Not Just Kumbaya: Multiracial Coalitions Yield Pragmatic Results for the Common Good

New research suggests that simple reminders of historic and contemporary discrimination can galvanize cross-racial coalition-building. And that's in everybody's interest.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)
This article is published by The American Prospect in partnership with The OpEd Project’s Public Voices Fellowship at Northwestern University. (AP Photo/David Goldman) Protesters hold up their hands while chanting "hands up don't shoot" outside Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church where The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaks inside to members of the community during an interfaith service, Monday, December 1, 2014, in Atlanta. T he Copenhagen shootings this past week once again have sparked fears around the world—including in the United States —of the threats of homegrown terrorism. Some, including Ed Miliband, leader of Britain’s Labour Party, urge world leaders to respond with unity in the face of rising intolerance in Europe towards both Muslims and Jews . Here in the United States, leaders like U.S. Representative Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota—the first Muslim elected to Congress—and members of his heavily Muslim district have...

Seahawks' Russell Wilson Controversy Shows Dangers of Racial Authenticity Tests

(AP Photo/Tom DiPace)
(AP Photo/Tom DiPace) Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) during an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, October 26, 2014, in Charlotte. W hether Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is “ black enough ” is beside the point. The real issue is why we are still talking about racial authenticity at all. “My feeling on this—and it’s backed up by several interviews with Seahawks players—is that some of the black players think Wilson isn't black enough,” Mike Freeman writes at Bleacher Report, reporting on tensions between just-traded teammate Percy Harvin and Wilson, including a locker room reportedly divided into pro/con camps. “This is an issue that extends outside of football, into African-American society—though it's gotten better recently,” Freeman writes. “Well-spoken blacks are seen by some other blacks as not completely black. Some of this is at play.” The “Am I Black Enough?” racial authenticity card is a recurring theme in the lives of black...

The Racial Wealth Gap

This Jon Jeter piece about racial wealth inequality seemed to be making the rounds a lot over the weekend. Jeter begins thusly: For every dollar in assets owned by whites in the United States, blacks own less than a nickel, a racial divide that is wider than South Africa’s at any point during the apartheid era. The median net worth for black households is $4,955, or about 4.5 percent of whites’ median household wealth, which was $110,729 in 2010, according to Census data. Racial inequality in apartheid South Africa reached its zenith in 1970 when black households’ median net worth represented 6.8 percent of whites’, according to an analysis of government data by Sampie Terreblanche, professor emeritus of economics at Stellenbosch University. As someone who keeps track of such things , I was intrigued by the figures, but could not discern where they came from. The Census does not track wealth like this. The 2010 year suggests Jeter may actually be referring to the Survey of Consumer...

Discussing Trayvon Martin, Obama Embraces his Blackness

White House
When President Obama issued a pro forma statement following last week’s verdict in the Zimmerman trial, there was some disappointment—“Why didn’t he say more?” It only takes a small step back to see the answer; not only would it have been inappropriate for the president to question the decision of the jury, but given wide outrage at the ruling, it could have inflamed passions on both sides. But it isn’t out of bounds for Obama to speak on the meaning of Trayvon Martin, which he did this afternoon, during a White House press briefing. And unlike his earlier statement, this was a frank and heartfelt take on the racial issues surrounding the shooting and the trial. Which, to be honest, came as a surprise. Barack Obama’s entire political career has been about de-racializing his personal identity. Yes, he was a black senator from Illinois, but for white audiences at least, he wasn’t a black one. It’s why the Jeremiah Wright controversy was so dangerous for his candidacy—it emphasized his...

Is "Justice for Trayvon" Even Possible?

Elvert Barnes / Flickr
Elvert Barnes / Flickr For all the anger and disappointment that’s come with George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin, it’s important to recognize that simply having this trial—regardless of the outcome—was a victory. Remember, the Martin saga began with outrage over the conduct of the Sanford, Florida police department. Zimmerman killed Martin, claimed self-defense, and was released after a night of questioning from Sanford detectives, who never challenged the claim. If not for six weeks of protests and demonstrations, which pressured Sanford police into bringing charges, Zimmerman would have walked away without having to account for his actions. If police had immediately arrested Zimmerman, there never would have been a national movement around Trayvon. It was the lack of action, as well as the circumstances—a young black man, killed by a young white one, in a small Southern town—that sparked comparisons to the long history of unpunished violence against African...

Whither White America?

“Majority-minority” is an unusual term—by definition, minorities are no longer such if they’re in the majority—but it’s a convenient shorthand for what most people expect to happen in the United States over the next few decades. A growing population of nonwhites—driven by Asian and Latino immigration—will yield a country where most Americans have nonwhite heritage, thus “majority-minority.” The most recent analysis from the Census Bureau seems to bear this out. Last year was the first year that whites were a minority of all newborns, and based on current rates of growth, they’ll become a minority of the under–five set by next year, if not the end of this one. Overall, the government projects that within five years, minorities will compromise a majority of all Americans under the age of eighteen, something to keep in mind when trying to project future political support for both parties. There’s more: For the first time in more than a century, the number of deaths among white Americans...

Schooling Richwine

The link between genetics and I.Q. is unclear, much less the link between genetics and race.

The academic and policy worlds have been roiled by last week’s announcement that a Heritage Foundation study on the cost of immigration reform was co-authored by Jason Richwine, who wrote a dissertation on the purported low I.Q. of immigrants. It beyond belief that, in the year 2013, there are still some that want to posit that there is a genetic basis for race. Even more surprisingly, these arguments come endorsed with a seal of approval by some of the nation’s top universities, like Harvard in this case. As an alumnus of the Kennedy School and a scholar of race and Hispanic identity, I feel obliged to provide a response. Having spent last week with some of the world’s premier scholars of race at a workshop on “Reconsidering Race” at Texas A&M University, in which we examined the interface of social science and genetics/genomics and health, I am stunned by the lack of rigor and intellectual depth evinced by Richwine’s dissertation. The work makes extremely simplistic assumptions...

The Titanic Wealth Gap Between Blacks and Whites

Brandeis University
The gap between black and white wealth is nothing new. Researchers have studied it for decades, people have lived it for longer, and comedians—from Chris Rock to Dave Chappelle—have used it to craft biting humor. What's novel is the extent to which its has exploded over the last 25 years. According to a recent study from the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University, in which researchers followed 1,700 working-age households from 1984 to 2009, "the total wealth gap between white and African-American families" has nearly tripled, "increasing from $85,000 in 1984 to $236,500 in 2009." And more than 25 percent of the gap is attributable to homeownership and other policies associated with housing. Indeed, the disproportionate influence of housing on black wealth is reflected in this staggering statistic: "Overall, half the collective wealth of African-American families was stripped away during the Great Recession." It's fitting Brandeis released this report during a...

Don't Like Blacks? You'll Love Voter ID

Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress
Despite the rhetoric of GOP officials, it’s more than clear that voter ID laws are designed to depress turnout among traditionally Democratic groups. Attorney General Eric Holder has even gone so far as to attack the laws as glorified “ poll taxes ”—one of the mechanisms used during Jim Crow to keep African Americans from voting. Regardless of where you fall politically, it seems like this should be objectionable to everyone. The United States had a long and hard path to universal suffrage, and voter suppression is a direct challenge to the idea that everyone counts and everyone should have a say. Unfortunately, there is a real divide on the desirability of voter ID laws; according to the latest survey from the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication, support for voter identification is strongest among those who harbor negative opinions toward African Americans: To assess attitudes toward African Americans, all non-African Americans respondents in the poll were...

Today in False Black "Pathologies"

Ta-Nehisi Coates does a great job of debunking the idea—which has become prevalent on the right, in the wake of Trayvon Martin and surrounding activism—that African American leaders are somehow indifferent to crime within their communities. With a simple Google search, he offers examples—drawn from the last three years—of rallies and protests in support of efforts to curtail violence in predominantly black neighborhoods. Here he is with a little commentary: I came up in the era of Self-Destruction. I wrote a book largely about violence in black communities. The majority of my public experiences today are about addressing violence in black communities. I can not tell you how scared black parents are for their kids, and whatever modest success of my book experienced, most of it hinged on the great worry that black mothers feel for their sons. In addition to highlighting the obvious truth that black people care about what happens in their neighborhoods, it’s also worth pointing out the...

This Station is Non-Operational

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
“ Colorblindness has nothing to do with eradicating racism. It is about denying its existence and power. And so when faced with actual racism in such stark form, the colorblindness zealots must cast blame on those drawing attention to the racism. There is a significant segment of white opinion that continues to find efforts to combat racism more objectionable than the racism itself.” “ The ubiquity of whiteness in popular media is so overwhelming that, in the absence of any racial signifiers, I would guess that the majority of white people and a significant number of non-white people automatically assume that characters are white.” The cutting edge of conservative journalism. Timothy Noah : “Christian” has become a euphemism for “acceptable to the type of Christian (in most instances Protestant) who frowns on homosexuality and wishes Saul Alinsky had minded his own business.” Absolutely.

History Lessons

It’s amazing to me that I would even have to point this out—it should be common knowledge—but one big reason for why the killing of Trayvon Martin has generated so much outrage among African Americans is that it evokes a long history of violence toward black males suspected of criminality. Isabelle Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns —a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the black migration to the North— details a little bit of this history in a column for CNN: No matter the state, the circumstances are eerily familiar: a slaying. Minimal police investigation. A suspect known to authorities. No arrest. Protests and outrage in a racially charged atmosphere. […] In 1920, a white mob burned down the black section of Ocoee, Florida, 30 miles west of Sanford, when two “colored” men tried to vote. The two black men were killed for having gone to the polls. The black people who survived the massacre fled. The town remained all-white for generations. Three years later, a white mob...

The Destruction of Black Wealth

Businesses owned by African Americans are suffering at higher rates than most during the downturn.

(Flickr/Josh Hawley)
Some youngsters want to grow up to become artists or athletes or firefighters. Some want to be doctors or dancers. Charles Walker wanted to own a supermarket. “Ever since I can remember, I wanted my own grocery store,” he said over lunch on a quiet afternoon in snowbound Detroit last year. To Walker, “grocery store” meant a gleaming, well-run supermarket, not necessarily huge but well stocked and scrupulously clean, with fresh meats and produce and first-class customer service. “I had retail in my blood,” he told me. “I grew up here in Detroit, but I had a grandmother we used to visit in Alabama, and she had a store that sold cookies and candies, and she had a pop machine. That all seemed pretty cool to a little kid. And the people my mother worked for owned a meat market. That was their life. As I got older, going to high school and college, I worked there in the summers. That appealed to me, too, and they seemed to be making a good living. I thought that I could do something on a...

The Problem With "Post-Blackness"

I'm sympathetic to the emotional roots of Touré's conception of "post-blackness" and I find the concept kind of ridiculous. Not just because whiteness, rather than blackness , has historically been the more exclusive ethnic identity but because even Touré writes stuff like this: All of that is why, to me, Vick seems to have a deeply African-American approach to the game. I'm not saying that a black QB who stands in the pocket ain't playing black. I'm saying Vick's style is so badass, so artistic, so fluid, so flamboyant, so relentless -- so representative of black athletic style -- that if there were a stat for swagger points, Vick would be the No. 1 quarterback in the league by far. Touré wants to "to banish from the collective mind the bankrupt, fraudulent concept of 'authentic' Blackness," but he nevertheless believes that your "swagger points" somehow define whether or not you have a "deeply African-American approach to the game." You can't really have it both ways--a blackness...

Tomming, Ctd

Following up on yesterday's conversation about Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, Randall Kennedy reviews Touré's new book urging an embrace of "post-blackness," meaning "we are [like President Barack Obama] rooted in, but not restricted by, Blackness." Kennedy's book Sellout posited that communities--particularly historically oppressed ones--have a right to police their boundaries, because doing so can apply coercive pressure on those doing harm to the community. His argument held the caveat that the burden of justifying that pressure should be large and that excommunication, the harshest punishment, should only be reserved for the worst offenses--such as black people who argue that blacks are genetically inferior. In this vein, his book offered a strong defense of Justice Clarence Thomas as someone who, in his own way, was deeply concerned about black advancement and therefore wasn't worth of the label "sellout.' I agree. Reviewing Touré's book however, Kennedy points out that any...