An outstanding, invaluable, and very timely piece by Barbara Ehrenreich and Dedrick Muhammad that absolutely nails the contemporary impact of the inexorable symbiotic links between race, class, unemployment, and political economy enmeshed in a systemic recessionary/depression spiral and its devastating effects on American workers of every nationality. Here's the very grim and irrefutable truth of what the deadly structural and institutional nexus of racism, capitalism, and class exploitation has wrought.and what it ominously portends for both the immediate and long range future of this country...
The Destruction of the Black Middle Class
By Barbara Ehrenreich and Dedrick Muhammed
August 4, 2009
To judge from most of the commentary on the Gates-Crowley affair, you would think that a "black elite" has gotten dangerously out of hand. First Gates (Cambridge, Yale, Harvard) showed insufficient deference to Crowley, then Obama (Occidental, Harvard) piled on to accuse the police of having acted "stupidly." Was this "the end of white America" which the Atlantic had warned of in its January/February cover story? Or had the injuries of class -- working class in Crowley's case -- finally trumped the grievances of race?
Left out of the ensuing tangle of commentary on race and class has been the increasing impoverishment -- or, we should say, re-impoverishment -- of African Americans as a group. In fact, the most salient and lasting effect of the current recession may turn out to be the decimation of the black middle class. According to a study by Demos and the Institute for Assets and Social Policy, 33 percent of the black middle class was already in danger of falling out of the middle class at the start of the recession. Gates and Obama, along with Oprah and Cosby, will no doubt remain in place, but millions of the black equivalents of Officer Crowley -- from factory workers to bank tellers and white collar managers -- are sliding down toward destitution.
For African Americans -- and to a large extent, Latinos -- the recession is over. It occurred between 2000 and 2007, as black employment decreased by 2.4 percent and incomes declined by 2.9 percent. During the seven-year long black recession, one third of black children lived in poverty and black unemployment -- even among college graduates -- consistently ran at about twice the level of white unemployment. That was the black recession. What's happening now is a depression.
Black unemployment is now at 14.7 percent, compared to 8.7 for whites. In New York City, black unemployment has been rising four times as fast as that of whites. Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, estimates that 40 percent of African Americans will have experienced unemployment or underemployment by 2010, and this will increase child poverty from one-third of African American children to slightly over half. No one can entirely explain the extraordinary rate of job loss among African Americans, though factors may include the relative concentration of blacks in the hard-hit retail and manufacturing sectors, as well as the lesser seniority of blacks in better-paying, white collar, positions.
But one thing is certain: The longstanding racial "wealth gap" makes African Americans particularly vulnerable to poverty when job loss strikes. In 1998, the net worth of white households on average was $100,700 higher than that of African Americans. By 2007, this gap had increased to $142,600. The Survey of Consumer Finances, which is supported by the Federal Reserve Board, collects this data every three years -- and every time it has been collected, the racial wealth gap has widened. To put it another way: in 2004, for every dollar of wealth held by the typical white family, the African American family had only one 12 cents. In 2007, it had exactly a dime. So when an African American breadwinner loses a job, there are usually no savings to fall back on, no well-heeled parents to hit up, no retirement accounts to raid.
All this comes on top of the highly racially skewed subprime mortgage calamity. After decades of being denied mortgages on racial grounds, African Americans made a tempting market for bubble-crazed lenders like Countrywide, with the result that high income blacks were almost twice as likely as low income white to receive high interest subprime loans. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, Latinos will end up losing between $75 billion and $98 billion in home-value wealth from subprime loans, while blacks will lose between $71 billion and $92 billion. United for a Fair Economy has called this family net-worth catastrophe the "greatest loss of wealth for people of color in modern U.S. history."
Yet in the depths of this African American depression, some commentators, black as well as white, are still obsessing about the supposed cultural deficiencies of the black community. In a December op-ed in the Washington Post, Kay Hymowitz blamed black economic woes on the fact that 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers, not noticing that the white two-parent family has actually declined at a faster rate than the black two-parent family. The share of black children living in a single parent home increased by 155 percent between 1960 to 2006, while the share of white children living in single parent homes increased by a staggering 229 percent.
Just last month on NPR, commentator Juan Williams dismissed the NAACP by saying that more up-to-date and relevant groups focus on "people who have taken advantage of integration and opportunities for education, employment, versus those who seem caught in generational cycles of poverty," which he went on to characterize by drug use and crime. The fact that there is an ongoing recession disproportionately affecting the African American middle class -- and brought on by Wall Street greed rather than "ghetto" values -- seems to have eluded him.
We don't need any more moralizing or glib analyses of class and race that could have just as well been made in the 70s. The recession is changing everything. It's redrawing the class contours of America in ways that will leave us more polarized than ever, and, yes, profoundly hurting the erstwhile white middle and working classes. But the depression being experienced by people of color threatens to do something on an entirely different scale, and that is to eliminate the black middle class.
Barbara Ehrenreich is the president of United Professionals and author, most recently, of This Land Is Their Land: Reports From a Divided Nation.
Dedrick Muhammad is a Senior Organizer and Research Associate of the Institute for Policy Studies.
Obama's Ethnic Coalition Can Become A Permanent One
By Rayfield A. Waller
News analysts are proclaiming the puzzling irrationality of the Republican party, given the blatant nature of their primitive racism toward Sonia Sotomayor during the recent senate confirmation hearings. Sotomayor, whom Republican senators relentlessly patronized, insulted, slandered, and abused during the hearings, going so far as to ignore her sterling record as a judge and her history of law journal publications and scholarly work, is objectively, the most qualified Supreme Court Associate Justice nominee in decades. Both the ABA and most academic legal experts have pretty much argued that she is more qualified to sit on the Supreme Court than John Roberts was when he breezed through senate confirmation questioning to be seated as Chief Justice!
The question is, why do Republicans seem unconcerned about their racism and their overt sexism toward Sotomayor, an attitude on their part which is leading to alienation of Latinos, the fastest growing constituency in America? Why are they so insensitive to a powerful constituency which will only grow stronger in the future??
The answer is simple, though so far woefully overlooked not just in the universally conservative, Rupert Murdock owned American mainstream media, but even overlooked by people of color in our own conversations and analyses: The GOPs are 'unconcerned about a 'Hispanic' backlash because they know that they, the Republicans, are done now as a legitimate political party anyway.
They are now a severely marginalized, left-over from the old world, regional party, made up of a very unstable and very loose affiliation of southerners, bigots, angry white males, conservative Armstrong Williams type middle class 'honk' talking Republican Black men, anti-abortionist social conservatives, gun activists, and Evil-United Nations-one-world-government conspiracy nuts.
The Republican party was long ago hijacked away from the old school, mostly rational Goldwater fiscal conservatives. Odious through their arch conservative F.A. Hayek-to-Milton Friedman philosophies were, the Goldwater and even the later Reagan vanguard of the Republicans were at least REALITY BASED THINKERS.
But--and it's a big but--the party has been in the hands of the hijackers--Christian right and the social reactionaries--who have degenerated from John Birch craziness to a much more irrational Ralph Reed/Pat Robertson,Sarah Palin element since the end of the Reagan era, and Palin is the end of the line of de-evolution. She represents crackpots such as 'Joe the Plumber' and "The Birthers" who are NON REALITY BASED THINKERS, and it is they who have been rising to ascendancy since at least the end of the first George H. W. Bush administration.
Rush Limbaugh cynically manipulates these ADD, and ACD sufferers, calling them 'ditto heads'. These are the people who shouted "Drill Baby Drill!' at the last Republican National Convention Nazi Rally.
he former rational hawks and the brain trust of the party, like David Brooks (Lehrer Report), Kevin Phillips (NPR), Peggy Noonan (NYT), Ed Rollins (former Reagan adviser), etc., are alienated now, and appalled at their party which had the audacity to accept "Joe The Plumber" being called a 'Republican adviser' by the McCain camp during the presidential campaign.
So, the Republicans are now a splinter party, which must act on solitary issue-driven focus polling to hold the splinters together. The national party leadership knows that the only way now to maintain even a fraction of their former electoral clout is to sail farther and farther hard right, farther and farther away from the traditional base of their party and farther and farther toward the non reality based splinters, to maintain that coalition--the only one available to them now.
It's the only coalition they can draw on now because President Obama has pulled together a strong ethnic coalition of Blacks, Latinos, Arab-Americans, and Asian-Americans, while solidifying a new world coalition of the former Republican centrists, the conservative moderates (whose Senate champion, Arlen Specter, switched to the Democratic party!), and progressives (former fiscally conservative moderate Republicans who have deserted the Republican party for good reason: the deficit skyrocketed under Bush, and Bush violated every single principle of fiscal conservatism. He was not perceived as a Republican by the fiscal Republicans--he was perceived as an anarchist.)
If that were not enough, the Republican fiscal base had nowhere to go but into Obama's arms due to Sarah Palin's and John McCain's campaign of outsider posturing without a trace of Republican substance. They were thus attracted to Obama's successful projection of a rational image--implying that he is the politician to run to now if one believes that the earth is not flat, that the Anti Christ is not behind the UN, and that the government is not being secretly run by reptilian alien invaders--don't laugh; those are three prominent beliefs of a larger and larger ratio of Republican rank-and-file.
Though Palin made a big public event of her trip to New York to visit with, among others, the Old Bear of Republican foreign policy, Henry Kissinger, in the end Kissinger very pubically embraced Obama's candidacy, not McCain's. An astounding development and one heralding a fatal fracture in Republican loyalty.
Back to ethnic political coalition building, which Obama excels in while Republicans are a horror on the hoof, according to polls, some Asian-Americans were on the fence about Obama's presidency, but now that Clinton and Gore have pulled off the high profile rescue of two Asian-American women from Chi-Com North Korea, good will toward President Obama among Asian-Americans is certain to get a boost, a first generation Korean-American I knew in grad school at Cornell is assuring me (Korea, she says, is one of the few issues that unite nearly every Asian national and ethnic group in America--they are all against Chi-Com style dictatorships such as North Korea President Kim Jong-Il has constructed, complete with rice-with-rocks that he feeds his people while he enjoys cognac and lobster and his cronies have swimming pools and tennis courts. This sort of late Maoist Cultural Revolution authoritarian style injustice is exactly why Asian Americans came to America in the first place, fleeing Tiananmen Square, Pol Pot, the Vietcong, and Burmese General Than Shwe, who imprisoned woman activist Aung San Suu Kyi! Freeing two Asian-American women from the type of situation that Asian Americans have bad memories about is a coup for the Democratic party, which has, after all, shown the first real concern for Asian American citizens of the US in eight years--the eight years of the Republican control of government).
In fact, if I were an adviser to the Democratic party I would do a very IN DEPTH analysis of the Asian American community and how they feel about Obama, about America, and how their present feeling relate to the sense of betrayal they felt because of Bush's and the Republicans' harassing and dehumanizing of Dr. Wen Ho Lee, falsely accusing him of treason, depriving him of due process using the Patriot Act as a vehicle to deny him civil rights, keeping him in isolation from his family while holding him in lock up, and then dropping 58 of the 59 charges against him! Then finally admitting that even the 59th charge was not legitimate! This overt attack on the dignity and humanity of an Asian American of great honor and accomplishment has not been forgotten by the Asian community, and now the rescue of Laura Ling and Euna Lee will certainly do to strengthen Obama's ethnic coalition.
So how can this coalition become a permanent one?
If URBAN Blacks and Latinos, the two largest and strongest ethnic communities in America, have the good sense now to stick TOGETHER without acting like crabs in a barrel, the rise of ethnic power (not just status, but political and economic power) has a chance of being kept in the forefront of the affairs of the current administration, and we might be able to add several more Latino(a)s, Blacks, Muslims, Arabs, and Asians to federal judgeships, ambassadorships, economic posts like the Federal Reserve system and the oversight posts of the Securities and Exchange Commission at the community levels--where true public policy power resides, to head public agencies such as FEMA, FDA, FCC, and FDIC, and add some more as cabinet members in the next administration! POWER!
I would say this, then, about the recent, 'hot' news of Mel Martinez' resignation: though there is all sorts of negative speculation about why he has resigned his senate seat, it remains true that he broke with his Republican colleagues in the senate to welcome the Sotomayor nomination and to vote for her. He, like a few other conservative senators, is symptomatic of the drift away from the dogma of the Republican senate power bloc to vote their constituents' interests rather than the party dogma. The other Republican senators who broke the embargo against Sotomayor are:
• Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.)
• Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.)
• Sen. Christopher Bond (Mo.)
• Sen. Susan Collins (Maine)
• Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine)
• Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.)
• Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.)
• Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio)
Meanwhile, Governor Charlie Crist, who alienated himself from the Republican party when he refused to shut down the polls in Florida in the final hours of the election, thus assuring that Obama would win the state, is going to run for Martinez's seat. This represents the progressive edge, dwindling now, of the Republican party--this is good news for Obama.
I would imagine that Puerto Ricans, particularly female Puerto Rican Americans, would make a natural progressive bloc within the Latin(a)o community to lead the way in eliminating fracture between Latino nationalities and between Blacks and Latinos, because Puerto Ricans have the deepest cultural and historical ties to radical politics and to African American culture and interests. This is a good time to work for these things because in the wake of the ongoing dis empowerment of the old west coast, Caesar Chavez migrant coalitions of the 60's, Puerto Ricans are a natural progressive constituency in America politically and historically, with the deepest ties to urban African American political leadership (able to inspire and influence more conservative Mexicanos, and Cubanos, along with the more radical Chicano constituency).
Also key, will be Blacks and Latinos alike learning to stop being jealous and suspicious of Latino and Black leadership, and learning to see Latino and Blackv ictories as victory for ALL people of color in America, and for BOTH groups to now concentrate on defending women's issues (abortion rights, equal pay, aggregate representation on corporate boards, electoral representation consistent with women being 65 percent of the ethnic population), and defending gay and lesbian issues (9-15 percent of Blacks and Latinos ARE gay and lesbian) so that ALL our civil rights will be safe in El Barrio and in the ghetto: nobody is free in America unless women, gays, and lesbians have civil rights too, no matter HOW much backwards, reactionary Black baptist ministers say otherwise.
Blacks need to recognize what is crucial is the reality that not just any Latina, but a Puerto Rican woman who has a history of supporting affirmative action, was nominated, and has been confirmed to the Supreme Court. Not even just any Puerto Rican, in fact, but a distinctively sophisticated legal thinker who can argue the subtitles of title seven and deep appellate tradition in defending her tendency toward humanist decisions in favor of oppressed nationalities (such as in the high profile decision she reached in the New Haven firefighter's case, much maligned by the senate Republicans who grilled her, in which she decided in favor of the very spirit, as well as the letter of the law regarding affirmative action, not as a quota system but as a leveling force that makes state and local governments STOP a long tradition of favoring heterosexual, Christian White males over everybody else). Her detailed responses to Senator Jeff Sessions, who grilled her about the New Haven case made it clear that in her career so far, her role as a judge was one in which she did not act in a peremptory or a maverick manner in upholding affirmative action, but was simply following the precedent that was created by president Johnson and affirmed over and over again in thirty years of US court cases, many of which, under several presidents and several Supreme Court makeups, essentially created an entire generation of Blacks, Latinos, and women who suddenly got access to corporate, political, and social power commensurate with their true ratio of the population!
This intellectual and humanist performance in the hearings was impressive on her part, and sophisticated, yet Sessions continuously cut her off, obscured what she was saying, and changed the subject to the bogus issue of 'reverse discrimination' (a dodge that is used by Whites to obscure he complexity of the actual history and actual juridical nature of affirmative action in favor of shallow arguments over INDIVIDUAL cases of individual Whites being confronted with 'prejudice' in job acquisition and promotion).
The tactic is to ignore the history and the reality of racism and of how racism created a minority run society. Christian Whites are, of course, the minority, just as they were in Apartheid South Africa. The tactic switches the conversation away from the issue of distributive and transformational justice, which affirmative action fosters, toward a disruptive and negative argument over 'principle' (no single INDIVIDUAL should ever be discriminated against (never mind two hundred years of whites being discriminated for), and the way to 'end racism' (which was never a goal of affirmative action in the first place) is to create a 'color blind' society, and a gender 'blind' process that ignores race and gender altogether to achieve true equality. Affirmative action advocates must, as Sotomayor's decisions have, REJECT this idealist dodge, and argue courageously and unashamedly for the actual principles of affirmative action, which is distributive and transformational CHANGE in RATIOS of power to make them align more democratically with population identities. To call for 'color blind' and 'gender blind' hiring, promotion, seniority, and power allocation is essentially calling for a crooked card game to now be played straight, but only after one man has acquired all the chips and all the cards through the game having been crooked in the first place!
Sotomayor showed a grasp of all these complexities, and, unlike Judge Uncle Thomas, has throughout her career been willing to remain true to the system that made HER possible and that functions to maintain the promise of democracy itself (we cannot maintain a democracy in a minority owned, minority controlled social/political/economic system in which women, Muslims, Arabs, Gays, Lesbians, Blacks, and Latinos are slaves due to our exclusion from power).
I am sad to say that I do not see that a large enough number of African American media voices or community leaders reached the threshold of understanding of just how important Sotomayor's nomination was for and to African Americans. Black people should re-watch the confirmation hearings and study her responses closely. We need to know who our friends and our enemies are, and right now, a coalition with 'others' such as progressive Arab-Americans, and progressive Latino(a)s is the most rational means of achieving a progressive power bloc to pressure elected officials to seek parity, transformational change, promotion of the interests of people of color, and access to the incredible wealth and entitlement that America produces.
Tall orders for us all, Blacks, Latinos, Asians Arab and Muslim Americans, Gays, and Lesbians, but if we wake up and work together we can do this.
As for the Republicans, they will no longer be courting Blacks and Latinos because they are now officially a crackpot party with Rush Limbaugh firmly in leadership position.
Their humiliating disintegration, loss of electoral power, and the crumbling of their power base has only just begun. They own the media, but propaganda can only go so far to cover up what is clear for all to see:
The wicked witch is melting.
Rayfield A. Waller is a political journalist, cultural critic, poet, labor activist and adjunct Professor of Africana Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. Michigan