Thursday, September 01, 2005

Narrow race gap, widen gender gap

Guess why I am posting this.

By: Clarence Page
Chicago Tribune

GRAMMY winner Kanye West's debut CD was titled "The College Dropout." His follow-up is called "Late Registration." I don't know what comes next, although I'm betting it's not "Student Loan Default."
After Grammy, Billboard and MTV awards, a Time magazine cover and what seems like billions of dollars in record sales, West has gotten along remarkably well despite dropping out of Chicago State University, where his mother was a professor. Few other dropouts are so fortunate.
That's why I'm relieved that West's latest title implies, at least, an important truism I've been trying to convey to my own impressionable 16-year-old hip-hop-loving son:'Tis more fruitful to drop into college than to drop out of it.
New census figures offer dramatic evidence of education's big payback: Income for African Americans with a four-year college degree has increased so much since the civil rights advances of the 1960s that we have almost closed our historical income gap with four-year college-educated whites.
In 2003, the latest year for which figures are available, blacks with a bachelor's degree had a median income of
$36,694, which is almost as high as the $38,667 median income of whites with a bachelor's degree.

Unfortunately, black female graduates have closed the gap much more effectively than their black male counterparts have, and the gap between the races seems to be easier to explain than the gap between the sexes.
The median income of black males with a bachelor's degree was $41,916, almost 20 percent lower than the $51,138 median income of similarly educated white males. Similarly educated black women had a median income of $33,142, which was lower than black male graduates but about 10 percent higher than the $30,082 median income figure for similarly degreed white women.
White women's income looks lower than that of black women partly because college-educated black women are less likely to leave their career track in order to raise children, according to Census Bureau surveys.
And the gap between white and black males is partly explained by the likelihood that white professionals still tend to service clients and markets that are economically better off than those served by many black professionals.
Nevertheless, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education observed, "This is not to discount the value of a college degree for black men. African-American men with a bachelor's degree or higher still earn on average nearly double the income of black men with a high school diploma."
In fact, the Census found, blacks with a doctorate are beginning to show higher incomes on average than similarly educated whites.
Harder to explain than the race gap is the gap between the sexes within each race, partly because it has not gotten much attention until recent years.

Since 1975, the overall number of male students in college has remained relatively steady, while the number of women ballooned to 8 million in 1997 from 5 million in 1975, according to the American Council on Education.
Significantly, the biggest disparity showed up in families making less than $30,000 a year: Women made up 68 percent of those families' college enrollees, outnumbering the guys by more than two-to-one.
For black families during that same period, bachelor's degrees awarded to black men increased by 30 percent and to black women by 77 percent. Today, black women at some historically black campuses outnumber black men by two-to-one.
Some observers say the gender gap is explained at least in part by the wider options high-school-educated men may have compared to similarly educated women. Unfortunately, the only option being exercised by far too many young black males is jail — if they're not killed first.
Black males born today have a 1-in-3 chance of going to prison in their lifetime, compared with a 1-in-17 chance for white males, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based prison research organization.

The result has only widened the gender gap among successful blacks. Young black men, for a variety of reasons, have not valued education as much as black women have. No one is better suited to rectify that horrible situation than we older black men are.
In the decade since the Million Man March stepped into Washington, numerous black male organizations have emerged in churches and neighborhoods to take our young men and boys under wing and show the value of education as a key to success. We need more to join in. As I am sure Kanye West would agree, late registration is better than none at all.

Clarence Page writes for the Chicago Tribune.

Lost in the Flood

Why no mention of race or class in TV's Katrina coverage?
By Jack Shafer -

I can't say I saw everything that the TV newscasters pumped out about Katrina, but I viewed enough repeated segments to say with 90 percent confidence that broadcasters covering the New Orleans end of the disaster demurred from mentioning two topics that must have occurred to every sentient viewer: race and class.

Nearly every rescued person, temporary resident of the Superdome, looter, or loiterer on the high ground of the freeway I saw on TV was African-American. And from the look of it, they weren't wealthy residents of the Garden District. This storm appears to have hurt blacks more directly than whites, but the broadcasters scarcely mentioned that fact.

Now, don't get me wrong. Just because 67 percent of New Orleans residents are black, I don't expect CNN to rename the storm "Hurricane" Carter in honor of the black boxer. Just because Katrina's next stop after destroying coastal Mississippi was counties that are 25 percent to 86 percent African-American (according to this U.S. Census map), and 27.9 percent of New Orleans residents are below the poverty line, I don't expect the Rev. Jesse Jackson to call the news channels to give a comment. But in the their frenzy to beat freshness into the endless loops of disaster footage that have been running all day, broadcasters might have mentioned that nearly all the visible people left behind in New Orleans are of the black persuasion, and mostly poor.

To be sure, some reporters sidled up to the race and class issue. I heard them ask the storm's New Orleans victims why they hadn't left town when the evacuation call came. Many said they were broke—"I live from paycheck to paycheck," explained one woman. Others said they didn't own a car with which to escape and that they hadn't understood the importance of evacuation.

But I don't recall any reporter exploring the class issue directly by getting a paycheck-to-paycheck victim to explain that he couldn't risk leaving because if he lost his furniture and appliances, his pots and pans, his bedding and clothes, to Katrina or looters, he'd have no way to replace them. No insurance, no stable, large extended family that could lend him cash to get back on his feet, no middle-class job to return to after the storm.

What accounts for the broadcasters' timidity? I saw only a couple of black faces anchoring or co-anchoring but didn't see any black faces reporting from New Orleans. So, it's safe to assume that the reluctance to talk about race on the air was a mostly white thing. That would tend to imply that white people don't enjoy discussing the subject. But they do, as long as they get to call another white person racist.

My guess is that Caucasian broadcasters refrain from extemporizing about race on the air mostly because they fear having an Al Campanis moment. Campanis, you may recall, was the Los Angeles Dodgers vice president who brought his career to an end when he appeared on Nightline in 1987 and explained to Ted Koppel that blacks might not have "some of the necessities" it takes to manage a major league team or run it as a general manager for the same reason black people aren't "good swimmers." They lack "buoyancy," he said.

Not to excuse Campanis, but as racists go he was an underachiever. While playing in the minor leagues, he threw down his mitt and challenged another player who was bullying Jackie Robinson. As Dodger GM, he aggressively signed black and Latino players, treated them well, and earned their admiration. Although his Nightline statement was transparently racist, in the furor that followed, nobody could cite another racist remark he had ever made. His racism, which surely blocked blacks from potential front-office Dodger careers, was the racism of overwhelming ignorance—a trait he shared (shares?) with many other baseball executives.

This sort of latent racism (or something more potent) may lurk in the hearts of many white people who end up on TV, as it does in the hearts of many who watch. Or, even if they're completely clean of racism's taint, anchors and reporters fear that they'll suffer a career-stopping Campanis moment by blurting something poorly thought out or something that gets misconstrued. Better, most think, to avoid discussing race at all unless someone with impeccable race credentials appears to supervise—and indemnify—everybody from potentially damaging charges of racism.

Race remains largely untouchable for TV because broadcasters sense that they can't make an error without destroying careers. That's a true pity. If the subject were a little less taboo, one of last night's anchors could have asked a reporter, "Can you explain to our viewers, who by now have surely noticed, why 99 percent of the New Orleans evacuees we're seeing are African-American? I suppose our viewers have noticed, too, that the provocative looting footage we're airing and re-airing seems to depict mostly African-Americans."

If the reporter on the ground couldn't answer the questions, a researcher could have Nexised the New Orleans Times-Picayune five-parter from 2002, "Washing Away," which reported that the city's 100,000 residents without private transportation were likely to be stranded by a big storm. In other words, what's happening is what was expected to happen: The poor didn't get out in time.

To the question of looting, an informed reporter or anchor might have pointed out that anybody—even one of the 500 Nordic blondes working in broadcast news—would loot food from a shuttered shop if they found themselves trapped by a flood and had no idea when help would come. However sympathetic I might be to people liberating necessities during a disaster in order to survive, I can't muster the same tolerance for those caught on camera helping themselves in a leisurely fashion to dry goods at Wal-Mart. Those people weren't looting as much as they were shopping for good stuff to steal. MSNBC's anchor Rita Cosby, who blurted an outraged if inarticulate harrumph when she aired the Wal-Mart heist footage, deserves more respect than the broadcasters who gave the tape the sort of nonjudgmental commentary they might deliver if they were watching the perps vacuum the carpets at home.

When disaster strikes, Americans—especially journalists—like to pretend that no matter who gets hit, no matter what race, color, creed, or socioeconomic level they hail from, we're all in it together. This spirit informs the 1997 disaster flick Volcano, in which a "can't we all just get along" moment arrives at the film's end: Volcanic ash covers every face in the big crowd scene, and everybody realizes that we're all members of one united race.

But we aren't one united race, we aren't one united class, and Katrina didn't hit all folks equally. By failing to acknowledge upfront that black New Orleanians—and perhaps black Mississippians—suffered more from Katrina than whites, the TV talkers may escape potential accusations that they're racist. But by ignoring race and class, they boot the journalistic opportunity to bring attention to the disenfranchisement of a whole definable segment of the population. What I wouldn't pay to hear a Fox anchor ask, "Say, Bob, why are these African-Americans so poor to begin with?"

Looting New Orleans and America’s poverty crisis

Can I call it or what? It is starting already. I have already read dozens of editorials like this.
The lack of common sense is astounding. Yep whitey, this is on you. Yep Bush himself waved a freaking magic wand and said “poof” “you niggers are now henceforth poor and helpless.” None of the black representatives from Louisiana had a clue, the last 3 mayors I believe were all black just what the hell did they do over the last couple of decades. I will say it again where is Jackson, Sharpton NAACP, the black churches? Sharpton took his tired ass down to Crawford to mug for the cameras with that idiot Sheehan WHERE IS HE. Yep white folks this disaster is on you. Your guilt-o-meters will be running overtime now.

by Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Two things happened in one day that tell much about the abysmal failure of the Bush administration to get a handle on poverty in America. The first was the tragic and disgraceful shots of hordes of New Orleans residents scurrying down the city's Hurricane ravaged streets with their arms loaded with food, clothes, appliances, and in some cases guns, that they looted from stores and shops.

That same day, the Census Bureau released a report that found that the number of poor Americans has leaped even higher since Bush took office in 2000. While criminal gangs who always take advantage of chaos and misery to snatch and grab whatever they can, did much of the looting, many desperately poor, mostly Black residents, saw a chance to grab items that they can't afford. They also did their share of the looting. That makes it no less reprehensible, but it's no surprise.

New Orleans has one of the highest poverty rates of any of America's big cities. According to a report by Total Community Action, a New Orleans public advocacy group, nearly one out of three New Orleans residents live below the poverty level, the majority of who are Black. A spokesperson for the United Negro College Fund noted that the city's poor live in some of the most dilapidated, and deteriorated housing in the nation.

But New Orleans is not an aberration. Nationally, according to Census figures, Blacks remain at the bottom of the economic totem pole. They have the lowest media income of any group. Bush's war and economic policies don't help matters. His tax cuts redistributed billions to the rich and corporations. And the Iraq war has drained billions from cash starved job training, health and education programs.

The 2 million new jobs in 2004 Bush touts as proof that his economic policies work have been mostly smoke and mirrors number counting. The bulk of these jobs are low pay jobs, with minimum benefits, and little job security in retail and service industries. A big portion of the nearly 40 million Americans that live below the official poverty line fill these jobs. They're the lucky ones. They have jobs. Many young Blacks, such as those that ransacked stores in New Orleans, don't.

The poverty crisis has slammed them the hardest of all. Even during the Clinton era economic boom, the unemployment rate for young Black males was double, and in some parts of the country, triple that of white males. During the past couple of years, state and federal cutbacks in job training and skills programs, the brutal competition for low and semi skilled service and retail jobs from immigrants, and the refusal of many employers to hire those with criminal records have further hammered Black communities and added to the Great Depression era high unemployment numbers among young Blacks.

The tale of poverty is more evident in the nearly one million Blacks behind bars, the HIV/AIDS rampage in Black communities, the sea of Black homeless persons, and the raging drug and gang violence that rips apart many Black communities.

Then there are the children. One third of America's poor are children. Worse, the Children's Defense Fund found that nearly 1 million Black children live not in poverty, but in extreme poverty. That's the greatest number of Black children trapped in dire poverty in nearly a quarter century.

Bush officials claim the poverty numbers do not surprise them. They contend that past trends show that poverty peaks and then declines a year after the jump in new job growth. But the poverty numbers have steadily risen for not one, but all five years of his administration.

While the NAACP hammers Bush on the war, and his domestic policies, poverty has not been their top priority. The fight for affirmative action, economic parity, professional advancement and busing replaced battling poverty, reducing unemployment, securing quality education, promoting self-help and gaining greater political empowerment as the goals of all African-Americans.

That effectively left the one out of four Blacks that wallow below the official poverty level out in the cold. The looting in New Orleans, though deplorable, put an ugly public face on a crisis that Bush administration policies have made worse. The millions in America that grow poorer, more desperate, and greater in number, are bitter testament to that.

The Storm After the Storm


Hurricanes come in two waves. First comes the rainstorm, and then comes what the historian John Barry calls the "human storm" - the recriminations, the political conflict and the battle over compensation. Floods wash away the surface of society, the settled way things have been done. They expose the underlying power structures, the injustices, the patterns of corruption and the unacknowledged inequalities. When you look back over the meteorological turbulence in this nation's history, it's striking how often political turbulence followed.

In 1889 in Pennsylvania, a great flood washed away much of Johnstown. The water's crushing destruction sounded to one person like a "lot of horses grinding oats." Witnesses watched hundreds of people trapped on a burning bridge, forced to choose between burning to death or throwing themselves into the churning waters to drown.

The flood was so abnormal that the country seemed to have trouble grasping what had happened. The national media were filled with wild exaggerations and fabrications: stories of rivers dammed with corpses, of children who died while playing ring-around-the-rosy and who were found with their hands still clasped and with smiles still on their faces.

Prejudices were let loose. Hungarians then were akin to today's illegal Mexican immigrants - hard-working people who took jobs no one else wanted. Newspapers carried accounts of gangs of Hungarian men cutting off dead women's fingers to steal their rings. "Drunken Hungarians, Dancing, Singing, Cursing and Fighting Amid the Ruins" a New York Herald headline blared.

Then, as David McCullough notes in "The Johnstown Flood," public fury turned on the Pittsburgh millionaires whose club's fishing pond had emptied on the town. The Chicago Herald depicted the millionaires as Roman aristocrats, seeking pleasure while the poor died like beasts in the Coliseum.

Even before the flood, public resentment was building against the newly rich industrialists. Protests were growing against the trusts, against industrialization and against the new concentrations of wealth. The Johnstown flood crystallized popular anger, for the fishing club was indeed partly to blame. Public reaction to the disaster helped set the stage for the progressive movement and the trust-busting that was to come.

In 1900, another great storm hit the U.S., killing over 6,000 people in Galveston, Tex. The storm exposed racial animosities, for this time stories (equally false) swept through the press accusing blacks of cutting off the fingers of corpses to steal wedding rings. The devastation ended Galveston's chance to beat out Houston as Texas' leading port.

Then in 1927, the great Mississippi flood rumbled down upon New Orleans. As Barry writes in his account, "Rising Tide," the disaster ripped the veil off the genteel, feudal relations between whites and blacks, and revealed the festering iniquities. Blacks were rounded up into work camps and held by armed guards. They were prevented from leaving as the waters rose. A steamer, the Capitol, played "Bye Bye Blackbird" as it sailed away. The racist violence that followed the floods helped persuade many blacks to move north.

Civic leaders intentionally flooded poor and middle-class areas to ease the water's pressure on the city, and then reneged on promises to compensate those whose homes were destroyed. That helped fuel the populist anger that led to Huey Long's success. Across the country people demanded that the federal government get involved in disaster relief, helping to set the stage for the New Deal. The local civic elite turned insular and reactionary, and New Orleans never really recovered its preflood vibrancy.

We'd like to think that the stories of hurricanes and floods are always stories of people rallying together to give aid and comfort. And, indeed, each of America's great floods has prompted a popular response both generous and inspiring. But floods are also civic examinations. Amid all the stories that recur with every disaster - tales of sudden death and miraculous survival, the displacement and the disease - there is also the testing.

Civic arrangements work or they fail. Leaders are found worthy or wanting. What's happening in New Orleans and Mississippi today is a human tragedy. But take a close look at the people you see wandering, devastated, around New Orleans: they are predominantly black and poor. The political disturbances are still to come.