Cross-posted from RaceWire By Tammy Johnson Welcome to the battle royal. Today is the anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, an annual heavy weight match where race and public education claim the center ring. In one corner are Brown’s defenders, bemoaning the country’s failure to carry out the order to educate every child regardless of race. In the opposing corner are the prosecutors of public schools, claiming that the system’s failures stem from its very acknowledgment of race, rather than from the racial disparities themselves. Taking hits from all sides are millions of children of color. So was Brown v. Board a failed attempt at social engineering? Or was its solution poisoned in its infancy by political maneuvering? With every passing anniversary researchers, lawyers, policymakers and education advocates come out swinging with their views on the aftermath. But there are only two questions that really matter: Is race still a factor in whether a child receives a quality education? And if so, what should we do about it? Let’s deal with what’s real. Race matters. A 2009 Education Department report bears this out: * Between 1972 and 2007, the percentage of public school students who were White decreased from 78 to 56 percent. During this period, the percentage of students from other racial/ethnic groups increased from 22 to 44 percent. * In 2008, the high school completion rates for Blacks and Latinos remained significantly below those of Whites (88 and 68 vs. 94). * The national average reading score of 4th graders was higher in 2007 than in 1992, by 4 points. In 2007, at the 4th-grade level Blacks scored, on average, 27 points lower than Whites and Latinos scored, on average, 26 points lower. Add to all of this the resegregation of Black and brown kids to metropolitan schools and White (more affluent) families to the suburbs; the failure of flavor-of-the-year reform schemes (mayoral take overs, private charters, etc.), and the one-two punch of the economic downturn and state budget cuts and we have one hot mess of a fight. The 1952 Warren Court knew that America’s racist public education system had to be changed. And although it only stunned the monster, Brown did become the legal precedent that paved the way for the dismantling of Jim Crow and the establishment of civil rights law as we know it. Similarly, today's Brown discussions must evoke a broader vision about the schools that we need to create in order to produce the society that we all want to live in. There are plenty of areas that need our attention, but we should strategically focus on the player that data and decades of experience have proven essential: the teacher. Can we recruit a workforce that reflects the communities of the children they teach? Can we support them with quality and relevant curriculum, peer mentorship, decent facilities and adequate compensation? Can we ensure that they are armed with knowledge, credentials and cultural competency needed to teach demographically expanding classrooms? Can we? Shifting our weight from the busing blame game to making a real plan for teaching and leaning won’t be easy. But when that bell rings and race comes out swinging, America’s old bob-and-weave will just no longer due.
Cross-posted from RaceWire By Kai Wright Last week, Senate Democrats managed to get their financial reform bill past the Republican blockade. Floor debate on the bill, which would create a consumer protection bureau inside the Federal Reserve, will move forward this week and the Senate’s more progressive Dems are expected to push amendments to make it tougher. They’re emboldened by the renewed outrage that the SEC’s charges against Goldman Sachs has stirred and Delaware Sen. Ted Kaufman says he’ll press to have the six largest banks broken up, which is a step the Obama administration opposes. But there’s little public talk about toughening the bill’s consumer protections. On Thursday, housing and labor advocates organized thousands to march on Wall Street as a reminder of why that’s important — because banks’ shoddy, often predatory lending in working communities, particularly Black and Latino ones, was the fuel for the fire that eventually engulfed our economy. ColorLines took a camera down to the march to hear what protestors had to say to the banks about that fact (watch the video above—and pass it on!). Advocates have broadly pushed a consumer protection agency. But the devil will be in the details. The Senate bill creates a bureau inside the Fed that has it's own budget, a presidentially appointed director and broad rule-writing and enforcing authority. Nonetheless, the bill gives veto power to an oversight board stacked with the same bank regulators who have already proven unwilling to protect consumers. Meanwhile, the House version creates a fully independent agency, but it carves out significant areas of lending from the agency's oversight. Car dealers, who originate a massive volume of loans in Black communities, are exempt in the House bill and lobbyists are working hard to carve them out of the Senate bill as well. The coming debate will focus largely on the "too big to fail" questions -- if mega-banks need to be broken up and how public funds should be used to prevent their collapse. But the question of how consumers are protected within the financial system is equally crucial. We'll see if that discussion gets back on the table as well.
Cross-posted from RaceWire By Kai Wright The Senate gets back to work next week after its spring break and the opening fight will almost certainly be over unemployment insurance. Before they adjourned, Senators failed to pass a short-term extension of the program — which the House has already done — leaving it to expire on April 5 and putting as many as 400,000 people at risk of losing weekly checks. We hit the streets to ask folks what they think about that in the ColorLines video above. The emergency-spending bill in debate would extend insurance by a month for people who have used up the standard six-month payment. Nearly 23 percent of people out of work — or, around 3.4 million Americans — have been jobless for more than a year. That’s the highest long-term unemployment rate we’ve seen since we started tracking it, according to a Pew Economic Policy Group study. But Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn is filibustering the month-long extension. Last month, Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning did the same, but the caucus didn’t stand behind him and the extension passed. This time around, Republican leadership looks ready to fight. The argument is over how to pay for the extended benefits. Republicans say Congress must be mindful of the deficit and either cut spending elsewhere or take it out of stimulus funding. Democrats say this is an emergency that warrants deficit spending — and note that Republicans weren’t concerned about the deficit when they were passing $1.3 trillion in unfunded tax cuts under President George W. Bush.
Cross-posted from RaceWire By Kai Wright ColorLinesTV profiles three green jobs projects that show how we can end the jobless recovery while tackling long-standing challenges in communities of color. NYT profiles the big idea that health insurance reform is part of President Obama’s effort to reverse the growing wealth gap, but the paper of record manages to completely ignore the massive racial wealth gap that has driven wealth inequality. National Urban League’s annual State of Black America is out today, stressing the need for a massive jobs bill to stop the spiraling unemployment in Black and Latino neighborhoods. The average homeowner in the president’s foreclosure relief program is underwater, HuffPo reports. The program does nothing to address principle, despite loud advocacy from the start that this oversight would render the effort meaningless. WashPost media critic Tom Shales wilded out yesterday over ABC choosing Christiane Amanpour to host This Week, speculating about how her Iranian background impacts her coverage, among other things. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald called Shales out and The American Prospect’s Adam Serwer points out Shales’ open misogyny in a live chat on the paper’s site. While WashPost’s On Faith column profiles Muslim troops facing anti-Muslim hysteria inside the U.S. Armed Forces.
Originally posted on RaceWire By Jamilah King As the immigration reform debate heats up on Capitol Hill, right wing opponents are uping the ante with sensationalist and factually inaccurate claims. The latest? Immigration increases the country’s ecological footprint. This latest claim came as part of a new report released by Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), an alleged front group for uber conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR):
Mass immigration is increasing America’s Ecological Footprint (EF), pushing our country deeper into ecological deficit. Approaching 310 million, U.S. population currently exceeds the carrying capacity of our land and resource base. Nevertheless, high immigration levels exacerbate these trends by pushing our population to ever more precarious heights, preventing U.S. population stabilization, forcing annual growth rates to more than three million net new residents, and driving our numbers to a projected 440 million by 2050.
Read the rest. They’re wrong, of course. As Walter Ewing points out, there’s no one-to-one relationship between population size and pollution. In fact, newly arrived immigrants are probably among the most ecologically friendly folks around. They’re more likely to use public transportation and less likely to waste food. But consider this the latest round in green xenophobia.
Cross-posted from RaceWire By Michelle Chen After the mistakes he made as a kid nearly got him kicked out of the country, Qing Hong Wu has gotten a precious second chance. Embattled New York Governor David Paterson took a brief respite from a maelstrom of political scandal to act as the good samaritan this weekend: Paterson’s pardon of Wu set in motion a legal process that will allow the 29 year-old Chinese immigrant to remain in the United States and seek citizenship. Ironically, it was his desire to become an American citizen that landed him in the clutches of immigration officials. Under the rigid rules governing deportation of “criminal aliens,” Wu was slated for removal after he came forward to apply for naturalization and revealed his record.
Fifteen years ago, growing up as a working-class kid in Manhattan's Chinatown, Wu, who immigrated legally to the United States at age 5, became entangled with a dangerous crowd. He took part in several muggings with other teens and landed in a reformatory. The New York Times ran a moving story on Wu's transformation. Inspired by some stern words from an Italian-American judge, Wu served his time, got his GED, and after his release, worked his way up to from clerk to VP at a major company. But once he came forward to secure legal status as a citizen, his past resurfaced and threatened him with a punishment he never anticipated. His recently naturalized mother regretted not jumping through the hoops sooner in order to protect her son:
Mr. Wu’s mother, Floren Wu-Li, 57, blames herself. Interviewed in the tiny sixth-floor walkup on Spring Street where Mr. Wu lived with his fiancée, she acknowledged that he would have derived citizenship if she had secured it for herself while he was still a minor. But she was naturalized only four years ago, when she was allowed to take the test in Chinese. “We were very poor and worked very hard and had no time to look after Qing when he was a child,” she said, weeping as her daughter translated. “I had no time to learn English back then.”
No doubt immigrant advocates will hail Wu's pardon as a victory. But the redemption story shouldn't eclipse the countless other stories that never come to public light, stories with unhappier endings. Those include immigrants who never committed an actual criminal offense, but were nabbed nonetheless in ICE dragnets. There are also many others like Wu who made some bad decisions, but unlike Wu, never had a real chance to right their course in adulthood. Then there are youth of all backgrounds shunted into the juvenile justice system as children and criminalized for life. As Governor Paterson noted in a public statement, Wu's case exemplifies the potential for individual transformation, but it also provides "the opportunity to make a forceful statement about the harsh inequity and rigidity of the immigration laws." Politicians and the media are always intrigued by stories of personal triumph. But the uniqueness of Wu's story isn't so much his remarkable individual struggle, but the systemic injustices that prevent individuals like him from realizing their human potential. We can try to fix immigration policy one pardon at a time. But it's much more efficient to hold the entire immigration system accountable for upholding the civil rights of all who pass through it. You could call it "amnesty." Or just call it redemption for a system that has long trespassed against the least powerful among us.
Originally posted on RaceWire By Julianne Hing The news we’re hearing out of UCSD have become increasingly disturbing. Last night around midnight students alerted administrators when a noose was found hanging in UCSD’s Geisel Library. The video above was taken this morning at a protest organized by students in response to last night’s developments. It was never funny before, but so many of these students just don’t seem to understand that tension sparked by racist provocations will never be a joke. Students of color are downright terrified. The climate on campus, according to UCSD students we have spoken with, is tense. Students of color are rightfully angry, but also terrified for their safety. Throwing nooses around campus, that isn’t a joke. What I want to know is: why isn’t anyone calling the Compton Cookout, and the various racist incidents that have followed it, what we all know it is: a hate crime? On Wednesday, students organized a walkout from a university-sponsored teach-in. Following the news of the Compton Cookout last week, staff from the the conservative faux-satire student publication, The Koala, left a note inside a campus television station office that said “Compton lynching” on it. Funding for the publication has since been cut off by the Associated Students of UCSD, the university’s student government. Students are angry that even though university administrators like Chancellor Mary Anne Fox have been quick to respond in support of Black students on campus, they have also distanced themselves from the Compton Cookout incident. Campus administration initially mentioned that because the Compton Cookout was officially an off-campus event, no further action would be pursued against the perpetrators. They were quick to make public statements condemning the party, quick to host a teach-in to "explore why stereotypes still exist," and quick to set up a website called Join the Battle Against Hate at UCSD. Helpful and positive, but not enough for students who want to see real policy and cultural changes. And subsequent provocations are forcing administration to wake up to the racism in their midst. The Compton Cookout was organized by UCSD students who are affiliated with university-approved fraternities, now is not the time for university officials to try to distance themselves from the actions of its students or try to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the racial climate on campus. What will it take for campus administration to take the incidents seriously enough to formally punish the students who've orchestrated these hateful crimes and begin to institute policy to change the culture on campus? Hopefully the organizing and continued pressure from students and faculty will force administrators to take this all seriously. The student who hung the noose in Geisel has since come forward. "It's someone who didn't think that leaving a noose was an issue," said Vice Chancellor Gary Mattews. A noose is never a joke.
Originally published on RaceWire By Michelle Chen One year on, how far does the stimulus money stretch? New data on the impact of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act spending in communities of color show that by and large, the money has trickled into well-worn grooves of privilege and often further alienated the hardest-hit communities. Federal funding for transportation—a sector with a ready supply of “shovel-ready” projects—is stuck in neutral, according to a study on federally funded initiatives in Minnesota. Charles Hallman writes in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder:
PolicyLink, joined ISAIAH, and Organizing Apprenticeship Project (OAP) a Minneapolis advocacy group in producing a recent analysis of ARRA transportation investments in Minnesota and their impact on low-income communities and communities of color. The study concluded that the highest levels of transit investments are not in areas with the highest poverty or unemployment rates, nor are they in areas with the highest percentage of people of color across the state of Minnesota or within the Twin Cities. ARRA funds only reinforced existing inequities, the study added. Jermaine Toney, lead policy analyst of the OAP says the stimulus money “is deep, deep public investment dollars, but it was not a shift in the transportation policy itself. The suburbs got more transportation projects up and running, but did it benefit the most disadvantaged: blacks and people of color? No.”
Many factors could affect the flow of transportation dollars, not just advocacy groups but savvy business lobbyists as well; a community's capacity for investment and workforce development; and local political support. But the racial disparities follow a familiar pattern across the country, suggesting that even in the fiscal chaos of the stimulus roll-out, certain rules of the road hold firm. The Kirwan Institute's progress report on ARRA provides a wide-angle view of where the stimulus dollars are trickling, and which groups face a stimulus drought:
Although consistent state level data on ARRA contracting to minority firms is not widely available, figures from federal procurement indicate very troubling and disparate contracting patterns when reviewing data on procurement to minority and women owned businesses. While Black, Latino, and Women owned businesses represent 5.2%, 6.8%, and 28.2% respectively,54 as of February 1, 2010, they had only received 1.1%, 1.6%, and 2.4% of all federally contracted ARRA funds. Of the $45 billion in direct federal contracts allocated by February 1st 2010, less than $2.4 billion (5% of the total) were allocated to Black, Latino and Women owned businesses.
On the state level, a separate study on Florida's ARRA-supported contracts shows a similar trend of state officials (despite a mandate to promote "minority procurement") sidelining firms own by people of color. Though the data is not comprehensive, the disproportionality seems even more skewed in light of the fact that Blacks, Latinos and women are underrepresented to begin with in the small business sector. To advocates on the ground, the infusion of federal cash can't be expected to correct that, but for the stimulus to perpetuate systemic inequalities so seamlessly is unacceptable. The Opportunity Agenda has tried to help local groups advocate for a piece of the shrinking stimulus pie, guiding them on requesting government data and matching that against obligations under civil rights statutes. But while advocates need to mobilize to hold the government accountable, well-connected companies are wasting no time eating up what's left of the stimulus, while poor communities of color, crushed by foreclosure and joblessness, fall even farther behind. If Congress provides another stimulus or jobs bill, activists will have to act fast to get ahead of a rigged game, by both monitoring future outlays and mobilizing local groups to snag those funds, and use them responsibly, before they dry up. Looking ahead, the Kirwan Institute recommends:
• Improve Tracking of ARRA Resources and Outcomes. Rather than scaling back job tracking efforts, there should be additional measures which consider the quality and duration of employment, as well as the race, gender, and zip code of job recipients. • Increase Small and Minority Business Participation. Unbundle large contracts for small businesses. Breaking up large projects will allow for more small business participation in the recovery. Set and mandate specific, MBE and DBE Goals for every department. • Ensure That Hard Hit Communities Experience Job Impact. Use targeted reinvestment in hard-hit areas, first source hiring, apprenticeship and job training. Increase employment opportunities for ex‐offenders.
But the final measure of the Recovery Act's impact will be the lasting results of those contracts: the businesses receiving federal money must also be held accountable for delivering to their communities, especially if they represent economically disenfranchised areas. Are they paying living wages, giving people viable skills, reaching out to the most disadvantaged within poor communities (including people with limited education or criminal convictions), working toward environmental sustainability, and channeling new career opportunities into their constituency? The stimulus is a microcosm of how the government and communities could (or should) confront the institutional challenges exposed by the recession. When it comes to moving federal money equitably, from Congress to your neighbor's pocket, nobody gets a free pass.
By Tammy Johnson Cross-posted from RaceWire This weekend the National Governors Association gathers in Washington to discuss budget cuts, stimulus funds and a litany of state policy proposals. Things have changed dramatically since President Obama’s election. Many observers embraced the moment as the start of a post-racial era. But that same morning 52 percent of voters in Florida chose to cling to the past by refusing to repeal a 1926 constitutional amendment prohibiting property ownership by Asian Americans. The convergence of societal shifts around race and the reality of institutional racism embedded in our laws is an ever-present challenge for elected officials, from the White House to the statehouse. The findings of a report by Applied Research Center and our partners in eight states bear this out. In Racing the Statehouse we found when elected officials consciously considered the racial impacts of policy proposals and budget measures, they increased the state’s ability to address racial disparities and prevent unintended consequences that harm whole communities. Countering the myth of colorblindness, the report suggests using racial equity as a standard for measuring government effectiveness redirects the focus of legislation from political intent to an explicit evaluation of the impact of laws on communities of color. To some the idea that you have to acknowledge the existence of racism to eliminate it is a jarring concept. But for decades we have fought numerous civil rights battles in order to reverse unjust laws. So why not get it right in the first place? That is what racial equity means. Meeting the need while doing no harm. The findings from Racing the Statehouse show it is possible to write effective laws with equity in mind. In Nevada, where high-interest home loans were concentrated in Black, Latino and Native American communities, they passed a law that delays the eviction of foreclosed homeowners until the completion of mediation. Washington state legislators funded a community health care program where 61 percent of recipients were from communities of color. In Denver graduation rates for Blacks and Latinos are under 50 percent. Colorado Governor Bill Ritter Jr. signed a bill that provides technical assistance to high-needs school districts. But sometimes lawmakers may, intentionally or not, reinforce institutional racism and aggravate existing racial inequities. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty bypassed legislative consent via his allotment and line item veto powers to cut funding to General Assistance Medical Care, Renters Credit programs and state aid to local municipalities, all of which disproportionately serve the state’s Native, Latino, Black and immigrant communities. In California, where communities of color comprise the majority of the population, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposes a $2.9 billion cut to health and human services, and the complete elimination of cash assistance and the state’s welfare program. If we believe the rhetoric of politicians who say everyone has to tighten their belt in these tough times, this should mean not leaving multi-billion dollar corporations out of the equation. In California this would require elected officials to have the fortitude to mandate companies like Wal-Mart to pay their fare share of property taxes. This is not a novel idea. Last month Oregon voters agreed to increase corporate taxes on those making $125,000 or more. Through a proposed Fair Share Tax reform, New York state could add $6 billion in revenue for healthcare, education and the desperately needed safety net. Racial equity is finally about creating a society where we are not pitted against one another because we all get our needs met. It is a concept that every state governor should remember as they balance budgets and levy taxes. Tammy Johnson is Director of Strategic Partnerships at Applied Research Center based in Oakland. Johnson has authored and edited several reports on race and equity, including the just released Racing the Statehouse: Advancing Equitable Policies and five editions of the California Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity. These reports are available at
Re-printed from RaceWire Applied Research Center publishes its fifth edition of the “California Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity” today, as people of color look to legislative solutions to pull their communities out of the recession. Unfortunately, California lawmakers are failing the grade. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger scored an “F” in racial equity, while the State Assembly scored a “D” and the State Senate scored an “F.” Though communities of color represent nearly 60 percent of the population, the state of California’s leadership has not addressed this majority population’s needs. California state lawmakers slashed budgets across social, educational and health services last year, exacerbating long-standing racial disparities. “From school funding to strengthening the safety net for those most in need, the Governor and the legislature have repeatedly failed to effectively root out racial disparities,” says Tammy Johnson of ARC. “The legislature is even debating the elimination of CalWORKS at a time when unemployment in communities of color remains in double digits.” The majority of progressive racial equity bills were authored in the Assembly, with Speaker Karen Bass and members Kevin de Leon, Hector De La Torre, Tom Ammiano and Jose Solorio among the leaders. The Senate scored worse overall though President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg received a “B.” Schwarzenegger scored well on criminal justice bills supporting juveniles. But the governor’s overall score dropped 24 percent since 2007. Report contributors included Tammy Johnson, Goro Mitchell of Community Development Institute and Elizabeth Sholes of California Council of Churches. “It is hard to grasp that in a state with majority people of color the legislature and the governor were so unresponsive to our needs--this racial justice report card is key to promoting accountability,” says Goro Mitchell. Nancy Berlin of California Partnership and Sumayyah Waheed and Evelyn M. Rangel-Medina of Ella Baker Center for Human Rights collaborated with ARC on releasing the fifth “California Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity.” Read the report at