White Defenders



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copyright © 2010 Forgiven.  The Disputed Truth

Originally Published on Sunday, January 10, 2010

In a private conversation reported in a new book, Reid described Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign as a “light-skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

I have to be honest that I am always a bit skeptical when white folks feel compelled to step up and defend black folks from other white folks. I am even more cynical when it is white Republicans doing the defending. This would be the same Republican party who has since the 60’s run on the southern strategy, whose conventions look more like all-white country clubs, and who have from his election sought to de-legitimize this President. Now we are to believe that they are so concerned with the delicate psyche of African-Americans that Senator Reid’s remarks rises to the level of Trent Lott?

For those who don’t remember Trent Lott was the Republican majority leader who stated that the country would have been better off if unrepentant segregationist Strom Thurmond had won the presidency in 1948.

For the sake of argument, let’s look at Senator Reid’s reported statement concerning then Senator Obama. He stated that he was a light-skinned black man which as far as I can tell would be a true statement. My guess is that Senator Reid was alluding to the fact that historically lighter skinned blacks have fared better in American society than darker skinned blacks so that would be a positive in his bid to become president. On the surface this would appear to be a callous statement however if we look at not only the history of blacks within the majority society but also within the black community the statement tends to stand on its own merits. Now does this excuse the fact that darker-skinned blacks tend to be discriminated more than light-skinned blacks? Of course not, but the truth is still the truth.

Let’s face it folks whites tend to be more comfortable with light-skinned blacks. If you were to poll blacks and say does the fact that President Obama is light-skinned does that diminish his status as an African-American I think the answer would be a resounding no based on the fact that he received almost 100% of the black vote.

The second part of Senator Reid’s remarks could be more problematic in the sense that he stated that Obama had no Negro dialect which could be offensive to some blacks. The question then becomes do blacks, as a group, speak differently from whites and can those differences be readily apparent to the listener? I think Senator Reid was stating that Barack Obama could choose to speak black or white depending on his audience. The problem here is that we are talking about politicians who often craft their message depending on their audience and for a politician to be able to speak to multiple groups is an asset. I think I remember during the campaign how Hillary and Bill changed dialects when they were speaking in black churches or to primarily black audiences. Does that make them racists? I think not, it makes them politicians.

As every successful black man knows who is not in the entertainment business or a professional athlete knows, we live in two different worlds we have to adept in the white world as well as the black world. I have to be able to speak to white businessmen as well as black community folks and they are not the same.

The biggest problem I have with this faux Republican outrage is that in order to determine Reid’s remarks one has to look at his intent. Was his intent to racially disparage Barack Obama? No, in fact in his mind he was giving a list of the positives for then candidate Obama. We must remember this was the beginning of a historical campaign and who amongst us did not consider these if not other positives and negatives of the candidates. The problem for Senator Reid is that his remarks were recorded. To me this just demonstrates the problem with the current Republican strategy and that is it shows their total lack of principles. When you attack everything you find yourself defending some former positions that you once opposed, by doing this you appear hypocritical at best and insane at worse. Republicans defending Medicare?

So what we have is Senator Reid stating that Barack Obama was a light-skinned black man who could speak to both black and white audiences. Yeah, that’s grounds for his immediate dismissal. Speaking as a black man I’m still missing the outrage no matter who had made the statement.

For Michael Steele to go on television and equate what Senator Reid reportedly said to what Trent Lott said is beyond me. Are we to believe that saying the country would be better off today if in 1948 an avowed racist had won the Presidential election is comparable to saying that Barack Obama was more electable because he was light-skinned and he spoke to both blacks and whites? I don’t think so. Have we become so racially sensitive that stating the obvious is now considered racist? The reason Mr. Steele will never be able to accomplish what he was elected to do which I think was to reach out to African-American voters is because in order to defend his task masters he losses any credibility with the very voters he is charged with attracting. Mr. Steele’s remarks may appeal to whites but if that is his core audience then the Republicans would have better served if they had elected another white man who would not have brought the baggage Mr. Steele has obviously brought. Do Republicans believe that blacks are that gullible? I hope not for their sakes.

“Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped.”

~ Elbert Hubbard  

Glenn Beck; Race Relationships or Health Care Reform



Glenn Beck calls Obama racist

Americans may recall, it began with a Sweet aside and grew into a [Glenn Beck] beckon.  Now, the stage is set.  The audience is explosive.  Words of woe are shouted from every hall.  For more than a month the media has given rise to the troublesome message.  The reason for health care reform; the Obama Administration yearns to provide a platform for “stealth reparations.”

Reporters, Lynn Sweet and Glenn Beck, as well as the corporations who support their work have helped refocus the nation’s attention.  What the country imagined would be a time to talk of health care reform has become an era of ethnic erosion.  Pundits pose the possibility as a reality; it is “us against them,” white against Black, or perhaps, the American people in opposition to President Barack Obama.  Since, a press conference held many weeks ago, claims of racism have filled the airwaves.  The victim, or according to Fox News host Glenn Beck, the purveyor is the Commander-In-Chief, Mister Obama.

Mister Beck was given the stage, amidst all the hoopla over health care reform; when Chicago Sun Times Columnist Lynn Sweet opened the door.  Ms Sweet offered a not so sugary treat.  In late July she created a distraction from the crucial debate over medical insurance.  It would seem that Ms Sweet had no time or interest in how a broken health care system might be fixed.  Nor did the profundity of the debate appeal to Fox News Announcer Beck.  However, as a source of entertainment Mister Beck thinks the topic truly fine.

The flamboyant Fox News broadcaster does not relate to the fear of a sudden recission. At least for now, Mister Beck feels certain that his health care costs are covered.  The possibility of a legal retroactive cancelation of his or his entire family’s policy is not an “option” Glenn Beck considers.  The opinionated Anchor boasts only of the advantages of the current private health care system, as he links health care reform to Nazis.  Mister Beck suggests any alteration in our insurance system would kill elderly and newborns.  Surely, he surmises our very survival depends on maintaining the status quo.

Pride and prejudice; these are the qualities that work well for Glenn Beck.  He has realized people respond when he speaks of the President’s supposed bigotry.  Popularity and the prosperity fame reaps are a far more pleasant endeavor for each of these Reporters. Tis true for the two; the treatment of Black persons at the hands of law enforcement is a more titillating theme than the cost of medical services. Perchance, that is why these members of the Press thought Professor Gates, the Cambridge, Massachusetts police officer, and a beer summit, were food for their fodder.  

Lynn Sweet.  who in the past promised analysis is not her preference.  “Product.” Is Ms Sweet’s penchant.  Glenn Beck concurs; “topical talk” is his trademark.  The drier subject of an American health care crisis is not as dicey as overt discrimination might be.  

The subject of segregationists offers a superior slant to those who wish to garner attention.  Indeed, separatism has allowed for much sensationalism.  Couple these with Socialism and succession, and what a wonderful stew Sweet and Beck have brewed.  These themes have helped to ignite fires and fury in many a town hall meeting.

Currently, Americans can speak of nothing else.  Some say, the first African American President wants to take over the country.  Others offer beware of a Black nation..  

Some terrified citizens coalesce around the Glenn Beck battle cries, the volume increases.  Fans of, the boisterous Broadcaster say Beck represents us.  Thus, the man behind the “people’s” movement is in demand..  Special appearances are arranged.  The American people want to know what the man who offers the “Fusion of Entertainment and Enlightenment” thinks. Beck opines, any and all of the President’s proclamations prove Barack Obama to be . . .  “a racist.” [sic].

However, once this accusation was publically posed Announcer Beck did not receive the reception he had hoped for.  Sure, Glenn Beck has his followers.  He also has his detractors.  Some of these were once partners.  Embarrassed by the snide, rude, and crude criticism, “the President is a racist,” many advertisers withdrew their financial backing for the Glenn Beck Program.  While the corporations may not have had a problem with the popular performer or his sharply pronounced bigotry, these businesses understood the power Glenn Beck’s words would have.  

Perhaps, entrepreneurs’ worried of their earnings.  Possibly, public relation became the priority.  Outright racially charged outbursts do not make for the popularity of a product.  Capitalist comprehend the truest concern the public might be offended by what seems more pronounced than a simple offhand remark made in private.  In America, it is important to maintain an image.  Colorblind is the politically correct manner of the day.

Complaints did indeed pour in.  It is not polite to call the President of the United States a bigot.  Heaven forbid, or more accurately, the Almighty dollar dictates decorum.  Hence, companies, which did not wish to be associated with such  vile criticism, took contracted commercials off the Glenn Beck Program schedule.  A petition drive demonstrated approval for the move.  “More than 180,000 of “the people”, us, have stood up and 62 companies have pulled their support.”

Now, another appeal has appeared.   Add your voice  The contention is . . .

Our campaign has been a huge success so far. As Beck’s show decreases in value, FOX will do everything possible to reverse the trend.

It’s time to thank those advertisers who dropped Beck and keep them from returning, while calling on more advertisers to pull back as well.

It takes just a moment to sign, seal, and deliver a thought.  Perhaps the American people can still reclaim the conversation, and health care can again take center stage.  Rather than allow Glenn Beck an opportunity to rant, rage, and call the President of the United States a racist, the people can call for calm.  Citizens need only pen a paragraph as I, Betsy L. Angert did in the following.

Dearest News Corporation President, Chief Executive Officer, and Fox Board of Directors. . .

Please do not let Glenn Beck continue to yell, “Fire in the theatre,” or to state the President started the blaze.  A fearful audience is quick to anger.   A person who feels threatened by the inferno will do more than blame the individual they are led to believe started the combustion.  People will pummel the being even if that that man, woman, or President is innocent.  

Please News Corporation executives, ask yourself; would you wish to be responsible for providing a raucous instigator a platform.

If you would, reflect upon the public fury Glenn Beck incites, and do not allow him to be the source of a stampede.

Perchance, if, we the people insist on more than a Sweet; yet sour aside, if we eschew persons or products whose sponsors pay for slice and dice discussion, than the cultural divide will not dominant our policies, practices, and programs.   Should we speak up and speak out civilly, the chaos in the amphitheatre called America will be calmed.  Shun racist rhetoric, then, perhaps, we, as a nation would become as our forefathers envisioned, one, indivisible . . . . . and fully insured regardless of race, color, or creed.

References for the racial, media prompted rants . . .

Murdoch Apology Moves America Agenda

copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

Like the 3 AM text message that announced Barack Obama’s Vice Presidential choice, the apology arrived in the wee hours of the morning.  The statement Rupert Murdoch submitted may have moved an American agenda forward.  The magnate personally addressed the toon that appeared in the New York Post on February 18, 2009.

Many thought Mister Murdoch’s paper published a racist rant.  Black Americans feared the signal this might send.  Anger was expressed.  Citizens of every color showed great concern,  People protested.  Collectively, there was a sense that only Rupert Murdoch could change the culture, he, and his companies promoted.  Yet, no one thought he would.  Shockingly, he spoke out.  He admitted to “his” error, and promised his paper would be more sensitive to its readership.  

Some were skeptical.  Several suggested News Corp owner, Rupert Murdoch, had ulterior motives, or perhaps he has a crush on the President.  People wonder if his affection for the new Commander-In-Chief prompted this move.  Persons who know the enigmatic executive personally recall the day, in May, when Mister Murdoch “effusively” spoke of the Presidential aspirant.  The often less than candid Murdoch praised Candidate Obama.  Although Rupert Murdoch is a well-established Republican, in the Spring he was quoted as saying, “He [Barack Obama] has become a rock star; it’s fantastic!”  

The formidable media mogul who usually leans far to the Right, poignantly identified himself with a Progressive candidate.  When asked, Mister Murdoch admitted he was responsible for the New York Post endorsement of Barack Obama.  In January 2008, long before President Obama cinched the nomination Rupert Murdoch was there for the Black man who may or may not have been the subject of a February 18, 2009 cartoon published in his paper.

While the theory that Rupert Murdoch admires the current President may hold weight, a few wonder why would a man who is known not to apologize for any missteps, make such a dramatic statement.  Why might Mister Murdoch do as he has never done.  

Several cite the influence of his daughter.  She must be the cause for such a strange decision.  Many cannot imagine change has come to a man mired in Conservative causes.  Commentators and news analyst dug through the archives, looking for evidence that might explain the unexplainable.  They found it.

The headline in the April 1, 2008 edition of The New York Times was not a joke.  Murdoch’s Daughter Hosts Obama Fund-Raiser.  Nonetheless, most do not believe this remorseless man would offer a sorrowful statement.  Yet, he did.  After days of debate, newspaper proprietor Rupert Murdoch delivered.

Statement From Rupert Murdoch

By Rupert Murdoch

New York Post

Last updated: 3:16 am, February 24, 2009 ?

Posted: 2:22 am?, February 24, 2009

As the Chairman of the New York Post, I am ultimately responsible for what is printed in its pages.  The buck stops with me.

Last week, we made a mistake.  We ran a cartoon that offended many people.  Today I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted.

Over the past couple of days, I have spoken to a number of people and I now better understand the hurt this cartoon has caused.  At the same time, I have had conversations with Post editors about the situation and I can assure you – without a doubt – that the only intent of that cartoon was to mock a badly written piece of legislation.  It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, it was interpreted by many as such.

We all hold the readers of the New York Post in high regard and I promise you that we will seek to be more attuned to the sensitivities of our community.

Whatever the reason may be , the request for forgiveness, the act of contrition, a possible admission of guilt, for the appearance of a cartoon that offended many, it occurred.  Economically, the nation has not yet recovered. Discrimination against one ethnicity or another has not ended.  Civil Rights are still not granted to all equally.  Especially persons of color will continue to experience great pain in America.  Nonetheless, ethically, in this hour, America has found reason to believe Rupert Murdoch’s apology may have moved a more moral agenda.  

Perchance, on another day in the future, a message will not be sent.  No text will announce the arrival of a new era.  True change will likely occur over time.  Nonetheless, in this moment, there is reason to believe; we, the people of the Untied States, will evolve.  

References for a newer reality . . .

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

Katrina’s [America’s] Hidden Race War



Katrina’s Hidden Race War: In Aftermath of Katrina, Vigilantes Shot 11 Blacks in New Orelans (1 of 2)

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

Racism, in reality, is fear of the unknown.  It is apprehension for what is alien to us.  A bigot is often one who claims to be colorblind.  However, indeed, he or she is more likely colormute.  Rarely do persons who think themselves tolerant speak of the scorn they feel for those who differ from them.  Often the intolerant are not aware of the rigidity that rules their lives.  Few amongst Anglos in America, since most appear as they do, consider what the life of one whose complexion is cause for rejection experience.  However, in an exposé, A.C. Thompson muses of what most rather not mention.  The author addresses “Katrina’s Hidden Race War.”  

Through the tales told, after a tumultuous tempest, readers learn of what they may know, and just not discuss freely.  In this land of the free and home of the brave, few people of color are truly free.  Yet, these same individuals are genuinely brave.  They have to be.

It is common to hear Caucasians say, “Some of my best friends are Black, Brown, Yellow, or Red.” People hope to create an impression.  Most wish to prove they willingly accept those unlike themselves.  However, the acquaintance they speak of may be the one and only person of color that they know.   People may think the person that they associate with is the exception to the rule.  He or she is a good gal or gent.  All other folks who do not don a pinkish hue are not to be trusted.

In this country, to publicly proclaim a hatred for a person whose complexion is dark is just not done.  That is unless a person can conceive of a circumstance that allows for a reasonable abhorrence.  Hurricane Katrina afforded such an opportunity for white residents of Algiers Point, Louisiana.

Algiers Point has always been somewhat isolated: it’s perched on the west bank of the Mississippi River, linked to the core of the city only by a ferry line and twin gray steel bridges. When the hurricane descended on Louisiana, Algiers Point got off relatively easy. While wide swaths of New Orleans were deluged, the levees ringing Algiers Point withstood the Mississippi’s surging currents, preventing flooding; most homes and businesses in the area survived intact. As word spread that the area was dry, desperate people began heading toward the west bank, some walking over bridges, others traveling by boat. The National Guard soon designated the Algiers Point ferry landing an official evacuation site. Rescuers from the Coast Guard and other agencies brought flood victims to the ferry terminal, where soldiers loaded them onto buses headed for Texas.

Facing an influx of refugees, the residents of Algiers Point could have pulled together food, water, and medical supplies for the flood victims. Instead, a group of white residents, convinced that crime would arrive with the human exodus, sought to seal off the area, blocking the roads in and out of the neighborhood by dragging lumber and downed trees into the streets. They stockpiled handguns, assault rifles, shotguns, and at least one Uzi and began patrolling the streets in pickup trucks and SUVs.

The newly formed militia, a loose band of about fifteen to thirty residents, most of them men, all of them white, was looking for thieves, outlaws or, as one member put it, anyone who simply “didn’t belong.”

The Nation Magazine, in the January 5, 2009 issue, recounts tales as told by those foreign elements who, while residents of the broader community, were shot as though they were criminals.  Their crime was perhaps only their skin color.  

The way Donnell Herrington tells it, there was no warning. One second he was trudging through the heat. The next he was lying prostrate on the pavement, his life spilling out of a hole in his throat, his body racked with pain, his vision blurred and distorted.

It was September 1, 2005, some three days after Hurricane Katrina crashed into New Orleans, and somebody had just blasted Herrington, who is African-American, with a shotgun. “I just hit the ground. I didn’t even know what happened,” recalls Herrington, a burly 32-year-old with a soft drawl.

The sudden eruption of gunfire horrified Herrington’s companions–his cousin Marcel Alexander, then 17, and friend Chris Collins, then 18, who are also black. “I looked at Donnell and he had this big old hole in his neck,” Alexander recalls. “I tried to help him up, and they started shooting again.” Herrington says he was staggering to his feet when a second shotgun blast struck him from behind; the spray of lead pellets also caught Collins and Alexander. The buckshot peppered Alexander’s back, arm, and buttocks.

Herrington shouted at the other men to run and turned to face his attackers: three armed white males. Herrington says he hadn’t even seen the men or their weapons before the shooting began. As Alexander and Collins fled, Herrington ran in the opposite direction, his hand pressed to the bleeding wound on his throat. Behind him, he says, the gunmen yelled, “Get him! Get that n*gg*r!”

Persons who were presumed guilty, merely by their presence, were neighbors from another section of town.  The poorer people sought safety and shelter after the storm placed them in a precarious situation.  Contrary to reports, the Black population did not loot or engage in thievery.  African-Americans did as the Anglos who were also chest-deep in floodwaters.  They “found” food and fluids to drink from a local grocery store after Hurricane Katrina destroyed all they had.  However, trepidation distorts perception.  Frequently, white Americans are apprehensive when they consider African-Americans.  

From birth, children are taught not to talk to strangers.  Little ones are cautioned to beware.  Different is dangerous.  Perchance, the Associated Press Reporters or Editors who covered the Katrina story were Anglos.  Hence, when Journalists, just as the residents of Algiers Point, saw persons who look as they do, they defined their actions as honorable.  However, the sight of a Black individual in a similar situation was not viewed through a clear lens.  The question might be asked, in America will it ever be.

Please ponder the images.  Then, consider the captions.



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Shared By Dustin

Some, of every complexion, did take possession of life’s littlest necessities.  In a few neighborhoods, not Algiers Point, white persons were benevolent towards those “others” of color.  However, Caucasian citizens might contemplate the reality that, before Katrina, the plight of Black Americans was hidden, and it is again.  

The depth of poverty experienced by many African-Americans, the people whose ancestors physically built this nation, was not realized until a natural storm churned up a crisis so critical.

White Americans acknowledge that in some areas, a bridge was built.  Yet, few wish to admit this association only appears in a time of crisis.  While a scant few channels were opened another, many more were closed.  In other locales, where dark skinned persons were presumably welcome, the Anglo inhabitants roared with resentment.  Reports offered the rationale for what in America is the conventional wisdom of an apprehensive Anglo populace. Karina victims are to blame for an increase in Houston crime.  Certainly, these same “undesirables” would propagate misdeeds wherever they may be; hence, we have Algiers Point.

Granted, pinkish persons in other neighborhoods, even in New Orleans, opened their hearts.  A restaurant proprietor, aware of the depth of destruction, 80 percent of the city was under water, opened their eateries to anyone in need.

Tommy Cvitanovich, co-owner of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, is but one of what might be many.  This sympathetic fellow spoke of the reason he, his family, and his staff felt they must serve all survivors.  For the entrepreneur, there was no reason to fear.  Mister Cvitanovich, when confronted with the circumstances of his fellow man, felt he could not turn away.  Nor could he, his kin, and the folks they worked with grab a gun and shot at persons who sought food and a safer shelter.  The tale is beautiful and worth a peek.

“For eight weeks we gave away meals.  People were waiting in line,” he says.

For five weeks, the meals were given outside the restaurant.  When the restaurant reopened, Drago’s moved the effort to Lakeview where the need was greater.

“There were no fast food restaurants, no convenience stores or grocery stores open,” he says.  “Most people brought food (from outside the area) Food sources were non-existent.”

In a moment of horror, what is often hidden, good, and bad is revealed.  Honorable Americans such as Tommy Cvitanovich are to be thanked for what their endeavors can teach.  Some persons pale of skin felt the pain of the poorer, less protected population.  However, when the waters receded, might residents of the United States inquire; would benevolence still prosper.  

Several, such a Tommy Cvitanovich might show compassion as they had done in the past.  Yet, we cannot be certain.

In America, sweetness is often subdued by racism.  Much is restrained, not realized, or hidden from view when consternation is prevalent.  When people react to anxiety, rather than act and discover we are not that different, we have what we had in Algiers Point, guns ablaze

Inside and outside of a New Orleans enclave, Caucasians are challenged to conceive that persons of color did not seek to violate the law.  Indeed, white vigilantes victimized those who have, for centuries, been casualties in a civilized American society.

What received less attention from the press and from the paler people is Whites Sought More Katrina Aid Than Blacks.  African-Americans, too often buried by the burden of bigotry, did not know that they might be able to apply or appeal a decision for inadequate assistance.  Nor did some have the means before the tempest to secure property or proper insurance.  What also was and remains out of sight are the financial abuses brownish-purplish persons are victim to.  Credit is not colorblind.

In America, privilege is a white man’s prerogative.  Prosecution is reserved for “other” races.

Tulane University Historian Lance Hill, who runs Tulane’s Southern Institute for Education and Research, has studied the city’s racial divide.  He understands why Algiers Point gunmen have avoided arrest.  “By and large, I think the white mentality is that these people [the Anglo lawbreakers] are exempt–that even if they committed these crimes, they’re really exempt from any kind of legal repercussion.” People of color only commit crime, in the mind of many.

Professor Hill ponders and proclaims; “It’s sad to say, but I think that if any of these cases went to trial, and none of them have, I can’t see a white person being convicted of any kind of crime against an African-American during that period.”  Such is the sound of silence.  When people are blind, or white, racism becomes a more colorful spectrum.

The stories of Algiers Point, and the plight of Katrina, tell a tale too terrible to imagine.  Perchance, that is why in America people prefer to remain colormute.  To report as The Nation did is to attest to what most prefer to hide.  Racism remains rampant in the land of opportunity.  In a country considered great, bigotry is not criminal.  Fear is not a felony.  Trepidation, even with a gun in hand, and shots fired, is fine in United States.  

Apparently, as long as Caucasian citizens transgress only against the unfamiliar, the supposed unruly, persons whose only crime is that his or her skin color is not white will suffer fates so ghastly, even storm waters will not wash the stain away.

Please peruse the portrait of America, “Katrina’s Hidden Race War.”  Ponder what might be too true.  If Americans do not love thy neighbor, if fright rules, no one is authentically free and fewer are brave.

References for Racism . . .

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

Not in my backyard



Explosive OBAMA anger at a McCain-Palin rally!

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

~ Bible.  I John 4:20

Not in my backyard.  Not in my neighborhood.  Not on street corners in my community.  Certainly, not amongst my friends, and never in my family! These are the cries heard ’round America.  In rural regions, in urban boroughs, in the suburbs, and in the city proper the public clamors, “We are not colorblind.”  The defense voiced in earlier days is a thought from the past.  In the United States of 2008, people see shades.  Skin, pitch as coal, casts a shadow.  Deep-seated bigotry is displayed on the surface.  Today, racism is not only rampant; it is visible on every crossroad.  Please consider the campaign trail.  Intolerance is evident in the Presidential Election, 2008.

Secular humanist intent on political win and pious, religious persons, who think themselves right (or righteous) believe they have reason to fear their brethren.  Presidential hopeful Barack Obama is Black.  The public may have been aware of this without much prompting.  However, chances are the American people would have been polite.  Citizens in this country pride themselves on decorum.  Yet, with a bit of encouragement people in the States can be easily persuaded to forget their etiquette.  

Individuals and crowds can be coerced to remember their fear for fellow beings.  If “that (other) one” is distinctive, dark, and has a strange name, so much the better.  A person or political campaign can capitalize on the differences.  An exhortation offered can cause an explosion.  Throngs can be inflamed.  Enter Sarah Palin and her confederate John McCain.  The two exclaim when they shriek or speak of their opponent Barack Obama, “Not in my backyard.”  Republican followers concur.  The hordes holler as the Party leaders explain, “He is not one of us.”  The Democratic hopeful, for those who will not vote for a Black man, is the source of hatred.

The Illinois Senator was not born to be brutalized.  However, people of his brownish-purplish tone are tormented.  Those paler in hue have learned to hate, and work to denigrate.  Pinkish persons are taught to negate the power of a individual who, by birth wears a brown-black veneer.  Persons whose flesh is not light are also engendered to exhibit trepidation; however, in the United States, these individuals may have less authority.  Frequently, Anglos [and African Americans] deny that they have learned these lessons.  However, human as they are, many Americans, are apprehensive when confronted with the unfamiliar.  

Citizens in the States have acquired conventional wisdom; be scared of someone so unique; the intensity of the disdain felt and expressed is deeper since Barack Obama’s complexion is ebony in color.  

The reaction to the words Sarah Palin and John McCain emit is as expected.  People abhor what or who is unlike them.  Citizens have been trained to react, to resent, and to express rage when faced with the unknown.  Frequently, the average American is asked by Obama’s political adversary, “Who is Barack Obama?”  Surely, the implication is, he is not one of us.  Senator Obama does not look like those in our neighborhood, in our family; nor is he similar to our friends.  However, this is not said specifically.

The answers offered by John McCain and Sarah Palin have subtly incited intolerance.  While the Republican Party Presidential nominee delicately dances during discussions of culture clashes, his surrogates, and of course Sarah, stride confidently into dangerous debates.  The reality of racial division is ramped up.  Any statement that might awaken apprehension amongst the white majority masses is fair, and now famously in the forefront of stump speeches.

At two McCain rallies last week, individuals introducing the candidate referred to the Democratic nominee as “Barack Hussein Obama,” emphasizing his middle name.  Former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating called him a “man of the street.”

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, said Obama was “palling around with terrorists,” a reference to his association with the 1960s radical William Ayers, and a turn of phrase that critics said was racially loaded.

In the age of attacks on the Twin Towers, alarm for any association that reminds Americans of the foreign forces that caused the World Trade Center to fall will be perceived as problematic.  This supposed connection coupled with the whisper campaign that began long ago, Barack Obama is a Muslim . . . even if he is not and never was, has been an effective tool used to annihilate the Democratic Presidential aspirant.  After all, he must be destroyed.  He is not like the friends, family, or neighbors of average American’s.  He is elite, and did the Republican candidates mention, Barack Obama is Black.  The esteemed Illinois Senator will not be seen in the backyards of Joe or Jane Doe.

However, signs with Barack Obama’s name are displayed in front yards throughout the country.  This alone causes much concern within communities and a campaign scared that a scholar such as Barack Obama might become President.

One would hope the intent among respectable Republican rivals was to destroy a political promotion and not the man himself; however, there is infinite reason to believe the rough stuff is used to do more than motivate voters to move towards the Republican ticket.  Americans need only listen to the words of the self-proclaimed “pit bull,” Vice Presidential challenger, Sarah Palin.  Days ago, in Florida, the defiant maverick declared her objective and her offense.

“Okay, so Florida, you know that you’re going to have to hang onto your hats,” Sarah Palin told a rally of a few thousand here this morning, “because from now until Election Day it may get kind of rough.”

You betcha.  And the person dishing out the roughest stuff at the moment is Sarah Palin.

“I was reading my copy of the New York Times the other day,” she said.

“Booooo!” replied the crowd.

“I knew you guys would react that way, okay,” she continued.  “So I was reading the New York Times and I was really interested to read about Barack’s friends from Chicago.” . . .

“Boooo!” said the crowd.

“And, according to the New York Times, he was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, ‘launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol,'” she continued.

“Boooo!” the crowd repeated.

“Kill him!” proposed one man in the audience.

Days later, pumped and primed, another McCain/Palin advocate, this time amongst the poised population in Pennsylvania, shouted “Kill him!”  The calls of “terrorist” are frequently heard at Republican rallies each time Barack Obama’s name is uttered.  The venom is vicious, as are actions on American avenues.

Those who do not have physical access to the dark-skinned Presidential hopeful,  Senator Obama, express their fury in other ways.  Some overtly ferocious; a few covertly cruel.

Within a somewhat posh population, in south Florida, a fairly prosperous family placed an Obama sign on their lawn.  Proud of the candidate they would cast ballots for on Election Day, the female in the household felt a need to express their conviction.  The affluent adult trusted in a neighborhood such as hers, even those who did not feel as they did would certainly respect their right to revere a well-educated, accomplished, and “articulate” Presidential aspirant.  The woman could not begin to imagine the placard would be burned.  Another incident was reported in New Jersey.

Obama sign defaced in Montclair

(by Tanya Drobness

Montclair Times

October 02, 2008

A Montclair woman woke up Sunday morning to find that her Barack Obama lawn placard was spread across her car and defaced with a pile of dog feces.

Vandals yanked the advocacy sign out of the Montclair Avenue lawn and wrecked it between 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, and 7 a.m. the next day, police said.

“She just woke up in the morning and noticed the sign had been moved,” said Alex Russoniello, referring to the reaction of his partner, Maryanne Solensky, who has been living in the home for 30 years.

The sign and one of its metal posts was found on the windshield of a Volkswagen Golf that was sitting in the victim’s driveway, police said.

The couple removed the feces with a newspaper delivery wrap and washed down the sign.

They put it back up that same day.

The Boca Raton resident also re-placed her sign.  In less than a day, Ms Pearson-Martinez positioned a new Obama sign in her yard.  She also painstakingly inscribed a message for the person who maliciously defaced the first banner.  The lovely lady wrote on a placard attached to the bottom of her newer Obama poster, “You can burn my sign, but you won’t stop my vote.”  

However, it seems some would wish to torch a ballot or a man named Barack.  Few argue that the rage expressed is more fervent for the face of the candidate is charcoal in hue.  It is easier to find enthusiastic hatred for a person whose complexion is dark.  This truth was witnessed, and ignited, in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, and other states, near a week ago.  Tempers flared and the Republican candidates fueled the fire.  Unfettered taunts were frequently hard at McCain/Palin events.

A sense of grievance spilling into rage has gripped some GOP events as McCain supporters see his presidential campaign lag against Barack Obama. They’re making it personal, against the Democrat. Shouts of “traitor,” “terrorist,” “treason,” “liar,” and even “off with his head” have rung from the crowd at McCain and Sarah Palin rallies, and gone unchallenged by them. . . .

When a visibly angry McCain supporter in Waukesha, Wis., on Thursday told the candidate “I’m really mad” because of “socialists taking over the country,” McCain stoked the sentiment. “I think I got the message,” he said. “The gentleman is right.”

Is it correct to cruelly condemn a man or a woman; is it proper to stoke a fire or incite fury for a person.  Americans might remember hate is taught.  Humans are not born to disdain.  People learn to love passionately or to loathe avidly.  Differences in appearance can provide a target for intolerance.  Not in my backyard, neighborhood, community, amongst my closest friends, or in my family is the racial retreat, the rant of those who rather be at odds than be united in the States.

I think that hate is a thing, a feeling, that can only exist where there is no understanding.

~ Tennessee Williams [Author] Forward to Sweet Bird of Youth

If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself.  What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.

~ Hermann Hesse [Author] From Demian

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion.

People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love,

for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.


~ Nelson Mandela [President of South Africa] Autobiography

References to racism . . .

The State of the Union; Racism



AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka on Racism and Obama

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

Citizens of this country proudly claim, this is the United States of America.  Our founders adopted this characterization.  The forefathers were certain the Constitution would ensure, as was etched in parchment, All men are created equal.  From President Washington, to Lincoln, to whomever the next Commander might be, our leaders speak of the importance of the union, one that is more perfect.

We, as a people, are joined as a republic.  The purpose of our democratic system is to work for the greater good, the commonweal, and our shared welfare.  Americans have faith that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, will be assured if together we unite in a common cause.  Each year, our Chief Executive comes before the public to speak of the condition of our coalition.  The address he or she gives is known as the State of the Union.  

Yet, in America, frequently we find ourselves divided.  Throughout every community, there is intolerance.  Daily we realize just how fragile the melting pot is.  People prefer to be separate, or presume others wish to be.  They like to be with their own kind, are the words used to justify the deliberate divisions.  Artificial Unions are formed and then crumble from within.  The reasons are infinite.  One cause for this collapse is racism.  Bigotry is unbridled in America.  It affects our alliance or the lack thereof.

Perchance, if we are ever to come together as a country, citizens must consider the words of a Union leader.  

Remarks by AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka at the USW Convention

Las Vegas, NV

July 1, 2008

You see brothers and sisters, there’s not a single good reason for any worker — especially any union member — to vote against Barack Obama.? ?There’s only one really bad reason to vote against him: because he’s not white.

And I want to talk about that because I saw that for myself during the Pennsylvania primary.  I went back home to vote in Nemacolin and I ran into a woman I’d known for years.

She was active in Democratic politics when I was still in grade school.? ?We got to talking and I asked if she’d made up her mind who she was supporting and she said: Oh absolutely, I’m voting for Hillary, there’s no way I’d ever vote for Obama.

Well, why’s that?  Because he’s a Muslim.  I told her, That’s not true — he’s as much a Christian as you and me, so what if he’s Muslim.

Then she shook her head and said, He won’t wear an American flag pin.? ?I don’t have one on and neither do you.

But, C’mon, he wears one plenty of times.  He just says it takes more than wearing a flag pin to be patriotic.? ?Well, I just don’t trust him.  Why is that?

Her voice dropped just a bit: Because he’s black.  I said, Look around.

Nemacolin’s a dying town.  There’re no jobs here.  Kids are moving away because there’s no future here.  And here’s a man, Barack Obama, who’s going to fight for people like us and you won’t vote for him because of the color of his skin.

?Brothers and sisters, we can’t tap dance around the fact that there are a lot of folks out there just like that woman.  A lot of them are good union people; they just can’t get past this idea that there’s something wrong with voting for a black man.

Well, those of us who know better can’t afford to look the other way.  I’m not one for quoting dead philosophers, but back in the 1700s, Edmund Burke said: All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

Well, there’s no evil that’s inflicted more pain and more suffering than racism — and it’s something we in the labor movement have a special responsibility to challenge.

It’s our special responsibility because we know, better than anyone else, how racism is used to divide working people.

We’ve seen how companies set worker against worker — how they throw whites a few extra crumbs off the table – and how we all end up losing.  But we’ve seen something else, too.

We’ve seen that when we cross that color line and stand together no one can keep us down.

That’s why the CIO was created.

That’s why industrial unions were the first to stand up against lynching and segregation.

People need to know that it was the Steel Workers Organizing Committee — this union — that was founded on the principal of organizing all workers without regard to race.

That’s why the labor movement — imperfect as we are — is the most integrated institution in American life.

I don’t think we should be out there pointing fingers in peoples’ faces and calling them racist; instead we need to educate them that if they care about holding on to their jobs, their health care, their pensions, and their homes  . . .  if they care about creating good jobs with clean energy, child care, pay equity for women workers – there’s only going to be one candidate on the ballot this fall who’s on their side . . .  only one candidate who’s going to stand up for their families . . .  only one candidate who’s earned their votes . . .  and his name is Barack Obama!

For the first time in America, we have a genuine chance to demonstrate that we do not wish to remain divided.  We have the opportunity, unexpected as it, is to vote for acceptance.  I invite you to peruse the profound discussion of race and relations and consider the State of our Union.

Black History: Loving vs. Virginia

© copyright 2008 Storm Bear.  Town Called Dobson


To view the original, travel to a Town Called Dobson.  Black History: Loving vs. Virginia

From Wikipedia:

Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), was a landmark civil rights case in which the United States Supreme Court declared Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute, the “Racial Integrity Act of 1924”, unconstitutional, thereby overturning Pace v. Alabama (1883) and ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States.

The plaintiffs, Mildred Loving (nee Mildred Delores Jeter, a woman of African and Rappahannock Native American descent, 1939 – May 2, 2008) and Richard Perry Loving (a white man, October 29, 1933 – June 1975), were residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia who had been married in June 1958 in the District of Columbia, having left Virginia to evade the Racial Integrity Act, a state law banning marriages between any white person and any non-white person. Upon their return to Caroline County, Virginia, they were charged with violation of the ban. Specifically, they were charged under Section 20-58 of the Virginia Code, which prohibited interracial couples from being married out of state and then returning to Virginia, and Section 20-59, which classified “miscegenation” as a felony punishable by a prison sentence of between one and five years. On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia. The trial judge in the case, Leon Bazile, echoing Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s 18th-century interpretation of race, proclaimed that


Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix.

The Lovings moved to the District of Columbia, and on November 6, 1963 the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion on their behalf in the state trial court to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence on the grounds that the violated statutes ran counter to the Fourteenth Amendment. This set in motion a series of lawsuits which ultimately reached the Supreme Court. On October 28, 1964, after their motion still had not been decided, the Lovings began a class action suit in the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. On January 22, 1965, the three-judge district court decided to allow the Lovings to present their constitutional claims to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Virginia Supreme Court Justice Harry L. Carrico (later Chief Justice of the Court) wrote an opinion for the court upholding the constitutionality of the anti-miscegenation statutes and, after modifying the sentence, affirmed the criminal convictions.

Ignoring United States Supreme Court precedent, Carrico cited as authority the Virginia Supreme Court’s own decision in Naim v. Naim (1955), and also argued that the case at hand was not a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause because both the white and the non-white spouse were punished equally for the “crime” of “miscegenation”, an argument similar to that made by the United States Supreme Court in 1883 in Pace v. Alabama.

In 1966, the Presbyterian Church took a strong stand stating that they do not condemn or prohibit interracial marriages. The church found “no theological grounds for condemning or prohibiting marriage between consenting adults merely because of racial origin”. In that same year, the Unitarian Universalist Association declared that “laws which prohibit, inhibit or hamper marriage or cohabitation between persons because of different races, religions, or national origins should be nullified or repealed.” Months before the Supreme Court ruling on Loving v. Virginia the Roman Catholic Church joined the movement, supporting interracial couples in their struggle for recognition of their right to marriage.

Prior to Loving v. Virginia there were several cases on the subject of race mixing cases. In Pace v. Alabama (1883) the Supreme Court ruled that the conviction of an Alabama couple for interracial sex, affirmed on appeal by the Alabama Supreme Court, did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Interracial extramarital sex was deemed a felony, whereas extramarital sex (“adultery or fornication”) was only a misdemeanor. On appeal, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the criminalization of interracial sex was not a violation of the equal protection clause because whites and non-whites were punished in equal measure for the offense of engaging in interracial sex. The court did not need to affirm the constitutionality of the ban on interracial marriage that was also part of Alabama’s anti-miscegenation law, since the plaintiff, Mr. Pace, had chosen not to appeal that section of the law. After Pace v. Alabama, the constitutionality of anti-miscegenation laws banning marriage and sex between whites and non-whites remained unchallenged until the 1920s.

In Kirby v. Kirby (1921), Mr. Kirby asked the state of Arizona for an annulment of his marriage. He charged that his marriage was invalid because his wife was of ‘negro’ descent, thus violating the state’s anti-miscegenation law. The Arizona Supreme Court judged Mrs. Kirby’s race by observing her physical characteristics and determined that she was of mixed race, thereby granting Mr. Kirby’s annulment.

In the Monks case (Estate of Monks, 4. Civ. 2835, Records of California Court of Appeals, Fourth district), the Superior Court of San Diego County in 1939 decided to invalidate the marriage of Marie Antoinette and Allan Monks because she was deemed to have “one eight negro blood”. The court case involved a legal challenge over the conflicting wills that had been left by the late Allan Monks, an old one in favor of a friend named Ida Lee and a newer one in favor of his wife. Lee’s lawyers charged that the marriage of the Monkses, which had taken place in Arizona, was invalid under Arizona state law because Marie Antoinette was “a Negro” and Alan had been white. Despite conflicting testimony by various expert witnesses, the judge defined Mrs. Monks’ race by relying on the anatomical “expertise” of a surgeon. The judge ignored the arguments of an anthropologist and a biologist that it was impossible to tell a person’s race from physical characteristics.

Monks then challenged the Arizona anti-miscegenation law itself, taking her case to the California Court of Appeals, Fourth District. Monks’s lawyers pointed out that the anti-miscegenation law effectively prohibited Monks as a mixed-race person from marrying anyone: “As such, she is prohibited from marrying a negro or any descendant of a negro, a Mongolian or an Indian, a Malay or a Hindu, or any descendants of any of them. Likewise … as a descendant of a negro she is prohibited from marrying a Caucasian or a descendant of a Caucasian….” The Arizona anti-miscegenation statute thus prohibited Monks from contracting a valid marriage in Arizona, and was therefore an unconstitutional constraint on her liberty. The court, however, dismissed this argument as inapplicable, since the case presented involved not two mixed-race spouses but a mixed-race and a white spouse: “Under the facts presented the appellant does not have the benefit of assailing the validity of the statute.” Dismissing Monks’s appeal in 1942, the United States Supreme Court refused to reopen the issue.

The turning point came with Perez v. Sharp (1948), also known as Perez v. Lippold. In Perez, the Supreme Court of California recognized that interracial bans on marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions in a unanimous decision, dismissing the Commonwealth of Virginia’s argument that a law forbidding both white and black persons from marrying persons of another race, and providing identical penalties to white and black violators, could not be construed as racially discriminatory. The court ruled that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In its decision, the court wrote:


Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

The Supreme Court concluded that anti-miscegenation laws were racist and had been enacted to perpetuate white supremacy:


There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy.

Despite this Supreme Court ruling, such laws remained on the books, although unenforced, in several states until 2000, when Alabama became the last state to repeal its law against mixed-race marriage.

The definition of a marriage and what constitutes a family was reconsidered by society after the decision of Loving v. Virginia. Following Loving v. Virginia, The Changing Nature of Interracial Marriage in Georgia: A Research Note states “there was a 448 per cent increase in the number of interracial marriages. These numbers are only from the state of Georgia after the Supreme Court ruling, but the numbers and percentages only continued to increase across the United States. However, interracial couples still had to overcome many fears of possibly losing respect from friends, family, and the community.

Some activists believe that the Loving ruling will eventually aid the marriage equality movement for same-sex partnerships, if courts allow the Equal Protection Clause to be used. F.C. Decoste states, “If the only arguments against same sex marriage are sectarian, then opposing the legalization of same sex marriage is invidious in a fashion no different from supporting anti miscegenation laws”. These activists maintain that miscegenation laws are to interracial marriage, as sodomy laws are to homosexual rights and that sodomy laws were enacted in order to maintain traditional sex roles that have become part of American society. Opponents point out that the United States Supreme Court in the case of Baker v. Nelson, decided just a few years after the Loving decision, summarily affirmed that traditional marriage laws do not violate the Constitution of the United States.

On June 12, 2007, Mildred Loving issued a rare public statement prepared for delivery on the 40th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia decision of the US Supreme Court, which commented on same-sex marriage. The concluding paragraphs of her statement read as follows:


Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

Birth Of A Notion Disclaimer:


When I went to school, we were never taught Black History. We never learned about the Black leaders, the long, agonizing history that brought most Blacks to America. Those atrocities were glossed over in favor of mindlessly boring topics like the X Y Z Affair.

This series of cartoons will review Black history as told from a Black mother to an interracial child. This series will be ugly, course, horrific and truthful. I will mostly abandon the commentary for an article on Black history from open source essays on the web.

This series is not about Obama or Hillary. I want to you to try to imagine how Black families tell their children of the atrocities their ancestors, all of them, suffered because of the color of their skin. Try to imagine how Black families counsel their children when someone calls them “n*gg*r” for the first time. Can you imagine the bone crushing emotion that must well up? Can you imagine the agony, frustration and anger?

Can you imagine being the Black preacher who tries to paint a picture of a just God every Sunday? Especially in a country that claims where the notion of racism is a thing of the past, the job is difficult.

These strips may at times be entertaining and sometimes they may not – mostly not.

I don’t want you to laugh so hard you cry, I want you to cry so hard you do something about it.

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