Are African-Americans Black Enough or Anglo Americans Too White?

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

This year, perhaps more than any time in the past, Americans are reminded of race relations each and every day.  On televisions, on the radio, airwaves are filled with talk of the current Presidential campaign.  For the first time in this nation’s history, a viable Presidential hopeful is not a white.  Barack Obama is a Black man; he is profound and has purpose.  Early on, Anglo Americans, and even some people of color, wondered if Obama authentically represented African-Americans.  Countless inquired of Obama’s experience, not in Congress, but in the ghettos of this country.  The prominent periodical, Time Magazine, published a cover story titled, “Is Obama Black Enough?  As Sociologists assess, there is reason to believe another question is apt, “Are Caucasians white enough, or are they too white to understand the Black experience?”  

The Black experience is as all other occurrences.  Each is unique to the individual.  Nevertheless, in a society where clear delineations are evident, we can observe, life as an African-American is not as easy.  Circumstances common among Blacks are unthinkable to Caucasians.  Anglos rarely appreciate persons of color are not truly different, only the conditions they live under vary.  

While white Americans are happy to acknowledge that the Black man or woman they work with, as a singular person, is wonderful, Caucasians are quick to avow, that the individual they know is not like the rest of “those” people.  Pinkish people do not understand.  Hence . . .

Whites Underestimate the Costs of Being Black

Columbus, Ohio – How much do white Americans think it “costs” to be black in our society, given the problems associated with racial bias and prejudice?

The answer, it appears, is not much.

When white Americans were asked to imagine how much they would have to be paid to live the rest of their lives as a black person, most requested relatively low amounts, generally less than $10,000.

In contrast, study participants said they would have to be paid about $1 million to give up television for the rest of their lives.

The results suggest most white Americans don’t truly comprehend the persisting racial disparities in our country, said Philip Mazzocco, co-author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus.

“The costs of being black in our society are very well documented,” Mazzocco said. “Blacks have significantly lower income and wealth, higher levels of poverty, and even shorter life spans, among many other disparities, compared to whites.”

For example, white households average about $150,000 more wealth than the typical black family. Overall, total wealth for white families is about five times greater than that of black families, a gap that has persisted for years.

“When whites say they would need $1 million to give up TV, but less than $10,000 to become black, that suggests they don’t really understand the extent to which African Americans, as a group, are disadvantaged,” Mazzocco said.

What Anglos do understand are the generalizations they hold dear.  Black persons are different than whites, and they are, in large part because a society that favors people of pinkish paler hues has created a cast system that bars African-Americans from achieving as they might.  

Incomes are lower, access to adequate educational facilities are few.  Health Care coverage is out of reach for those with limited opportunity and wealth.  Discrimination against those whose color differs from the main is ample.  In the abstract, Anglo Americans grasp that those placed lower on the socio-economic ladder suffer.  White Americans know they would not wish to live as a Black American does.

[I]n one study, whites were told to imagine that they were about to be born as a random white person in America, but they were being offered a cash gift to be born as a random black person. Once again, white participants requested relatively small sums to make a life-long race-change.  In addition, some were given a list of some of the costs of being black in America, such as the racial wealth disparity.  The result was that whites in this latter scenario requested significantly higher amounts than those in the previous studies – about $500,000.

Finally, some participants were given a similar scenario except all references to blacks, whites, and America were taken out. They were asked to imagine they were born into the fictional country of Atria, and were born either into the “majority” or “minority” population.  They were given a list of the disadvantages that the minority population faced in Atria (which were identical to the real disadvantages faced by blacks in America).  In this case, white participants in the study said they should be paid an average of $1 million to be born as a minority member in Atria.

“When you take it out of the black-white context, white Americans seem to fully appreciate the costs associated with the kinds of disparities that African Americans actually face in the United States,” Mazzocco said. “In this case, they asked for a million dollars, similar to what they want for giving up television.”

Mazzocco said blatant prejudice was not the reason for the findings.  Results showed that whites who scored higher on a measure of racial prejudice did not answer significantly differently than others in the study.

Often those who are out of touch with what is true for another are not knowingly bigoted.  As children, we learn to believe as we do.  Most Americans are oblivious, no matter how well informed they, we might be.

However, if we are honest with ourselves, people know what is philosophically true for them personally, may not be valid.  We are each similar, yet, never the same.  A human desire to categorize places us in jeopardy.  When we define others, or ourselves as Black or white we cripple our communities, as evident through statistical data.  The numbers speak volumes, so too do people if we bother to ask them of their values.

Social Scientists surveyed those of disparate groups, and discovered what we could know intellectually.   Those who physically do and do not resemble us share our values.  Although experiences may be divergent, we need only think of our siblings to realize the adage  “All men are created equal,” does not mean every being is identical in appearance; nevertheless, essentially we are related.  My blue eyed-sister is not as I am.  She sees the world through her own lens.  A brown-eyed brother cannot think, say, do, feel, or be as me.  Still, we are akin.  Biologically persons may be similar.  They are never the same; nor are there stark contrasts.

Every human values principles that honor all men, women, and children unvaryingly.  Innately, two-legged creatures crave caring connections.  We all want to have the rights reverence affords, just as our brethren do.  Every person is made of blood, sweat, and tears.  Humans have inherent worth.  Shared ignorance does not allow people to act on our deepest beliefs.  the essence of our beauty is not just skin deep.  It is part of our being whether we are Black or white.

Researchers remind us, in November 2007, it is time to “Redefine What It Means to Be Black in America.” The Social and Demographic division of Pew Research Center, in conjunction with National Public Radio surveyed a large group of Americans, a large portion of those who participated were Black.  This fact alone sets this report apart from earlier examinations which most relied on data from white Americans.  The review titled, Blacks See Growing Values Gap Between Poor and Middle Class, Optimism about Black Progress Declines, we discover the times and trends are changing, or perhaps our awareness of what is has been altered.  Many African-Americans do not identify themselves with the accepted definition of Black.

A Single Race?

Another revelatory finding in the Pew poll is that 37 percent of African Americans now agree that it is no longer appropriate to think of black people as a single race.  A little more than half of the black people polled,  53 percent, agreed that it is right to view blacks as a single race.  And the people most likely to say blacks are no longer a single race are young black people, ages 18-29.

Forty-four percent of those young black people say there is no one black race anymore, as compared to 35 percent of the 30- to 49-year-old black population, and 34 percent of the black people over age 65.

The split in the black race comes down to a matter of values, according to the poll.  In response to the question, “Have the values of middle-class and poor blacks become more similar or more different?”  61 percent of black Americans said “more different.”  White Americans agreed, with 54 percent saying there is a growing values gap between the black middle class and the black poor; 45 percent of Hispanics agreed, too.

At the same time, 72 percent of whites, 54 percent of blacks, and 60 percent of Hispanics agree that in the last 10 years, “values held by black people and the values held by white people (have) become more similar.”

While the ethos may appear equivalent, upon closer examination a variance among respondents emerges.  In nationwide telephone interviews, with a representative sample of 3,086 adults, conducted from September 5-October 6, 2007, we learn what an “over-sampled” total of 1007 African Americans, 388 Hispanics, and 1671 Anglos believe.

  • Big gaps in perception between blacks and whites emerge on many topics. For example, blacks believe that anti-black discrimination is still pervasive in everyday life; whites disagree.  And blacks have far less confidence than whites in the basic fairness of the criminal justice system.
  • Over the past two decades, blacks have lost some confidence in the effectiveness of leaders within their community, including national black political figures, the clergy, and the NAACP. A sizable majority of blacks still see all of these groups as either very or somewhat effective, but the number saying “very” effective has declined since 1986.
  • These statements may correlate to what is real for too many African-Americans.  Income Gap Between Blacks, Whites Expands.  The Brookings Institute in cooperation with National Public Radio revealed in a recent report, while Black Americans can no longer be thought of as a distinct group, if they ever were, as a whole, people of color have not benefited from a “free and open” society, as Caucasians have.  Anglos remain oblivious.  Intolerant attitudes inform whites.  The same bigoted perspectives hinder an ability to relate, and recognize how different the Black experience is.

    Again, in November 2007, Americans were given an opportunity to assess the clash bias has created.  In a culture, founded on the principles of equality, Americans prefer to practice prejudiced policies.  In the United States, people whose skin is dark are not afforded the opportunities bestowed upon their counterparts, Caucasian Americans.

    Economic Mobility of Black and White Families

    In brief, trends show that median family incomes have risen for both black and white families, but less so for black families. Moreover, the intergenerational analysis reveals a significant difference in the extent to which parents are able to pass their economic advantages onto their children. Whereas children of white middle-income parents tend to exceed their parents in income, a majority of black children of middle-income parents fall below their parents in income and economic status. These findings are provided in more detail below.

    Median family income for both black and white families has increased over the last 30 years, but income gaps still persist.

    Between 1974 and 2004, white and black men in their 30s experienced a decline in income, with the largest decline among black men. However, median family incomes for both racial groups increased, because of large increases in women’s incomes.  Income growth was particularly high for white women.

    The lack of income growth for black men combined with low marriage rates in the black population has had a negative impact on trends in family income for black families.

    There was no progress in reducing the gap in family income between blacks and whites.  In 2004, median family income of blacks ages 30 to 39 was only 58 percent that of white families in the same age group ($35,000 for blacks compared to $60,000 for whites).

    Black children grow up in families with much lower income than white children.

    White children are more likely to surpass parents’ income than black children at a similar point in the income distribution.

    Overall, approximately two out of three blacks (63 percent) exceed their parents’ income after the data are adjusted for inflation, similar to the percentage for whites.

    However, a majority of blacks born to middle-income parents grow up to have less income than their parents.  Only 31 percent of black children born to parents in the middle of the income distribution have family income greater than their parents, compared to 68 percent of white children from the same income bracket. . . .

    White children are more likely to move up the ladder while black children are more likely to fall down.

    Startlingly, almost half (45 percent) of black children whose parents were solidly middle class end up falling to the bottom of the income distribution, compared to only 16 percent of white children.  Achieving middle-income status does not appear to protect black children from future economic adversity the same way it protects white children.

    Black children from poor families have poorer prospects than white children from such families. More than half (54 percent) of black children born to parents in the bottom quintile stay in the bottom, compared to 31 percent of white children.

    Perhaps, the way in which the Black population experiences income inequity and discrimination, accounts for the lack of confidence in African-American leaders among the population, or did until very recently.  In the Fall of 2007, before the first caucus in Iowa or the initial primary ballots in New Hampshire were cast, people of color in the United States expressed a glimmer of hope.  While many people whose skin cast a brownish-purple hue were devoted to the Clinton campaign, they recognized that Barack Obama shed a powerful light on the issue of color.  Again, the Pew Research Center, Social and Demographic Trends division concluded . . .

  • The most newsworthy African American figure in politics today – Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama – draws broadly (though not intensely felt) favorable ratings from both blacks and whites. But blacks are more inclined to say that his race will detract from his chances to be elected president; whites are more inclined to say his relative inexperience will hurt his chances.
  • Three-quarters of blacks (76%) say that Obama is a good influence on the black community. Even greater numbers say this about Oprah Winfrey (87%) and Bill Cosby (85%), who are the most highly regarded by blacks from among 14 black newsmakers tested in this survey. By contrast, just 17% of blacks say that rap artist 50 Cent is a good influence.
  • Months prior to these results a conversation ensued that may have helped to alter a long accepted perception.  The son of a white woman from Kansas, whose father was native to Kenya, Barack Obama was asked, “How important is race in defining yourself?”  Perhaps, esteemed Senator, and Presidential candidate, Obama spoke for many African-Americans, most of whom understand their bloodline may be mixed.  He might have also addressed what  Anglo Americans understand, if not consciously.  No matter the color of our skin, few of us are purebred.  While people may presume to know who we are based on a preconceived notion, we are all more than our appearance. [If only as a society, we acted on this veracity.]

    Obama: I think all of us in America and particularly African-Americans have to think about race at some point in our lives. The way I like to think about it, I am rooted in the African-American community, but I’m not defined by it.  I am comfortable in my racial identity and recognize that I’m part of a very specific set of experiences in this country, but that’s not the core of who I am.  Another way of saying is that’s not all I am . . .

    One of the things that helped me to resolve a lot of these issues is the realization that the African-American community, which I’m now very much feel a part of, is itself a hybrid community. It’s African.  It’s European.  It’s Native American.  So it’s much more difficult to define what the essential African-American experience is, at least more difficult than what popular culture would allow.

    What I also realized is that the American experience is, by definition, a hybrid experience.  I mean, you know one of the strengths of this country is that we have these people coming from, you know, all four corners of the globe converging, and sometimes in conflict, living side by side, and over time coming together to create this tapestry that is incredibly strong.

    And so, in that sense, I feel that my background ironically, because it’s unusual, is quintessentially American.

    Americans of any race know that their ancestry is likely mixed.  Whites are not pedigrees; nor are Blacks.  Yet, pinkish people feel they can or must delineate when they define a dark complexioned person.  Too often, in the United States, an African-American is described by their visible lineage, set apart because of the color of their skin.  Yet, what of whites?  How do we classify a paler person who may be part Irish, Italian, German, or English?

    Apparently, a year ago, in February 2007, 60 Minutes Host Steve Kroft thought he knew what it meant to be Anglo or to be raised among white people.  Mister Kroft made repeated references to the candidate’s Caucasian mother, and Obama’s childhood history.  He said, “You spent most of your life in a white household.”  “I mean, you grew up white.”  “You were raised in a white household?”  These statements were presented as though they were significant.  The presumption was, in a white home people think, say, do, feel, and are different than those in a Black family.  The evidence says this is not so.  Yet, the myth remains firm.  Hence, the journalist offered an observation, odd as it may be to some.

    Kroft: [A]t some point, you decided that you were black?

    The answer might have informed Black and white alike.  The response may have encouraged African-Americans to be more vocal by the time they were surveyed nine months later. Possibly, the response had no influence.  After centuries of racial discrimination, Black person may just be sick and tired of being sick and tired.

    Whatever the reason for the realizations that emerged in the Pew Research report, finally, there is an incentive to believe.  Hope is alive.  A Black American, or many African-Americans, together, can change the persistent culture.  

    Presidential aspirant, Senator Obama spoke a truth that rattled a rigid reality.  Stereotypes are exactly that.  They need not characterize any of us, nor do we, as a nation need to endorse what divides us.  Barack Obama explained . . .

    Well, I’m not sure I decided it. I think if you look African-American in this society, you’re treated as an African-American.  And when you’re a child, in particular that is how you begin to identify yourself. At least that’s what I felt comfortable identifying myself as . . .

    [T]here is racial prejudice in our society that we do continue to carry the historical legacy of Jim Crow and slavery. We’ve never fully addressed that.  It manifests itself in much higher rates of poverty and violence and lack of educational achievement in minority communities.  But I know in my heart that there is a core decency to the American people, and that decency can be tapped.

    I think America is at the point now where if a white person has the time to get to know who you are, that they are willing on average to look beyond race and judge you as an individual.  That doesn’t mean that they’ve stopped making snap judgments.  It doesn’t mean that before I was Barack Obama, and I was just Barack Obama, that if I got into an elevator, a woman might not clutch her purse a little tighter.  Or if I’m walking down the street, that you might not hear some clicks of doors locking, right. I mean, there’s still a host of stereotypes that I think a lot of people are operating under.  But I think if they have time to get to know you, they will judge you as they would judge anybody else, and I think that’s enormous progress.  

    We’ve made progress.  Yes, things are better.  But better is not good enough. And we’ve still got a long way to go.

    Indeed, America has much to do as a nation if we are to heal what has harmed us as a people.  If this country is to be truly healthy and authentically honorable, we must act as equals.  To allow Black Americans to suffer at the hands of “compassionate” Caucasians, to deny the similarities, and amplify the differences does not bode well.  A man, woman, or child must be judged by the quality of his character, not the color of his skin.  Let us have the courage of our convictions.  It is time to create a culture of community.

    Once you label me, you negate me

    ~ Soren Kierkegaard [Danish Philosopher]

    Sources and Stereotypes . . .

    Black History; The Past is Present

    Joseph McNeil (from left), Franklin in McCain, Billy Smith and Clarence Henderson sit in protest at the whites-only lunch counter at Woolworth during the second day of peaceful protest,

    February 2, 1960.Corbis

    copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

    French Novelist, Alphonse Karr offered, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  ‘Tis too true.  Beginning in the month of February 1976, Americans were given an opportunity to realize how profound the axiom is.  For four short winter weeks, citizens of this country contemplate what was.  We, as a nation honor Black History.  For a moment, countrymen set aside the preeminent prejudices that govern many practices and policies.  As a nation, we ponder how much African-Americans have contributed to this country.  

    Tales are told; triumphs recounted.  Perhaps one of most significant heartfelt stories shared was aired on February 1, 2008.  All Things Considered producers gave the listeners much to contemplate.  Newscaster, Michele Norris introduced an unassuming activist whose personal anecdote brought tears to the eyes of many in the National Public Radio audience.  The Woolworth Sit-In That Launched a Movement, as narrated by one of the Greensboro Four, Franklin McCain reminds us of how often the past is found in the present.

    Franklin in McCain remembered aloud the day he and his fellow classmates entered a Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth Five and Dime Store with intent.  The four students, each from the all-black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College walked into the Drug Store determined to order a meal and dine at the “whites only” lunch counter.

    In 1960, such an act was unthinkable.  Black Americans knew their place, and it was not near pinkish people.  To consider being physically close, or to question the authority of the Anglos in power, was cause for a near certain death sentence.  Nonetheless, after centuries of oppression, the descendants of slaves felt it was time to assert them selves, to peacefully stand strong in support of equal and civil rights.  

    The young men strode into the store, made a few purchases, and then moved toward the stools at the luncheonette.  Each understood that this act was not allowed.  Local laws, regulation imposed by retailers, or societal standards prohibited such an action.

    McCain remembers the anxiety he felt when he went to the store that Monday afternoon, the plan he and his friends had devised to launch their protest and how he felt when he sat down on that stool.

    “Fifteen seconds after … I had the most wonderful feeling.  I had a feeling of liberation, restored manhood.  I had a natural high.  And I truly felt almost invincible.  Mind you, [I was] just sitting on a dumb stool and not having asked for service yet,” McCain says.

    “It’s a feeling that I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to have again.  It’s the kind of thing that people pray for . . .  and wish for all their lives and never experience it.  And I felt as though I wouldn’t have been cheated out of life had that been the end of my life at that second or that moment.”

    The waitress behind the counter refused to serve the four gentle men any food.  The young chaps informed the woman that they had been waited on only moments earlier.  The fellows, Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Billy Smith, and Clarence Henderson had procured wares in the store before they took seats at the food bar.  The students questioned why could they buy goods, and yet not pay for, and then eat the fodder available for sale in the store restaurant.  Befuddled, the server called her supervisor.

    The retail manager approached the students and told them to leave.  He said the young men could have a meal at the stand-up counter in the basement, but not in the more visible “For Whites Only” luncheon area.  The Executive proclaimed corporate headquarters mandated the policy.  [Later, the four scholars would learn this was not true.]

    After a five-minute dialogue, the manager threw his hands up in dismay and walked back into the kitchen.  Moments passed and a police entered the store.  The law-officer paced back and forth, near the four young men.  He glared and stared at the fellows. None of the college men were combative.  They remained calm.  Then, the policeman pulled out his nightstick.  The law-enforcer slapped the stick in the palm of his hand repeatedly.

    The then academic realized the lawman did not know what to do. McCain recalls the zeal he felt.  The deputy did not sense what he could or could not do.  The bureaucrat was befuddled.  The four college men were not disturbing the peace; indeed, the gents were tranquil and composed.

    A older white woman watched the entire incident.  In a southern town such as Greensboro, North Carolina, circa 1960, one could assume the thoughts of a little old lady were not good.  The female, probably a product of the segregated South stared at the lads throughout the affair.  Franklin McCain imagined she was suspicious and distrustful of the four young men.  His thought was the lady was scornful.  He imagined, were she to speak, she would say, “Shame on you” to the Black “boys” at the counter.

    Eventually, she finished her doughnut and coffee. And she walked behind McNeil and McCain – and put her hands on their shoulders.

    “She said in a very calm voice, ‘Boys, I am so proud of you. I only regret that you didn’t do this 10 years ago.'” McCain recalls.

    “What I learned from that little incident was … don’t you ever, ever stereotype anybody in this life until you at least experience them and have the opportunity to talk to them. I’m even more cognizant of that today – situations like that – and I’m always open to people who speak differently, who look differently, and who come from different places,” he says.

    Two score and eight years later, many people believe they are as Franklin McCain now is, free from stereotypes.  Throughout this territory, citizens of the United States claim to be colorblind.  The accepted conviction is, that in America, life has changed.  White Americans like to think racism is a obsession long past.  Historians turn to accounts such as the tale of the Greensboro four and state, the civil rights movement was a success.

    Journalist Michele Norris expressed as many would, “If you stop somewhere today for a cup of coffee and maybe a tuna sandwich, you probably saw other people at that establishment of a different race. Today, ‘No big deal;’ Back in 1960, in the America south, that scene would have been a very big deal.”  In conclusion, the broadcaster stated . . .

    On that first day, Feb. 1, the four men stayed at the lunch counter until closing. The next day, they came back with 15 other students. By the third day, 300 joined in; later, 1,000.

    The sit-ins spread to lunch counters across the country — and changed history.

    However, life for an African-American in 2008 is still riddled with racism.  The difference is the design is more subtle.  We remember Rosa Parks, the woman who stood up for freedom.  This African-American woman was tired of giving up her seat and her rights to racist whites who believed they were better than she.  When asked to stand or move to the back of a bus, Rosa Parks refused.  In a trolley filled with whites, many witnessed what would not occur today.

    Blacks need not forfeit their place on the bus bench to an Anglo.  Perchance, in part, because few whites use public transportation. Anglo Americans own automobiles.  

    African-American and Latino households are much less likely than white families to own a car, leaving us with those indelible images of people of color crying out from the rooftops [in 2005, during Hurricane Katrina.]

    A great deal of attention in the last two decades has been focused on the “digital divide,” the concern that unequal access to new forms of technology such as the Internet are leaving people behind based on their class and race. But Hurricane Katrina exposed the “internal combustion engine” divide, the alarming disparity in car ownership that literally was the difference between life and death for many Gulf Coast residents.

    A recent report on racial disparities in car ownership reveals that one in four Black households (24 percent) and one in six Latino households (17 percent) does not own a car.  This is compared to one in fourteen white households (7 percent) who are car-less. In the eleven coastal counties with the highest incidence and future risk of hurricanes, people without cars are disproportionately people of color.  These include counties in Houston, Providence, New Orleans, Tampa, New York City, and Miami.  In Orleans Parish New Orleans, for example, over 35 percent of African-Americans, 26 percent of Native Americans, and 27 percent of Latinos don’t own a car, compared to 15 percent of whites.

    Persons with pale complexions are not restricted in their travel; nor are they denied entry to a place of business.  Black individuals are.  Light skinned persons are not relegated to the wrong side of the railroad tracks.  White persons do not worry when they wish to move into a neighborhood.  Sundown Towns do exclude Anglos.  A Caucasian can take residence wherever he or she chooses, with few exceptions.  Only poor credit might lessen the opportunities afforded to a white man or woman.  Early in the Twentieth Century, segregation was blatant.

    Whites simply passed ordinances forbidding black people from buying or renting homes and, in some cases, even appearing on the street after sundown. To advertise their actions, the towns sometimes posted sundown signs on the highway or in the railroad station.

    “There was a contagion of ordinances,” says Loewen. “Many small towns expelled the black population or decreed a policy of not allowing any blacks.” . . .

    In 1968, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, banning discrimination in housing, and the Supreme Court ruled in Jones v. Mayer that housing discrimination was unconstitutional. Since then, Loewen says, “sundown towns have been in retreat.”

    But, he’s quick to add, “there are still hundreds of towns where blacks would risk their mental well-being as well as their physical well-being by living in them.”

    Certainly, Caucasian Americans would like to believe this is not true. Countless offer evidence.  People point to the  Civil Rights Act 1964. White Americans, embarrassed by their history tried to make amends.  An aspect of compensation and atonement was the popular practice of colorblindness.  People who profess not see the color of a persons’ flesh act as though they have great insight.  The bigoted belch, ‘We do not discriminate.’  Then, the tolerant insulate themselves.  

    Prejudiced persons isolate those whose skin is a shade thought less desirable.  Ghettos are hidden from view.  Highway walls seal “us” off from the slums. Americans acknowledge the city streets are not safe.  Thankfully, the suburbs are.  At times, one of “them” slips through the cracks.  Barriers are broken.  These fissures are filled with letters and threats of lynching.

    Bridget Ward, whose recent move to a White neighborhood in Philadelphia was greeted with insults painted on her front door, told reporters outside her home in Bridesburg, “I am going to move. Y’all got your neighborhood. You can have it.”

    The 32-year-old single mother said she will abandon her rented row house in the working-class neighborhood in northeast Philadelphia as soon as she can.

    “The letter is a very serious thing,” said Kevin Vaughan, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. “Bridget has two small kids–very, very good kids–and their safety weighed heavily on her mind.”

    The letter said Ms. Ward’s daughters, Jasmine, 3, and Jamilla, 9, would die if the family stayed in the home, according to police. Agent Bob Norton said the FBI had entered the case.

    The author of the death threat also boasted of having used a homemade bomb to drive a Black woman out of another White neighborhood.

    Neither police nor Vaughan would quote directly from the letter except to say it referred to a group called “the posse.”

    This mob of maligners is not unique.  In truth, racism has simply gone underground.  African-Americans are not run out on the rail, as they once were.  Anglo Americans have become more refined.  In 1982, in America the practice of intentional exclusion was ruled legal. Private clubs restrict persons of color and do not limit membership for those whose skin is light.

    More recently, in November 2006,  a Whites Only Scholarship, was offered to students.  The Endowment created outrage; nonetheless, the policy and practice are still thought reasonable enough to initiate.

    Lest we forget the most recent Supreme slight.  Jurists in the highest Court of the land ruled that schools in the “United” States can re-segregate.  In Parents Involved In Community Schools v. Seattle School District Number 1 Et. Al. . . .

    Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the plurality opinion that “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

    In essence, the Judiciary Branch of our government concluded, racial balance cannot be achieved by artificial means.  If citizens intentionally integrate then color will remain an issue.  Hence, by law it is decreed, the people in this nation must be colorblind and colormute.  Citizens can only hope that naturally mankind will decide to mix and mingle voluntarily, although rarely have they or will they as long as racism remains intact.

    For African-Americans equality, while granted by the Constitution, is but a dream.  Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior spoke of the shared hope in a speech delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington District of Columbia.  While a large crowd listened to the eloquent speaker and cheered, millions more were not moved or changed.

    Appearances may have been altered; however essentially, racism is alive and well in white America.  For the most part, a pinkish person is honored unless or until that Caucasian gives someone reason to react to his or her presence. If a white man commits murder or a Anglo woman neglects her children, people may gossip or scorn that individual.  Certainly, as a group, Caucasians will not be defined by the indiscretion of one individual.

    In the United States teachers, bank tellers, taxi cab drivers, retailers, and even the most reasonable among us, may look at a Black person, a dark-skinned individual and assume the person is lazy, less than brilliant, lacking in awareness, lower in social status than any other person might be.  Sadly, in the United States, some supposed scholars present pseudo science as reason to support such ghastly and inaccurate stereotypes.

    Sadly, or happily, few Americans experience as Franklin McCain did in the dawn of the Civil Rights movement.  Perhaps, if we each worked against the status quo, sat, or stood for equality, a little old lady, a sage of sorts, would approach us.  With her hands resting gently on our shoulders, this wise woman would say, in the most unexpected manner, “I am so proud of you. I only regret that you didn’t do this 10 years ago.'”

    Americans, we can wait no longer.  Rather than recount the history of Blacks in America, let us all make history.  May we finally begin to act on principles, embrace our brethren each and every day.  Holidays do not heal a heart.  Hurts do not fade with pomp and circumstance.  Change does not come when we deem ourselves different.  If we, as a country are to truly revere our brothers and sisters, be they black, brown, yellow, or pink, we must not rely on words.  Deeds tell the tale that Franklin McCain recalls.

    Resources for Racism . . .

    “What to the American Slave is Your Fourth of July?” Black America Grieves

    copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    I, as a white person mourn on this day, for every man and woman Black, white, brown, red, or yellow are my brethren.  I feel the pain of all those that have gone before me.  My heart aches most for those whose flesh is darkest.  It seems, try as they might Afro-Americans can never escape the bondage, the bigotry that enslaves them.  The color of their skin shades their every encounter.  I recognize that only days ago, in this duplicitous land founded on the principles of freedom and justice for all, segregation was again endorsed by the highest Court in the country.  The Supreme Court ruled “Schools can’t use race to assign students.” History demonstrates, left to their own devices whites will not desegregate.

    On this Independence Day, I grieve.  I do not celebrate.  I will not shop with abandon.  Nor will I partake in viewing firework displays.  A pleasurable picnic on this date seems disingenuous. The truth of what is in America is a burden I bear.  I ponder the present, and I pronounce; on this Independence Day, all Americans are not free.

    Today, the streets of these United States, are not paved in gold.  Opportunities are not available to all.  Those whose flesh is white are not pure and principled, although they may think themselves to be.

    With one hand, whites extend an invitation to share in the delight of liberty.  With the other, they cast the call aside. 

    African-Americans, those brought to the shores of this independent nation, and their progeny do not profit from a fight for freedom.  Glory was not and is not given to our slave soldiers or their offspring. Our Black brothers and sisters serve this nation; however, few reap the rewards of freedom.

    Granted some scant number of African-Americans have done well.  White persons witness the success of the few Blacks and claim these illustrate the norm.  However, they do not.  Nonetheless, many of our Americans of African decent, are mired in misery.

    White Americans may say this is not so.  They may argue Brown versus Board of Education was a milestone that benefits millions.  Yet, that law, according to Justice Stephen Breyer was reversed on June 28, 2007.  Speaking on the decision Parents Involved In Community Schools versus Seattle School District Number 1 this Supreme Court jurist stated

    In his written opinion, Justice Breyer said the decision was a “radical” step away from settled law and would strip local communities of the tools they need, and have used for many years, to prevent resegregation of their public schools. Predicting that the ruling would substitute for present calm a disruptive round of race-related litigation, he said, This is a decision that the court and the nation will come to regret.

    Caucasian citizens contend Affirmative Action laws righted the centuries of wrongdoing.  Yet, dark-skinned Americans dispute this assertion.  Whites work to rescind these laws.

    I would hope no one would think the Voters Rights Act is evidence that Blacks people have equal rights in America.  Any Bill that must be revisited and renewed regularly, does not provide for the people it professes to serve.  I believe it shameful that in the land of the free, Black citizens were not given the right to vote without restrictions until 1965!  To think that years later this law was threatened.  I have no words for such an injustice.  I can only ruminate.  As we “celebrate” this day of independence we must ask, are all our people free.

    While light skin lovelies think all is well; we now live in a colorblind society, down deep, they know that is not true.

    Ask a person of pale complexion to drive to the area of town known as the Black ghetto, or the slums.  Then you will witness an unspoken acknowledgement, independence, freedom, and justice were not afforded to Black Americans.

    Years ago, I was teaching a summer class at a major University.  The esteemed educational institution is located in so-called liberal Southern California. Only seven students enrolled.  The learning environment was ideal.  Discussions were deep and endless.  During the course of this seminar, we spoke of graffiti, and the related art and history of tagging.  We also chatted about what is considered a historic monument, the Watts Towers.

    In my youth, while living thousands of miles from Los Angeles and its surrounding cities, I saw many a slide and photograph of this structure.  I marveled as I observed the 17 separate sculptural pieces built by hand on a residential lot, owned by immigrant Simon Rodia.  Mister Rodia was, for me, an artist to admire.  Upon moving to the area, I immediately sought out this edifice.

    Frequently, in my first year as a California resident, I drove to Watts.  I toured the Towers.  I rambled around the park and the surrounding neighborhood.  I delighted in the experience.  I mentioned this to the adult students I sat with.  Then one afternoon, the group requested we plan a field trip.  “Let us travel together and explore Rodia’s masterpiece.?  I asked if they were sure they wanted to see this site.  None hesitated.  Each expressed their excitement.  I made the arrangements.

    Realistically, I could not commute with the others.  I was teaching at another University hours before our meeting.  That campus was far from the other.  Therefore, I needed to drive alone.  The women carpooled.

    The day was a joy.  The students were thrilled.  We befriended our guide, took photographs, and roamed the grounds for hours.  We saw more than merely the Towers.  We had fun.

    Upon meeting again in class, I learned what I had not imagined.  These seven young women were fearful prior to our trek.  Driving in the inner city was a novel experience for each of them.  Two women of Mexican heritage and the rest of European ancestry never dared drive on the streets of Watts before.  The Compton area, in their minds was a Black compound.  South Central was not on their maps.

    Apparently, even the parents of a few of these ladies thought this travel was not wise.  One father re-arranged his day so that he could “secretly” supervise his daughter?s descent into what he thought was certain oblivion.

    It was not; nevertheless, in America Blacks are not considered as whites.  They are purposely placed in separate enclaves.  The few that “make it out” do so with dollars not easily acquired.

    In our nation, where people are “created equal” and “all men are free,” Black men between the ages of 16 and 24 are more than twice as likely than young white men to be out of school and out of work (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1997)

  • In 1999, median family income for Black Americans was still only $31,778, compared to $51,244 for Whites.

  • From 1989 to 1998, Black American middle class families logged an average of 4,278 hours of work per year almost 500 more hours per year than White families.
  • In 1999, unemployment for Black Americans was 8%, compared to 3.7% for Whites. 
  • Fewer than half (46%) of Black American households own their own homes, compared to the national average of 72% (Changing America, 1999).
  • Black American men earn 71 cents for every dollar earned by their White counterparts.
  • Unemployment rates for Black American youths are three times higher than the national average.
  • Over six million Black children (62%) live in single-parent households (U.S. Census Bureau, 1999).
  • Black children do not receive an equal education.

    Research demonstrates that access to quality teaching is one of the most significant factors in improving student achievement and closing the achievement gap.  Yet, poor and minority children have significantly less access to quality teaching.
  • Schools with the highest percentages of minority, limited-English proficient and low-income students are more likely to employ beginning teachers than those with the lowest percentage of minority, limited-English proficient and low-income students.
  • A significant body of research also has found that another indicator of teacher quality in middle and high school is whether teachers majored in the field in which they are teaching.

    Here again, gaps are profound. 

    Classes in high-poverty schools are 77 percent more likely to be assigned to an out-of-field teacher than are classes in low-poverty schools.  Classes in majority nonwhite schools are over 40 percent more likely to be assigned to an out of-field teacher than those in mostly White schools.

  • Level of academic attainment is another traditional indicator of teacher quality, and, again, teachers with master’s degrees are less likely to teach in high-minority, low-income schools than they are to teach in high-income, low-minority schools.
  • Blacks in America do not have equal opportunities.  The were not awarded the independence whites were in 1776.  Even centuries later, individuals with dark complexion struggle to survive.  Many live a life of poverty.

  • Nearly 1 out of every 4 Black Americans (24%) lives in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).

  • 3.5 million Black children (31%) live below the poverty level (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).
  • Nine out of every ten Black Americans who reach age 75 spend at least one of their adult years in poverty (Cornell University, Washington University, 1999). 
  • The poverty rate for Black Americans is three times the rate for White Americans (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000)
  • The Black experience in the United States of America is not one to be celebrated.  For most, if not all, Afro-Americans in this nation can recall stories, personal anecdotes that affirm they are not free.  Independence was not won nor was it awarded to them.  Thousands of Blacks fought for freedom in Revolutionary War. Remember, among the first persons shot in the name of freedom from the oppressive powers of King George, of England was Crispus Attucks.

    A stranger to Boston, he was leading a march against the Townshend Acts when the killing occurred.

    Yet, Attucks and those Americans of African heritage that followed him did not realize the fruits of freedom.  The Civil War, a battle fought to end slavery only served to enslave Black Americans in a more subtle manner. Afro-Americans are arguably not truly free in 2007.  Racial discrimination is rampant in the USA.

    Frederick Douglass in 1852, delivered a speech that might be aptly delivered today.

    “What to the American slave is your Fourth of July?

    “At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.  Oh! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would today pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke.  For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder.  We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.  The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be denounced.

    What to the American slave is your Fourth of July?  I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.  To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mock; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.  There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

    Go search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.”

    America as a nation may have reason to celebrate their independence.  Sadly, all the people that reside here do not.  Blacks, reds, browns, and yellows are not all free.  Afro-Americans, more than any other group suffer at the hands of those that scream the loudest, “Happy Fourth of July.” “Happy Independence Day.”  The question must be asked again and again, For whom?

    Independence Day Fireworks and Findings . . .

  • Supreme Court: Schools can’t use race to assign students, By Bob Egelko.  San Francisco Chronicle. Thursday, June 28. 2007
  • pdf Supreme Court: Schools can’t use race to assign students, By Bob Egelko.  San Francisco Chronicle. Thursday, June 28. 2007
  • Divided Court Limits Use of Race by School Districts, By Robert Barnes.  Washington Post. Friday, June 29, 2007; Page A01
  • pdf Divided Court Limits Use of Race by School Districts, By Robert Barnes.  Washington Post. Friday, June 29, 2007; Page A01
  • Education, Employment, Economics.  National Black United Fund.
  • Educational Resource Disparities For Minority and Low-Income Children.  Children Defense Organization January 2004
  • Frederick Douglas. Debs – Jones -Douglass Institute.
  • “What to the American slave is your Fourth of July?  Freeman Institute.
  • I.S. Supreme Court, Brown versus Board of Education FindLaw.
  • Justices Reject Diversity Plans in Two Districts, By Linda Greenhouse.  The New York Times. June 28, 2007
  • pdf Justices Reject Diversity Plans in Two Districts, By Linda Greenhouse.  The New York Times. June 28, 2007
  • The Myth And Math of Affirmative Action, By Goodwin Liu. Washington Post. Sunday, April 14, 2002; Page B01
  • pdf The Myth And Math of Affirmative Action, By Goodwin Liu.  Washington Post. Sunday, April 14, 2002; Page B01
  • Voters Rights Act of 1965. United States Department of Justice.  Civil Rights Division.
  • Marchers Celebrate Voting Rights Act in Atlanta, By Hamil R. Harris. Washington Post. Saturday, August 6, 2005; 1:51 PM
  • pdf Marchers Celebrate Voting Rights Act in Atlanta, By Hamil R. Harris. Washington Post. Saturday, August 6, 2005; 1:51 PM
  • Watts Towers Los Angeles Parks.
  • Project aims to identify blacks who fought in Revolution. By Mark Pratt.  Associated Press. Boston Globe. July 19, 2006
  • The Boston Massacre. African American History Through the Arts.
  • Understanding Discrimination Against African Americans. By Dr. Tom O’Connor.  North Carolina Wesleyan College. March 12, 2006