Race & Ethnicity

Men at Work

A look into the life of Latino construction workers in New York City, the second in a three-part series.

Sujatha Fernandes
This is the second story in a three-part series on the life of immigrant workers in New York CIty. Here is Part One , on Chinese delivery workers. F or ten months between October 2010 and August 2011, a Korean contractor named Bong Jun Park** hired a group of eight Latino construction workers to excavate the basement of a building in upper Manhattan. The workers were required to break the existing cement floor, excavate eight to ten feet of earth beneath it, and then pour cement for the new foundation. Many of the workers were undocumented, and none were unionized. According to the workers, they were not given the proper equipment required to carry out the work, as they say often happens on such sites. While the initial concrete floor was broken up with a jackhammer, the workers were required to use pickaxes and shovels to ply it out. The task of digging up the earth was done by hand.* There was not even a conveyor belt to carry out the buckets of excavated dirt. Instead, workers...

The Fundamentals of Immigration Reform

T he United States, with more than 40 million foreign-born, a number that includes the estimated 11 million illegal residents, is not just the largest immigration player in the world; it’s larger than the next four largest players combined. Because immigration amounts to social engineering, how well we do it has profound consequences for huge swaths of our society, from education to health care to economic growth to foreign relations. Most important, how a country treats its immigrants is a powerful statement to the world about its values and the principles by which it stands. Related Content Spotlight: The Fundamentals of Immigration Reform Demetrios Papademetriou talks about what's next for reforming our broken immigration system. On all these counts, recent U.S. immigration policy has been more notable for its failures than its successes. Almost half a century ago, in 1965, we reversed the discriminatory policies that over the course of the previous 80 years had either barred or...

Making (and Dismantling) Racism

Wikipedia
Over at The Atlantic , Ta-Nehisi Coates has been exploring the intersection of race and public policy, with a focus on white supremacy as a driving force in political decisions at all levels of government. This has led him to two conclusions: First, that anti-black racism as we understand it is a creation of explicit policy choices—the decision to exclude, marginalize, and stigmatize Africans and their descendants has as much to do with racial prejudice as does any intrinsic tribalism. And second, that it's possible to dismantle this prejudice using public policy. Here is Coates in his own words : Last night I had the luxury of sitting and talking with the brilliant historian Barbara Fields. One point she makes that very few Americans understand is that racism is a creation. You read Edmund Morgan’s work and actually see racism being inscribed in the law and the country changing as a result. If we accept that racism is a creation, then we must then accept that it can be destroyed. And...

Why We Still Need Section 5

AP Photo/Harold Valentine
With the Supreme Court expected to strike down a key piece of the Voting Rights Act later this year, now is a crucial moment for discussing Section 5's inarguable successes both in terms of civil rights and in improving the economic lives of Southern blacks. Gavin Wright, a professor of American economic history at Stanford, has spent his career studying the economics of slavery, segregation, and the historical Southern economy. His recent book, Sharing the Prize , documents the economic impact that the civil rights acts of the mid-1960s had on Southerners, black and white. Presentations of Wright’s work are available here and here , and a summary of his writings can be found here . While his book has some technical arguments, Wright’s ideas can be easily understood as a chronicle of the often overlooked economic consequences of the struggle for civil rights. It’s difficult not to look at the large wealth and income disparities between blacks and whites today and conclude that the...

More Black Men in College than in Prison

The Root
At this point, it's almost a cliché to declare "There are more black men in jail than in college." I've heard it my entire life—from adults, friends, politicians, and assorted pundits. When he was just a presidential candidate, then-Senator Barack Obama told the NAACP that "We have more work to do when more young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities across America." It's a great soundbite. But it isn't true. As Howard University professor Ivory Toldson shows in a story for The Root , the original report on black male college enrollment—the Justice Policy Institute's "Cellblocks or Classrooms," first published in 2001—is far out of date. "If we replicated JPI's analysis," writes Toldson, "we would find a 108.5 percent jump in black male college enrollment from 2001 to 2011. The raw numbers show that enrollment of black males increased from 693,044 in 2001 to 1,445,194 in 2011." By contrast, of the estimated 2 million inmates held in state or federal prison...

Scalia's Weird VRA Spat

It is hard to overstate the importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At the heart of the law that ended decades of disenfranchisement in former Confederate states is Section 5, the "preclearance" provision. Section 5 requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get prior federal approval for any changes to state voting laws. The necessity of this provision was clear: without it, states had been able to nullify the commands of the 15th Amendment by passing measures that were formally race-neutral but were discriminatory in practice. Regrettably, the Supreme Court appears poised to eliminate one of the proudest achievements of American democracy. As Esquire 's Charles Pierce puts it , striking down Section 5 would constitute "the final victory of the long march against the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement that began almost before the ink dried on the bill in 1965." The most remarkable example of the contemporary Republican hostility to civil rights came ,...

Today in Magical Beliefs about Racism

Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum President Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks at the signing of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. I mentioned in my previous post that the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on the Voting Rights Act this week. At issue is Section 5 of the law, which requires states and localities with histories of voter disenfranchisement to pre-approve any changes that effect voting with the federal government. The provision effects nine states—mostly in the South—and most areas that submit for pre-clearance are approved. It takes serious problems for the Justice Department to put changes on hold. Despite the wide flexibility of Section 5—and the extent to which some areas are more likely to violate voting rights than others—conservatives have attacked this provision as "onerous," "unfair," and tantamount to reverse discrimination. Conservative members of the Court also followed this line of thinking . Justice Antonin Scalia described...

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...

It’s Time for Some Israel Real Talk.

I’ll start.

flickr/jason_harman
Last week, the storied New York LGBT Center refused award-winning queer writer and activist Sarah Schulman a chance to read from her new book, Israel/Palestine and the Queer International . In doing so, the organization cited the Center’s “moratorium” on using the center to "organize around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” in place since early 2011 purportedly to maintain the Center as a "safe space" for both Jews and Arabs. On Monday, they relaxed the moratorium, though it remains unclear whether Schulman will be allowed to read. Quasi-reversals notwithstanding, the existence of the moratorium in the first place is the height of hypocrisy—one would think that a queer organization of all places would understand, as the ACT UP slogan goes, that silence equals death. Is there any hotter third rail in U.S. politics than an unflattering opinion of Israel’s policy on Palestine? Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel is still being haunted by one he let slip years ago, and last fall’s...

The New Liberals

AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnny Crawford, Pool
When he leaves office in January of 2017—provided there isn't a terrible scandal or some kind of economic or foreign policy disaster between now and then—Barack Obama will likely be hailed as the greatest Democratic hero since John F. Kennedy. He got most of the way there just by winning a second term, before we even get to his already substantial policy successes. But the real reason is that for a long time to come, Obama will represent for Democrats the moment when they and their beliefs were ascendant. You can see it in the way some Democrats are already positioning themselves to run for president in 2016. We'll get to those particular candidates in a moment, but what's important to know about them is that this new Democratic coalition you've heard so much about is going to produce its own kind of candidate. That isn't to say they'll necessarily be people you had never heard of until a couple of years ago; some will be politicians who came of age in an earlier era adapting to the...

African Americans and Immigration, Continued

Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect
A few weeks ago , I noted the extent to which President Obama’s push for immigration reform created real tension with some African Americans, who see Latino immigrants as direct competitors for jobs and other resources. Writing for McClatchy, William Douglas and Franco Ordonez examine this tension , highlighting Al Sharpton (who supports immigration reform) and a radio host whose listenership oppose new immigration: Ingram says many of his listeners see Obama’s attempt to push forward on immigration as a reminder of what the president hasn’t done to improve economic conditions for African-Americans. “I would say a bulk of my listenership is anti-immigration,” he said. “You have to understand that in the community in which I live the percentage of African-Americans who are unemployed. They look at what’s going on with immigration as an affront to African-Americans who can’t pay their mortgages because many of the immigrants come here, they are hired at less than minimum wage.” The...

Why Asian Americans Are So Democratic—In Three Charts

Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect
Apropos of this morning’s post on the Democratic Party’s overwhelming strength with Asian Americans, it’s worth looking at why Asians are so supportive of Democrats in general, and President Obama in particular. One answer is the anti-immigrant politics of the Republican Party. It’s not that Asians are liberal as much as it is that—as a largely foreign-born community—they’re turned off by the GOP’s overt hostility toward immigration. But a poll taken before the election complicates that picture. In the survey , conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense Fund, only 7 percent of respondents saw Mitt Romney as hostile toward Asian Americans. Romney used anti-immigrant rhetoric, but it didn’t create an impression of hostility toward the Asian American community writ large. And even if it did, rhetoric alone isn’t enough to explain Obama’s wide advantage with Asian Americans For that, you have to look to ideology. In its 2012 survey on the beliefs and views of Asian Americans, the Pew...

America's Long Experiment in Racial Quotas

Wikipedia
Wikipedia A 1937 redlined map of Philadelphia by the city's Home Owners' Loan Corporation. Racial inequality in housing, health, and education is still a fact of American life, but many of the programs and policies meant to combat it are on the chopping block. This year, for instance, the Supreme Court will rule on a challenge to the University of Texas’ affirmative action program—from a white student denied admission —and in doing so, is expected to end race-based preferences in college admissions. Likewise, conservative Republicans have mounted an effort to gut the Voting Rights Act . Their position? That it’s unfair to place greater federal scrutiny on states with a history of racial discrimination. This, despite the fact that—over the last two years—those same states have passed a host of laws that make voting more difficult for African Americans and other minorities. At the other end of the hemisphere, however, politicians and activists are working to combat racial inequality,...

The GOP's Big Asian-American Problem

Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect
Still overlooked in the immigration discussion are Asian Americans, who are the fastest growing demographic group in the country—and one of the most diverse. The bulk of Asian American immigrants (83 percent) come from China, the Philippines, India, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. At present, they’re 5.8 percent of the total population, nearly half of whom live in the West, with a large concentration on the Pacific coast. Seventy-four percent of Asian American adults were born outside of the United States, and in 2009—according to the Pew Research Center—Asian American immigration outpaced Hispanic immigration for the first time in recent history: The Republican Party’s standing with Latinos is solid compared to where it is with Asian Americans. A whopping 73 percent of Asians supported Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, up 11 percent from four years ago. When you disaggregate by nationality, the difference between Asian support for Obama and Romney is even more stark and...

Marco Rubio Can't Save the GOP

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr T he rapid rise of Florida Senator Marco Rubio makes one thing clear about the Republican Party: They’ve convinced themselves that outreach (or the lack thereof) is their issue with Latinos. Solve the communications problem—with gentler language and high-status Hispanic politicians—and you’ll solve the electoral problem. It’s why Fox News CEO Roger Ailes has committed himself to making the network more friendly to Latino voters—an abrupt shift for a place that refers to immigrants as “illegal aliens”—and why Rubio will give his State of the Union response in English and Spanish . None of this is bad. The GOP’s new push to win Latino voters includes growing support for comprehensive immigration reform, which will be a huge humanitarian boon to millions of undocumented immigrants if it’s passed. But Republicans are fooling themselves if they think this will fix their problem with Latino voters or if they think immigration is the beginning and end of the issue. The...

Pages