Author: Michael Holzman

Black Achievement Gaps Aren’t About Poverty

Every few months someone in public life claims that the fundamental issue affecting education in the United States is not the fact that the descendants of enslaved Africans have fewer…

Every few months someone in public life claims that the fundamental issue affecting education in the United States is not the fact that the descendants of enslaved Africans have fewer educational opportunities than others, but that it is parental income, parental education levels, geography, teen culture or the type of pet in the household.

this_is_dropout_nation_logoThis argument has been disproved numerous times through other data. This includes the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which shows that the average reading scores for eighth-grade Black children from middle-class households are the same as that for poor white peers eligible for free- and reduced-priced lunch. There’s also the Center for Reinventing Public Education’s report released last month about educational opportunities for Black children and their peers in 50 major cities. But people continue to make such arguments, obscuring the reality that the problem for Black children lies with their status as descendants of formerly-enslaved Africans.

Last month, the New York Times headlined that the “Education Gap Between Rich and Poor is Growing Wider”. This is neither surprising nor controversial, given that all gaps between the rich and poor are growing wider. The richest one percent are securing, by hook or by crook, increasing proportions of the national income and wealth, while the incomes of those with below average incomes stagnate or decline and their wealth, such as it is, approaches the vanishing point. As the funding pattern of education in this country is based on family income, increasing gaps in family income will result in increasing gaps in educational opportunities.

So far, so obvious, except to those whose paychecks depend on their not understanding such matters.

Unfortunately, the Times goes on to compare the income-based education gap with the racial education gap, arguing that while the former is widening, the latter has narrowed since the 1970s. It is not clear why Eduardo Porter, who wrote the piece, believed it necessary to make this comparison. But the effect of the Times piece is to take attention away from the lack of educational opportunities available to Black children. In any case, it would be astonishing if the educational achievement of African-Americans had not improved since the 1970s, a period when adult literacy classes were filled with Black men and women from the South who had never been to school or who had been allowed only a few years of primary education.

On the other hand, at the same time last month, the good folks at the National Assessment of Educational Progress released a study of School Composition and the Black-White Achievement Gap, which provides an analysis useful to those who wish to address the causes of that gap. The crucial underlying factor in the NAEP analysis is that on “average, White students attended schools that were nine percent Black while Black students attended schools that were 48 percent Black”. This, 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.

The NAEP researchers find that achievement for both Black and White students inversely tracks the percentage of Black students in schools. The higher the percentage of Black students, the lower the achievement levels for all students, and visa versa. Not coincidentally, funding also follows this pattern: The higher the percentage of Black students in a district or school the fewer educational resources provided.

The NAEP study implies that schools with high (60 percent and above) Black student percentages are simply not as good as schools with lower percentages, while within schools with high percentages of Black students, “within-school factors,” such as the quality of teaching and tracking, are tilted in favor of White students, who, even within these deprived schools, are in this way provided with resources not available to their African American peers.

NAEP also provides data with which to test the claim that the racial gap is narrowing, while the income gap is not. We can look, for example, at grade 8 reading scores between 1998 and 2013, using eligibility for National School Lunch Programs as a divider between lower and higher family incomes. In 1998, the gap for all students between those eligible and those ineligible was 24 points (246 and 270). In 2013, the gap in scores between students from poorer families and others was—24 points (254 and 278). We can also look at the racial gap, which, in 1998, was 27 points (243 Black, 271 White), while in 2013 it was 26 points (250 Black, 276 White), a one-point “narrowing” if you want to call it that. Or you could conclude, that on this basis, there has not been any narrowing of either the income or racial educational achievement gaps.

Of course, there is not a clear distinction between the category of those children whose families have incomes significantly below the national median and those children who are the descendants of enslaved Africans. For example, 25 percent of American children under 18 years of age living in poverty are Black, nearly twice the share of the descendants of enslaved Africans in the total population. As nearly 40 percent of Black children live in poverty (and the median income of all Black households is at the qualifying point for the National School Lunch Programs), it is not surprising that the average eighth-grade NAEP reading scores of Black children, both in 1998 and 2013, were close to the averages for all children eligible for National School Lunch Programs.

We can conclude from the NAEP study of school composition and educational achievement that expanding opportunities for Black children would help all children. We can surmise that a focus of resources on schools with enrollments over 60 percent Black would be an efficient way to raise the achievement of African American students as well as of the non-Black students attending them. From the further analysis of NAEP and Census data above, focusing on transforming education for Black children would even increase the educational achievement level of lower-income children in general.

Two questions come from all of this. Why is this so difficult for policy makers and responsible officials to understand? And why do so many commentators and others fail to realize this, too. We can hazard a guess – and sadly, it would also be the truth.

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The Misnomer Called “People of Color”

Before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the phrase “people of color” was most frequently, if not exclusively, used as part of the phrase “free people of color,” denoting the…

Before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the phrase “people of color” was most frequently, if not exclusively, used as part of the phrase “free people of color,” denoting the non-enslaved Black residents of the United States. A free man or woman of color in Louisiana, say, or Massachusetts, was someone of African descent who had themselves been emancipated or whose parents or more remote family members had been emancipated. Until the late-twentieth century, the phrase “people of color” continued to be used as an alternative to “Negro” as a designation for the descendants of enslaved Africans.

this_is_dropout_nation_logoSometime in the late 1980s the term’s coverage was extended to include members of all racial and ethnic groups not identified as “White.” Kimberle Crenshaw’s 1995 anthology of essays, Critical Race Theory, appears to mark a point of transition. Between 1987 and the publication of Critical Race Theory, the frequency with which “people of color” was used in this extended sense increased six-fold and what was once its proper use to denote descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States alone came to an end.

Today the range of “people of color” follows the usage of the U.S. Census Bureau: American Indians or Alaska Natives, Asian-Americans along with Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders, Latinos, and, yes, Black or African American. An American Indian or Alaska Native is a “person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.”

An Asian-American is a “person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam,” and a Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander is a “person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.” Finally, “Hispanic origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before arriving in the United States. People who identify as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be any race.” A person who is Black is one “having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.”

Whites, of course, are those “having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.” “Origin,” according to the Bureau of the Census, “can be view as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States.”

This is all rather confusing and a bit desperate on the part of the Census Bureau, and ultimately, of the federal government and those it is supposed to represent. For example, if “origin” is country of birth, is a person whose parents are Han Chinese, but who was born in, say, Germany, German or Chinese? And what is the status of one of the Turkic peoples of Central (not Far East) Asia? Perhaps we can clarify matters by thinking through these issues historically. Except for the island peoples, who are not very numerous, the only exact definitions are those for the indigenous peoples—American Indians or Alaskan Natives—and Black or African Americans.

In other words, the victims of genocide on the one hand and slavery on the other.

The concept of “Asian-American” did not exist until quite recently, 1967 to be exact. Before then there were Chinese, whose presence stoked the fears of those who thought they would take away jobs and women from Native-born Americans, and was the target of the nation’s first immigration laws, as well as Filipinos, who went from being colonized by the Spain to being subjugated by the United States. There were also the Japanese, whose numbers were lowered thanks to the early 20th century Gentlemen’s Agreement; those who were already here were put into concentration camps and had their property expropriated during the Second World War. It was only in 1967 that a Yale undergraduate, Don Nakanishi, invented the umbrella term “Asian-American” for his student association, on the model of the Hispanic organizations that were particularly active at the time.

“Latino” or “Hispanic”, as a matter of fact, is a similar construct. The Harvard philosopher George Santayana (Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás), remembered for his saying, quite relevant here, that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” would never have been referred to as Hispanic during his lifetime (1863-1952), despite his Spanish birth. A rather large group of residents of New Mexico and Colorado are difficult to fit into the Census category, despite language, lineage and heritage, as their ancestors did not “arrive in the United States”: it arrived on them, first after Americans seized control of Texas, then after Mexican-American War.

The use of the terms “Asian-American” and “Hispanic” by the Census and other governmental agencies, including the schools, is a political matter, as Don Nakanishi saw, creating a political space, as it were, between the more strictly defined categories, Black and White. An Asian-American group, almost by definition, will have a larger population than, say, a Chinese-American group, and therefore more political power. Similarly, a Hispanic group will at least in theory be more politically important that a Mexican or Puerto Rican group. And people of color, encompassing all those other than Whites, will have more political power than any of the component assemblages.

Is this not a good thing? Perhaps for everyone else, especially those who are White, “people of color” is a good thing. But for the descendants of enslaved Africans, forced to come to this country, that term does nothing for them at all.

In terms of, say, critical race theory, or, to take Santayana’s point, the century-old writings of W. E. B. Du Bois, there is a profound difference between the attitudes and actions of individually and institutionally racist Whites toward “people of color,” other than African Americans, and Blacks. When people of color who are not Black are treated less well than Whites it is because they are not White (or not White enough). When the descendants of enslaved Africans are treated less well than Whites it is because they are Black. American Whites who are prejudiced against people of color who are not Black are xenophobic, fearing and hating the outsider.

Our history shows us that the category of White is quite permeable. Jews, of course, have only recently become White in this sense—not counted as a special class by the Census, not restricted absolutely or by quota from colleges, professions, neighborhoods and clubs as they were half a century ago. They have become insiders. Italians were once barred from consideration as Whites in this country, as were the Irish before them. Hispanics from Europe, like Santayana, and certain South American countries, such as Chile, are seen as White, even by certain presidential candidates. The issue is class, to some extent, and Blackness, absolutely.

As for the descendants of enslaved Africans in America? They form what sociologists call a pariah class. Just like the Untouchables in India, Jews in Nazi Germany, the Roma throughout Europe, and the indigenous peoples in colonial Spanish America.

Using the term “people of color” seems a good liberal practice. However, in practice, in this country, it is, perversely enough, a barrier to the advancement of colored people, in Du Bois’ sense of the phrase. Incarceration rates for Black men are astronomical, but incarceration rates for Hispanics are mid-way between those and the incarceration rates for White men. Incarceration rates for people of color, then, are not as absurd as those for Black people, not as much of a problem. The outlier status of Black prisoners must be about them, not about the criminal justice system. Efforts to reduce the, shall we say?, criminal operations of the criminal justice system are diluted.

Only one percent of students in Stuyvesant High School in New York City are Black, but nearly 80 percent are people of color, therefore the selection process cannot be racist, can it? There must be a problem with the Black applicants, their families, their attitudes, their clothes and taste in music. Pressure on White authorities to improve conditions for people of color can be, are being, met by improving conditions for non-Black people of color. Why do you people obsess about the education achievement of Black children? Asian-American children are doing just fine, aren’t they?

Racism, to cite Du Bois again, is a White problem. It is the attitudes and actions of White people toward the descendants of enslaved Africans. Not all White people of course, just specific White people, those with the power to enforce or end the pariah status of Black people: the police chief who is “worried” about young Black men killing one another, but not about his cops doing the killing; the city official who “is not sure she believes” that schools can educate Black children raised in poverty; the real estate salesperson who knows that middle class Black families would be happier living in the Bed-Stuy than in Scarsdale.

To put it kindly, calling Blacks “people of color” allows for Whites to avoid responsibility for America’s legacy of white supremacy and their role in perpetuating it. For African Americans, even using the term is a self-defeating political and social strategy. The alliances it facilitates work very well for people who are considered to be neither Black nor White. For the descendants of enslaved Africans? Well, look around you.

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Selective High Schools as Segregation

Children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment….

Children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment. – US Department of Education (1993)

this_is_dropout_nation_logoDiscrimination against the descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States is a cradle-to-(all-too-early) grave affair. Black infant mortality is higher than White, Black school readiness is lower, as are Black levels of educational attainment. Black incomes are lower at equivalent levels of education, Black wealth is for all intents and purposes non-existent. Black life-spans are shorter than those of White Americans and Black incarceration rates are unspeakably higher. In every case these outcomes are the personal responsibility of those who have the power to change the circumstances, rules and policies, leading to them.

American public education has always been and continues to remain one of the most powerful instruments for racial discrimination. Schools that have predominate Black enrollments are underfunded in comparison both to schools predominately attended by White children as well as in comparison to their needs. Gifted and Talented programs are an example of how this diversion of resources is accomplished. Special programs for children designated as gifted and talented receive superior resources and prestige. They are also discriminatory on their face.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights 2009 report (the latest available) 12 percent of Asian children in public schools are enrolled in Gifted and Talented programs, as are eight percent of White, non-Hispanic children. Just five percent of Latino children receive that special treatment, as do just four percent of Black children. That’s half the proportion of White non-Hispanic children; a third of the proportion of Asian children. These numbers were essentially the same as in reports from the National Center for Education Statistics in 2004 and 2006.

What accounts for these variations in the percentage of children allowed to take advantage of the superior resources of Gifted and Talented programs? The difference between the proportions of Latino, Asian and White gifted and talented students is a powerful counter argument to racist explanations. After all, none of these categories is homogeneous. Latino or Hispanic, who, as the Bureau of the Census reminds us, may be of any race, are distinguished only by national origin, which may be remote. The category of “Asian” is utterly useless as a basis for analysis, comprising Han Chinese and Turks, Tamils and Tibetans. And “White, non-Hispanic” is simply a residual category, about the same as “Other,” including the descendants of many immigrants once considered racially inferior, such as southern and eastern Europeans. So it is with Black Americans, who also may be of any “race,” descended not only from enslaved Africans, but also from their White enslavers, Latinos, and American Indians.

The racial and ethnic explanation for the gross under-representation of Black children in Gifted and Talented programs fails unless the “one drop” of blood once defining membership in the caste is taken to carry with it overwhelming genetic disadvantages, something it is doubtful any responsible scholar would wish to argue in the twenty-first century.

The most reasonable explanation seems to lie instead in the classification system and procedures themselves — especially in light of evidence, including recent results for Black and Latino students when they take Advanced Placement courses. As with the fundamental Texas study of school discipline, along with research on special education, this would point to something other than the performance and potential of children, to the prejudices of adults, expressed if not in so many words but in actions: the action of classifying twice as many White and three times as many Asian students as gifted or talented as Black children. When this happens repeatedly, when this happens year in and year out, it is only reasonable to assume that it is being done deliberately. Otherwise, the responsible adults—teachers, counselors, school and district administrators—would look at the data, notice the problem, and correct the procedures and policies responsible for this form of discrimination.

They do not.

Although there are perhaps twenty times as many children enrolled in Gifted and Talented programs, nation-wide, as it so-called “exam schools,” the latter are highly visible. Arguably the most visible is Stuyvesant High School in New York City, a subject of earlier discussions on these pages.

This is a large school, enrolling 3,300 students. It is housed in a new, state-of-the-art facility near the World Trade Center. It epitomizes the advantages of Gifted and Talented programs and their ilk. It also epitomizes their discriminatory character. Twenty-two percent of Stuyvesant’s students are White, 73 percent are Asian (who may be of any racial group), two percent are Latino and one percent, perhaps 33 individuals, are Black. Last year one percent of Stuyvesant’s students were Black and 2 percent were Latino. The previous year one percent of Stuyvesant’s students were Black . . . and so forth.

Every few years the media notices the racist outcomes of the admission process to Stuyvesant and other specialized “exam” schools. Various reasonable proposals for change are identified, such as admitting, say, one percent, of the top students from each middle school. But it always seems terribly difficult and the system is left unaltered.

Left unaltered by whom? Not by some vaguely indicated “government officials,” but by very specific individuals who are responsible for maintaining these racist outcomes: the Governor of New York; the leaders of the legislature; the Mayor of New York City; the chancellors of the State and City Departments of Education. They, and their equivalents in other cities and states, fail to reform Gifted and Talented programs, of which Stuyvesant is perhaps only one of the most egregious examples, and failing to do so contribute to maintaining educational Jim Crow.

Featured photo of Stuyvesant High School courtesy of the New York Post.

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It’s Up To You, Scott Walker

There is a vast professional literature demonstrating that the American descendents of enslaved Africans do not fully participate in the American economy, that they are less healthy, live shorter lives,…

There is a vast professional literature demonstrating that the American descendents of enslaved Africans do not fully participate in the American economy, that they are less healthy, live shorter lives, receive inferior educations, have lower rates of educational attainment and higher rates of unemployment, are paid less for similar work and suffer astronomical rates of incarceration, in large part simply for being Black.

this_is_dropout_nation_logoGary Becker, the Nobel Prize-winning conservative economist, wrote The Economics of Discrimination in 1957, and laid out the costs of racism to the descendents of enslaved Africans and other residents of the United States. Victor Perlo, a Communist economist, published Economics of Racism USA: Roots of Black Inequality in 1975, updating it in 1996. I covered much the same ground last year in The Chains of Black America.

All this is well-known. The pertinent questions today are what is to be done and who is going to take personal responsibility for doing it.

It is time to name names.

We can begin with Milwaukee, that poster city for racial inequality, with its pitiful rates of educational achievement, antebellum rates of incarceration for Black men, radically inequitable enforcement of the laws, and carefully designed and enforced geographical segregation. There are seven officials who could fundamentally change the condition of the descendants of enslaved Africans now living in Milwaukee. It is something for which they have personal responsibility.

The first is the former Milwaukee County Executive, now Wisconsin governor (and Republican presidential candidate), Scott Walker.

The second is Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s longtime State Superintendent of Public Instruction. He is a longtime school leader and player in the state education agency.

Third is current Milwaukee County Executive Christopher Abele, a philanthropist from Massachusetts whom Walker is placing in charge of education in Milwaukee, in effect as boss of Superintendent Darienne Driver.

Finally, there are the overseers of the local criminal justice system: Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, Milwaukee Chief of Police Edward Flynn and the Chief Judge of Milwaukee County, Maxine White.

With the support of Governor Walker, Evers, Abele, and Driver could improve educational opportunities for Milwaukee’s children. It would not take further research: Address teacher quality; provide early childhood education for three- and four-year-old; longer school days and school years; more-challenging curricula. [Other school reformers offer other approaches, including the expansion of high-quality charter schools serving Black children, which could also help.]

Together, these political leaders could address these issues. We are they going to do so? Why haven’t they done it as yet?

Governor Walker and County Chief Executive Abele could design a regional public transportation system that would make suburban jobs accessible for urban residents. They could implement planning to break-up the nearly totally segregated housing patterns of Milwaukee County. They could put in place effective job-training and other school reforms that can help adults poorly-served by public education gain the knowledge they need for economic success.

Walker and Abele, working together, could do this. When are they going to begin doing so? Why have they not done it as yet?

With the support of Gov. Walker, Judge White, Chief Flynn and District Attorney Chisholm could devise ways to bring equity to the Milwaukee County criminal justice system. They could reform police department policies concerning stops and arrests, prosecutorial policies concerning indictments, court policies on sentencing. Milwaukee sorely needs those reforms, as does the rest of Wisconsin.Walker does deserve credit for signing into a requirement that deaths at the hand of police officers are to be handled by independent investigators. But that’s not enough.

Walker, White, Flynn and Chisholm could do this. When are they going to begin doing so? Why have they not done it as yet?

Wisconsin is a wealthy state. The facts are well-known. These people have the authority needed to make it possible for Milwaukee’s children to have bright futures. It is their personal responsibility. Why have they not done it as yet? When are they going to do it?

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Education Helps End Black Child Poverty

The excellent researchers at the Pew Research Center have looked at recent Census Bureau data and found that although Asian, White and Hispanic (who may be of any race) child…

The excellent researchers at the Pew Research Center have looked at recent Census Bureau data and found that although Asian, White and Hispanic (who may be of any race) child poverty percentages have declined in the last few years, the Black child poverty rate has actually increased both since 2010 and, indeed, from 2000. It is now just under 40 percent, which is approximately what it was 30 years ago. According to Eileen Patten and Jens Manuel Krogstad: “Black children were almost four times as likely as white or Asian children to be living in poverty in 2013, and significantly more likely than Hispanic children.”

this_is_dropout_nation_logoPatten and Krogstad leave it there, but these data cry out for answers to the following questions: Why do so many Black children continue to disproportionately live in poverty? And what are the implications of this continuing tragedy?

Obviously, Black children live in poverty because their parents are poor. Black median household incomes are less than two-thirds the White average and while the poverty rate for all White families is 9 percent, it is 24 percent for Black families. And why is that? Part of the reason is that the unemployment rate for Black Americans is twice that for Whites. Part of the reason is differences in educational attainment. Nearly one-third more Black adults over 25 years of age than White are without high school diplomas, while those proportions are reversed for college graduates and nearly twice the percentage of White Americans than Black have graduate degrees. A Black man is much more likely to be without a high school diploma than to have a graduate degree; again, the reverse of the situation for White men. And Black pay rates for every type of job and at every level of educational attainment are lower than the wages of their White co-workers.

Three times the percentage of Black households as White (30 percent versus 10 percent) are those of female householders, no husband present, with children under 18 years. With only one possible wage-earner in the household, nearly half of the children in these households live in poverty. Not that being a single parent household naturally leads to either poverty or educational underachievement. As Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich noted earlier this year in an analysis of data from the PISA tests of international student success, achievement gaps between married households and single-parent homes declined by 60 percent (from 27 points to 10 points) when adjusted for educational attainment and number of books in a home.

Black children live in poverty because their families are poor. Their families are poor because their parents have lower educational attainment than the adults in White families, are more likely to be unemployed, and if employed are paid less than White workers of equal educational attainment. Some factors in the relatively higher unemployment rate of Black workers include segregated housing remote from workplaces in areas, such as Milwaukee, with limited public transportation, and the tendency of employers to hire White applicants over equally qualified Black applicants on the basis of race alone.

Then there are those absent fathers. More than one-third of those absent fathers are easy to find. President Obama pointed out the other day in a speech to the NAACP that one in nine Black children now have a parent in prison. The incarceration rate for Black men is six times that of White men (and more than twice that of Hispanic men). This is vastly out of proportion to crime rates and is largely attributable, as the President has said, to the inequities of the criminal justice system: Police are more likely to stop Black men than White men in similar circumstances and more likely to ticket or arrest them.

Prosecutors (overwhelmingly White men) are more likely to prosecute Black Americans than White Americans for similar crimes and judges give Black men more severe sentences than they give White men for similar crimes. These inequities in the criminal justice system directly affect child poverty rates. When in prison Black men cannot contribute to family budgets and it is unlikely that ex-prisoners can earn enough to lift their children out of poverty with child support payments or other contributions to their household.

To complete this cycle, Black children living in poverty often live in highly segregated neighborhoods with poorly resourced schools. In many cities half or more male Black students do not receive a high school diploma and those that do are relatively unlikely to be well-prepared for college or careers. They are, however, highly qualified to be targeted by police for standing, walking or driving while Black. As a result, their children, as well, will be quite likely to live in poverty.

The situation has not changed over the past 30 years. So how could it change in the next 30? The answer starts with reforming education in order to achieve economic and social justice.

Schools with a predominately Black enrollment should be fully resourced, beginning with universal pre-kindergarten at age 3, with extended k-12 school days, weeks and years, high effective teachers and challenging curricula. College tuition should be free for all Black children whose family income is below the national median. Hiring and pay practices should be monitored for racial (and gender) inequities and where those are found remedial actions should be enforced. Black home ownership in non-segregated communities should be facilitated with federally guaranteed, low-interest mortgages. The criminal justice system should be radically reformed, perhaps in many places brought under federal supervision. School reformers should work together with criminal justice reform advocates and others to undertake these much-needed measures.

These initiatives could be supported by humane, rational legislation at all levels of government, or, if such a thing is impossible, by reparations for slavery and Jim Crow, calculated on the basis of the current disparities in income and wealth between the families of Black and White children, paid by those currently existing corporations and other entities that profited by slavery, Jim Crow and today’s disparities. We won’t count on the last solution. But the rest can be easily done if we have to political will to make them reality.

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Time for a Second Reconstruction

In 1956 the House Un-American Activities Committee held hearings in Los Angeles to publicize efforts by “subversives” to repeal laws mandating imprisonment and deportation of people who disagreed with those…

In 1956 the House Un-American Activities Committee held hearings in Los Angeles to publicize efforts by “subversives” to repeal laws mandating imprisonment and deportation of people who disagreed with those laws. On December 6, 1956, HUAC attempted to interrogate Frank J. Whitley, a Black real estate broker.

geniuslogoTo say that Mr. Whitley was not impressed by the committee would be an understatement of grand proportions:

Mr. Whitley. “Both of my parents were slaves here in America, and I have been persecuted ever since the day of my birth. And this committee or no other committee has taken up my cause . . . They are killing me and my people all over this country, and you know it. And you know it . . . What about Emmett Till? What about Mr. Moore in Florida a few years ago? And I don’t have to go that far. I can start right in Los Angeles. The same thing is happening.”

Mr. [Congressman] Doyle. “You don’t charge the United States Government with killing?”

Mr. Whitley. “For doing nothing about it. That is why I charge them . . . It’s been 90 years since Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. They are begging to go to school in Texas even, right here by us. What are you doing? You are searching for some subversion you talk about.”

The committee could not get Mr. Whitley off the witness stand fast enough.

This story brings together three basic ways in which harm is inflicted on the Black community: governmental action (or inaction), education, and housing. Mr. Whitley knew that his clients had great difficulty finding housing or obtaining mortgages to purchase homes outside of Watts or other traditionally Black areas of Los Angeles. He knew that although their children could go to school (unlike their cousins in Texas), those schools were inferior to the schools attended by White children. And, as he told the committee, he knew that the police and courts were not to be relied on by the Black community.

Much has changed in the nearly 60 years since Mr. Whitley’s testimony. At the same time, evidence shows that much when it comes to the mistreatment of Black people (especially children) remains the same. And again, the country does nothing.

The Guardian, a newspaper that is based far outside this country in Great Britain, is tracking the numbers of people here killed by police, records that are not kept by neither federal agency nor newspapers based on these shores. Nearing the mid-point of the year, they have identified 490 in 2015 alone, 28 percent of whom were Black. This is twice the share of the descendants of enslaved Africans in the total population.

For doing nothing… I charge them.

A new study funded by the Women Donors Network has revealed that the racial and gender disparities among elected prosecutors, such as district attorneys, are on a scale similar to that in apartheid South Africa. In the state of Ohio, for example, there is only one prosecuting attorney identified as non-White: the Hispanic prosecuting attorney of Stark County. All prosecuting attorneys in the state are male. All but one of the district attorneys in Wisconsin are White. All the district attorneys in Tennessee are White. Of the fifty district attorneys in New York State, just three are Black and two are Hispanic. Just two of the prosecutors in Illinois are Hispanic, none are Black. And so it goes.

For doing nothing… I charge them.

In Cleveland the Black community has so little confidence in the police and district attorney that they decided to bypass local prosecutors and take the case of the shooting of 12 year-old Tamir Rice directly to a judge. But if African Americans cannot trust the police or district attorneys, can they really trust the courts? Based on data showing the low likelihood of police officers being indicted for use of excessive force in killing unarmed Black men such as Eric Garner, the answer is already apparent.

For doing nothing… I charge them.

This brings us to Atlanta, where Black teachers are now going to prison as a consequence of an unprecedented application of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Now former Atlanta Supt. Beverly Hall, who led steady improvements of the district, and teachers who worked there, were charged with a conspiracy to improve test scores by cheating.

Cheating is clearly unacceptable and absolutely wrong – a point Dropout Nation Editor RiShawn Biddle has made several times in discussing what happened in Atlanta. But it is hard to believe that the district attorney there really thought that Hall’s efforts to improve achievement (as measured by test score growth) amounted to a conspiracy like fixing a horse race or issuing sub-prime loans to unqualified home buyers.

While Hall retired and shortly died, a highly emotional White judge handed out sentences of astonishing severity to the teachers and educators who were still alive. Actions that in other districts have been punished with reprimands or, at most, termination of employment, were criminalized in Atlanta.

For doing nothing… I charge them.

This sort of thing is not unusual or new in Georgia. Many African Americans were held in debt peonage there, and in neighboring states, well into the twentieth century. Compulsory schooling for Black children came late to the state and voting by the descendants of enslaved Africans even later.

But if the police anywhere in the country cannot be trusted not to kill unarmed Black children, prosecutors cannot be trusted to bring those police to trial, and judges cannot be trusted to be reasonable in their sentencing, what is to be done?

It is possible that the failure of the public schools to educate most Black children can be remedied by using charter school legislation to create a well-funded national system of schools for Black children who are unlikely to be well-served by their local schools. It is possible that the segregated, inferior housing of all too many Black families can be replaced with wide-spread home ownership by means of a targeted mortgage guarantee program for the descendants of enslaved Africans.

But what is to be done about the police, the prosecutors and the courts? The U.S. Department of Justice is overseeing some police departments. This could be done more widely, more intensely. Similar actions could be taken in regard to district attorney offices and local courts. There is a precedent for this. It was called Reconstruction. It was effective in the South until destroyed by those who regretted the Emancipation Proclamation. Perhaps it should be given another try, this time on a nation-wide basis.

Because when it comes to our criminal justice and education systems, America can’t continue to do nothing.

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