Voter Suppression and My Situation





13 December 2011

Dearest Rachel Maddow. . .

As I write I listen to you speak of poll taxes and voter suppression.  I wish to share my story in respect to my personal reality and the fear that I live with.  Decades before the Barack Obama long-form birth certificate, I realized my own fear.   Unlike the persons in your account, I am not a senior citizen.  I am a permanent resident of the United States and have been for all of my life.  While I have never crossed a border into another country, I have great apprehension for what might occur.  

May I provide a bit of background? For the last six years, I have lived in the State of Florida. I trust that the Florida situation, and thus mine, is familiar for more than a few.  Millions of Americans have found, or will discover, circumstances have changed.  The opportunity to cast a ballot, early, easily, or to merely to be part of the electoral process is no longer theirs.  

Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America

Viewing the current attacks on voter access as a whole, several key points emerge:

• Fourteen states enacted a total of twenty-five measures that will unfairly and unnecessarily restrict the right to vote and exact a disproportionate price on African-American and other voters of color. Dozens more restrictions have been proposed nationwide, in a coordinated assault on voting rights.

• Several of the very states that experienced both historic participation of people of color in the 2008 Presidential Election and substantial minority population growth according to the 2010 Census are the ones mounting an assault to prevent similar political participation in 2012. These states include those that experienced the largest growth in total African-American population during the last decade (Florida, Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina), and three states that saw the highest growth rates in Latino population (South Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee).

• The restrictive measures adopted by these states include:

• Tightening the requirements for voter registration or making the voter registration process unnecessarily difficult by imposing severe restrictions on persons who conduct voter registration drives or requiring individuals to produce documentary proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.

§ Increasing disfranchisement of people with felony convictions.

§ Substantially reducing the opportunity to vote early or by absentee ballot.

§ Erecting barriers to participation on Election Day itself The heart of the modern block the vote campaign is a wave of restrictive government-issued photo identification requirements.

In a coordinated effort, legislators in thirty-four states introduced bills imposing such requirements. Many of these bills were modeled on legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-a conservative advocacy group whose founder explained: “our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

According to one estimate by the Brennan Center for Justice, these block the vote efforts could impede as many as five million eligible voters from registering and/or casting ballots in 2012. While the sheer volume of the affected eligible voters is alarming in itself, the threat is compounded when you consider that the effects will not be felt evenly throughout society. In the context of state photo identification requirements, for example, an astonishing 25% of African Americans (over 6.2 million African-American voters) and 16% of Latinos (over 2.96 million Latino voters) do not possess valid photo ID. By comparison, only 8% of whites are without a current government-issued photo ID.

However, the trepidation I feel existed before my move here. It began when I first realized that my birth certificate and proof of my lineage were in question. More than once, I have been asked to produce what I can do, only in part.  While I am not visibly a minority, other than being a woman, which may be both a majority and among the marginalized, I may not be among those characterized as a fully documented citizen.

My Mom is my birth mother. My dad adopted me when I was thirteen.  My natural father as well as each of my parents is no longer present in the physical world.  Even when they were here on Earth, I was concerned.  Being adopted while living a thousand miles away from my birthplace; indeed, even being adopted while in Middle School, on many occasions I have been asked to present my papers!

Since the age of seventeen, I lived on my own.  I also began my career as an extremely committed and regular voter.  In Wisconsin, if you were seventeen during the primaries but would be eighteen by the time of the general election you could as I would, cast a ballot in the Spring.

When I was in my late teens or very early twenties, my mom gave me my hospital birth certificate, the State papers, as well as the revised, post adoption documents.  I know not how, or when, I only know that I proceeded to lose every record.

Thankfully, I had studied the three before these disappeared. I know the name of the hospital I was born in, the city, the county, and the State.  I am well aware of the time of birth.  My Mom always told the story I love. I know the tale of how and where I was conceived. Still, for all these years, I have been unable to secure copies of my original birth files.

The hospital changed hands.  The State of Pennsylvania, a score ago, sent me the altered copy of my short version birth certificate.  On it, my adopted Dad and Mom are listed as my parents.  Funny or not, today, I know not where that document is either.  [I have moved too often and from State to State.] Were I asked to produce a long form file, or required to furnish more forms that speak to the specifics, I could not.

Perhaps, having been asked for my papers on many occasions in my five decades on this planet, in this country, shades my reality.  In truth, that is why Mommy bestowed the certificates.  Schools, professional pursuits, medical circumstances, and much more in an American life, at times, necessitates that I produce documentation.

Aware of the current political environment, and where I now live, my apprehension increases.  While I believe I am still able to retrieve a copy of the altered post-adoption short-form certificate, were there a need for me to actually present verification of my birth, complete with the names of my natural parents, the hospital and time at which I was born, I cannot do so.

No Rachel, I am not Black, Brown or any color other than the Caucasian pink.  I am not elderly.  I am not an immigrant.  I was born in a hospital, one that still stands.  I also was born in a very large city!  Produce my official papers?  Currently, I cannot!

I strongly suspect I am not alone.  Might a Tea Party person share my truth?  I often wonder.  Could a Conservative too be without the documents he or she is certain someone has? Independents too, in America, do not live on an island.  Any of these might experience as this Democrat does.  I am without documents

I thank you Rachel for reading my story. I hope my veracity will serve to expand the story. The disenfranchised could be you, and very easily me!

So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind-it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen… ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior

“Only you can choose whether the Earthly weight, the gravity of circumstances holds you down.  You have the power to decide if  you are one with the whole of the elements. Wind, air, fire, and water are yours for the taking . . .

Fly freely.  Breathe deeply.  Ignite or inspire with intensity.   Drink the joy of living with gusto. Learn. Grow. Glow Greater!”


 . . . Betsy L. Angert

Reference for Voters Rights . . .

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Did Racism Help Cause the Mortgage Crisis? Part One

I am honored to present the work of Ralph Brauer.  For some time I have marveled as I read his research and reflected upon his work.  Today, this author of note shares with readers at BeThink.  I welcome Ralph Brauer.  May I invite you to peruse his prose.  Please ponder; then share your thoughts.

copyright © 2008 Ralph Brauer. The Strange Death of Liberal America

There is an elephant in the room no one wants to mention when you bring up the housing crisis.  It is the same elephant that has occupied the room since the very beginning of this nation.  Yes, it was there that hot Philadelphia summer when they drafted the Constitution.  Maybe that is what Ben Franklin is gazing at as he sits in the center of the famous painting of the signing of the Constitution by Howard Chandler Christy that hangs today in the House of Representatives east stairway.  Certainly the elephant had haunted Franklin much of his life causing him to call it “a constant butchery of the human species” in an anonymous letter written in 1772.  That elephant that haunted Franklin and continues to haunt us today is racism.

The economic crisis we face today has produced countless essays analyzing its origins and proposing all manner of cures, but almost no one has dared to mention the elephant in the room.  As I researched this topic I found only one person who seemed to be on to it: John Kimble, who wrote an excellent op ed piece in the New Orleans Times Picayune in October that should be required reading for everyone.  One sentence gets to the heart of the matter:

What few today remember is that one of the government’s central goals in undertaking mortgage market reform was to segregate American cities by race.

That such a piece should come from New Orleans does not surprise me; that few have sought to connect what to me seem rather obvious dots is more of a mystery to me.  But that is the power of that elephant in the room.

Perhaps now with an African American President we will finally have more open discussion of the elephant in the room and that discussion should begin by acknowledging that the elephant played a significant role in causing the mortgage crisis which in turn has toppled financial giants as if they were a row of dominoes.  To understand why we need to go back to the years immediately after the Second World War when the housing boom began.

The Creation of the Suburb

The discussion of the role of racism in America should begin by confronting the most important social, cultural and political reality of the past half century: the American suburb is largely a creation of racist loan policies that came from none other than the federal government.  The suburban migration stands as one of the largest freely-undertaken, government-subsidized mass social movements in history.  It accomplished by democratic means what dictators over the ages have tried to accomplish by force: alter the physical, economic, and social environment to create a unique culture.  As Kenneth Jackson writes in Crabgrass Frontier, his history of the American suburb:

Suburbanization was not an historical inevitability created by geography, technology, and culture, but rather the product of government policies.  (p. 293)

Through a variety of government subsidies, the creation of the suburbs allowed people of modest means to attain what real estate ads have christened the American dream.  The immensity of this achievement is only beginning to dawn on us, for it constituted the kind of land and social reform that governments everywhere still try to accomplish.  Kenneth Jackson notes:

Single family housing starts in this country rose from 114,000 in 1944 to 937,000 in 1946, 1,183,000 in 1948, and 1,692,000 in 1950.  (p. 233)

The federal government financed this growth through the Federal Housing Administration, an agency created during the New Deal to help spur the growth of home construction.  During the postwar housing boom Jackson points out:

The main beneficiary of the $119 billion in FHA mortgage insurance issued in the first four decades of FHA operation was suburbia.

Drawing the Color Line

A half century before the creation of suburban America, W.E.B. DuBois had written in the very first sentence of The Souls of Black Folk the immortal and prescient words:

HEREIN lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century.  This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.

Little could DuBois have predicted that the color line would become a red line drawn around the American suburb by none other than the FHA.  The name redlining actually dates back to the 1930s when the FHA first began using color codes to designate areas where they should not invest.  Red areas were off-limits.  Jackson states:

FHA also helped to turn the building industry against the minority and inner-city housing market, and its policies supported the income and racial segregation of suburbia.

Even as the suburbs mushroomed across the American landscape, a few were asking questions.  In 1955 Columbia Professor Charles Abrams charged:

From its inception, the FHA set itself up as protector of the all white neighborhood.  It sent its agents into the field to keep Negroes and other minorities from buying houses in white neighborhoods.  (Jackson, pp. 213-214)

In what has become the classic source on FHA discrimination, The Politics of Exclusion, Michael Danielson quotes an FHA underwriting manual:

If a neighborhood is to retain stability, it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes.  A change in social or racial occupancy generally leads to instability and reduction in values.(p. 203)

FHA policies also required appraisers to determine the probability of people of color moving into a neighborhood and even forced homeowners to agree not to sell their property to someone of another race.  According to one commentator,

“[T]he most basic sentiment underlying the FHA’s concern was its fear that property values would decline if a rigid black and white segregation was not maintained.

With the rise of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, the FHA began to make some attempt to right these wrongs, but with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, the so-called “Southern Strategy” soon put a stop these efforts.  Chris Bonastia documented Nixon’s dismantling of FHA’s residential integration efforts in his paper, “Hedging His Bets: Why Nixon Killed HUD’s Desegregation Efforts.” Nixon’s refusal to back HUD’s reform efforts would have an impact on American society that ranks right up there with the decision by President Rutherford B. Hayes to abandon the South to the segregationists, essentially ending Reconstruction.

Yet to see one man and one decision as a historical lynch pin is to take an outmoded view of history, for the truth is that by 1968 the die had already been cast and DuBois’ color line had been drawn like a moat around the suburbs designed to keep people of color from entering. It would have taken considerable political will–and perhaps even federal law enforcement–to desegregate the suburbs by then.  Dr. Martin Luther King, jr.’s infamous march into the Chicago suburb of Cicero, where he was met with bricks and catcalls, showed the depth of that moat. There is a moment in the video of that march when you hear what sounds like a shot and King turns suddenly as if wondering where the shot came from.

This does not excuse Nixon’s actions, which at best were misguided and at worst cowardly and racist. While historians debate how much Richard Nixon personally bought into the Thurmond catechism, his elevation of Thurmond aide Harry Dent to the White House staff after the election sent a clear signal of his alliance with Thurmond. Dent was the one who sat outside the Senate chamber with a pail in case Thurmond needed a quick bathroom break during his record-setting filibuster. Nixon himself put it bluntly:

I am not going to campaign for the black vote at the risk of alienating the suburban vote.

For the federal government to go further than the law, to force integration in the suburbs, I think is unrealistic. I think it will be counter-productive and not in the interest of better race relations. [quoted in Charles M. Lamb, Housing Segregation in Suburban America Since 1960, p. 4, p. 9]

Still, as Lamb would point out in a footnote, two decades later a University of California study found that 44% of white Americans favored encouraging African Americans to move to the suburbs.

The Creation of the Subprime Market

Yet the FHA did not just discriminate against people of color who sought to live in the suburbs, it also made  it more difficult for them to obtain loans, period, by refusing to insure loans in areas with high concentrations of people of color.  The systemic impact of this is still reverberating through America’s inner cities.  Without FHA insurance, no reputable bank would issue a home loan to someone living on the other side of the “color line.” This in turn had a host of social and cultural impacts, from resource-poor schools to lack of jobs because businesses would not build where the FHA would not write loans.

You don’t need to be a systems modeler to see how each of these came to feed on each other. In the last decade scholars have begun to refer to this as “structural racism,” by which they mean a convergence of forces and policies that conspires to sustain the color line. Just imagine one systemic loop: you cannot get a good job because you live in a neighborhood with substandard housing and were educated in a substandard school and so you cannot qualify for a loan for better housing which in turn further reinforces the substandard housing. Structural racism is also not a bad metaphor, either, for it suggests the immense weight of these multiple factors that presses down on people living inside those red lines drawn by the FHA.

Where legitimate businesses and institutions are prevented from entering, illegitimate ones will grow. Since regular banks would not lend to people of color in inner city neighborhoods and FHA policies kept them from lending to the few people of color who could afford suburban housing, there obviously was a need for someone to supply these loans and so we have the growth of the so-called subprime market, only back in those days they were known as loan sharks and other unprintable words and had reputation to rival check cashing operations, greedy landlords and take and bake furniture renters. Anyone who has grown up in the inner city can tell stories not only about price-gouging home loans, but high-priced loans for everything from cars to buying furniture or clothes on credit.

What Is Subprime Lending

Subprime lending is a mixture of old-fashioned altruism and blatant thievery with an American twist. Some entered into the business of making loans to people of color because they genuinely believed people deserved an equal opportunity, others saw a chance to make a quick buck. The reality of the situation was that without FHA insurance even the most well-meaning lenders still had to charge more than they would have for a white suburban home-buyer.

A 2003 study for the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law reported:

While red-lining has served to exclude poor and minority residents from the benefits of mainstream mortgage lending, purveyors of predatory lending (or so-called “reverse red-lining”) practices have targeted many of the same poor and minority households that traditional lending institutions have ignored or excluded.

In testimony before the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services in 2000 Bill Brennan of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society outlined how subprime lending works for lenders:

Here is what these companies do, the predators. They overcharge on interest and points, they charge egregiously high annual interest and prepaid finance charges, points, which are not justified by the risk involved, because these loans are collateralized by valuable real estate.

Since they usually only lend at 70 to 80 percent loan-to-value ratios, they have a 20 to 30 percent cushion to protect them if they have to foreclose. They usually always buy at the foreclosure sale and pay off the debt and sell the house for a profit.

As for those taking out the loans, Gary Gensler, Undersecretary for Domestic Finance at the treasury Department, told the same Committee:

Borrowers in these markets often have limited access to mainstream financial services. This leads to two things, as the Senator said earlier. Some borrowers who really would qualify for prime loans-we estimate anywhere between 15 and 35 percent of the subprime market could qualify for prime and cannot get that prime loan. Second, the rate and term competition is limited. Subprime lenders don’t tend to compete as much on price.

Beyond preying on vulnerable populations, beyond the limited access to mainstream financial services, is that abusive practices tend to be coupled with high-pressure sales tactics, whether by a mortgage broker, a home improvement contractor, sometimes a lender themselves in the local community.

Perhaps the most extensive and longest longitudinal study of predatory lending practices has been the Woodstock Institute’s periodic reports on Chicago.  It’s 1999 report “Two Steps Back” was among the earliest to blow the whistle on predatory lending.  They found:

Documented cases of abuse include fees exceeding 10 percent of the loan amount, payments structured so that they do not even cover interest (resulting in increasing principle balances), and flipping a loan numerous times in a couple of years.

At the same time, lending to lower-income and minority communities is often viewed as an isolated line of business, in which the focus is on the short term transaction and associated fees. Lenders active in such communities tend to be mortgage and finance companies subject to much less regulation than banks and thrifts. The increased scale of the subprime industry itself has resulted in a larger number of abuses. Moreover, there has not been a proportionate increase in regulation or regulatory resources devoted to this new industry.

As usual, graphs and tables tell the story in black and white:





The date on the graph may be a little difficult to see. It is 1998. On the first table, the percentage of subprime loans going to African American communities is 53%. Only 9% went to predominantly white communities. The Woodstock study went on to deal with the obvious question: is it race or income that is the strongest determinant of who receives a subprime loan? They found it was the former:

Thus, whether a neighborhood is predominantly African-American explains the greatest amount of variation in subprime lending,

The Final Results

In 1997 Bill Brennan could tell the New York Times:

We have financial apartheid in our country. We have low-income, often minority borrowers,  who are charged unconscionably high interest rates, either directly or indirectly through the cover of added charges.

Three years later Census data would confirm Brennan’s charge. The Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law found:

The typical white person lives in a neighborhood that is overwhelmingly white, with a few minorities (80.2% white, 6.7% African American, 7.9% Hispanic American, and 3.9% Asian American), the typical African American lives in a neighborhood that is mostly black (51.4% black, 33.0% white, 11.4% Hispanic American, and 3.3% Asian American). By comparison, the typical Hispanic American lives in a neighborhood that is more evenly Hispanic American and white (45.5% Hispanic, 36.5% white, 10.8% black, and 5.9% Asian American); and the typical Asian American lives in a neighborhood that is mostly white (17.9% Asian American, 54% white, 9.2%  black, and 17.4% Hispanic American).

In a study released this year by United for a Fair Economy, the authors note:

According to federal data, people of color are more than three times more likely to have subprime loans: high-cost loans account for 55% of loans to Blacks, but only 17% of loans to Whites.

This is a decade after the Woodstock study identified a similar pattern in Chicago.

Reflections

This history makes you wonder what kind of country we might have become had racism not pervaded the home mortgage market. The United for a Fair Economy study puts it eloquently:

While the housing crisis has affected all sectors of society, it has disproportionately affected communities and individuals of color. For them, the dream that Martin Luther King, Jr. once spoke of has been foreclosed.

Now the injustices white America heaped on black America for half a century have come home to roost. The sobering thought to ponder is that what you have read so far is merely the very tip of a rather large iceberg, for there are literally dozens and dozens of books and countless articles on racism and housing. If you enter “racism” and “housing” in Google you will find over four million entries. Yet despite over half a century of studies, reports and papers about discriminatory lending, little was done about it.

The most damning piece of evidence in this entire story is not that racism fostered predatory loans, but that like organized crime going from petty bootleggers and drug dealers to big time operators, the practice of predatory loan sharking expanded and went mainstream– moving from being the providence of small-time shady operators to mainstream banks. Essentially, loan-sharking cast off its sleazy past and the bigger it became the more people looked the other way.

That is until it suddenly threatens to take down the entire American economy. Now like the figures in that painting of Constitution Hall, fingers are pointing and people are staring.

If racism played a big role in creating the mortgage crisis, the solution to our current problems will prove tougher to deal with than what the so-called experts have been telling us. We could be witnessing the fourth American revolution. The first was the war for independence, the second the Civil War, the third the Great Depression and now the present crisis which combines the themes of the previous two–race and economics.

The next essay in this series focuses on how we got here and why, for only by understanding that journey can we see a way out of the current morass. What is clear so far is that this crisis is not merely the fault of a few misguided CEOs, but rather the culmination of decades of discrimination in which all of us are culpable.

Now the time has come to stop pretending there is no elephant in the room and deal with it.

Resources

For a good bibliography on the subject click here.

Crossposts: The Strange Death of Liberal America, My Left Wing, Progressive Historians, The Wild, Wild Left

Did Racism Help Cause the Mortgage Crisis? The Rise of Sandy Weill and Citigroup



Photo: United for a Fair Economy The State of the Dream

copyright © 2008 Ralph Brauer. The Strange Death of Liberal America

Sandy Weill’s story tells how racially-biased predatory lending lies at the center of the economic crisis.  A third-generation American, Weill grew up on the streets of Brooklyn where for some the road to success was a place whose name came from a structure built to protect the city from Indians, pirates and other invaders and whose die was cast when a small group of men met in secret under a buttonwood tree: Wall Street.

Like the hero of a Horatio Alger tale, Weill began his climb to success not in the proverbial mail room but as a $35 a week clerk, eventually clawing his way to become second-in-command at American Express. But Weill had an itch for more so he cashed in his chips and set about looking for his own business. In 1986 he settled on a Baltimore loan company named Commercial Credit that specialized in predatory lending.

The tale of how Weill would use Commercial to build the financial empire that became Citigroup is the story of the financial crisis and at the heart of that story is racial discrimination and predatory lending. In short, predatory lending made Citi into one of the nation’s largest financial institutions and now is responsible for its downfall.

The Beginnings of Citi

If Weill did any due diligence at all, he knew quite well he was buying a company whose entire existence was predicated on ripping off people of color. Commercial already had a shady reputation when Weill moved in on it. In 1973 the FTC had issued an order demanding Commercial cease using deceptive and hardball tactics to entrap those in search of a loan. In his article “Banking on Misery Citigroup, Wall Street, and the Fleecing of the South,” Michael Hudson  relates that Weill’s assistant, Alison Falls, was appalled at the idea of buying Commercial:

Hey guys, this is the loan-sharking business. “Consumer finance” is just a nice way to describe it.

After Weill bought the company did he seek to curb these practices? Quite the contrary, Commercial became even more aggressive. After all, Weill’s whole business plan was predicated on using Commercial to launch a larger company and in order to do that he had to get as much as he could out of Commercial, which meant squeezing clients even more.

Some of Weill’s former employees tell stories of being pressured into steering clients into dubious deals. Hudson quotes Sherry Roller vanden Aardweg, who worked for Commercial in Louisiana from 1988 to 1995. She agrees there was “a tremendous amount of pressure” to sell insurance: That insurance was issued by another Weill acquisition American Health & Life.

We kept adding insurance that we could offer. It just kept growing. It was beginning to get a little bit ridiculous.

Frank Smith, who worked for Weill in Mississippi, put a perspective on ripoffs such as “closed folder closings” in which documents adding to the cost of the mortgage were kept from the client:

They need the money or by God they wouldn’t be at the finance company. They’d be at a bank.

Weill used the money milked from Commercial’s clients to acquire insurance and finance company Primerica. In 1990 he acquired Barclay’s Bank. Meanwhile the stories told by African Americans victimized by Weill certainly sound like loan sharking. Two Mississippi clients of Commercial signed on for Annual Percentage Rates (APR) of 40.92 and 44.14. Another client paid $1,439 for insurance on a $4,500 loan.

Ripoffs like this attracted the attention of attorneys and law enforcement officials, especially in the South, where Commercial had a large presence. Hudson reports:

In 1999, the company agreed to pay as much as $2 million to settle a lawsuit accusing Commercial and American Health Life of overcharging tens of thousands of Alabamans on insurance.

Jackson, Miss., attorney Chris Coffer says he obtained confidential settlements for about 800 clients with claims against Commercial Credit or its successor, CitiFinancial.

How much money African Americans probably overpaid Commercial can be glimpsed from one study by the Community Reinvestment Association of North Carolina. Testifying before a 2006 hearing of the Federal Reserve in Atlanta, CRA-NC Community Organizer Richard Brown cited the findings of the study, Paying More and Getting Less: An Analysis of 2004 Mortgage Lending in North Carolina:

Our key finding is that disproportionately, by a ratio of more than 4 to 1, African Americans pay more interest on home loans than whites do in North Carolina.

Cultural Impacts

Like some modern plantation, subprime lending was built on the enslavement of African Americans, only instead of being field hands or sharecroppers their lives were indentured to loan sharks. Like the infamous overseers who ruled plantation life with the crack of a whip, the loan sharks ruled the lives of African Americans with whips woven together with words the way real whips are woven from strips of leather. While these words might not have inflicted the physical wounds overseers specialized in, the mental scars inflicted by the words woven into loan sharking mortgages were socially and psychologically devastating.

Like slavery, loan sharking helped to turn the African American family into a hot-button issue whose implications are still the subject of volatile debates within and outside the community. Yet while the particular sociological and cultural impacts of loan sharking may be the subject of some debate, there is agreement about the big picture: the impact rippled through families and communities like a rogue wave bringing misery and destruction. In the inner city and some rural communities, especially in the South, African American families faced two equally devastating choices when it came to housing: deal with the loan sharks or deal with the slum lords.

Loan sharking also rippled through American culture. Call it apartheid or something else, whatever label you assign to it the forced separation of whites and people of color is the number one issue of post World War II America. As surely as South Africa carved out “homelands” for its black citizens, so FHA and others carved out the equivalent through redlining.

In the South African Americans and whites lived together but interacted through the elaborate codes and rituals of Jim Crow, but in the North the races were physically separated so a white suburbanite could grow up without having much association with people of color. As a result, while white Southerners saw African Americans as inferior, white Northerners saw them as abstractions.

The 90s Boom in Subprime Loans

Meanwhile Sandy Weill continued building Citi through mergers and acquisitions. In 1993 came the controversial merger with Travelers followed four years later by Citi’s acquisition of Salomon Brothers. At the same Weill was building Citi, the mortgage market was undergoing some dramatic changes. Researchers began identifying a huge spike in the number of subprime loans. Loan sharking had come from back streets and low budget store fronts to the center of America’s financial empire: Wall Street.

A graph from the Woodstock Institute tells the Story:

This graph raises two obvious questions: what was fueling the growth and who was providing those new subprime mortgages? The first is still the subject of some debate among economists and others.  For example, some have tied it to an increase in interest rates. In its explanation accompanying the graph Woodstock states:

Despite increasing rates in 1994, 1995, and 1997, however, subprime lenders continued to increase their refinance volumes. This suggests that subprime refinancings are not driven by homeowners refinancing to save money during times of declining rates and that subprime lenders are aggressively marketing loans regardless of the rate environment.

In part, the growth of predatory activity stems directly from the development of an increasingly specialized and segmented mortgage market, especially for refinance and home equity loans.

What was in it for others is the same thing that was in it for Sandy Weill–profits. Forbes reported that in the boom of the 90s, subprime companies enjoyed returns up to  six times greater than those of the best-run banks.

United for a Fair Economy put it more bluntly:

The subprime lending crisis has occurred because a financial product intended for limited use by a limited number of people has been parlayed into another ill-fated bubble by some mortgage lenders lacking in integrity, foresight, and any vestige of civic concern.

What made this possible was the packaging and trading of loans, which goes under the fancy name of securitization.  A Federal Deposit Insurance Company report describes how this process works:

Thirty years ago, if you got a mortgage from a bank, it was very likely that the bank would keep the loan on its balance sheet until the loan was repaid. That is no longer true. Today, the party that you deal with in order to get the loan (the originator) is highly likely to sell the loan to a third party. The third party can be Ginnie Mae, a government agency; Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, which are government sponsored entities (GSEs); or a private sector financial institution. The third party often then packages your mortgage with others and sells the payment rights to investors. This may not be the final stop for your mortgage. Some of the investors may use their payment rights to your mortgage to back other securities they issue. This can continue for additional steps.

As usual a graph tells the story of the growth of these new investment vehicles.

The FDIC goes on to explain how various pooling tactics package subprime loans, taking you into a thicket of acronyms like (MBSs), collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), and structured investment vehicles (SIVs)–all essentially are ways of spreading the risk of pooled mortgages. Notice that the initial upswing in MBS begins in the late 1980s. That was due to the tax reform act of 1986.

Ginnie Mae (Government National Mortgage Association) and Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation) had been involved with MBS before the 1986 bill, but the Reagan Administration’s gift to the home mortgage industry introduced another acronym into the mix: REMIC–Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduit, which is yet another tool for pooling and packaging mortgages. None other than Freddie Mac described the importance of the 1986 bill:

The REMIC law was passed as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 and marked the beginning of the growth of the CMO [Collateralized Mortgage Obligation] market.

Once financial institutions began to catch on to this and entered the thicket of securitization in a big way, there was no turning back. The American economy would never be the same.  Put the two graphs above together and you have the story: the initial growth of the subprime market was enabled by the growth in MBS. There remained only one regulatory hurdle in place, one that had been there since the Great Depression.

The Repeal of Glass-Steagall

Had Carter Glass been alive in the 1990s it is doubtful any of this would have happened, but by the time he put his name on the Glass-Steagall Act during the Depression, Carter Glass was an old man. He had actually been a delegate to the 1896 Democratic National Convention when William Jennings Bryan gave his “Cross of Gold” speech and most of his political life he had a Bryan streak in him that included a distaste for banks. When he left Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet at the end of Wilson’s term he was already warning of the dangers of uncontrolled banking, particularly banks getting involved in the stock market and other financial dealings.

Carter Glass would not have liked Citi or Sandy Weill. Weill, in turn, had little use for what Glass had created, seeing it as an obstacle that stood in the way of his fulfilling his vision of the kind of “full-service” banking Carter Glass had feared.

The Glass-Steagall Act was designed to keep banks out of the securities business because Carter Glass and New Deal officials including President Franklin Roosevelt believed that one of the causes of the Depression was that banks had strayed too far from their original functions during the 1920s.  According to a paper by Jill M. Hendrickson:

in 1932, 36 percent of national bank profits came from their investment affiliates (Wall Street Journal 1933, p. 1).

Glass-Steagall built a wall between banking and other financial services and the ink on the paper was barely dry when the bankers and their allies in the Republican Party began howling.  Over the next half century there were numerous attempts to weaken or scuttle Glass-Steagall, but in the midst of the securitization boom the cries to tear down the wall of Glass-Steagall grew louder.  In 1990, the Fed, under former J.P. Morgan director Alan Greenspan, permitted guess who–J.P. Morgan–to become the first bank allowed to underwrite securities.

It would be none other than Sandy Weill who would put in motion the forces that ended Glass-Steagall when he essentially gave the federal government the equivalent of an upraised finger by proposing the most audacious financial merger in American history: he would merge one of the largest insurance companies (Travelers), one of the largest investment banks (Salomon Smith Barney), and the largest commercial banks (Citibank) in America. The problem was the merger was illegal in terms of Glass-Steagall.

Weill convinced Greenspan, Robert Rubin, and President Bill Clinton to sign off on a merger that was illegal at the time, with the expectation that Congress would repeal Glass-Steagall. That would happen with a big push from Sandy Weill. First, he spent over $200 million in lobbying fees to convince Congress to go along with his merger. It still ranks as the largest single amount spent by one firm on one bill over the shortest period of time in American history.

When the conference committee charged with reconciling the House and Senate versions of the repeal bill seemed stalemated, it was Sandy Weill who applied the final push needed to get the bill passed. Here is the now oft-quoted Frontline report of what happened:

On Oct. 21, with the House-Senate conference committee deadlocked after marathon negotiations, the main sticking point is partisan bickering over the bill’s effect on the Community Reinvestment Act, which sets rules for lending to poor communities. Sandy Weill calls President Clinton in the evening to try to break the deadlock after Senator Phil Gramm, chairman of the Banking Committee, warned Citigroup lobbyist Roger Levy that Weill has to get White House moving on the bill or he would shut down the House-Senate conference. Serious negotiations resume, and a deal is announced at 2:45 a.m. on Oct. 22. Whether Weill made any difference in precipitating a deal is unclear.

The Aftermath

With Glass-Steagall out of the way, Sandy Weill had his merger and the American financial industry now had a green light to enlarge on subprime lending. Some followed Weill’s model of consolidating loan and insurance companies as he had done with American Health & Life and Travelers, taking loan sharking to a level those who had engaged in it back when it was done in storefronts with peeling paint could have never imagined.

More money than any organized crime syndicate could have dreamed of flowed into the coffers of the subprime lenders. What had been an activity aimed mainly at people of color now became linked to complex financial instruments such as tranches and derivatives, that to an uninitiated mind resembled nothing so much as the old shell game. Where’s the mortgage? Under this fund? No. guess again. Inner city and suburb which had been separated by redlining became linked by acronyms–MBS, CDOs, CMOs. But as we shall see in the next essay, ripping off people of color would continue.

Postscript: The Revelations of Language

Some reading this essay might object to my linking loan sharking and subprime mortgages, but Sandy Weill from the streets of Brooklyn would get it. Subprime is perhaps one of the most misleading euphemisms ever devised, because it means exactly the opposite of what the term implies. The Investopedia offers a succinct definition:

A type of loan that is offered at a rate above prime to individuals who do not qualify for prime rate loans.

As for loan sharking, a definitive definition is a little more difficult to come by. Investopedia says it is anyone who charges above the legal interest rate (which is set by some states). Several others add that it also involves an implied or real threat to injure the person who doesn’t pay off.  As if to throw a ringer into that definition there are dozens of references to “legal loan sharking.” Perhaps the broadest definition is at Wiktionary:

Someone who lends money at exorbitant rates of interest.

These definitional niceties represent not merely semantic nit-picking, but in fact provide a vital piece to understanding the cultural shifts that have accompanied the economic crisis. One of the unspoken theses in this series of essays is that by clothing loan sharking in the more respectable term of subprime, it suddenly made it not seem so bad to lend money to people–especially people of color–at higher rates. It is reminiscent of the semantic games segregationists used to play with strategies like the “literacy law.” CNN even named “subprime” the word of the year. Can you see them doing that for loan sharking?

In a fascinating article, Ben Zimmer explains how subprime came to have its present meaning, noting that the earliest use of the term was in industry to describe something below grade while in the 1970s banks used it to refer to loans below the market rate.

Something happened to the word in the 1990s, however. Now it was the borrowers themselves who were being classified as “less than prime” based on their shaky credit histories. [My underline]

Zimmer is on to something when he says the term was applied to people, because as we have seen, a high percentage of subprime loans were aimed at people of color.  So the phrase about borrowers being “less than prime” has more meaning than Zimmer perhaps realized when he wrote that sentence.

At the same time that subprime underwent a shift in meaning it is quite clear that so, too, did loan sharking. The earlier references clearly have a criminal tinge to them. In old crime movies “loan sharking” was always thrown in with other nasty activities gangsters perpetrated on the innocent and not so innocent. Yet the recent references seem to take the gangster and the “enforcer” out of the term, so loan sharks just charge higher rates without threatening to break your legs or worse.

This linguistic convergence of loan sharking and subprime reflects an economic and social convergence, for it seems to date from about the time Sandy Weill first bought Commercial. So as Weill took what his own assistant termed a loan sharking operation to the pinnacle of corporate success, the financial industry adopted the euphemism of subprime just as it was getting into this type of lending.

In truth it is the financial industry itself which has helped to blur the distinction between conventional lending at a higher rate and the hardball, card-sharp techniques of the loan shark. That in turn has given rise to a new term “predatory lending” which has largely replaced loan sharking in our vocabulary, creating a living for economists and others who write papers dissecting the differences between the two as if they mattered to those who have to pay exorbitant rates.

As we plunge deeper into the financial crisis, two things are clear: it takes a pretty good lawyer to decipher the standard mortgage agreement and an even better wordsmith to explain if an agreement charging more than the standard interest rate is an innocent subprime mortgage or predatory lending. For me I will continue to use loan sharking with its connotations of shady activity until the financial industry cleans up its act.

Zimmer ends his article by observing:

Here’s hoping that in the not-too-distant future we can look back on the current usage of subprime as a quaint artifact of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Twenty years ago the mainstream financial industry would have nothing to do with subprime lending.  Now they are using language much like the defenses of the original loan sharks to defend it, talking about how they are performing a service for people who cannot get loans any other way.

In the next essay we will look at the consequences of the Glass-Steagall repeal, the fall of Sandy Weill and Citigroup, and the growth of so-called subprime lending. Then you can make up your own mind about whether to call it loan sharking or continue to use that other euphemism.

Crossposts:  The Strange Death of Liberal America, My Left Wing, Progressive Historians, The Wild, Wild Left

Did Racism Help Cause the Mortgage Crisis? Part One

I am honored to present the work of Ralph Brauer.  For some time I have marveled as I read his research and reflected upon his work.  Today, this author of note shares with readers at BeThink.  I welcome Ralph Brauer.  May I invite you to peruse his prose.  Please ponder; then share your thoughts.

copyright © 2008 Ralph Brauer. The Strange Death of Liberal America

There is an elephant in the room no one wants to mention when you bring up the housing crisis.  It is the same elephant that has occupied the room since the very beginning of this nation.  Yes, it was there that hot Philadelphia summer when they drafted the Constitution.  Maybe that is what Ben Franklin is gazing at as he sits in the center of the famous painting of the signing of the Constitution by Howard Chandler Christy that hangs today in the House of Representatives east stairway.  Certainly the elephant had haunted Franklin much of his life causing him to call it “a constant butchery of the human species” in an anonymous letter written in 1772.  That elephant that haunted Franklin and continues to haunt us today is racism.

The economic crisis we face today has produced countless essays analyzing its origins and proposing all manner of cures, but almost no one has dared to mention the elephant in the room.  As I researched this topic I found only one person who seemed to be on to it: John Kimble, who wrote an excellent op ed piece in the New Orleans Times Picayune in October that should be required reading for everyone.  One sentence gets to the heart of the matter:

What few today remember is that one of the government’s central goals in undertaking mortgage market reform was to segregate American cities by race.

That such a piece should come from New Orleans does not surprise me; that few have sought to connect what to me seem rather obvious dots is more of a mystery to me.  But that is the power of that elephant in the room.

Perhaps now with an African American President we will finally have more open discussion of the elephant in the room and that discussion should begin by acknowledging that the elephant played a significant role in causing the mortgage crisis which in turn has toppled financial giants as if they were a row of dominoes.  To understand why we need to go back to the years immediately after the Second World War when the housing boom began.

The Creation of the Suburb

The discussion of the role of racism in America should begin by confronting the most important social, cultural and political reality of the past half century: the American suburb is largely a creation of racist loan policies that came from none other than the federal government.  The suburban migration stands as one of the largest freely-undertaken, government-subsidized mass social movements in history.  It accomplished by democratic means what dictators over the ages have tried to accomplish by force: alter the physical, economic, and social environment to create a unique culture.  As Kenneth Jackson writes in Crabgrass Frontier, his history of the American suburb:

Suburbanization was not an historical inevitability created by geography, technology, and culture, but rather the product of government policies.  (p. 293)

Through a variety of government subsidies, the creation of the suburbs allowed people of modest means to attain what real estate ads have christened the American dream.  The immensity of this achievement is only beginning to dawn on us, for it constituted the kind of land and social reform that governments everywhere still try to accomplish.  Kenneth Jackson notes:

Single family housing starts in this country rose from 114,000 in 1944 to 937,000 in 1946, 1,183,000 in 1948, and 1,692,000 in 1950.  (p. 233)

The federal government financed this growth through the Federal Housing Administration, an agency created during the New Deal to help spur the growth of home construction.  During the postwar housing boom Jackson points out:

The main beneficiary of the $119 billion in FHA mortgage insurance issued in the first four decades of FHA operation was suburbia.

Drawing the Color Line

A half century before the creation of suburban America, W.E.B. DuBois had written in the very first sentence of The Souls of Black Folk the immortal and prescient words:

HEREIN lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century.  This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.

Little could DuBois have predicted that the color line would become a red line drawn around the American suburb by none other than the FHA.  The name redlining actually dates back to the 1930s when the FHA first began using color codes to designate areas where they should not invest.  Red areas were off-limits.  Jackson states:

FHA also helped to turn the building industry against the minority and inner-city housing market, and its policies supported the income and racial segregation of suburbia.

Even as the suburbs mushroomed across the American landscape, a few were asking questions.  In 1955 Columbia Professor Charles Abrams charged:

From its inception, the FHA set itself up as protector of the all white neighborhood.  It sent its agents into the field to keep Negroes and other minorities from buying houses in white neighborhoods.  (Jackson, pp. 213-214)

In what has become the classic source on FHA discrimination, The Politics of Exclusion, Michael Danielson quotes an FHA underwriting manual:

If a neighborhood is to retain stability, it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes.  A change in social or racial occupancy generally leads to instability and reduction in values.(p. 203)

FHA policies also required appraisers to determine the probability of people of color moving into a neighborhood and even forced homeowners to agree not to sell their property to someone of another race.  According to one commentator,

“[T]he most basic sentiment underlying the FHA’s concern was its fear that property values would decline if a rigid black and white segregation was not maintained.

With the rise of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, the FHA began to make some attempt to right these wrongs, but with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, the so-called “Southern Strategy” soon put a stop these efforts.  Chris Bonastia documented Nixon’s dismantling of FHA’s residential integration efforts in his paper, “Hedging His Bets: Why Nixon Killed HUD’s Desegregation Efforts.” Nixon’s refusal to back HUD’s reform efforts would have an impact on American society that ranks right up there with the decision by President Rutherford B. Hayes to abandon the South to the segregationists, essentially ending Reconstruction.

Yet to see one man and one decision as a historical lynch pin is to take an outmoded view of history, for the truth is that by 1968 the die had already been cast and DuBois’ color line had been drawn like a moat around the suburbs designed to keep people of color from entering. It would have taken considerable political will–and perhaps even federal law enforcement–to desegregate the suburbs by then.  Dr. Martin Luther King, jr.’s infamous march into the Chicago suburb of Cicero, where he was met with bricks and catcalls, showed the depth of that moat. There is a moment in the video of that march when you hear what sounds like a shot and King turns suddenly as if wondering where the shot came from.

This does not excuse Nixon’s actions, which at best were misguided and at worst cowardly and racist. While historians debate how much Richard Nixon personally bought into the Thurmond catechism, his elevation of Thurmond aide Harry Dent to the White House staff after the election sent a clear signal of his alliance with Thurmond. Dent was the one who sat outside the Senate chamber with a pail in case Thurmond needed a quick bathroom break during his record-setting filibuster. Nixon himself put it bluntly:

I am not going to campaign for the black vote at the risk of alienating the suburban vote.

For the federal government to go further than the law, to force integration in the suburbs, I think is unrealistic. I think it will be counter-productive and not in the interest of better race relations. [quoted in Charles M. Lamb, Housing Segregation in Suburban America Since 1960, p. 4, p. 9]

Still, as Lamb would point out in a footnote, two decades later a University of California study found that 44% of white Americans favored encouraging African Americans to move to the suburbs.

The Creation of the Subprime Market

Yet the FHA did not just discriminate against people of color who sought to live in the suburbs, it also made  it more difficult for them to obtain loans, period, by refusing to insure loans in areas with high concentrations of people of color.  The systemic impact of this is still reverberating through America’s inner cities.  Without FHA insurance, no reputable bank would issue a home loan to someone living on the other side of the “color line.” This in turn had a host of social and cultural impacts, from resource-poor schools to lack of jobs because businesses would not build where the FHA would not write loans.

You don’t need to be a systems modeler to see how each of these came to feed on each other. In the last decade scholars have begun to refer to this as “structural racism,” by which they mean a convergence of forces and policies that conspires to sustain the color line. Just imagine one systemic loop: you cannot get a good job because you live in a neighborhood with substandard housing and were educated in a substandard school and so you cannot qualify for a loan for better housing which in turn further reinforces the substandard housing. Structural racism is also not a bad metaphor, either, for it suggests the immense weight of these multiple factors that presses down on people living inside those red lines drawn by the FHA.

Where legitimate businesses and institutions are prevented from entering, illegitimate ones will grow. Since regular banks would not lend to people of color in inner city neighborhoods and FHA policies kept them from lending to the few people of color who could afford suburban housing, there obviously was a need for someone to supply these loans and so we have the growth of the so-called subprime market, only back in those days they were known as loan sharks and other unprintable words and had reputation to rival check cashing operations, greedy landlords and take and bake furniture renters. Anyone who has grown up in the inner city can tell stories not only about price-gouging home loans, but high-priced loans for everything from cars to buying furniture or clothes on credit.

What Is Subprime Lending

Subprime lending is a mixture of old-fashioned altruism and blatant thievery with an American twist. Some entered into the business of making loans to people of color because they genuinely believed people deserved an equal opportunity, others saw a chance to make a quick buck. The reality of the situation was that without FHA insurance even the most well-meaning lenders still had to charge more than they would have for a white suburban home-buyer.

A 2003 study for the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law reported:

While red-lining has served to exclude poor and minority residents from the benefits of mainstream mortgage lending, purveyors of predatory lending (or so-called “reverse red-lining”) practices have targeted many of the same poor and minority households that traditional lending institutions have ignored or excluded.

In testimony before the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services in 2000 Bill Brennan of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society outlined how subprime lending works for lenders:

Here is what these companies do, the predators. They overcharge on interest and points, they charge egregiously high annual interest and prepaid finance charges, points, which are not justified by the risk involved, because these loans are collateralized by valuable real estate.

Since they usually only lend at 70 to 80 percent loan-to-value ratios, they have a 20 to 30 percent cushion to protect them if they have to foreclose. They usually always buy at the foreclosure sale and pay off the debt and sell the house for a profit.

As for those taking out the loans, Gary Gensler, Undersecretary for Domestic Finance at the treasury Department, told the same Committee:

Borrowers in these markets often have limited access to mainstream financial services. This leads to two things, as the Senator said earlier. Some borrowers who really would qualify for prime loans-we estimate anywhere between 15 and 35 percent of the subprime market could qualify for prime and cannot get that prime loan. Second, the rate and term competition is limited. Subprime lenders don’t tend to compete as much on price.

Beyond preying on vulnerable populations, beyond the limited access to mainstream financial services, is that abusive practices tend to be coupled with high-pressure sales tactics, whether by a mortgage broker, a home improvement contractor, sometimes a lender themselves in the local community.

Perhaps the most extensive and longest longitudinal study of predatory lending practices has been the Woodstock Institute’s periodic reports on Chicago.  It’s 1999 report “Two Steps Back” was among the earliest to blow the whistle on predatory lending.  They found:

Documented cases of abuse include fees exceeding 10 percent of the loan amount, payments structured so that they do not even cover interest (resulting in increasing principle balances), and flipping a loan numerous times in a couple of years.

At the same time, lending to lower-income and minority communities is often viewed as an isolated line of business, in which the focus is on the short term transaction and associated fees. Lenders active in such communities tend to be mortgage and finance companies subject to much less regulation than banks and thrifts. The increased scale of the subprime industry itself has resulted in a larger number of abuses. Moreover, there has not been a proportionate increase in regulation or regulatory resources devoted to this new industry.

As usual, graphs and tables tell the story in black and white:





The date on the graph may be a little difficult to see. It is 1998. On the first table, the percentage of subprime loans going to African American communities is 53%. Only 9% went to predominantly white communities. The Woodstock study went on to deal with the obvious question: is it race or income that is the strongest determinant of who receives a subprime loan? They found it was the former:

Thus, whether a neighborhood is predominantly African-American explains the greatest amount of variation in subprime lending,

The Final Results

In 1997 Bill Brennan could tell the New York Times:

We have financial apartheid in our country. We have low-income, often minority borrowers,  who are charged unconscionably high interest rates, either directly or indirectly through the cover of added charges.

Three years later Census data would confirm Brennan’s charge. The Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law found:

The typical white person lives in a neighborhood that is overwhelmingly white, with a few minorities (80.2% white, 6.7% African American, 7.9% Hispanic American, and 3.9% Asian American), the typical African American lives in a neighborhood that is mostly black (51.4% black, 33.0% white, 11.4% Hispanic American, and 3.3% Asian American). By comparison, the typical Hispanic American lives in a neighborhood that is more evenly Hispanic American and white (45.5% Hispanic, 36.5% white, 10.8% black, and 5.9% Asian American); and the typical Asian American lives in a neighborhood that is mostly white (17.9% Asian American, 54% white, 9.2%  black, and 17.4% Hispanic American).

In a study released this year by United for a Fair Economy, the authors note:

According to federal data, people of color are more than three times more likely to have subprime loans: high-cost loans account for 55% of loans to Blacks, but only 17% of loans to Whites.

This is a decade after the Woodstock study identified a similar pattern in Chicago.

Reflections

This history makes you wonder what kind of country we might have become had racism not pervaded the home mortgage market. The United for a Fair Economy study puts it eloquently:

While the housing crisis has affected all sectors of society, it has disproportionately affected communities and individuals of color. For them, the dream that Martin Luther King, Jr. once spoke of has been foreclosed.

Now the injustices white America heaped on black America for half a century have come home to roost. The sobering thought to ponder is that what you have read so far is merely the very tip of a rather large iceberg, for there are literally dozens and dozens of books and countless articles on racism and housing. If you enter “racism” and “housing” in Google you will find over four million entries. Yet despite over half a century of studies, reports and papers about discriminatory lending, little was done about it.

The most damning piece of evidence in this entire story is not that racism fostered predatory loans, but that like organized crime going from petty bootleggers and drug dealers to big time operators, the practice of predatory loan sharking expanded and went mainstream– moving from being the providence of small-time shady operators to mainstream banks. Essentially, loan-sharking cast off its sleazy past and the bigger it became the more people looked the other way.

That is until it suddenly threatens to take down the entire American economy. Now like the figures in that painting of Constitution Hall, fingers are pointing and people are staring.

If racism played a big role in creating the mortgage crisis, the solution to our current problems will prove tougher to deal with than what the so-called experts have been telling us. We could be witnessing the fourth American revolution. The first was the war for independence, the second the Civil War, the third the Great Depression and now the present crisis which combines the themes of the previous two–race and economics.

The next essay in this series focuses on how we got here and why, for only by understanding that journey can we see a way out of the current morass. What is clear so far is that this crisis is not merely the fault of a few misguided CEOs, but rather the culmination of decades of discrimination in which all of us are culpable.

Now the time has come to stop pretending there is no elephant in the room and deal with it.

Resources

For a good bibliography on the subject click here.

Crossposts: The Strange Death of Liberal America, My Left Wing, Progressive Historians, The Wild, Wild Left

Trinity United Church of Christ; Pastor Wright Homilies and Hope



Audacity To Hope Jeremiah Wright Part 1

Please review and reflect upon the inspirational text.  Wright’s Sermon – “The Audacity To Hope”

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning.

~ Barack Obama [Senator and Potential President] March 18, 2008

When we are separate, our experience is never equal.  African-Americans mingle among the many Anglos in this country.  However, individuals with dark-complexions do not fully unite or fit into a society that segregates by color.  While Americans have forcibly progressed beyond the laws that allowed for racial discrimination, the bias and bigotry that filled the hearts of many citizens in the United States for centuries still thrives.  While we muse, we love thy neighbor, we react to those whose race is not our own.

Americans claim they are Christian, inclusive.  Indeed, we are a Judeo-Christian nation.  Yet, Jews are still scorned in America, as are people of any color that is other than a pinkish white.  Amongst Caucasians, the habit of hate has been passed on for generations.  Yet, when those whose skin is pale, hear the words of a Black man, a Reverend, Jeremiah Wright, who has been wounded by racism for all the years of his life, speak of his distress, they react as though they had never uttered a racial epithet in their lives.

The most respected Americans, white in color proclaim, “I have never heard such vile derisive language in an Anglo church.”  “No preacher, pastor, priest, or rabbi would ever express him or herself in such a loathsome manner.”  Shocked Caucasians inquire as if to invite a shared criticism, “Is this what Black people believe?”  If reasons are presented for such resentment, the response from self-righteous lovers of G-d and man is, “African-Americans are bigoted!”  “How dare they.”  The pink persons declare, “In the House of the Lord only words of love are spoken, at least that is the way it is in white churches, temples, and synagogues.”

However, this may not be the case.  Hate is harbored on every avenue in America, even in places of worship.  As Barack Obama dared to remind us, on Sundays African-Americans and Anglos who reside in the United States are perhaps more divided than they are on any other day.  The pale persons pray with those whose skin tone is similar to their own.  When we look at only the surface, all whites may appear equal; and they are in the eyes of the Almighty.  Yet, as humans gaze upon each other, they see differences.

A white man or woman, whose gender preference is unlike those of the self-ordained “absolved of all “sins” congregation may experience discrimination even in death.

Church learns vet was gay, cancels memorial

Texas congregation acted out of principle, not malice, pastor says

Associated Press.  MSNBC

August 11, 2007

Arlington, Texas – A megachurch canceled a memorial service for a Navy veteran 24 hours before it was to start because the deceased was gay.

Officials at the nondenominational High Point Church knew that Cecil Howard Sinclair was gay when they offered to host his service, said his sister, Kathleen Wright.  But after his obituary listed his life partner as one of his survivors, she said, it was called off.

“It’s a slap in the face.  It’s like, ‘Oh, we’re sorry he died, but he’s gay so we can’t help you,”‘ she said Friday. . .

Simons said the church believes homosexuality is a sin, and it would have appeared to endorse that lifestyle if the service had been held there.

“We did decline to host the service – not based on hatred, not based on discrimination, but based on principle,” Simons told The Associated Press.  “Had we known it on the day they first spoke about it – yes, we would have declined then.  It’s not that we didn’t love the family.”

Love rears its ugly head in many odd ways.  Fondness, in the form of fury and foment, is found on film throughout cyberspace.  As the “average” American bears witness, people, pale in color, have become a community of contempt.  Condescension is what appears in the Judeo-Christian churches throughout the land of the free.  Americans, be they  Jewish, Mormon, Protestant or Christian are calm when they contemplate the G-d and the all that he creates.  People are polite in public; however, when they are in the comfort of their homes they express what they claim is never stated.  The proper and pink teach their progeny to believe as they do.

The Year In Hate, 2005

A 5% annual increase in hate groups in 2005 caps a remarkable rise of 33% over the five-year period that began in 2000.

By Mark Potok

Intelligence Report

Southern Poverty Law

Spring 2006

Fueled by belligerent tactics and publicity stunts, the number of hate groups operating in the United States rose from 762 in 2004 to 803 last year, capping an increase of fully 33% over the five years since 2000.

The expansion of hate groups last year, documented by the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, seemed to be helped along by aggressive maneuvers that landed them on front pages and in national news broadcasts.  The National Socialist Movement, for instance, repeatedly made national news with provocative attempts to march through black, inner-city neighborhoods.  Other groups rallied with increasing fervor and frequency, and even undertook sure-to-infuriate campaigns like “Operation Schoolyard,” an attempt in the 2004-2005 school year to distribute 100,000 free racist music CDs to schoolchildren . . .  A growing Internet presence also helped groups’ propaganda to flourish; there were 524 hate sites counted in 2005, up 12% from 468 in 2004.

Yes, whites individuals and groups do indoctrinate their young.  The practice amid the pink population is as odious as they believe it is among African-Americans.  Whites are as blackened by bigotry as their brethren may be.  

Sadly, too frequently when we look upon another we see only what appears on the surface.  Just as the oppressed of one color or creed voices words that may be defined as dishonorable, so too do those in the supposed superior sect.  Each of us errors.  We are all emotional beings, complex and never viewed completely.  New York Times Columnist, Nicholas D. Kristof, addressed this truth in his recent editorial, Obama and Race.  The articulate author writes of what goes on within the walls of Trintiy United Church of Christ, Chicago, Illinois.

Many well-meaning Americans perceive Mr. Wright as fundamentally a hate-monger who preaches antagonism toward whites.  But those who know his church say that is an unrecognizable caricature: He is a complex figure and sometimes a reckless speaker, but one of his central messages is not anti-white hostility but black self-reliance.

“The big thing for Wright is hope,” said Martin Marty, one of America’s foremost theologians, who has known the Rev. Wright for 35 years and attended many of his services. “You hear ‘hope, hope, hope.’ Lots of ordinary people are there, and they’re there not to blast the whites. They’re there to get hope.”

Professor Marty said that as a white person, he sticks out in the largely black congregation but is always greeted with warmth and hospitality. “It’s not anti-white,” he said. “I don’t know anybody who’s white who walks out of there not feeling affirmed.”

Mr. Wright has indeed made some outrageous statements. But he should be judged as well by his actions – including a vigorous effort to address poverty, ill health, injustice and AIDS in his ministry. Mr. Wright has been frightfully wrong on many topics, but he was right on poverty, civil rights and compassion for AIDS victims.

What should draw much more scrutiny in this campaign than any pastor’s sermons is the candidates’ positions on education, health care and poverty – and their ability to put those policies in place. Cutting off health care benefits for low-income children strikes me as much more offensive than any inflammatory sermon.

Indeed, what is an affront to a person affected by a policy or practice is barely observable to one who will never realize how a political promise or lack thereof can destroy the life of those they love.  When in an impoverished community people depend on the kindness of a culture such as the society Thomas Paine described, one in which the commonweal was more important than the needs of any individual.  The disenfranchised rely on the good will of people who believe in the Lord, practice as Jesus preached, “Love your neighbor as yourself.’  Yet, inside and outside of a religious house, mere mortal man fails to adhere to the principles preached from the pulpit.  We need only remember the plight of a sweet young child, a twelve year old, Deamonte Driver who died of a toothache Sunday, February 25, 2007.

A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.

If his mother had been insured.

If his family had not lost its Medicaid.

If Medicaid dentists weren’t so hard to find.

If his mother hadn’t been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.

By the time Deamonte’s own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said. After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince George’s County boy died.

Few in a white American world can imagine such a situation.  Certainly, a Caucasian churchgoer does not subscribe to the belief a child must suffer.  No clergy would caste a little one to the wolves or ask them to endure the burden of a national budget disagreement.  An ordained Minister, Reverend, Pastor, Priest, or Rabbi, a Shaman would not will a poverty-stricken parent, people within an impoverished community, or those not yet empowered, to care for a child without adequate means to assist the young person.  That is unless the religious leader is part of the “Fellowship” or “Family,” who congregates in Washington District of Columbia or other Capitols throughout the globe.

The Fellowship believes that the elite win power by the will of God, who uses them for his purposes. Its mission is to help the powerful understand their role in God’s plan.

This group of world leaders, the affluent and comfortable from Congress to the Cabinet, from the White House to the wondrous world of power elite, accepts as part of their mission, that those whose pigmentation is darker, or persons deemed to be of lesser value may be left to die when they no longer serve the “masters.”  This theological order differs from some of the other organized religion.

The Family avoids the word Christian but worships Jesus, though not the Jesus who promised the earth to the “meek.” They believe that, in mass societies, it’s only the elites who matter, the political leaders who can build God’s “dominion” on earth.  Insofar as the Family has a consistent philosophy, it’s all about power — cultivating it, building it and networking it together into ever-stronger units, or “cells.”  “We work with power where we can,” Doug Coe [Fellowship leader] has said, and “build new power where we can’t.”

 

African-Americans rarely and barely have authority equal to those of Anglos in this nation.  “Affirmative Action,” a policy established to appease those embarrassed by the actions of their ancestors, is granted and taken away.  Caucasians complain of “reverse racism,” for few can comprehend.

[B]lacks have not simply been treated unfairly; they have been subjected first to decades of slavery, and then to decades of second-class citizenship, widespread legalized discrimination, economic persecution, educational deprivation, and cultural stigmatization. They have been bought, sold, killed, beaten, raped, excluded, exploited, shamed, and scorned for a very long time.  The word “unfair” is hardly an adequate description of their experience, and the belated gift of “fairness” in the form of a resolution no longer to discriminate against them legally is hardly an adequate remedy for the deep disadvantages that the prior discrimination has produced. When the deck is stacked against you in more ways than you can even count, it is small consolation to hear that you are now free to enter the game and take your chances.

Chances are opportunities will be scant and tentative at that.  Former Congresswoman and Vice Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro reminds us of this.  For the Clinton cohort, and a former member of the Clinton Finance Committee, Barack Obama, and perhaps all Black Americans are “lucky” to be where they are today.  For Ferraro, another Anglo American who evidently cannot connect to the experience of being poor or purplish-brown in hue, being Black in this country is apparently an advantage.  Perchance, it is a privilege to suffer at the hands of those in power, the people who do not wish to speak of their work or worship.  We cannot know.  For unlike the scenes seen in volumes of video in the worldwide web or in news network libraries, there are no recordings of what occurs in “Fellowship” [Family] meetings.  The “cells” remain cloistered, just as the rich do.

[T]he prayer groups have become cherished sanctuaries for their members-providing respite, however brief, from the cacophony of political Washington. Speaking about a group is strongly discouraged, and what transpires at meetings is strictly off the record.

No one will know if these elite powerbrokers express their racial hatred aloud.  One can only determine what is true through the policies these persons enact.  They may say they prayer for equality; however, the laws introduced and passed frequently, further disenfranchise the poor and people of color.

There is much evidence, anecdotal as the Ferraro affair may be, and research analysis, to suggest Caucasians in this country find it difficult to relate to the circumstances of those whose skin is a darker color.  The predicament of people whose skin gleams a brownish-purplish hue is incomprehensible to those who do not suffer from the effects of racism.

A Jew can pass amongst gentiles.  An Asian can climb, albeit inch-by-inch.  Hispanics are hindered in their assent; yet, not in the way a Black man or woman is. An African-American is never fully free from the stereotypes.  On screen dramas, depict African-Americans as villains.  The nightly news amplifies this message.  The public presumes if a crime is committed, certainly the lawbreaker will be Black.  

Our language leads us to believe black is bad.  White is good.  From childhood on Americans are indoctrinated.  Slavery may have ended with the Emancipation Proclamation; however, African-Americans remained incarcerated in caricatures.

From the introduction of animated film in the early 1900s to the 1950s, ethnic humor was a staple of American-made cartoons. Yet, as Christopher Lehman shows in this revealing study, the depiction of African Americans in particular became so inextricably linked to the cartoon medium as to influence its evolution through those five decades. He argues that what is in many ways most distinctive about American animation reflects white animators’ visual interpretations of African American cultural expression.

The first American animators drew on popular black representations, many of which were caricatures rooted in the culture of southern slavery. During the 1920s, the advent of the sound-synchronized cartoon inspired animators to blend antebellum-era black stereotypes with the modern black cultural expressions of jazz musicians and Hollywood actors. When the film industry set out to desexualize movies through the imposition of the Hays Code in the early 1930s, it regulated the portrayal of African Americans largely by segregating black characters from others, especially white females. At the same time, animators found new ways to exploit the popularity of African American culture by creating animal characters like Bugs Bunny who exhibited characteristics associated with African Americans without being identifiably black.

By the 1950s, protests from civil rights activists and the growing popularity of white cartoon characters led animators away from much of the black representation on which they had built the medium.  Even so, animated films today continue to portray African American characters and culture, and not necessarily in a favorable light.

Perhaps, the portrayals burned into our brains, when we were toddlers, those heard in church, in homes, in movie theatres, and on televisions, helps to explain why Anglo Americans cannot imagine what it like to be Black in America.  Few Caucasians have experienced the pain of prejudice.  Pinkish people cannot comprehend what it feels like to consistently be a victim of avoidance.  An Anglo does not think that their mere appearance might threaten another.  White people walk down the street without a care.  No one crosses the boulevard in order to steer clear of them as happens frequently to a Black man or woman approaching from the other direction.

Anglos do not know what it feels like to be shunned, snubbed, or scorned because your skin is dark.  Caucasians cannot pretend to know how what some say is a tease is truly a threat.  When Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman smiled and suggested today’s young players should “lynch Tiger Woods in a back alley,” African-Americans did not laugh. A noose in the neighborhood can cause ones’ blood to curdle.  A word as vile as n*gg*r, does not cut to the core of a white man or woman who has never lost a loved-one to brutal aggressions based only on race.  There is much the white world does not realize or rationalize as they sit in their ivory churches.

To whites, for example, it has been shocking to hear Mr. Wright suggest that the AIDS virus was released as a deliberate government plot to kill black people.

That may be an absurd view in white circles, but a 1990 survey found that 30 percent of African-Americans believed this was at least plausible.

“That’s a real standard belief,” noted Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a political scientist at Princeton (and former member of Trinity church, when she lived in Chicago). “One of the things fascinating to me watching these responses to Jeremiah Wright is that white Americans find his beliefs so fringe or so extreme. When if you’ve spent time in black communities, they are not shared by everyone, but they are pretty common beliefs.”

This thought is not merely a personal opinion, research documents the truth of this assessment.  White Americans don’t truly comprehend racial disparities in our country.  Philip Mazzocco, co-author of the a study titled, Whites Underestimate the Costs of Being Black, and Assistant Professor of psychology at Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus states, “The costs of being black in our society are very well documented.”  “Blacks have significantly lower income and wealth, higher levels of poverty, and even shorter life spans, among many other disparities, compared to whites.”  Researcher Mazzocco avows, “white households average about $150,000 more wealth than the typical black family.” Overall, the total assets for an Anglo family are about five times greater than that of an African-American family.  The disparity seems a constant in American history.  The chasm has persisted for years.  Mazzocco said. . . .

“When white Americans find it within themselves to say ‘I must be compensated for a past injustice done to me’ but the same logic evaporates when the injustice concerns black Americans, they are staring straight at bias,” Banaji [co-author Mahzarin Banaji, the Cabot Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard University] said.

What is good for thou, is not tolerable for thee.  Hypocrisy is a theme we know all too well.  We witness it here in America.  We hear charlatan expressions in our daily lives.  Is this not the concern Caucasians present, when they criticize Reverend Wright?

Opportunely, those who protest too much forget the numerous groups who hate in the name of G-d, or the “Family” formed amongst the elite.  Nonetheless, pinkish people preach; white worshipers never speak words of woe, or wrath.  The Judeo-Christian clergy, and the congregation, at least when in church, do not speak badly of their brethren.  If only Jesus had known.  The Son of the Holy Father may not have felt a need to warn the hypocrites.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

~ Matthew 7:1-5 RSV

Perhaps, our best teachers, those who see most clearly, understand the complexity that is humankind.  Perchance, a parishioner hears what is truly said.  One with love in his or her heart does not hear the gospel as a reason for grief.  He, or she, the commoners within a congregation may understand the clergyman in a manner consistent with the whole being that stands before them each and every Sunday.  It seems Kennise M Herring, an “average” disciple of Jeremiah Wright lives the lessons of the Lord more fully than those who gather in gentler, kinder  churches.

I am a member of Trinity United Church of Christ and have been for 17 years.  Interestingly, I’ve never seen Barack in church, which may simply speak to the fact that there are 3 sermons and our family attends a different service than the Obama family.

I was in attendance in the sermon after 9/11 that has been circulated.  Ironically, I felt soothed following that sermon.  I certainly remembered upon viewing the clips the infamous God Damn America comments, but that is not what stood out for me in that service.  At the start of the service, Reverend Wright spoke poignantly about his fears as he was in New York on that fateful day.  He spoke about the tremendous pain he observed, the evil and horror of the event and of his personal realization that he may never get to tell all of us how much he loved us.  He spoke of realizing that his life with his family was not guaranteed and that he could not take anything for granted.  He made a commitment to tell us at each service that he loved us and I experienced his words-I love you-simply and freely offered as real and soothing.

Yes-he spoke about policy matters and clearly used strong language but at the time, neither I or my three children or my husband found it the salient part of the talk.  Despite the strong rhetoric, I left church feeling that “there is a balm in Gilead.”  Reverend Wright delivered the eulogy at my aunt’s funeral and it is not hyperbole to say that I was more moved by his words than I have ever been at a funeral.  He was warm, compassionate, empathic, and genuinely sad for as he said repeatedly about my aunt, “this was not ordinary parishioner, this was my friend.”

Reverend Wright frequently chided those of us too constricted to freely experience the passion often evident in the sanctuary and suggested that we were too educated to show our love for Jesus.  I, being one of the more reserved-ok-constricted ones simply smiled for I longed for the kind of intimate, passionate relationship with God that he seems to have cultivated with God.

In finishing, I have seen this man on too many occasions do too much that is good and meaningful.  He is imperfect-he will tell you that in a minute but I am certain in my core that he is doing God’s work and he loves God’s children even if he is disgusted by their behavior at times.

There are two Americas and the one I occupy is often invisible.  How I wish that the peek inside my world had offered a fuller portrait of this man and not the caricature.

Might the Anglo individuals who dwell in the more visible America, assess their own passion, principles, and preachers.  Might Caucasians consider the hypocrisy that lives within them and their clergy.  Would white Americans be willing to judge one of their own people as harshly as they do Barack Obama or his Pastor, Reverend Wright?  

Would Anglo Americans condemn one of the most profound and powerful Senators, Presidential aspirant Hillary Rodham Clinton for her affiliation with the “Fellowship?”  Potential President Barack Obama “condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy.”  Yet, Hillary Rodham Clinton, an active participant of the “most elite cell” [their term]  says nothing of the fact that . . .

The Family takes credit for some of Clinton’s rightward legislative tendencies, including her support for a law guaranteeing “religious freedom” in the workplace, such as for pharmacists who refuse to fill birth control prescriptions and police officers who refuse to guard abortion clinics.

The former First Lady, Caucasian Clinton may not have considered how these laws affect those in the Black community.  Certainly, one would imagine that the Senator, a scholar would understand that without birth control, abortions are more likely.  Perhaps, she, as most Anglo Americans is unfamiliar with a life that differs from her own.  

As an elite, among the “Family” Hillary Clinton may not have experienced the hurt that is an African-American’s life.  Those in Black neighborhoods have limited access to pharmacists and clinics.  The notion that African-Americans might shop around for someone to serve them is absurd.  We need only consider the availability of viable transportation, the cost to travel, and the ultimate truth, the quality of health care services.  Those whose complexion is dark in color remain separate and unequal in an America dominated by the affluent who are lighter in color and pray within a selective Fellowship.

Perchance, prosperous persons, members of the Family “cells,” people such as Senator Clinton, do not rant and rage as they reflect on racism.  They cannot; they do not relate.  These prominent individuals do not need to discuss their mediation which remains publicly unmentionable.  They to talk of prejudice or the policies they ratify in order to retain power.  Possibly, affluent Anglos and those who merely wish to appear proper do not need to speak of the strife that is their life in church, synagogues, or temples, for their situation does not compare.

For most Caucasians and for former First Lady Clinton, church conversations are yet to be called into question.  However, we might wonder, what if Senator Clinton’s religious beliefs, her practices, and her pastor are not subjects of scrutiny.  What if all Anglos were subject to such severe scrutiny?  Might the discussion help eliminate the disdain?  Could empathy be the cure for what ails America.  Barack Obama asked us to consider that possibility.  Yet, apparently the request is denied.

Churchgoers in the white community continue to think they do not speak of cruelties committed against them, few as these may be.  These pious people truly believe they live by the Golden Rule, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Sadly, it seems Anglos do not wish to discuss hypocrisy either.  Perhaps, those with paler complexions should.  From Americans reaction to the topic of racism, it is obvious, parishioners in pinkish neighborhoods still have much to learn of the Lord and the lessons he hoped to impart.



Audacity To Hope Jeremiah Wright Part 2

AdctyHp

Please review and reflect upon the inspirational text. Wright’s Sermon – “The Audacity To Hope”

Sermons, Sources, A Search for Truth and Hope . . .

Historic Reversals, Accelerating Resegregation In City And Suburbs

copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

The mantra may be “teach tolerance.”  Yet, we teach our children intolerance.  In America, we see Historic Reversals, [and] Accelerating Resegregation, so says a report released in August 2007.  This study, conducted by Gary Orfield and Chungmei Lee, of the Civil Rights Project, University of California, Los Angeles documents what is evident throughout the country; racism is alive and well in America.  Indeed, racial discrimination grows stronger each and every day.  The most recent Supreme Court decision, handed down in June 2007, endorsed further racial divides.  Parents Involved in Community Schools versus Seattle School District Number 1 et al, sanctions school segregation.  For the most part, parents and the population at-large embrace this ruling.

People now have permission to do what they have long done, discriminate.  We can predict, with consent from the highest court in the land, prejudice will continue to grow.  Fractures and fissures will expand and the achievement gap will widen.  Currently, forty-three [43] percent of American school children are not Caucasian.  The education they receive has been sub-standard for decades.

Many segregated schools struggle to attract highly qualified teachers and administrators, do not prepare students well for college and fail to graduate more than half their students.

Integration in the few schools that have worked to improve opportunities for all, equally, has helped to a degree.  However, for the most part non-whites cannot or are not easily enrolled in the better schools.  Proximity and policies hinder any efforts to secure equivalent scholarship for students of color.  The Supreme Court decision will only serve to exacerbate a dire situation.

In its June ruling the Supreme Court forbade most existing voluntary local efforts to integrate schools in a decision favored by the Bush administration despite warnings from academics that it would compound educational inequality.

“It is about as dramatic a reversal in the stance of the federal courts as one could imagine,” said Gary Orfield, a UCLA professor and a co-author of the report.

“The federal courts are clearly pushing us backward segregation with the encouragement of the Justice Department of President George W. Bush,” he said in an interview.

The United States risks becoming a nation in which a new majority of non-white young people will attend “separate and inferior” schools, the report said.

Even when the schools are supposedly integrated, they are not.  Attitudes separate the races; reason and rational thought are but clouds, passing swiftly through the mind.  Hearts and souls struggle to survive when segregation exists around every bend and under every tree branch.  Subtle talk of lynching remains strong in society.  We see it in the schools; children act out what adult say they reject; yet in reality project.  We need only consider the circumstances of the “Jena Six” to support this notion.  It’s still about race in Jena, Louisiana.

Last week [July 2007] in Detroit, the NAACP held a mock funeral for the N-word.  But a chilling case in Louisiana shows us how far we have to go to bury racism.  This story begins in the small, central Louisiana town of Jena.  Last September, a black high school student requested the school’s permission to sit beneath a broad, leafy tree in the hot schoolyard.  Until then, only white students sat there.

The next morning, three nooses were hanging from the tree.  The black students responded en masse.  Justin Purvis, the kid who first sat under the tree, told filmmaker Jacquie Soohen: “They said, ‘Y’all want to go stand under the tree?’  We said, ‘Yeah.’  They said, ‘If you go, I’ll go.  If you go, I’ll go.’  One person went, the next person went, everybody else just went.”

Then the police and the district attorney showed up.  Substitute teacher Michelle Rogers recounts: “District Attorney Reed Walters proceeded to tell those kids that ‘I could end your lives with the stroke of a pen.'”

It wouldn’t happen for a few more months, but that is exactly what the district attorney is trying to do.


The Jena Six

Indeed the stroke of a pen may put six innocent children into prison.  Young men, in the prime of their lives may realize what millions have known for centuries.  In America, Black and Brown are not beautiful. 

This is obvious as we watch the daily debate in the halls of Congress and on television screens.  Immigrants of color are not welcome.  Fences are built to “protect” white Americans from their own fears.  African-Americans are ‘busted’ merely for driving while Black.  White citizens within the United States are apprehensive.  Statistics show, soon, Caucasians will be in the minority.  Indeed, the Black and Brown population is increasing.  This is true in public schools, in our cities, and in the rural countryside.  Breeding, just as much in society, belies logic.

Almost nine-tenths of American students were counted as white in the early l960s, but the number of white students fell 20 percent from l968 to 2005, as the baby boom gave way to the baby bust for white families, while the number of blacks increased 33 percent and the number of Latinos soared 380 percent amid surging immigration of a young population with high birth rates.

Just as in centuries past, the poorest among us tend to congregate in ghettoes, not by choice, but in reality.  The impoverished are often under-educated.  They cannot secure quality positions in the workforce.  Those that lack academic expertise and not empowered to do what might benefit them as individuals and society as a whole.  Thus, they congregate in inner cities, live in substandard houses, and travel only as far as meager transportation systems allow.  The disadvantaged do not have the opportunities the more affluent among us have.

As the indigent population increases, conditions worsen.  Cities become more crowded, crime more prevalent, and students are less able to acquire knowledge.  Division gives rise to greater discrimination.  The cycle of separation is endless.  Eventually, we spiral downward.  Indeed we have.

The country’s rapidly growing population of Latino and black students is more segregated than they have been since the l960s and we are going backward faster in the areas where integration was most far-reaching.

Under the new decision, local and state educators have far less freedom to foster integration than they have had for the last four decades.  The Supreme Court’s 2007 decision has sharply limited local control in this arena, which makes it likely that segregation will further increase.

Americans love to label their country a “melting pot,” a stew that combines races, religions, and creeds.  However, this society is not nor has it ever been a delicious blend.  Those that consider themselves cream, rise to the top.  They take their friends and family with them. 

The elite ethnic groups are well educated.  Never would they wish to be identified as racist.  Auspiciously, these affluent persons and those with less dollars, but beautiful pearly white skin write the books, prepare the dictionaries and define themselves, “color-blind.”  Yet, we know, they are not.  In Jena, Louisiana, we recall that a Black student felt the need to ask if he might sit under a tree.  In America, even nature is reserved for the white persons to enjoy.

The next day, hanging from the tree, were three ropes, in school colors, each tied to make a noose.

The events set in motion by those nooses led to a schoolyard fight.  And that fight led to the conviction, on June 28, 2007, of a Black student at Jena High School for charges that can bring up to 22 years in prison.

Mychal Bell, a 16-year-old sophomore football star at the time he was arrested, was convicted by an all-white jury, without a single witness being called on his behalf.  And five more Black students in Jena still face serious charges stemming from the fight.

Caseptla Bailey, a Black community leader and mother of one of the Black students, told the London Observer, “To us those nooses meant the KKK, they meant, ‘Niggers, we’re going to kill you, we’re going to hang you till you die.'”  The attack was brushed off as a “youthful stunt.”  The three white students responsible, given only three days of in-school suspension.

In response to the incident, several Black students, among them star players on the football team, staged a sit-in under the tree.  The principal reacted by bringing in the white district attorney, Reed Walters, and 10 local police officers to an all-school assembly.  Marcus Jones, Mychal Bell’s father, described the assembly to Revolution:

“Now remember, with everything that goes on at Jena High School, everybody’s separated.  The only time when Black and white kids are together is in the classroom and when they playing sports together.  During lunch time, Blacks sit on one side, whites sit on the other side of the cafeteria.  During canteen time, Blacks sit on one side of the campus, whites sit on the other side of the campus.

“At any activity done in the auditorium-anything-Blacks sit on one side, whites on the other side, okay?  The DA tells the principal to call the students in the auditorium.  They get in there.  The DA tells the Black students, he’s looking directly at the Black students-remember, whites on one side, Blacks on the other side-he’s looking directly at the Black students.  He told them to keep their mouths shut about the boys hanging their nooses up.  If he hears anything else about it, he can make their lives go away with the stroke of his pen.”

DA Walters concluded that the students should “work it out on their own.”  Police officers roamed the halls of the school that week, and tensions simmered throughout the fall semester.

Ah, that stew, and the cooks.  When District Attorney Walters presumes and proclaims there are too many chefs.  They have spoiled the broth and the soup must stand alone, it simmers on the stove, unattended.  Finally, as the fire underneath the kettle heats the concoction, the mixture begins to boil.  Sauce spills out and many are burned.  Indeed, ultimately we all are.  For as much as we wish to separate the parts, we are each part of the whole.

However, sadly, the scars show more on darker skin.  Nonetheless, we all are wounded.  The pain wrought by an authorized and artificial separation affects every one of us.

It is true.  Education and the economy are inexorably tied.  If pupils in any population do not receive an adequate erudition, the entirety suffers, economically.  We all feel the effects of segregation.  What is in our cities and in our country is palpable in our schools.  Circumstances in educational facilities are felt fiscally. 

What white persons may wish to consider without the fear that currently drives them, is that they are never separate from those they prefer not to see.  What they do to beings with Black and Brown skin will ultimately have an effect on their lily white bodies. 

Caucasian Americans have a decision to make.  They can choose harmony or continue to allow their trepidation to hurt them, to harm us all.

We are in the last decade of a white majority in American public schools and there are already minorities of white students in our two largest regions, the South and the West.  When today’s children become adults, we will be a multiracial society with no majority group, where all groups will have to learn to live and work successfully together.  School desegregation has been the only major policy directly addressing this need and that effort has now been radically constrained.

The schools are not only becoming less white but also have a rising proportion of poor children.  The percentage of school children poor enough to receive subsidized lunches has grown dramatically.  This is not because white middle class students have produced a surge in private school enrollment; private schools serve a smaller share of students than a half century ago and are less white. 

The reality is that the next generation is much less white because of the aging and small family sizes of white families and the trend is deeply affected by immigration from Latin American and Asia.  Huge numbers of  children growing up in families with very limited resources, and face an economy with deepening inequality of income distribution, where only those with higher education are securely in the middle class.

It is a simple statement of fact to say that the country’s future depends on finding ways to prepare groups of students who have traditionally fared badly in American schools to perform at much higher levels and to prepare all young Americans to live and work in a society vastly more diverse than ever in our past.

Some of our largest states will face a decline in average educational levels in the near future as the racial transformation proceeds if the educational success of nonwhite students does not improve substantially.

While throughout the nation adults discuss busing or income based integration in the schools, we must realize that Band-Aids will never cover the lesions that lie beneath the surface.  What we do in our schools mirrors what is done in our neighborhoods.  If we are to truly prosper, Americans must accept and acknowledge that no matter the exterior color, beauty is within.  Skin is surface.  Depth is what we create when we educate our children.  An educated person, Black, white, or Brown benefits him or herself, as well as us all.

Currently, the dropout rates are extraordinary.  When young persons are not stimulated to think and are not expected to perform there is little reason to stay in school.  Dollars may seem more attractive and meaningful to those adolescents that receive little in their local educational facilities.  Whether greenbacks are appealing or not, in our society they are necessary for survival.  Possibly, money motivates more than the young.  I suspect, adults quantify their decisions based on budget.  Therefore, let us look at education as a pocketbook issue.  Perchance, the purse and its strings will garner some attention.

Broad policy decisions in education can be framed around a simple question: Do the benefits to society of investing in an educational strategy outweigh the costs?

We [researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University] provide an answer for those individuals who currently fail to graduate from high school.  The present cohort of 20-year olds in the US today includes over 700,000 high school dropouts, many from disadvantaged backgrounds.  We investigate the economic consequences of improving their education.

First, we identify five leading interventions that have been shown to raise high school graduation rates; and we calculate their costs and their effectiveness.  Second, we add up the lifetime public benefits of high school graduation.  These include higher tax revenues as well as lower government spending on health, crime, and welfare.  (We do not include private benefits such as higher earnings). 

Next, we compare the costs of the interventions to the public benefits.  We find that each new high school graduate would yield a public benefit of $209,000 in higher government revenues and lower government spending for an overall investment of $82,000, divided between the costs of powerful educational interventions and additional years of school attendance leading to graduation.  The net economic benefit to the public purse is therefore $127,000 per student and the benefits are 2.5 times greater than the costs.

If the number of high school dropouts in this age cohort was cut in half, the government would reap $45 billion via extra tax revenues and reduced costs of public health, of crime and justice, and in welfare payments.  This lifetime saving of $45 billion for the current cohort would also accrue for subsequent cohorts of 20-year olds.

If there is any bias to our calculations, it has been to keep estimates of the benefits conservative.  Sensitivity tests indicate that our main conclusions are robust: the costs to the nation of failing to ensure high school graduation for all America’s children are substantial.

Educational investments to raise the high school graduation rate appear to be doubly beneficial: the quest for greater equity for all young adults would also produce greater efficiency in the use of public resources.

America, you decide.  Will we continue to cultivate practices that endorse separate and unequal, or will we invest in integration.  Many parents applauded the Supreme Court decision that allowed their progeny to stay close to home.  Granted, the transport of students to schools far from the safety and sanctuary of the suburbs is less than desirable.  However, if we do not fully, adequately, and equally educate those that have less wealth and fewer resources we will continue to grow poverty.  Perchance it is time to ponder; people need people.  Blacks need Whites.  Browns require Reds, Yellow, and those whose skin is olive Green.  In actuality, each of us does best when we acknowledge we are one.

Pssst, someone please tell the Justices seated in the Supreme Court.  Perhaps, they are too isolated to notice.  Let us guide them to the window, ask them to look out onto the streets.  People of all races, colors, and creed commingle in this country.  If only they were encouraged to do so in the schools.

Schools, Segregation, Sources . . .

  • Report: Segregation in U.S. Schools is Increasing. By Matthew Bigg.  Reuters.  Washington Post.  Wednesday, August 29, 2007; 8:42 PM
  • pdf Report: Segregation in U.S. Schools is Increasing. By Matthew Bigg.  Reuters.  Washington Post.  Wednesday, August 29, 2007; 8:42 PM
  • It’s still about race in Jena, La.  By Amy Goodman.  Seattle Post intelligencer. July 18, 2007
  • White Supremacy and the Jena Six, Southern Discomfort, By Alice Woodward.  CounterPunch. July 10, 2007
  • The Costs and Benefits of an Excellent Education for All of America’s Children By Henry Levin, Clive Belfield, Peter Muennig, Cecilia Rouse.  Teachers College, Columbia University. January 2007
  • School Diversity Segregates Some. Divided Neighborhoods Isolate All

    copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    Today, I was reminded of how deeply divided this nation is.  I read School Diversity Based on Income Segregates Some.  I discovered in an attempt to offer equal opportunities, indeed, schools discovered discrimination remained a dominant force.  School Boards, Administrators, and the community-at-large concluded educational institutions would be more diverse if learners were assigned to schools based on family incomes.  A plan was introduced and implemented.  The outcome was mixed; however, the pupil populations were less so.  Some races, colors, and creeds were abundant within a given institution; others were not well represented.

    This findings were contrary to the expected and desired intent of educators.  School Districts were determined to establish a sense of unity in their local schools.  They did not wish to register or reject students on the basis of race.  Family earnings were used to ascertain eligibility.  Enrollment numbers were controlled; however the outcome was not as predicted.  In a recent New York Times article Journalists Jonathan D. Glater and Alan Finder reported.

    San Francisco – When San Francisco started trying to promote socioeconomic diversity in its public schools, officials hoped racial diversity would result as well.

    It has not worked out that way.

    Abraham Lincoln High School, for example, with its stellar reputation and Advanced Placement courses, has drawn a mix of rich and poor students.  More than 50 percent of those students are of Chinese descent.

    “If you look at diversity based on race, the school hasn’t been as integrated,? Lincoln?s principal, Ronald J. K. Pang, said.  “If you don’t look at race, the school has become much more diverse.”

    San Francisco began considering factors like family income, instead of race, in school assignments when it modified a court-ordered desegregation plan in response to a lawsuit.  But school officials have found that the 55,000-student city school district, with Chinese the dominant ethnic group followed by Hispanics, blacks and whites, is resegregrating.

    The number of schools where students of a single racial or ethnic group make up 60 percent or more of the population in at least one grade is increasing sharply.  In 2005-06, about 50 schools were segregated using that standard as measured by a court-appointed monitor.  That was up from 30 schools in the 2001-02 school year, the year before the change, according to court filings.

    It is not a mystery why this might occur.  Perhaps, as often happens, one child spoke to a classmate of his, stating an interest in a particular school or program.  One mother chatted with her neighbor over the backyard fence.  They discussed her son’s education.  A father, in the local barbershop, mentioned his daughter would enroll in this facility or that.  Another resident of that small community thought the idea a good one.  They too entered their child in that facility. 

    People tend to discuss their decisions with those they know.  Word travels; however not as far and wide as it might.  We are acquainted with those that live near us.  Likely, the person next door or down the street has an income similar to our own.  Common interests are usual among people residing in the same community.  Often, people of one race, religion, or creed associate with those of similar backgrounds. 

    Humans are rarely distant from those they relate to.  In the workplace, the peons have no choice but to converse with those at their level.  Corporate Executive Officers rarely confer with their subordinates.  Middle managements lauds over the people that work for them.  However, they do not frequently lean over and say, “Would you like to join us in a meeting, come to dinner, or call me, just to talk.”  Our children watch us; they observe and absorb the characteristics that they experience.  Our offspring learn from us.

    Young persons typically admire their parents, or at least, those that care for them are an important influence.  We teach the children.  They learn their lessons well.  If we loathe our brethren, we can expect that our offspring will too.

    Hate is a learned response; so too is the gravitational pull to certain “types” of people.

    As we assess the recent report or other news of the day, we might wonder why segregation is so prevalent.  The answer abounds.  We heard it again only weeks ago.  The logic of Supreme Court Justices loomed large.  After assessing the evidence as it relates to Parents Involved In Community Schools versus Seattle School District Number 1 these esteemed Jurists announced their decision.

    “Before Brown, schoolchildren were told where they could and could not go to school based on the color of their skin,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for a plurality that included Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. “The school districts in these cases have not carried the heavy burden of demonstrating that we should allow this once again — even for very different reasons.”

    He added: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

    Again, we must acknowledge the attempts in San Francisco.  That School district thought they did as the Chief Justice directed.  Bay Area locals were resolute in their desire not to segregate on the basis of color.  Yet, they realized their efforts led students into greater isolation.  When School Boards concluded differences in incomes would lead to diversity, they negated an inherent fact.  As cited earlier in this essay, but bears repeating.  Frequently we forget, left to their own devices people prefer to be with their kind.

    I believe this reality is not innate; nor is it healthy.  It is a habit.  Imaginary “boundaries” were developed long ago before any of us was born.  The need to build walls and partitions has been passed down through the centuries.  Generation after generation does as their parents did.

    In prehistoric times, safety and a need for survival might have been a reason for concern.  People were nomads; they did not know, nor did they have the time to become acquainted with their neighbors.  Much has changed.  Civilization led to the growth of communities.  Now, we are connected, in cyberspace, and in cities.  Even those in the countryside are not far from other people.

    I think in order to make change we must be more conscious of our choices and what we accept as common wisdom.  Among the most proverbial conventions is there will always be poor persons. 

    I believe as long as there are underprivileged neighborhoods, there will be disadvantaged schools. 

    Educational institutions in our slums serve students already facing difficulties in their daily life.  The educators willing to teach in these facilities will likely be of lesser quality.  There may be a few committed to a cause; however, this is out of the ordinary.  Books will be borrowed, or cast-off when the elite schools think them obsolete.  Indeed, the pupils in these locals will be fortunate to have text to read.  The Center on Education Policy discusses this dynamic.

    Black and Hispanic students tend to take less-rigorous courses.  Though there are more black and Hispanic students taking academically rigorous courses now than in the past, whites and Asians still tend to be overrepresented in such courses.  In part, this situation results from the lack of advanced courses at high-minority schools.  In particular, researchers have found that schools in high-minority or high-poverty areas often offer a less-rigorous curriculum to begin with.  They thereby fail to challenge students, since they cover less material or give less homework.  This is a problem because research has found that students enrolled in challenging courses?in topics such as algebra, trigonometry, chemistry, and advanced English?usually have higher test scores than their peers.

    There is a lack of experienced teachers.  [Nancy Kober, author of the Center on Education Policy’s report] points out that black students are more likely to be taught by less-experienced teachers than white students.  Researchers have cited this factor as one of the most critical variables for explaining the achievement gap: there is a correlation between higher teacher certification scores and higher student achievement scores.  Teachers in districts where there are high percentages of black or Hispanic students tend to have lower scores on their certification tests.

    Teachers set their expectations low.  Studies have suggested that teachers sometimes have lower academic expectations for black and Hispanic children than they do for whites or Asians.  Kober warns that by setting expectations low, teachers run the risk of perpetuating the achievement gap since they do not encourage black and Hispanic students to follow a rigorous curriculum.

    Resource disparities handicap schools.  Low-minority schools tend to be much better funded and have all-around stronger resources than do high-minority schools. The same relationship holds true for schools in low-poverty versus high-poverty areas.  There is persuasive evidence that this factor contributes to the achievement gap.  For example, data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show the achievement gap between low-poverty and high-poverty schools increased throughout the 1990s.

    Low-income and minority students tend to be concentrated in certain schools.  Kober notes that if a school has high levels of poverty, that can depress achievement for all the children in that school, even if they are from higher income families.  This fact hits Black and Hispanic children the hardest, since they are more likely to attend higher poverty schools than are whites or Asians.

    Student performance anxiety hampers minority students.  Some research has suggested that black students can become anxious about corresponding to negative racial stereotypes in their academic work.  The result, researchers say, is a kind of vicious circle: Black students can be so worried about seeming stereotypically ungifted academically that their anxiety actually makes them perform less well than they could.

    While on paper, Americans declare all persons are created equal, students know in practice this is not so.  Our pupils experience separate is not equal.  Even when “shipped” to schools far from home, they remain detached.  Their personalities are split.  They are the poor mingling amongst the rich.  An education helps; nonetheless, it does not eradicate the deeper divide.

    Discrimination is visible and it is our veracity.  Those that we judge harshly are characteristically the poorest among us.  Frequently and subtly, we deny these individuals their rights, and provide little so that they might achieve their dreams.  They huddle in hovels and call these home.

    Academics argue there is no need for a poor population.  Nonetheless, their perception of why one exists is as skewed as efforts to eliminate poverty are.  What is pervasive is too easily accepted, even expected.  Expert, scholarly opinions, I believe, do not consider the whole or a truth.  It seems what is too real for many is beyond the intellectuals’ ability to grasp.  I offer one authors reading of the problem, and an answer I find troublesome,

    A theorist, a scholar, and a Fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, Dinesh D’Souza, writes in an article titled, Why Are There Poor People?

    Mister D’Souza acknowledges and accepts the impoverished are victims of a collective configuration that does not reward them.  He states . . .

    The left-wing view is that poor people are the victims of unjust social structures.  Historically this view is sound.  Slavery, colonialism?these were oppressive institutions that prevented people from exercising their freedom and rising in society.

    The left-wing argument is also an accurate description of the situation in much of the Third World today.  If you take a train through the Indian countryside, you will see farmers beating their pickaxes into the ground, frail women wobbling under heavy loads, children carrying stones.  These people are working incredibly hard, yet they are getting nowhere.  The reason is that institutional structures are set up in such a way that creativity and effort don’t bring due reward.  No wonder the people in these countries are fatalistic.

    However, he continues, “institutional structures” that  keep the poor down do not exist in America.  Dinesh D’Souza states “capitalism and technology” provide opportunities for all.

    [I]n the West capitalism and technology have worked together to lift the vast majority of the population out of deprivation and up to a level of affluence that, in the words of novelist Tom Wolfe, would “make the Sun King blink.”

    So what about the underclass, the inner-city poor that we hear so much about? I agree: it is terrible to grow up in many parts of the Bronx, New York, or Anacostia, Washington DC, or South Central Los Angeles. But that?s not because of material poverty.  Rather, it?s because of the shocking moral behavior of the residents.  High crime rates, the crack trade, and the absence of stable families all work together to destroy the cultural ecosystem and make normal productive life so difficult in these communities.

    This is where the right-wing argument gathers force.  Conservatives contend that the bourgeois virtues of family stability, the work ethic, the respect for education and law are essential for individuals and groups to advance, and where those are jlacking, chaos is the predictable result.  The solution is to recognize that prosperity does not come naturally.

    Such is the attitude, the belief, and the perception of many in our society.  Numerous persons say, the poor do not avail themselves of the opportunities within the market place.  Capitalism offers chances for all.  However, I must inquire, do people of color, those of lesser means and little education, truly have the same prospects the prosperous do.

    I observe that not all in the Western world have benefited from free enterprise; nor do each of us have access to technology.  Entrepreneurship is but a dream for those that have little education and few funds.  People that experience discrimination because of their color or perceived background lack hope. 

    In America, for hundreds of thousands skills are lacking.  Millions of people living in this country are illiterate or not well versed in disciplines that might help them climb from the clutches of poverty.  “Equipment” is not evenly distributed.  In impoverished areas, children are fortunate to have textbooks and teachers that care.  Richer areas [are] more successful in attracting qualified teachers.

    I must ask, if I am born to a welfare mother, a woman that is poor, or not white, will I have an equal chance to succeed.  We know that schools and society discriminate against those whose flesh is darker and those of lesser means.

    If my father had to work as a child to support his family, and therefore, never had the time let alone energy to complete school, am I likely to do well.  If my guardian must work long hours, doing manual labor in order to provide me with food and shelter will she or he be available to assist me with my homework.  Will they be in the room with me when I need reassurance or feel discouraged.  If they are will, they be able to honestly tell me “Everything will be all right, it always is.”

    Can a parent that has little knowledge of schoolwork or experience learning through scientific method teach me the habits that might benefit me, or society?  A child born into poverty does not hope or dream of succeeding as other children do.

    Discrimination leaves a legacy. The harmful effects of segregated schooling and similar forms of discrimination will continue to persist for several decades, studies show.  These effects can persist as a family link: children whose grandparents? educational achievement was limited or restricted may not enjoy the benefits of a family that values or encourages rigorous academics. Such values may simply not be a part of the family?s culture, partly because past discrimination inhibited the grandparents? achievement.  Moreover, other forms of discrimination, such as in housing or employment, can also negatively impact a child?s educational opportunities.

    Home and community learning opportunities are critical. In general, minority children are less likely than white children to have parents with high levels of educational attainment. This factor, together with others such as lower family income and parents? work schedules, may limit the extent to which parents can foster positive opportunities for learning at home, Author of the Center on Education Policy’s report, It Takes More Than Testing: Closing the Achievement Gap, [Nancy] Kober claims. Hence, opportunities such as having access to books and computers?or even being read to before bedtime?may be more limited for minority children. Also, it is an established fact that high-minority and high-poverty communities tend to enjoy less access to such resources as libraries and museums that can benefit children. Finally, if the family speaks a language other than English at home, that can also affect a child?s learning opportunities.

    Good parenting practices need to be encouraged. Parental approaches to learning at home differ, and cultural variations undoubtedly play a role in children?s learning and achievement. However, the most effective practices should be encouraged, although more research is necessary to determine which do provide the greatest benefits.

    Contrary to the beliefs Dinesh D’Souza professes, only in rare cases does a blood relation or guardian teach criminal behavior.  Most mothers and fathers have the best of intentions.  Parents do not work to raise felons.  No matter what their background, color, or creed people have ethics and values, customs, and traditions.  Humans have emotions; they feel for their children.  Moms and Dads want their children to achieve the accolades they did not.

    Frustrations breed the social structure that inhibits achievement.  All the computers, cameras, telephones, and televisions in the world cannot provide the connection a parent might.  Technology cannot substitute for the tender, caring, touch of a Mom or Dad.

    However, in a country where massive amounts of money are a must in order to maintain a menial subsistence, parents may not be as profound an influence as they might be.  They may not be the best role models. 

    Nonetheless, a child can turn to another adult for guidance and quality instruction.  Perchance a teacher in a good school will stimulate the mind and rekindle a heart starving for attention.  Parents, not your own might help to involve an expectant pupil.  That was the hope in the districts intent on initiating socioeconomic diversity.

    The purpose of such programs is twofold. Since income levels often correlate with race, they can be an alternate and legal way to produce racial integration. They also promote achievement gains by putting poorer students in schools that are more likely to have experienced teachers and students with high aspirations, as well as a parent body that can afford to be more involved.

    ?There is a large body of evidence going back several years,? Mr. Kahlenberg said, “that probably the most important thing you can do to raise the achievement of low-income students is to provide them with middle-class schools.”

    Economic integration initiatives differ from each other, and from many traditional integration efforts that relied on mandatory transfer of students among schools. Some of the new initiatives involve busing but some do not; some rely on student choice, while some also use a lottery. And so it is difficult to measure how far students travel or how many students switch schools.

    The most ambitious effort and the example most often cited as a success is in the city of Raleigh, N.C., and its suburbs.

    For seven years, the district has sought to cap the proportion of low-income students in each of the county?s 143 schools at 40 percent.

    To achieve a balance of low- and middle-income children, the district encourages and sometimes requires students to attend schools far from home. Suburban students are attracted to magnet schools in the city; children from the inner city are sometimes bused to middle-class schools at the outer edges of Raleigh and in the suburbs.

    The achievement gains have been sharp, and school officials said economic integration was largely responsible. Only 40 percent of black students in grades three through eight in Wake County, where Raleigh is located, scored at grade level on state reading tests in 1995. By the spring of 2006, 82 percent did.

    “The plan works well,” said John H. Gilbert, a professor emeritus at North Carolina State University in Raleigh who served for 16 years on the county school board and voted for the plan. “It’s based on sound assumptions about the environment in which children learn.”

    While this is impressive, and validates that those of any background can and will improve given quality education, the truer problem, for me, is not eradicated.  Will these Black students find a way to enter college.  Might they cultivate a career that will ensure financial success.  If they are able to accomplish much, when they walk down the street will they be accepted as a wealthy white person would be.  Might a person of color have the same prospects their Caucasian brethren do.  Probably not.

    If we continue, as we have, competing in a free market society will not be possible when the color of your skin is not white.  The wad of bills in your pocket may help; however, perceptions too often take precedence. 

    Before an American child enters the workplace, where supposedly, opportunity abounds.  They must obtain an education.  We place a huge burden on our children if we remain separate as a society.  We can bus our offspring, and perhaps we may have to until parents learn to adjust.  However, asking our young to sit idly for hours while they travel to a world not their own gives rise to other issues.  The most obvious is the plight of the poor.

    As long as we, in the United States continue to have poor neighborhoods, we will have institutions that help sustain the cycle of poverty.  If we send all the underprivileged to the better neighborhoods, who will attend the remaining pitiable properties intended to educate our youth?  Why would we need facilities that favor no one.  Indeed, why do we need communities that propagate a truth that we do not endorse, poverty.

    Let us replace the myth that only hinders civilization as a whole.  Discard what defines our youth and even their elders as deprived .  They, we, are not Black or white, rich or poor, alien or native, advanced or behind.  We are individuals; we must furnish all with what they need to thrive. 

    As Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard cautions, “Once you label me, you negate me.”

    If as a culture we expect Black and Hispanic children to live in low-income families, they will.  If their parents are not educated well, or accepted into society, the children will be less likely to live in neighborhoods that nurture an innate desire to learn.  We must be willing to integrate our neighborhoods, and truly provide the means for all our citizens to live as equals.

    We need to ask ourselves, do we truly wish to endorse a system where everyone is equal.  If so, let us begin to embrace the challenge and create the structure our forefathers’ spoke of.  If we do not we will continue to look for solutions that shift the responsibility to our children. 

    I believe we can live and succeed as a Union.  We need only invest authentically in our offspring, all of them, and more importantly in ourselves.

    If we decide not to fear our fellow man or see him or her as an alien, a stranger, the enemy, or someone we would not wish to be part of our family, then divisions will exist no more.

    Diversity need not be our undoing.  Please let us look at the United States Constitution and allow the principles that guide us to be our truth.  Might we make this country great and preserve our integrity.  We are one and all.

    When you grow up in a totally segregated society,
    where everybody around you believes that segregation is proper,
    you have a hard time.
    You can’t believe how much it’s a part of your thinking.”

    Shelby Foote [Historian, Novelist]

    Poor Schools, Poor Neighborhoods, A Sad State of Affairs . . .

  • School Diversity Based on Income Segregates Some, By Jonathan D. Glater and Alan Finder.  The New York Times. July 15, 2007
  • pdf School Diversity Based on Income Segregates Some, By Jonathan D. Glater and Alan Finder.  The New York Times. July 15, 2007
  • Parents Involved In Community Schools versus Seattle School District Number 1  Supreme Court Of the United States.
  • 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
  • Parents involved in Community Schools versus Seattle School District Number 1. Supreme Court of the United States. June 28, 2007
  • It Takes More Than Testing: Closing the Achievement Gap. A Report of the Center on Education Policy. By Nancy Kober.  Center on Education Policy.  Educational Resources Information Center.
  • lliteracy: An Incurable Disease or Education Malpractice? The National Right to Read Foundation.
  • Richer areas more successful in attracting qualified teachers.  USA Today. April 24, 2006
  • The Poor Are Losing Their Privacy In San Diego

    copyright © 2007 Possum Ponders.  Sedalia Tales

    Once again we see the human rights of the poor taken away just because they are poor and dependent on the state.  A report taken from the NYTimes (behind the subscriber firewall) gives the facts of the case which originates in San Diego, California.  In that fair city poor people who want public benefits are left without personal privacy.

    Investigators from the district attorney’s office there make unannounced visits to the homes of people applying for welfare, poking around in garbage cans, medicine chests and laundry baskets.

    Of course the recipients of government largesse are not required to let the investigators into their homes and into their lives, but refusal ends their benefits.  How many of us live without some measure of government benefit such as tax relief or other provision.  Just how many of us are going to open the sacred halls of our homes to such an invasion at any price?  Why are the poor left in this lurch?

    The Fourth Amendment to the American Constitution guarantees

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated

    yet the searches continue to this day. 

    “They’re looking for boxer shorts in a drawer,” said Jordan C. Budd, a law professor who represented the plaintiffs when he was legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in San Diego. “They’re looking for medicine in a man’s name.

    Where does freedom end in this country?  How can this be?

    The county claims the searches and supervision are reasonable steps taken to reduce fraud.  Taking the case to court bought no relief for the victims.  A three judge panel ruled against the appeal saying

    people are free to opt out – by giving up their welfare benefits.

      That seems to be a pretty lousy excuse for a ruling.  At least one judge on the panel seemed to agree with my assessment calling that

    a false choice for an applicant desperate to feed her children.

    I wonder just how many government employees would be willing to give up their privacy in order to keep their jobs.  Or what about those judges who ruled against the case?  Maybe they’d like to have their trash and their home searched in order to keep their fancy homes and fine jobs.

    Inequality and discrimination abound in this country.  Discrimination in schools is returning as a a result of the recent SCOTUS.pdf decision in a Seattle case.  Now we hear more discrimination is being enforced against people whose only crime is to be poor.  Not that other crimes are not uncovered in the searches. 

    If they come across evidence of other crimes, like drug use or child abuse, they pass it along to the police and prosecutors.

    And again the Fourth Amendment is raped.

    Discrimination in all its forms must end in this country.  The Declaration of Independence declares

    certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    Our country was founded on principles of liberty and justice for ALL, not just the white ruling class.  No discrimination of any sort was written into those founding principles.

    Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their comrades.  We, the privileged class for the most part, need to take to the streets and to the airwaves and to the telephones to protest this egregious treatment of those who have less resources than we.  We can each one deliver at least some thoughts about this situation and push our Congress critters toward remedies.  We cannot let this situation linger.  Human rights are basic to all of humankind.  If we allow situations like this one to persist we stand to lose our humanity once and for all.

    Supreme Court Rules; Brown Versus Board of Education Reversed

    Affirmative Action: Separate But Equal

    copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    It is official Brown versus Board of Education has been reversed.  Providing equal education opportunities to all children, regardless of race, color, or creed is no longer a priority.  The 1954 Court decision that invalidated the principle of ‘separate but equal’ was overturned on June 28, 2007.  This day will live in infamy.  In another of the many recent 5 to 4 split decisions, the neoconservative Supreme Court canceled the promise made to students of color.

    School integration, which was once considered essential, as of today, is no longer practicable.  Perhaps, more accurately, the work needed to improve the quality of education for those living in impoverished areas was not pleasurable.  Now, efforts to unify schools need not continue.  Endeavors to integrate are illegal.

    Today’s Supreme Court ruling, Parents Involved In Community Schools v. Seattle School District Number 1 et al. has basically nullified the construct of racial equality in the schools.  According to the majority, Affirmative Action is no longer thought just.  The conservative Justices deemed this principle an illogical inconvenience.  The Judges in the majority stated students in white enclaves or Black must travel too far to ensure equal access to quality schools.  Justice Roberts declared.

    The districts ”failed to show that they considered methods other than explicit racial classifications to achieve their stated goals.”

    Perhaps, the school system did not demonstrate a means for combating what is the convention. Schools do not have the power to force people to integrate their local neighborhoods.

    Educational institutions are not able dictate who lives in what community.  After receiving this ruling, Districts must relent, cease, and desist.  School Districts will not have the option to open enrollment to those that do not reside in their region.

    Oh, if they could; schools might possibly be given an opportunity to truly teach tolerance.  However, for now, that prospect is but a dream, one Martin Luther King hoped we would realize.

    I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

    I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

    I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

    I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

    I have a dream today.

    Sadly, the fantasy faded on this morning in June 2007.  The nightmare is vivid.  Facilitating awareness for diversity is a slow process, made more challenging when elders impose their preconceived notions on innocent children.  If we do not endure, then the forces of “evil,” malevolence will.

    As of June 28, 2007, this newly formed bias will be built into the laws governing school enrollment.  The likelihood is bigotry will  flourish.  Culture clashes are now legal and encouraged by the dominant neoconservative  Supreme Court.

    Thankfully, there was vocal dissent. Justice Stephen Breyer, ardently voiced his concern; however muted in its effect on the final decision.  In his fervent appeal Breyer offered.

    Roberts’ opinion undermined the promise of integrated schools that the court laid out 53 years ago in its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

    ”To invalidate the plans under review is to threaten the promise of Brown.’

    Justices Breyer went on to express his fury over the fallacy that is now prominent in the Court records.  In commenting on the opinion expressed by the Chief Justice Roberts, that the white students who didn’t get the school of their choice in Louisville and Seattle were equivalent to the black students in Brown versus Board of Education who were denied access to integrated schools in Topeka, Kansas, Justice Stephen Breyer forcefully spoke with some restraint stating . . .

    “You have got to be kidding me, that the efforts in good faith of these schools in Louisville and Seattle to integrate their schools, to make sure that there’s diversity, how dare you compare that to the discrimination of Jim Crow?”

    Nonetheless, it happened.  The words were uttered and the wheels of derision were set more deeply into the structure of society.

    Division may have been the original intent of this Court.  The rulings delivered in this past week would indicate that the Supreme Court is definitively split.  The Conservative Jurists have no intention of seeking unity.  However, whether that is the actual goal long-term is unclear, as much is in this Court.  Chief Justice Roberts declared.

    “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discrimination on the basis of race,” he wrote

    Apparently, we are to believe that in our attempt to reverse centuries of racial prejudice, which in my mind equates to fear of the unknown, stranger anxiety, or xenophobia, segregation must stand.  Humans will validate their reasons for racial discrimination characterizing these as the “natural.”  The unequal “process of selection” is firmly planted in the minds of many and as of this day mandated by the courts.

    It is quite ironic to this author; as we philosophically battle against the idea of ethnic cleansing elsewhere, we here in America are proud to adopt policies that promote it.  We honor division in our local communities, and presently, with the Courts blessing.

    Perhaps, that has always been the truer agenda.  In placing the newest neoconservative members to the Court, we have awarded lifetime positions of extreme power, to those that practice the policy of “Divide and Conquer.”  It seems some of the standing Justices already accepted the notion of separation as truth. Notably, Justice Clarence Thomas.  This Jurist stated his belief; separation is inevitable.

    “Simply putting students together under the same roof does not necessarily mean that the students will learn together or even interact. Furthermore, it is unclear whether increased interracial contact improves racial attitudes and relations.”

    Perchance, the evidence is ambiguous because Affirmative Action rules, those that advance unity have not been fully embraced or enacted.  Thus, we have this Court case and the oft-repeated belief of Justice Thomas Affirmative Action does nothing to help the disenfranchised.?  Judge Thomas has faith that is was the goodness of one insightful, intelligent, and intuitive individual that altered his life, Father Brooks.  In a March 12, 2007 interview Justice Thomas recounted his tale of trials and tribulations.

    Why is Father Brooks such an important person in your life?

    That was an era of in loco parentis. It was a transition period unlike today when you have these notions of race entrenched. It was a time, actually, when there was no set road map for kids. Father Brooks understood something intuitively, that we were just kids. He knew we were from a lot of different environments.

    Father Brooks made a point of trying to recruit a lot more African Americans to campus in the months before you came. Do you think that recruitment drive helped you?

    Oh no. I was going to go home to Savannah when a nun suggested Holy Cross. That’s how I wound up there. Your industry has suggested that we were all recruited. That’s a lie. Really, it’s a lie. I don’t mean a mistake. It’s a lie.

    I had always been an honors student. I was the only black kid in my high school in Savannah and one of two or three blacks in my class during my first year of college in the seminary. I just transferred. I had always had really high grades so that was never a problem. It was the only school I applied to. It was totally fortuitous. The thing that has astounded me over the years is that there has been such an effort to roll that class into people’s notion of affirmative action. It was never really looked at. It was just painted over. Things were much more nuanced than that?.You hear this junk. It’s just not consistent with what really happened.

    What did Father Brooks do?

    Father Brooks realized that we needed to be nurtured not that we needed it every day but that we were going to have unique problems. When you have six blacks in a class of 550 kids, you need that. We all came from very different backgrounds. That’s something that gets lost in this weird notion of race that somehow you can come from New York and Savannah and Massachusetts and somehow you’re still all the same. That’s bizarre, and it denigrates individuals.

    Father Brooks understood that. He saw people who were individuals who happened to be black who had very different outlooks.

    Might we ask what will become of those that do not have a Father Brooks.  Will they feel as young Clarence Thomas did before he was given the gift that Affirmative Action provides to those without a mentor, as the youthful scholar felt when he first arrived at Holy Cross college?

    I was a kid. I was confused. I was 20 years old. I had no place to go. I had no precedent for anybody going to college. I had no precedent for anybody being in New England. I had no road map. I didn’t know anybody to call. I had nobody to talk to. I had nobody to give me advice. Now, what do you do? You were just a kid, trying to make all these choices.

    Were you angry?

    Sure. I was upset. I was upset with a lot of things. You get there and you sort it out. Look at that neighborhood there [Thomas points to a photo of a desolate strip in Georgia]. How do you go from that to Holy Cross? How do you do it? That’s why some of us were really concerned about throwing some of these kids into those environments without thinking because you have a theory. That’s the neighborhood I lived in before I went to live with my grandparents. Doesn’t look very good, does it?

    There were a lot of changes to absorb. Just to think about it was fatiguing. It’s still really fatiguing. It’s also fatiguing that people assume we all showed up the same. A friend of mine sent me that print there. [A sketch of an African American man, draped over a desk with his hands extended toward the floor.] He has since passed away. He thought it captured my life.

    Does it?

    Oh yeah. That’s why I keep it there. Look at the hand. Look at the exhaustion.

    What sort of exhaustion?

    Everything. Mental. Physical. Spiritual. Just constant change. You just want to slow down. You see people take a walk and you want to, too.

    Mental, physical, spiritual exhaustion, exasperation, this is the legacy that we as a nation are leaving our children of lesser means.  A person can only live without hope for so long.  As the rich become richer and the impoverished plunge further into forced ignorance we can expect that this emotional fatigue will be felt by all of us.

    Perhaps, we, as a country, by promoting principles that further division will experience what comes when the classes are truly separate and far from equal.  Once again, we may witness what comes when people are [class] war weary.  Possibly, rebellion will be the result.  I trust in time revulsion will turn into rage, and why not.  Deep division breeds revolution.

    In just a few short years the craftsman President George W. Bush has created such strife abroad.  Civil War in Iraq is invasive.  With his recent appointments to the Supreme Court Mister Bush has secured the eventual possibility here at home.  If not Civil War, certainly civil unrest may become our shared truth.  Inequitable change often causes conflict.

    This President, master of the message George W. Bush has definitely advanced imbalance.  Most of us accept that President Bush has altered world politics with precision.  He has done so with expediency.  It seems this world leader has not ignored the domestic front.  His appointments have altered the face of the Supreme Court.  The newer members serve to accelerate the schism.  Justice Stephen Breyer may have said it best.

    “Never in the history of the court have so few done so much so quickly.”

    Indeed we as a nation are deeply divided.  We have reason to expect that soon Civil War, will be here.  It is the natural outgrowth of a society divided.  I can only ask that we remember the words of many and take these to heart.

    United we stand; divided we fall.

    ~ Benjamin Franklin, John Dickinson,  Abraham Lincoln

    Sources for the Misnomer, Segregation is superior? . . .

    Immigration. Why Wail For A Wall or Agitate About Amnesty? ©

    Al Podgorski, Photographer. Sun-Times

    On Monday, May 01, 2006, another May Day will come and go.  However, for those in the United States this international holiday that honors laborers will be different. This one will live in the memories of Americans forever.  In this country, citizens, and non, will speak out on the issue of immigration.  For, it is the newest immigrants that makeup a large portion of our labor force.  These persons are planning not to go to work today; nor will their supporters.  They and their allies will stand up for themselves, their beliefs, and their desire for freedom.

    Other will also venture out.  They will take to the streets, the blogs, the bars, and airwaves.  They will wail for walls.  Some will agitate over the issue of amnesty. Whether they themselves are residing in this country legally or not, people will demonstrate.  They will express their opinions loudly and openly.

    The undocumented workers here in the USA are not loved; they are loathed by a vast majority of the populace.  Numerous liberals, those that usually support the downtrodden have turned their backs on this population.  They see them as law-breakers, union busters, and less than those born in this country.

    On this day, people from any and many political parties will be heard denigrating the status of those that migrated to America recently without proper papers.  They will call them “illegals,” as though they are less legitimate human beings than the rest of us.

    Americans, whose ancestors came from abroad, will chastise those that are now doing as their families had done decades earlier.  Citizens living in this country, those who can rarely produce the papers that brought their relatives here will shun those that arrived in the States in this century without authorization.

    Our countrymen will claim to be compassionate and they are, when their livelihood is at stake.  George W. and his buds welcome entrance of the undocumented.  They are willing to promote the idea of  “guest workers.”  They embrace cheap labor; however, only if, how, or when, it serves them well.

    Yet, other Americans find this plan or any agenda that offers opportunities to undocumented distasteful.  Many Americans are singularly focused.  For them, it is my family, my familiars, and me first.  These US citizens are clannish.  They are often heard to utter words such as these, ??We were here first and those that wish to follow are forbidden or must be filtered through [our subjective] system.’

    However, some recognize their dependency. Thus, they reluctantly offer official pardons to those that have helped them survive.  They have housekeepers, landscapers, chauffeurs, and nannies.  The faces of these employees have become real.  They feel as “family.”  American homeowners that pay these people can relate to their plight. Therefore, they are willing to offer them amnesty.

    However, even these immigrants must prove themselves pure in the empty eyes of the native born.  There must be fines.  People need to be punished for intentionally placing themselves in a land not their own.  These laborers too, must pay a price.  Everyone knows, there is no free lunch, no free ride, and migrants must set their pride aside.

    Have they not?  Is it not true that many immigrants are bending over crops in order to collect a pittance of the pay that professionals do.  They clean toilets, wash windows, and work hard for their earnings.  They pay and contribute to society daily; they always have.  I offer these findings from the Pew Charitable Trust Research Center.  This may assist some in understanding the impact immigrants have on America’s labor force. Size and Characteristics of the Unauthorized Migrant Population in the U.S. Estimates Based on the March 2005 Current Population Survey.

    About 7.2 million unauthorized migrants were employed in March 2005, accounting for about 4.9% of the civilian labor force. They made up a large share of all workers in a few more detailed occupational categories, including 24% of all workers employed in farming occupations, 17% in cleaning, 14% in construction and 12% in food preparation.

    Nevertheless, according to that native born and some naturalized, the nascent émigrés must fit-in better.  They must speak English only.  “They” must immerse themselves in our culture; they must forget their roots, at least when they are in front of us, US citizens.

    If they do not assimilate with the authority of official papers, we will deport them.  At least that is what the House of Representatives declared.  People of the United States protest and postulate; it is those Mexicans that are the problem.  Minutemen and more express their desires; ??Let us build a wall between the States and the nation south of the border.’

    Though geographically these two countries exist side by side, both being part of North America, people in this sanctioned land see themselves as separate and unequal.  They profess, America is better, and America is the best.  Are we?

    Is an egocentric superpower better even when they attempt to maintain an ethnically clean country?  I think not.  For me, being the best does not merely equate to being the wealthiest or the place where people living in poverty wish to flea.  I think there must be more.

    For some there is; the problem is more than Mexico.  A few of our fellow citizens state, ??We must also wall off the borders with Canada.’  These naysayers consider themselves objective, not xenophobic for they acknowledge that Latinos, Hispanics, or those of Spanish descent are not the only trouble.  However, these more “liberal” lefties still deny what is.  We live in a world of disparate conditions, opportunities, and circumstances.

    Walls will not solve the crisis; they never have fully.  Thinking that the calamity is a calling will end what now exists.

    I believe the disaster is not whether those in Mexico cross or whether those in Canada pass through the poles that separate the two countries.  It is not the fact that immigrants come from throughout the world, though they do.

    ?¢ Please review the local statistics from the Chicago Sun Times.  It won’t just be Latinos marching.

    Read of the 120,000 Filipinos in the Chicago area alone or of the 250,000 nationwide that have lengthened their once legal visits.  Cogitate on the five to seven thousand Irish immigrants dwelling in Chicago and out lying areas.  Reflect upon the seventy thousand Polish migrants milling about in America’s heartland or the one hundred and ninety thousand throughout the United States.

    Consider there are Rumanians, Russians, and those from Ukraine.  European émigrés are a plenty.  There are Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, and more migrants living here as well.  People come from many nations.  Not all immigrants are Mexican or South American.  As in one my earlier exposés, I offer outdated government statistics, those collected during the 2000 census.  A reader may ask, how many were never counted, never found, and never presumed to be here legally or not.

    Yet, for me, the issue is not immigration at all.

    Most of the migrants in the USA have adopted this land as their own.  Registered citizens or not, those from afar think of themselves as our newly arrived family members once did; they are Americans.  A large number of settlers do as our forbearers did; they prosper.  I refer you dear reader to a recent Pew Charitable Trust report.  Please peruse . . .

    According to the Pew Charitable Trust, Pew Hispanic Center and the Urban Institute  . . .

    “Nearly 80 percent [of Mexican immigrants] live above the poverty line, and 68 percent of those who have lived here for 30 years or more own their own homes.”

    While this revelation is not as expected, there is a stereotype that seems likely true.  The Latin culture advocates hard work.  Those born into it endeavor to do their best. Their well learned beliefs and practices have empowered them.  Therefore, many Mexican migrants have “pulled themselves up” and out of poverty; they have done well.  These emigreés are as our parents, grand, and great were; they are melting into, and becoming a meaningful part of the American middle and working classes.

    Some strive to do even better.  They want to become entrepreneurs, and they too succeed.  “Census figures show Hispanic firms growing three times faster than average,” By Scott Miller, Washington File Staff Writer

    Washington — Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States are growing three times faster than the national average for all firms and generating more than $200 billion in annual revenue, according to a new report released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

    The bureau’s March 21 Survey of Business Owners: Hispanic-Owned Firms: 2002 indicated that the number of Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States grew 31 percent between 1997 and 2002 to nearly 1.6 million. Those firms generated about $222 billion in revenue in 2002 — the most recent year for which data are available.

    Yes, there are other reports that might support the cynics view and a few of these are also from the Pew Charitable Trust. You might wish to assess ,“Unauthorized Migrants, Numbers and Characteristics,” By Jeffrey S. Passel.  You will notice that aspects of this study conflict with the accepted and other aspects strengthen the impression, immigration by the undocumented is awful.

    Immigrants in general, but especially the unauthorized are considerably more likely than natives to have very low levels of education.  For example, less than 2% of natives have less than a 9thgrade education, but 15% of legal immigrants and 32% of unauthorized migrants have this little education.  (Note that education in Mexico is currently compulsory only through the 8thgrade, so finding this many with this little education is not surprising.  Further, the level of compulsory school attendance was recently raised from 6thgrade.)

    At the upper end, legal immigrants are slightly more likely to have a college degree than natives (32% versus 30%).  This difference is particularly noteworthy given the high percentage of legal immigrants with very little education.  Even the unauthorized population has some at the upper end of the educational spectrum, with 15% having at least a college degree and another 10% having some college.  Not all of the unauthorized population fits the stereotype of a poorly educated manual laborer.

    Nevertheless, for me, the issue is still not one of immigration into the United States of America. What for me is the topic for a truer discussion is, America as part of a whole.  We are citizens on a continent, one of many on this planet.  We must assess our attitudes and expectations, and realize that they are egocentric.

    I believe we must evaluate our place in this universe.  We are not here alone; nor are our priorities and preferences the only reasonable ones worth considering.

    Whether we refer to statistics that strengthen the argument for or against immigration, the true subject is the same.  We as a nation are engaged in what might be a possible evolution.  If we choose to embrace it, we will learn from our history, our errors, and our misperceptions.  If we seize the opportunity and avoid shortsighted solutions such as walls or amnesty, neither of which has ever completely resolved similar issues, then we can grow greater, together.

    We could as a nation and as part of a globe recognize that we are as the wave in the story that Morrie Schwartz shared.  We are part of the ocean.  If we act as one, think as a whole, we can and will progress beyond.
    “I heard a nice little story the other day,” Morrie says. He closes his eyes for a moment and I wait.
    “Okay. The story is about a little wave, bobbing along in the ocean, having a grand old time. He’s enjoying the wind and the fresh air — until he notices the other waves in front of him, crashing against the shore. “
    “‘My God, this is terrible,’ the wave says ‘Look what’s going to happen to me!'”
    “Then along comes another wave. It sees the first wave, looking grim, and it says to him, ‘Why do you look so sad?’ “
    “The first wave says, ‘You don’t understand! We’re all going to crash! All of us waves are going to be nothing! Isn’t it terrible?’ “
    “The second wave says, ‘No, you don’t understand. You’re not a wave, you’re part of the ocean.’ “
    I smile. Morrie closes his eyes again.
    “Part of the ocean,” he says. “Part of the ocean.” I watch him breathe, in and out, in and out.

    – Tuesdays with Morrie, page 179

    Once we acknowledge that America is not an island and our concerns cannot be ours alone, then we can create a world in which all people, men, women, and children are genuinely created equal.

    Let us unite, not as states, or as a continent.  Let us join, together, and help each other.  After all, we are all people and have similar needs, wants, and wishes.  As long as Mexico, South America, Korea, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, Japan, and other nations work separately, we will bicker, belittle, and belie what is true.  This Earth is our global village.

    References for your Review . . .

  • Immigrants Stage Protests Across U.S., By Maria Newman, New York Times. May 1, 2006
  • Employers Gird for Immigrant Boycott Today, By Monica Davey. New York Times. May 1, 2006
  • Amnesty or wall? Issue splits U.S., By Eric Herman, Chicago Sun Times. April 30, 2006
  • “Unauthorized Migrants, Numbers and Characteristics,” By Jeffrey S. Passel. Pew Hispanic Center
  • It won’t just be Latinos marching, Chicago Sun Times. April 30, 2006
  • Bush pushes immigration bill; Bipartisan Senate delegation backs him. Chicago Tribune. Apr 26, 2006
  • Cheap labor? It just looks that way Illegal workers fuel a ‘gray’ market and demand rights – and we all pay the hidden costs, By Warren Strugatch
  • Homeowners say the day laborer system works USA Today April 29, 2006
  • “Census figures show Hispanic firms growing three times faster than average,” By Scott Miller, Washington File Staff Writer
  • 2002 Survey of Business Owners (SBO) U.S. Census Bureau
  • Size and Characteristics of the Unauthorized Migrant Population in the U.S. Estimates Based on the March 2005 Current Population Survey. By Jeffrey S. Passel, Senior Research Associate, Pew Hispanic Center
  • What makes U.S. great? Hint: not intolerance, By Neil Steinberg. Chicago Sun Times. April 30, 2006
  • Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: 1990 to 2000 U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
  • Land of Opportunity, By Mortimer B. Zuckerman. US News and World Report. June 20, 2005
  • Global Village. Wikipedia
  • THE NATION; He’s the Stickler of the House; Rep. Sensenbrenner, holding the line as he sees it, stands in Bush’s way on immigration. By Mary Curtius. Los Angeles Times.  February 13, 2005
  • Immigrants To America, People With or Without Papers © By Betsy L. Angert. Be-Think