be assured that there will be security for them on the peninsula.
When the U.S. refuses to have one-on-one talks with the North Koreans and refuses to acknowledge the legitimate interests that North Korea has in national security—irrespective of one’s view of the nature of the North Korean regime—tensions inevitably increase. When the North Koreans start throwing around suggestions of war and missile strikes they are playing directly into the hands of those in the U.S. who would like to turn North Korea into a cinder. As such, the rhetoric is useless, if not outright destructive.
Perhaps President Obama should do a version of what Dennis Rodman conveyed as the request from North Korea’s current leader: pick up the phone and give him a call. Yes, diplomacy is more complicated than that, but you get the point…
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him at www.billfletcherjr.com.
- Created on 09 April 2013
Jackie Robinson’s life is a lesson in courage. It’s a sobering but inspiring reminder of the barbaric cruelty of racism and those who rallied against it. This revealing film tracks his ascension from the Negro Leagues to Major League Baseball. And though you think you may know his story, you couldn’t possibly fathom the horrors he endured to pave the way for Black athletes.
42 vividly captures defining moments in the legendary baseball player’s career. It spans 1945 to 1947, when he married his sweetheart, played with Dodger farm teams and eventually the Brooklyn Dodgers. Chronicling Robinson’s entire life might have been a gargantuan task, and too lengthy an endeavor for one movie, but it’s a pity the filmmakers didn’t try. When this well-intentioned 2-hour, 18minute bio-film comes to an abrupt end, you’ll want more. You’ll want to know about his pre- and post-career life.
In 1945, when African American servicemen returned from World War II, they encountered an America deeply entrenched in prejudice, Jim Crow laws and segregation. Major League Baseball teams were all White, until one fateful day Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) decided to stir things up. “Everyone will be against it… I’m going to bring a Negro player to the Brooklyn Dodgers.”
The alliance between Rickey and Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) is no accident. The manager is looking precisely for a courageous man who has both guts and restraint, which is what it will take to weather an impending barrage of criticism and resistance. During the war, Robinson had been court-martialed for not sitting in the back of a military bus. That bold move intrigued Rickey, and he sought him out. The fearless veteran tells the GM, “You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, and I’ll give you the guts.”
Director/writer Brian Helgeland is a decent director (Knight’s Tale) but a much stronger writer (Oscar winner for L.A. Confidential and Oscar nominee for Mystic River). He’s assembled a very professional production crew, and that is the flaw in his approach. This film needed to be grittier than it is.
All the characters are wearing brand new clothes (courtesy of costume designer Caroline Harris), as if they just went on a Macy’s shopping spree. Cindy Carr’s sets are too perfect and obvious, you can detect when a Hollywood back lot is substituting for a real New York location. The cinematography (Don Burgess) is super glossy, like a car commercial. Trumpets blare incessantly like Caesar is entering the room. The editing is the one production element that is right on the mark; Peter McNulty and Kevin Stitt make the footage fly by like a fastball.
As a minor league player, Robinson is forced to live a shadow existence, staying with local Black families because hotels reject him. His chauffeur and guide is Wendell Smith (Andre Holland), a Black sports writer for the Pittsburgh Courier. When Robinson gets despondent over his maltreatment and being shunned by the team, Smith lets him know that his experience is not isolated. “You aren’t the only one. Negro reporters aren’t allowed in the press room, either.”
Robinson’s struggles with his fellow players, with rival teams and their managers are well documented. As he works his way through the minor leagues, he’s psychologically and emotionally abused. White pitchers use his head for target practice. Through it all, you’re horrified, angry, and sad. When Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk), the manager of the Phillies screams the ‘N’ word at the nerve-frayed Robinson when he comes to bat, in front of a packed stadium, you wonder how can this man bear it. Then the day he steps on to Ebbets Field, as a full-fledged Brooklyn Dodger, your emotions peak and you get the chills. It’s a milestone. Historic. He is the first Black man to play a Major League Baseball game. The past is erased. The future is now.
Despite the film’s sleek feel, the basic life story with its tribulations and triumphs remain intact. It’s inspiring, especially as depicted by Boseman who has the swagger of a young Denzel Washington. Serious, stoic, pent up. If anything he suppresses his anger better than Washington, letting it ride under the surface, so when it erupts, it’s dramatic, forceful. The physicality of his performance—mimicking Robinson’s awkward batting stance and freaky, base-stealing agility—is uncanny.
The romance between Jackie and his wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie; Shame and American Violet) depicts a strong foundation. Beharie flaunts the charm and determination that is trademark of the real Mrs. Robinson. Lucas Black as Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese, is the quintessential character actor; the one you call when you need a Southern man with a solid persona. Tudyk as Chapman is suitable vicious and unremorseful as the “N” word rolls off his tongue with venom that would shame the KKK. Harrison, a lead actor, is not an obvious choice to play an historical character. His performance seems a bit studied, clunky and theatrical, but eventually he wins you over.
Hegeland’s script spends the right amount of time exploring Robinson’s inner self. He wasn’t just a skilled athlete; he was a keen strategist, a smart man’s player. He could get under the skin of any pitcher by stealing bases with the cunning of a fox. He was ferocious, yet a gentleman. The flaw in the script is that too often the characters talk in platitudes, and not like real people. Particularly Rickey; probably he was as smart businessman with certain ideals and solid morals. It’s unlikely that every sentence he uttered was prosaic, poignant and prophetic: “Dollars aren’t black and white, they’re green.”
One evening, while strolling through Brooklyn Jackie and Rachel are confronted by a White stranger. She is scared, he steps in front of her to protect her. They are surprised when the admirer says: “If a man’s got the goods, he deserves a fair shake.” That fairness doctrine drives American culture. Seeking justice is the film’s hook and the major attraction to Robinson’s storied life.
This honorable and enlightening film pays due respect to Jackie Robinson—a sports legend and courageous American hero.
Visit Dwight Brown at www.DwighBrownInk.com
(Photo: Nicole Beharie and Chadwick Boseman star in the Jackie Robinson bio-film 42.)
- Created on 09 April 2013
Unemployment rates were “little changed” in March 2013 – they were either holding steady or dropping by a tenth of a percentage point or so. The unemployment rate dropped from 7.7 to 7.6 percent representing a steady, if painstakingly slow, decrease. This declining unemployment rate was reported with some circumspection because even as the rate dropped, nearly half a million people left the labor market, presumably because they could not find work. Further, in March, the economy generated a scant 88,000 jobs, fewer than in any of the prior nine months. An economy that many enjoy, describing as “recovering,” has not yet recovered enough to generate enough jobs to keep up with population increases.
Of course, there are variations in the unemployment rate, which is 6.7 percent for Whites, but 13.3 percent for African Americans. Hidden unemployment pushes the actual White rate up to 13.8 percent and the Black rate to 24.2 percent. More than 4.6 million Americans have been out of work for more than 27 weeks.
I parse these numbers on the first Friday of each month and note the vacillations in these rates. In the past four years, we have seen a downward drift in rates, but it neither been as rapid or as inclusive as we might like. We know that, in spite of talk of economic recovery, job creation is stagnant, not keeping up with increases in the population. In no month have we created the 300,000 jobs we need to “catch up” and push unemployment rates down.
We should pay attention to unemployment vacillations, but we might also consider the human cost of unemployment. Those who are unemployed experience malaise, displacement, and often depression. This malaise, or worse, affects dynamics in families, workplaces, and communities.
Some workers exhale when they dodge the bullet of a layoff. Next, they inhale when they realize that, thanks to layoffs, their workload will increase. In families and communities, the unemployment of just one person has a series of unintended costs for those close to them.
Speaking to the National Association of Black Social Workers conference last week, I reminded them that social workers are among those who bear the burden of unemployment. These committed public servants work with the threat of layoffs in their worksites, given sequestration and state budget cuts. Yet they are also challenged to advise those who have experienced the fate they may have to grapple with themselves. As employment is cut among social workers, others are forced to take on larger caseloads. Unless some of these social workers are superhuman, there will be clients who will slip between the cracks.
Heretofore, we have mostly looked at unemployment data as a reflection of the number of jobs our economy generates. We’ve also looked at those who hold them, those who lose them, and what this means in terms of poverty, education, and community health. We could expand our understanding of the employment situation if we looked at those who bear its burden.
There are politicians who rail that people are unemployed because they are lazy. The fact is people are unemployed because the economy is not generating enough jobs. The French philosopher, Albert Camus, mused, “Without work all life is rotten.” Everybody wants to be useful; and until “use” is defined as something other than paid employment, many will feel marginalized because of their vocation situation.
When unemployed, people hear about our “recovering” economy. They wonder what is wrong with them. We all need to wonder what is wrong with an economy that generates such unemployment. We need to wonder about an economy that has soaring stock prices and robust corporate profits, while so many individuals are struggling financially. We need to do more to include those at the margins into the vitality of our “recovering” economy. And we need to understand that if one in four African Americans and one is six of the overall population, experiences unemployment, this is not a personal problem, but a societal one. Will our society fix it, or let it roll? And who pays?
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.