I don’t think anyone mentioned this when it happened two weeks ago, so let me do so here. Obama deciding to “ban the box,” i.e., eliminate the job application question about an applicant’s criminal record for the federal government, is an important step forward for both racial and labor justice. As is common, racial justice is labor justice and labor justice is racial justice. This movement has enough momentum that at least a few Republicans, like Chris Christie, are also supporting it. Hopefully, we can eliminate this discriminatory question from job applications entirely. The question is inherently racist given the racism of the criminal injustice system and it furthers institutionalized racism and poverty for people convicted of nothing more than holding marijuana while black.
With all the intensive fear-mongering coverage of Ebola in the weeks before the 2014 midterm elections, you’d think that the World Health Organization declaring Sierra Leone Ebola-free would be big news in the United States. Why, it’s almost like coverage of Ebola in the United States was actually race-baiting to motivate the Republican base to vote against Democrats rather than actual coverage of the news!
Alabama eliminating DMVs in majority-black counties to stop black people from registering to vote is not an isolated incident. Rather, it’s part of a statewide effort to deny African-Americans any semblance of a decent life.
Kimberly Spruell has to travel 45 miles to the nearest Walmart; 80 miles to the nearest mall; 42 miles to a hospital with more than four doctors; and now 45 miles to the driver’s license office.
She used to go to the state park for picnics but now that’s been shut down.
For years, residents of Wilcox County like Spruell have believed the state’s elected officials had a certain disregard for the Black Belt. And when the state legislature passed measures Sept. 30 to combat the General Fund budget deficit, Wilcox County was directly affected.
In the cuts, Wilcox County lost Roland Cooper State Park, one of the county’s only sources of tourism. The county also lost its driver’s license bureau, which operated one day a week inside a shopping center just west of downtown.
The closest driver’s license offices are now in Selma or Linden – both a 45-minute drive.
Spruell, like 16 percent of the county (the highest in the state as of August 2015), is unemployed. The 34-year-old Marine and National Guard veteran lives completely off her monthly veteran’s benefit check. She wants to work, but there are few jobs.
She can’t move because she has nowhere to go and no money to get there. With a median household income of less than $24,000 in 2013, Wilcox County is the poorest county in Alabama and the sixth poorest county in the nation.
Because of the county’s remoteness, voting can be difficult for many people. Transportation is often a major barrier to voter turnout, Wilcox County Circuit Clerk Ralph Ervin said.
In the 2014 general election, 4,258 Wilcox County residents cast votes for the gubernatorial race – 37 percent of the county’s 2013 U.S. Census estimate of 11,307 total residents. Ervin said more people would vote if they had the means to do so.
Which is of course the point of closing the DMVs.
Laura Bliss has been writing an excellent series on the struggles of unincorporated communities in the San Joaquin Valley. The latest is on the inability of many of these communities to access potable water. Effectively, what you see in many parts of the West and South are African-American and Latino communities pop up in relative proximity to larger and more white settlements, but they are outside urban boundaries. That means no or few services because cities neither want to incorporate these communities nor try to help them. Instead, they are seen as moochers, slackers, losers, i.e., white stereotypes of people of color. At the core of this is of course the structural racism that played a large role in the original building of many of these communities and why they remain marginalized today.
In Matheny Tract, Calif., the sour odor of sewage is especially strong in the morning — and so is the irony that residents can’t connect to the system it represents.
The poor, unincorporated community of roughly 300 homes sits adjacent to the city of Tulare, population 61,000. A single, dusty field is all that separates Matheny Tract’s mostly African-American and Latino residents from Tulare’s recently expanded wastewater treatment plant. Though Tulare’s sewer system is more robust than ever, Matheny Tract residents must use septic tanks, since they are not part of the city. For a dense settlement, this spells trouble.
“People can’t always afford to pump out their tanks, so sometimes they overflow,” says Vance McKinney, a 59-year-old truck driver and community leader. “I’ve watched children jump over ponds of sewage to get to school in the morning.”
The leaching tanks are likely responsible for the fecal bacteria that’s been found in the shallow community wells from which Matheny Tract gets its water. Nitrates, probably from fertilizer runoff from surrounding farms, have also been an issue. Right now, the biggest problem is naturally occurring arsenic, exacerbated by an ever-shrinking volume of groundwater — partly a result of excessive pumping by farmers in the midst of California’s record-breaking drought.
Though residents can shower and clean with the water, it is undrinkable. For McKinney and his wife, that translates to spending an average of $160 on bottled water every month.
Much like voter ID laws have little to nothing to do with voter fraud and everything to do with stopping black people from voting, so is the anti-welfare movement about stopping black and brown people from receiving government monies, while preserving it for whites when possible. In 1996, John Kasich voted for a bill in Congress that limited food stamps for childless adults. But he also pushed for an amendment to it that would allow states flexibility to do with high unemployment areas. Today, as Ohio governor, Kasich is using that amendment to grant food stamps to whites while denying them to blacks.
In 2014, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) had the option to waive time limits on food stamps for the entire state. Due to a struggling economy and high unemployment, Ohio had qualified for and accepted this statewide waiver from the US Department of Agriculture every year since 2007, including during most of Kasich’s first term as governor. But this time, Kasich rejected the waiver for the next two years in most of the state’s 88 counties. His administration did accept them for 16 counties in 2014 and for 17 counties in 2015. Most of these were rural counties with small and predominantly white populations. Urban counties and cities, most of which had high minority populations, did not get waivers.
The decision would result in a drastic downsizing of food aid in the state, but the administration moved with surprising speed given the enormity of the impact. “It was really fast,” says Kate McGarvey, deputy director of the Legal Aid Society of Columbus. In August 2013, she says, the legal services community had heard that Ohio qualified for a statewide waiver, and was setting up meetings with the ODJFS to discuss how the state might proceed. “Within a week or two, we were told, ‘It’s going to be a partial waiver, it’s already been submitted, it’s done,'” McGarvey says. “No advocates that I know of were given a chance to give feedback on the wisdom of the partial waiver.”
The policy went into effect in October 2013. By January—the three-month mark where those without waivers began losing their food stamps if they couldn’t meet the work requirement—it had become clear that the policy had spawned a stark racial disparity in food aid. Across the 16 counties the state had selected for waivers, about 94 percent of food stamp recipients were white. Overall in Ohio in December 2013—immediately before the new policy’s effects began to surface—food stamp recipients were 65 percent white.
By March 2014, six months into the new system, the six counties with the highest rate of terminating food stamps for able-bodied, childless adults were all counties populated mostly by minorities.
This of course will be seen as a positive by Republican primary voters. Whether or not Kasich and his people intended this to discriminate is not known. But they do know it currently discriminates and have done nothing to alleviate that.
Anti-immigrant hooligans in Finland attacked a busload of immigrants last week. They did so while wearing their version of KKK outfits. The headpiece needs some work.
Of course, one would think that nationalist cultural protest garb would have something to do with Finland and not the faraway United States. But the power of American culture is incredibly strong and pervasive. Usually this is decried as about McDonald’s destroying food traditions in France or young people on remote islands without access to television wearing Michael Jordan t-shirts instead of following their parents’ ways and traditional indigenous forms of dress (I saw this precise thing on some islands off the coast of Sumatra in 1997 and it was very jarring and extremely educational). But there’s really nothing American cultural imperialism doesn’t touch, including racist jerks.
How are you all this morning? Enjoying yourselves? Well, that’s nice and all, but let’s change the mood by delving into the legacy of American racism. Here is the 1908 pamphlet by American Federation of Labor president Samuel Gompers and Herman Gutstadt, “Meat vs. Rice: American Manhood against Asiatic Coolieism, Which Will Survive.” And really, the title says most of what you need to know. And the pamphlet has most everything you need to teach about anti-Asian racism. You have the Chinese compared to cancer, pretending like Americans care about Filipinos by comparing them favorably to the Chinese horde, fears of the Chinese outcompeting whites, comparing the Chinese to African-American slaves, fears of the Chinaman and his horrible living standards, not to mention his sweet, sweet opium; sections of the pamphlet titled “Do Asiatics Have Morals?” (short answer, no!), etc. Not to mention the utterly bizarre although expected to the historian of the period equation of food and race.
And of course, the most important person in the American labor movement being involved with this (I don’t know to what extent Gompers wrote this as opposed to signed his name to it, I’d guess he wrote none but endorsed all) is just wonderful. Worth remembering yet again the the American labor movement’s first national legislative victory was the Chinese Exclusion Act. White solidarity almost always trumps class solidarity in the United States, then and now.
Starting next year, I am finally going to get to teach U.S. Labor History since the (quite great) individual teaching it forever is retiring). I am wondering to what extent to expose them to this kind of thing. Not sure.
Sometimes people wonder why the Confederate monuments matter? As if getting rid of them will end racism! No one argued that, but they matter a lot because there is a war over public memory of the Civil War that is central to race. Despite what a lot of people think, the Confederate memorials were not erected immediately after the Civil War. Largely they went up between the 1890s and 1910s and were central public statements of the triumph of white supremacy over both the ex-slaves and the southern whites who had allied with the Republican Party, which was a lot more people than you think. The civil rights historian Timothy Tyson discusses this in the context of his home state of North Carolina, where the wingnut state legislature has passed a bill that the governor signed called the Mandatory Confederate Monuments Act that would require the state legislature to approve the removal of these statues, which of course in full right-wing extremist North Carolina is not going to happen.
White North Carolinians erected the vast majority of our Confederate monuments – 82 out of 98 – after 1898, decades after the Civil War ended. More importantly, they built the monuments after the white supremacy campaigns had seized power by force and taken the vote from black North Carolinians. The monuments reflected that moment of white supremacist ascendency as much as they did the Confederate legacy.
Take the Confederate monument on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, better known as “Silent Sam.” The speaker at its dedication in 1913, industrialist Julian S. Carr, bragged that he had “horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because … she had publicly insulted … a Southern lady.” Carr’s speech heralded the “Anglo-Saxon race in the South” reunited with white supremacy as the glue.
In the 1890s, white Populists and black Republicans forged an interracial “Fusion” alliance in North Carolina that won both houses of the legislature, two U.S. Senate seats and the governorship. These homegrown Fusionists launched the most daring and democratic experiment in Southern political history.
The interracial Fusion coalition never lost at the polls in an honest election. But in the 1898 election, its enemies turned to violence, intimidation and fraud to steal the election outright. Former Confederate Alfred Waddell declared: “If you find the Negro out voting, tell him to leave the polls, and if he refuses, kill him, shoot him down in his tracks.” White mobs in the streets of Wilmington beat and killed black citizens and overthrew the city government at gunpoint. This coup was the capstone of the 1898 “white supremacy campaign.”
Two years later, the white supremacy campaign again resorted to extralegal measures and elected Gov. Charles B. Aycock. Aycock said afterward, “We have ruled by force, we have ruled by fraud, but we want to rule by law.” They passed a constitutional amendment that took the vote away from black North Carolinians. Afterward they built a one-party, whites-only apartheid regime. This was the Jim Crow social order that persisted for six decades, until the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s gave birth to a better South.
Tyson goes onto to discuss his own ancestor who avoided the Confederate draft, yet the Confederate heritage group keep festooning his grave with Confederate flags. I’m sure they just assume that someone of his generation supported the Confederacy, but this man was a unionist. That’s part of the battle. North Carolina conservatives are fighting a quiet race war that has many facets that include finding ways to stop black people from voting, creating myths around white solidarity in the past and present, and preserving monuments erected as symbols of white supremacy. Because these people still believe in that white supremacy, they don’t want them taken down today, no matter how offensive.
Such was the case when a group of academic achievers from the Lakota tribe were rewarded for their good work with a trip to a minor league hockey match in Rapid City, South Dakota. The third through eighth grade students from the American Horse School were with their middle school teacher Consuelo Means when she overheard adults in the the executive suite above them asking some of the young girls where they were from. The teacher was understandably concerned about seemingly drunk strangers talking to little girls and asked that the men leave the children alone.
The men didn’t listen, instead, they continued to talk to the children. When the team scored the men told the children they should shout later because they were “from the Rez.” The teacher immediately went to look for security to ask for help. When she returned, beer was dripping on her head. The men were dumping it on the children. She told other chaperones what was happening and they attempted to intervene. That’s when the men allegedly shouted to the group to go back to “The Rez.”
The children were silent on the drive back to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, one young girl crying.
“I didn’t think it was appropriate for [the men] to be talking to my students,” Consuelo Means, the middle school teacher explained to ThinkProgress. “We’ve been there five years and nothing like that’s ever happened.” While she completed an incident report for the stadium security, law enforcement was never contacted.
That event was back in January. One man is being charged for disorderly conduct but didn’t even bother showing up at the first day of the trial. It’s South Dakota in a nutshell. Also, in all the discussion of race in this country it’s remarkable to me how Native Americans are hardly ever talked about, almost an afterthought at best.
Civil War reenactment, Baker County, Florida
Since we all know our racist past and modern politics are totally unrelated, I’ll just note that Baker County was Mitt Romney’s second strongest showing in the state, winning it 79-20.
Just across the county line, the Georgia Peach Oyster Bar has operated as a scandalous open secret. Its website features two Confederate battle flags, the description, “The Original Klan, Klam & Oyster Bar,” and a stunningly virulent collection of racist signs. Patrons are confronted with a selection of crude cartoons and graffiti, and a menu that declares, on the appetizer page, “We cater to hangins’.”
This month is the 50th anniversary of the Moynihan Report. Stephen Steinberg:
A few weeks after Moynihan’s report was leaked to the press, the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles exploded in violence, triggered by an incident with police that rapidly escalated into five days of disorder and left thirty-four people dead. Pundits and politicians seized upon the report to cast blame for the “riot” on the deterioration of “the Negro family.” The report warned, “The family structure of lower class Negroes is highly unstable, and in many urban centers is approaching complete breakdown.”
Critics condemned the report for pathologizing female-headed households and black families in particular. The most trenchant criticism, however, was that the preoccupation with black families shifted blame away from institutionalized inequalities and heaped it on the very groups that were victims of those inequalities. As James Farmer, cofounder and national director of the Congress of Racial Equality, wrote with blunt eloquence, “We are sick unto death of being analyzed, mesmerized, bought, sold, and slobbered over while the same evils that are the ingredients of our oppression go unattended.”
Today, in the wake of Ferguson and Baltimore, family dysfunction is again cited by politicians, pundits, and scholars as the root of the problem. Rand Paul publicly twaddles about “the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of sort of a moral code in our society.” David Brooks opines in the New York Times, “The real barriers to mobility are matters of social psychology, the quality of relationships in a home and a neighborhood that either encourage or discourage responsibility, future-oriented thinking, and practical ambition.” And sociologist Orlando Patterson asserts that “fundamental change” can come only from “within the black community: a reduction in the number of kids born to single, usually poor, women.”
Steinberg goes on to break down the intellectual sources for the Moynihan Report, particularly Nathan Glazer. Intellectual racism that blames people of color for their own poverty has not diminished in the last half-century. Any number of racist sites refer back to Moynihan today; meanwhile this paragon of institutionalized racism became a respected Democratic senator without ever questioning his blaming of black people for their own poverty and ending his career as a big supporter of slashing welfare. Among other great things in this man’s life was ensuring the UN did nothing to stop the Indonesian slaughter in East Timor when he was UN Ambassador during the Ford administration and opposed the Clinton health care plan.