Civil Rights Leaders of the 21st Century

During the past two weeks, members of the African American community observed the passing of Steve Biko[1] (died 10/12/77),

and the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham Four[2] (10/15/63).                                                   Image

The Pan African, Black Diaspora, or African American communities don’t need another pantheon of demi-gods, a new religious order, or a hierarchy of saints. What is needed however is a shared cultural understanding, a social construct or vehicle which conveys the values of our ancestors in a manner which is convenient, flexible, effective, and neither farcical, comical, nor inclusive.

 

When and where does the Black community celebrate the lives of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Fred Hampton, Steve Biko, Frederick Douglass, et al, in a manner that is collectively, and uniquely appreciative?

 

How can our communities gravitate to celebrating the lives of those who sacrificed, and made tremendous commitments to the cause of freedom, and equality for black peoples when we are simultaneously engaged in supporting and propagating cultural norms which are part and parcel of the social infrastructure and status quo that keep us mired in the classification of “second class citizenship”?

 

Why should there be a centralized association to determine that MLK Jr. falls short of sainthood, or that Ghandi qualifies. Why should this arrangement preclude a family honoring the life of individuals who have set examples and who have lived lives which exemplify the best values which we can emulate as a society; a society in which the character and mettle of a man is not judged by the color of his skin, he is not hated because of the color of his skin, nor is he despised simply because of his social status.

 

Why can’t Black families in the Caribbean celebrate the lives of Dr. Eric Williams, Kwame Ture, and Bob Marley, in conjunction with those of MLK Jr., and Nelson Mandela? Have we become so conditioned to the social biscuits of acceptance that norms without established dogma are viewed as wrong, and unnecessary? At the end of the day we are responsible for the value systems we develop within our families, and the ‘truth’ in action that reinforces those systems.

 

The Civil Rights Leaders of the 21st century are the Parents who still understand the meaning of Segregation/Apartheid, and have bridged the gap to the euphemisms of  Diversity, and Minority representation. The time has come for the centralization of the ideals of the movement to be decentralized, and fully represented within the family structure.  Before we can grasp the benefits of the dream, it seems necessary that we like MLK Jr., are required to be vigilant, and engaged in a similar effort to ‘share’ the dream.

Capitalism, Democracy and Dichotomies.

The general rule of thumb in polite conversation (even in an election year?), is “never bring up race, politics, and religion”.  There is good reason for this since these issues hint at the utility of our past, present, and future circumstance, while apparently offering some measure of keen insight to our understanding of the same. It seems that the layman however remains in an abyss of bewilderment, while in the aggregate political scientists continue unabated to classify hegemonies and flavors of social governance.

In short Capitalism represents the interests of the market economy (think Wall Street, Goldman Sachs).  “There is general agreement that elements of capitalism include private ownership of the means of production, creation of goods or services for profit or income, the accumulation of capital, competitive markets, voluntary exchange and wage labor.”[1]

 Many people use the term “democracy” as shorthand for liberal democracy, which may include elements such as political pluralism; equality before the law; the right to petition elected officials for redress of grievances; due process; civil liberties; human rights; and elements of civil society outside the government.[2]

Several interesting dichotomies were outlined by Francis Fukuyama.[3]

“Middle class people do not necessarily support democracy in principle: like everyone else, they are self-interested actors who want to protect their property and position. In countries such as China and Thailand, many middle-class people feel threatened by the redistributive demands of the poor and lined up in support of authoritarian governments that protect their class interests”.

In the US although “the Tea Party is anti-elitist in its rhetoric, it’s members vote for conservative politicians who serve the interests of precisely those financiers and corporate elites they claim to despise… (reasons being) a deeply embedded belief in equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome, and the fact that cultural issues, such as abortion and gun rights, crosscut economic ones.”

From a cautionary perspective, “over the last two generations, the mainstream left has followed a social democratic program that centers on the state provision of … pensions, health care, and education… welfare states have become big, bureaucratic, and inflexible… and most important, they are fiscally unsustainable given the aging of populations”.

The real issue lies in the inflexibility inherent in these systems of social governance. A simple example would be to consider the early development of an area rich in natural resources. A capitalist model may offer early gains all around, but with subsequent wealth distribution, and an increase in living standards/education the onus may shift towards increased regulatory control, class segmentation, external market and internal social protections (welfare, progressive tax system). While the ideal model is inflexible the external environment is not. Competition, dwindling resources, and substitutes will place a strain on profits as other areas play catch-up.

“Left to itself, capitalism produced long term aggregate benefits along with great volatility and inequality…”, but what exists today is a hybrid system of capitalism “tempered and limited by the power of the democratic state and often made subservient to the goals of social stability and solidarity, rather than the other way around”.[4]

Yet it is clear that the American system today is no social panacea, since with increased globalization and developments in China (state capitalism), India, and Brazil, the deficiencies of the system are becoming more apparent. These developing nations are reaping the benefits of a global market, being uniquely positioned to take advantage of the increased flow of natural resources, labor, technology, and capital. The American system of the 21st century  is characterized by the numbing balancing act of their leadership.

“Many people currently admire the Chinese system not just for its economic record but also because it can make large, complex decisions quickly, compared with the agonizing policy paralysis that has struck both the US and Europe…”[5]

While Democrats and Republicans fight (think stagnate), over who gets the bone the irony is that by the time the smoke clears the “bone” will be resting comfortably in an upscale Shenzhen suburb, or rocking in downtown Sao Paulo.


[3] The Future of History, Francis Fukuyama ; Foreign Affairs, Jan/Feb 2012, vol 91 #1 p.53

[4] Making Modernity Work: The reconciliation of Capitalism and Democracy, Gideon Rose ; Foreign Affairs, Jan/Feb 2012, vol 91 #1  p.3

[5] The Future of History, Francis Fukuyama ; Foreign Affairs, Jan/Feb 2012, vol 91 #1 p.57

Democracy, Negro Spirituals, & Roland Martin

Gay Tagging police and Roland Martin are going to develop a made for TV mutual admiration sideshow….. violence against gays (especially kids) is a serious issue, but there is a fuzzy area where overreach comes into question…. this may be close to one of them ….. or at the very least there should be a mulligan of sorts for a stupid play, but we are at the cusp of morphing into a zero tolerance society where any reference to violence ends in (u guessed it) punishment, with the attendant innocent victims, and missed opportunities for real dialog.

When Roland Martin tweeted  “If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him.”[1] during SuperBowl XLVI, GLAAD – Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said the remark advocated violence against gays. CNN subsequently placed him under suspension.

If Giselle Bundchen (wife of Tom Brady), made a Victoria Secrets ad sans wings, and the same comment was made with reference to married men, the tweet would not even have been a footnote ….. anywhere in cyberspace.

The question begs to be asked…. who exactly died and made GLAAD the new keepers of the Kark Rove playbook for connecting the gay dots. Even if one stretched the comment to include gays it seems that there is sufficient reasonable doubt that they were not the only possible target segment. David Beckham has enough of a rabid soccer following, and female audience (think jealous male), to warrant the remark, and if that were not enough it also brings to question whether or not another ‘straight’ guy can admire a male physique without being labeled “gay”…. which would put GLAAD in the unenviable spot of ‘gay tagging’ most guys who buy “Muscle and Fitness”, and “Men’s Health” magazines…. as Wendy Williams would say, “How U doing”.

That was actually the less SERIOUS part (did anyone catch that if I used “funny” instead of “less serious”, then GLAAD could come after me as well)…. It gets a lot tougher from here on in, but there are two decent points.

Martin Luther King Jr. (E1)

First, the Negro Spirituals were a fascinating part of the culture of passive resistance adopted during slavery. The admirable takeaway is that even under the worse of times the African American spirit has endured and found ways to thrive, prosper, and survive. This is no small feat, and though some point to the welfare system as being a bedrock for African American advancement, the fact is that the African American came out of slavery with nothing more positive than the scars on his/her back. Welfare, as much as a progressive tax system, acting at both ends of the economic continuum, stabilizes the economy through good and bad periods. (Society benefits, and of the 40 million Americans in poverty, approximately 10 million are African American and 20 million are White.)[2] These processes are crucial programs in linking, and tempering the needs of a capitalist system with a liberal democratic system. This is the umbrella under which American society provides recourse for the minorities, but a working democracy of this scale is as undefined, unmanaged, and untested as any other ideology in history. It is imperative that minorities continue to be unbiased supporters, and advocates for the clear, and unequivocal development of individual rights.

Through the (say) two hundred years of American slavery (1865), and the 100 more years to the civil rights movement of the 1960s it seems odd that any African American has not learned the lesson that he has not earned the right to offend ANYONE, (although some groups have earned the right to fire everyone, or be recognized as sovereign entities[3]). After arguably being subjected to the worst example of human degradation, evil, and humiliation, devised by a society of any life form known to man, the empathy for marginalized groups, and minorities should be embedded in the DNA of the black diaspora everywhere. If anything, in an ideal world we should all aspire to be drum majors “for justice, peace and righteousness,”.[4]

VNRP, NPJN, and Per Plurima Plura

Of  all the varied Cultural  Grails of  American Capitalism, none is more poignant, and consistently heartbreaking, than watching the elusive quest of “e pluribus, unum” morph into “per plurima, plura”.

Many African tribes have used initiation through “secret” societies as a cultural tool in developing a Value, Norm, Ritual, and Punishment system. This system however runs into differences due to scale, environment, wealth, and religious differences. In a nutshell therefore, after some analysis, one can only surmise that “e pluribus, unum” can only really succeed on a psychological level where the following (somewhat adjusted), popular quote holds,

“We hold this truth to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”…

Beyond this simple phrase one may easily disenfranchise atheists, homosexuals, and /or agnostics.  We may be reaching for too much, and it never worked in the fable titled “the dog and the bone”. In this story a dog with a bone in his mouth, caught a glimpse of his reflection in the water. In an attempt to get what he perceived to be the bigger bone he lost the very bone he possessed!!

But I digress…. I came across the amazing procession of the Filipino religious procession of the Black Nazarene ….. an extreme example of a culture dialed in to a VNRP system.

E1 The Black Nazarene

The Black Nazarene, known to devotees in Spanish as Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno (abbreviated as NPJN, Filipino: Mahal na Itim na Nazareno, English: Our Father Jesus Nazarene) is a life-sized, dark-coloured, wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ carrying the cross, believed to be miraculous by many Filipino Catholics. Originally fair or light-complexioned, it turned dark after it was exposed to fire on its arrival from Mexico. The image is currently in the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila, Philippines, where it is venerated with the weekly Friday Novena Masses and several annual processions. The most famous of these is on January 9, celebrating its transfer (Traslación) and enshrinement in the Basilica, and is attended by several million devotees.[1]

E2 The Black Nazarene Procession 2012

 

 

Legacy of American Slavery, and Deleveraging

The second sentence of the Declaration of Independence provides the backbone for the social fabric that is the enduring American dream.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”[1]

I would argue that the Legacy of American Slavery provides its working conscience, (a twist would be that in “the age of reason”, technically Americans enslaved Americans).

The enablers of slavery leveraged all manner of physical, religious, legal, monetary, and scientific means to justify, differentiate, promote, and build a slave machine that prospered on the blood, terror, and human fear of Africans, and African Americans.

The institution of slavery has cast a long shadow, and the dream of Americans is to be a part of the larger dream,

Martin Luther King Jr. (E1)

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”[2]

To voice such a hope in the Mecca of capitalism is akin to finding a planet called earth in the vastness of the universe. …. but that’s the whole point.  It is that seed of hope, on an unambiguous path that sustains us better than bread, and carries us through the machinations and gerrymandering of profit-mongers.

In the 2007-2008 recession, brought about by the leveraging of “easy credit” throughout the financial markets (the housing industry in particular), one can more easily understand what a deleveraging process looks like. The legal, monetary, and restrictive results have been felt worldwide. This is the easy fix.

Minority Education… doesn’t start with Government !!

“Nurturing the will to succeed,” and “neutering the passion for success” may sound similar but are diametrically opposite phrases. There is no doubt however that parents are the proximate dispensers of the guiding philosophies which propel their offspring to thrive in adverse environments.  Parents are the “first-responders”  to the call for a better educated minority, and it’s a message that can’t be emphasized enough.

African American Education Breakout by Gender

Young children know they are different from an early age. They develop survival techniques, and are “quiet” at the right times, not challenging adult thinking, and can easily adopt a “being led syndrome” versus developing patterns of critical logic and analysis. This is what a well-timed slap can do; shut the door to a burgeoning spring of intellectual curiosity, and defer the development of positive communication techniques. Loud shouting, (not subtly masking the impatience of a silverback), while instilling a conveniently quick conditioned response, simply reinforces the need for children to adequately spend relatively enormous amounts of time, and resources in dealing with an environment better suited to the Pre-Emancipation eras.

 

Smoking, drinking, and using drugs are diversions, not responsibilities.  Setting an example of tolerance, discipline, and commitment on the part of both parents may go a long way in instilling similar values in one’s offspring. Seeing the benefits in other adult couples and making the associative “value-goal attainment” link serves to support the quiet environment necessary for the child to assimilate, develop, hope, dream, and be inspired. These are critical components in developing a framework where intellectual curiosity, and creativity building feedback are both encouraged, and rewarded.

Median Household Income by Race : (WSJ 9/14/2011)

 

Difficulties during infancy.[1] Depression and withdrawal symptoms were common among children as young as 3 who experienced emotional, physical, or environmental neglect. (Dubowitz, Papas, Black, & Starr, 2002).

Cognitive difficulties. NSCAW found that children placed in out-of-home care due to abuse or neglect tended to score lower than the general population on measures of cognitive capacity, language development, and academic achievement (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003). A 1999 LONGSCAN study also found a relationship between substantiated child maltreatment and poor academic performance and classroom functioning for school-age children (Zolotor, Kotch, Dufort, Winsor, & Catellier, 1999).

A Dream Denied

Dear MLK Jr.,

This may come as a surprise, but almost one hundred and fifty years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Negro still is not free. One hundred and fifty years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred and fifty years later, African Americans wander lost on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of intangible futures, and commodity derivatives. One hundred and fifty years later, the Negro still languishes in the corners of American society and finds himself a second class exile in his own land. [1]
On 10/16/2011 there will be a formal commemoration of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington DC , with a keynote address by President Barack  Obama…. (ok so the Dream isn’t totally lost!)

The Quote : “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal,’”[2] seems less than accurate considering the Annual Unemployment Rates between whites and blacks from 2001 to 2010.

“]What is particularly ironic, actually bordering on the ridiculous, is the hue and cry raised throughout the majority when faced with the same level of unemployment that Blacks have faced from the start of the 21st century.

A year into the recession, the Black unemployment rate increased by almost 4 percentage points while the rate for Whites increased by just over 2 percentage points.

In 2009 the Annual Unemployment rate for Blacks was 14.5% versus 8.5% for Whites, a difference of 7 percentage points.

In 2010 the Annual Unemployment rate for Blacks was 16.0% versus 8.7% for Whites, a difference of 7.3 percentage points.

In September 2011 the Black Unemployment Rate was 15.9% while the White rate was 7.6%, a difference of 8.3 percentage points.

What is clear is that in the bad times the Black unemployment rate increases faster than the White rate, and as the economy improves the Black unemployment rate decreases slower than the White rate. What may not be as clear is the lower standard of living, the lower standard of education, and health care represented by  each percentage point on the Unemployment charts.

[1] adapted from the “I have a Dream Speech” http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

[2] http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0874987.html

[E1] http://www.bls.gov/webapps/legacy/cpsatab2.htm

Steve, Michael, Ethiopia, and Baseball

Every now and then I go through a day of the terrible threes. Three instances when I get my socks knocked off cause life throws a vicious fastball ,  a wicked curveball, and a silly changeup. Three strikes …. uuuurrrrRRRRRRR OOOUUUT!!!!

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in the 70s (E1)

I think I’ll always remember the minute I learned Steve Jobs (1955-2011) died. I was pretty much surfing Yahoo on an Apple MacBookPro when the small “alert” came over. My facebook update read, Steve Jobs.. RIP. A pretty innocuous tribute to the man who put the swag in tech. He was a larger than life visionary, piping at the periphery of my existence, making the world a better place with his mantra of beauty, ease of use, quality performance, and entrepreneurialism. His contribution to the cause of bringing great technology to everyone, has brought changes to the world, that I could never have guessed at when I saw my first picture of Steve and Wozniak with an Apple circuitboard, way back in the 1980s.

Prior to that, I had dinner with several aquaintances and although there were a ton of great takeaways, I admit that I faltered pretty badly (I know right, I’m building up the suspense for the train wreck that’s coming).  In the bible Peter disowned Jesus three times after he was arrested.  I’m a huge Michael Jackson fan and during the “where’s dessert?” phase the conversation shifted to music. To my benefit someone started with the hands down assertion that Michael overshadowed Prince’s entire career.  That pretty much covered it from my corner. The problem was that the conversation shifted to Prince’s musical genius and Michael’s obsession with his appearance. At the end of it all, as I sat quietly by (with that sick look on my face), the consensus was that Michael wanted to look like Diana Ross. Thankfully I was able to temporarily drown my double sorrow in the “Apple crisp and ginger ice-cream” combo that arrived with perfect timing.

Milling dry-process - (E2)

Which brings me to strike one. This is the drizzle that turned into the rainstorm on 090511. We’re just polishing off the appetizers and someone asks the group “where did coffee originate”…. No preamble, just like that…. they dropped the coffee bomb. As the suggestions came in I started feeling uneasy…. Like this was not going to end well… take out China, Europe, India, the Caribbean, and the US, so we’re left with South America, and Africa. To my chagrin, (I was thinking Sierra Leone, coffee and cocoa), I was totally deer-footed  and supported the Mayan suggestion. The best answer of course is Ethiopia…. which I googled after the fact. I read a quote earlier that day that “We are not Africans because we are born in Africa, we are Africans because Africa is born in us,” (Chester Higgins, Jnr.).[1] There I sat with the dreadlocks going on and my African consciousness swimming in a mix of American and English History, and I was off by a couple continents.

No sugarcoating the day’s events… won’t even try… the good thing however is that life goes on. Like financial futures, yesterday’s failures are “marked to market” and today the gains and losses start from scratch…. stay in the game, and learn from the mistakes.

The Sorry State of Black Racism

With the looming backdrop of the 2012 Presidential elections, framed by national unemployment figures of 9.2%, (40.7% for Black youth 16-19yrs, vs 24.2% national basis)[1], many eligible Black voters may be thinking of voting for Barack Obama on the basis of his skin color.  Unfortunately this is totally not the right approach to a Presidential election, and while there would be a 50% chance of being the correct decision, and circumvents the adequacy of detailed research, the fact remains that this does not qualify as the dreaded phenomena of Black Racism.

Modeling Components of Racism and Racial Bias Intensity

No minority can advocate voting on the basis of color….. the reasons are pretty clear, since the same basis should hold for the majority, and then where would we be?  The minority vote does not get one to the party, it just gets one through the door. Not one to pop the bubble of fervency and radical enthusiasm, the fact remains that without showing some prejudice, discrimination, or xenophobia in the proceedings, a vote for POTUS does not qualify as fundamental Black racism.
As disappointing as it may seem, voting from the minority perspective is very different from the majority view. A similar problem is more easily resolved in valuations of companies based on future ownership versus being a penny ante shareholder. The minority vote is tinged with colors of hopeful opportunity, relief, pride, and psychological self-projection. When the candidate is also a bona fide smart, charismatic, educated individual there is also the benchmark element, in that Dubya has set the standard for the modern Presidential nadir. The point is that where the minority candidate has strong competitive qualities, the case for racism becomes more coincidental than causative.

The larger challenge however, given that Black votes may already be lining up to be counted, lies in taking the opportunity to get below the numbers and the trends. To follow the timeline of the government expenditure and exercise the hard fought right of voting based on a balanced conviction that POTUS is doing the job of protecting the USA both on the economic and terrorist fronts, in the short as well as the long term. This challenge includes motivating, and encouraging young children to take an interest in the logic of the selection process of government, and further nurturing this interest in a manner that promotes merit over color.

 

 

 

The African American Berry…. the “Sweet Spot” for Credit Card Companies

Economist Thorstein Veblen posits that credit card companies are purely parasitical, charging numerous fees and penalties amounting to over $90 billion in revenue each year. According to a BCS Alliance study, credit card companies rake in profits of $30 billion each year. Penalty fees alone added up to some $20.5 billion in 2009, according to industry consultant R.K. Hammer.[1]

Demand destruction (DD) can be applied to the issue of credit card (revolving) debt, where the cost of credit is the “interest rate”, and the supply of credit is tightened through the use of credit scores. DD can occur during a period of high prices or constrained supply, and results in decreased demand.[2]

The above graphic shows credit card debt from a peak of $973.6 billion in Aug. 2008.

The following points are highlighted in the 2011 study, CREDIT CARD ILLS: REDUCING RACIAL DISPARITIES IN DEBT, by Andrea Freeman.[3]

  • Over eighty percent of households now possess credit cards.
  • Fifty-four percent of white households carry a revolving balance on their credit cards, compared to 85% and 79% percent of African American and Latino households, respectively.
  • Fifteen percent of African Americans and 13% of Latinos pay over twenty percent in interest, while only 7% of whites pay that much.
  • In 2009, the median net worth of Latino households was $7,932, as compared to $88,651 for white households.
  • In 2006, the Boston Federal Reserve Bank published “Credit Card Redlining,” a study by Ethan Cohen- Cole comparing the terms of credit card agreements entered into by credit card owners with identical risk profiles and payment histories living in different areas. The study revealed significant differences in credit card terms based on the racial makeup of the users‟ neighborhoods.

From the study “The Rapid Growth of Credit Card Debt in America”, by Jose A. Garcia, 2007.[4]

  • In 2004, 46 % of very low-income (under $9,999 per year) credit card indebted households spent more than 40 % of their income to pay off debt.
  • On average, African Americans and Latinos earn 62 and 69 cents, respectively, for every dollar earned by their white counterparts.
  • African-American and Latino households carry about $2,000 less debt, on average, but their balance amounts on average to more than 60 percent of their total available credit card limit compared to 47 percent for white credit card holders.
  • Seventy-five percent (in 2004) of households lacking medical coverage for all their members carried debt on a credit card compared to 55 percent of families that had medical coverage for all members of the household.

The credit card problem is an issue that families have to address. What theoretically can be used to make ends meet, has been abused to the point where families become indebted for the long term. This recession may provide an opportunity to reverse this path and adopt less appealing (short term) measures like saving, and consumption deferral.

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