In today’s digitally driven, snap-judgment world, virtually every major product, company or institution has a “brand,” i.e., a popular reputation by which it is known, for better or worse. The strength of a brand today determines levels of consumer support and the ability of political parties and candidates to attract voters (as in “Brand Obama” or “Brand Gingrich”). It also impacts potential for government funding, and even the ongoing quality of media coverage.
Think about this: Both the Mini Cooper and the Volkswagen Beetle are small cars.
However, while significant numbers of people who otherwise want a small car believe that driving a Mini is trendy, smart and a sign of environmental consciousness, those same people wouldn’t be caught dead driving a Beetle.
The Volkswagen Beetle’s brand, once all-powerful, is in a tailspin, and the company is now trying to re-brand the vehicle so that more men will find it an attractive option.
That example demonstrates the power of a brand, and increasingly, that challenge is also being faced by nations, cities, neighborhoods and even, racial and ethnic groups.
Over the past 20 years, or so, China has changed its brand from being a heavily populated but marginally important global player to being seen now as the world’s most important exporter and economic engine.
With that new “brand,” China has been able to create a new, more respected global reputation for itself, including the image of dominant military capacity, whether it’s actually true or not.
Over the same period, African Americans have done an absolutely abysmal job of managing our own brand, and it’s now costing us dearly.
When most people in this country think about the mass African-American population, they automatically conjure up images that include “unemployable,” “uneducated,” “incarcerated,” “irresponsible,” “lack of ambition” and “economically marginal.”
Accurate description or not, that “brand,” perpetuated and enhanced by largely negative media coverage and our own lack of involvement in racial reputation management, has stamped Black folks as a less-valued commodity in the United States. As such, even when we want jobs, people have an excuse for not offering them to us; when we seek political support, candidates, more and more, don’t want to be seen with us publicly.
The “Black American brand” more and more each day, therefore, is creating the new Black American reality.
Even worse, there seems to be no group and precious few individuals today serving as unabashed advocates for building the “Black American brand.”
At one time, while we were still largely poor, we were nevertheless seen as people who could be successfully transitioned into the economy, who wanted to get ahead, and who were capable of making a valuable contribution.
That was during a period when the “Black American brand” was being attentively managed by civil rights leaders, church pastors, elected officials, community activists and business leaders. Today our reputation is being largely unmanaged, and is generally seen as undesirable and fading fast.
Sadly, much like cars, soft drinks, computers, athletic shoes and cell phones, a group or institution with unfavorable brand characteristics will not only be ignored by the marketplace, they can also be so marginalized as to become completely irrelevant. Sometimes in extreme cases, they can even cease to exist entirely.
In that regard, a recent article in Forbes magazine described the results of a public opinion survey which asked participants to name corporate or institutional brands that were most likely to disappear entirely by the year 2015.
The respondents named Eastman Kodak, Netflix, Research in Motion, (the company that produces the previously dominant BlackBerry cell phone), Sears and the U.S. Postal Service.
What led these brands to such a perception, said the respondents, was poor reputation management, including failure to address challenges in their marketplace, a lack of understanding of their true competitive positions and failure to adapt to, and master, the new technological environment.
Most of those named were not really a surprise. It was, however, a bit of a shock to see that Americans are obviously very comfortable with those brands not being in existence at all in the not-too-distant future.
At the legendary Kodak, for example, the handwriting had clearly been on the wall for quite some time. First there was the general demise of the stand-alone camera, which negatively impacted not only Kodak, but also most of its competitors in the old camera business.
Developed in the mid-1990s, smartphones with internal, digital photographic capability have swept the country, and the world, like wildfire.
By 2003, in fact, more camera phones were sold than separate digital cameras; by 2006, half of all the world’s cell phones had built-in cameras, and by 2010 there were one billion camera phones being carried around every day by their owners. Who needed a separate camera?
Maybe consumers also noticed that Kodak hadn’t earned a profit since 2007, that it had stopped developing its own stand-alone digital cameras, in 2009, and that its stock value, while up to a not-so-great 82 cents in trading last week, had actually dropped to 54 cents a share, just three months ago.
Curiously, much like Black Americans, Kodak seemed either not to notice how far it had fallen behind, or even worse, didn’t have the “heart, brains or courage,” to do anything about it. Now America seems perfectly willing to see the brand disappear.
Let’s move, now, to the BlackBerry.
In recent months Research In Motion has among other things announced management changes, layoffs of about 11 percent of its workforce and deeply disappointing results for the sale of its new “Playbook” tablet, which in recent months has been outsold by the iPad at a rate of 19 to 1.
Once the dominant smartphone for business, BlackBerry has fallen from a 52.5 percent share of the U.S. business hand-held phone market in 2009 to 33 percent in 2010, and to 9 percent as of September 2011.
Looks like sooner or later we may not have the BlackBerry to kick around anymore.
Then there was the U.S. Postal Service.
For as long as most of us can remember, USPS has been an institution with an impeccable brand for dependability (“Neither snow nor rain, nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers ...” etc., etc.).
It appears now that the one thing the Postal Service could not deal with effectively was competition. It seems that USPS fell asleep at the wheel and thought that its problems would always work themselves out somehow, just as Black folks in America too often think.
The same e-mail services that have made most Americans’ communications so much easier, convenient and timely have produced complete financial disarray for the Postal Service. According to the USPS itself, mail volume is down an astounding 22 percent over the past five years, producing $8 billion losses for two recent consecutive years.
In response, USPS is proposing elimination of Saturday delivery service, the closing of 3,700 local post offices, and the layoff of as many as 120,000 workers, one-fifth of its total employment.
Postal Service supporters say things aren’t quite as bad as we’ve been led to believe, that their reputation is worse than their reality.
Nevertheless, it seems that most Americans are becoming increasingly comfortable with the fact that the Postal Service’s brand may not be worth saving.
When I think about these institutions and their damaged brands, I do feel a bit sorry for them.
But, what worries me more is, if they had been asked to rank racial or ethnic groups that may no longer be viable in 2015, whether those same survey respondents would have given Black Americans, with their own deeply damaged brand, a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down.”
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
Summer jobs program, payroll tax cut could put many back to work
As the recession looms and families figure out how to pay the bills and keep their homes, no other segment of society has been hit harder than Black people. For more than 1.4 million African Americans, weeks have turned into months, and months into years.
It’s no secret, throughout President Barack Obama’s term in office, he has been criticized incessantly by pundits and those within the Congressional Black Caucus, who feel that he has not done enough to help African Americans in general.
So when he went before Congress last week with his $450 billion jobs bill, many wondered how this bill — providing it passes the GOP-controlled House intact — would significantly help people of color, particularly African Americans.
“It will be an extraordinary benefit to well over a million and half African American people…who are unemployed, because of the way the program is structured,” said U.S. Rep. Chaka Fatah, a Democrat who represents Pennsylvania’s second congressional district. “It will provide benefits to the long-term unemployed. There is a tax benefit to a company that hires someone who has been unemployed for more than six months. The bill also focuses on veterans and there are parts of the program that will help young people who are out of work as well.”
Here are some reasons why the president’s new Jobs Bill can help African Americans:
• The extension of unemployment insurance will benefit 1.4 million African- Americans and their families. At the same time, the president is proposing bipartisan reforms that will enable that — as these families continue to receive benefits — the program is better tailored to support re-employment for the long-term unemployed.
• Targeted support for the long-term unemployed could help the 1.4 million African-Americans who have been looking for work for more than six months: To help them in their search for work, the president is calling for a new tax credit for hiring the long- term unemployed.
• A commitment to rebuilding and revitalizing communities across the country will target investments to the communities hardest-hit by the recession. The president’s investments in infrastructure include a school construction initiative with a significant commitment to the largest urban school districts, an investment in revitalizing communities that have been devastated by foreclosures, and a new initiative to expand infrastructure employment opportunities for minorities, women, and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
• Support for subsidized jobs and summer/year-round jobs for African-American youth — for whom unemployment is above 30 percent. In an environment with an unemployment rate of 32.4 percent for African-American youths, the president is proposing to build on successful programs like the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund to create jobs and provide training for those hardest-hit by the recession.
• An extension and expansion of the payroll tax cut for nearly 20 million African-American workers. By extending the payroll tax cut for employees next year and expanding it to cut payroll taxes in half, the president’s plan will help increase the paychecks of nearly 20 million African-American workers.
The early response to the bill has been favorable amongst Blacks, who had grown weary with the president throughout the years. Many felt he was indifferent to their needs.
Many hope the president’s Jobs Bill will translate into reduced misery for them over the coming months. While the country's unemployment rate stands at 9.1 percent, Black unemployment has hit 16.7 percent, the highest since 1984. Unemployment among male blacks is at 18 percent, and black teens are unemployed at a rate of 46.5 percent.
“Particularly in the African-American community, which often times has been expected to flourish and thrive without any investment at all and have done so in spite of a lack of resources, I think this (jobs bill) will be something that will be welcomed in our community and will be significant,” said Cindy Bass, the nominee for City Council for the Eight District. “I think it will be beneficial when it comes to employment readiness and opening up job opportunities for people of color. More than we have seen in quit sometime."
Prominent African-Americans like Kenneth Chenault, chairman and CEO of American Express and Mayor Michael Nutter, quickly applauded the plan. U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who has been one of the most vocal advocates for dealing more effectively with Black unemployment, was enthusiastic.
For the president, it was a welcome change in tone after a steady drumbeat of criticism from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who held their own job fairs and town hall meetings while protesting that Obama's jobs tour across America last month bypassed black communities.
The caucus' urban blitz cleared a path for the country's first Black president to act, Waters said.
"I can see that our handprint is all over it," Waters said of Obama's plan. "We upped the ante a little bit by pushing, being a bit more vocal. This was not done in a way to threaten the president but to make it easier for him. We think we helped him to be able to formulate a response."
The jobs plan was praised by Ralph Everett, president and chief executive of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a nonpartisan black think tank.
Although the president did not specifically mention high unemployment among blacks, black people "are sophisticated enough to understand" how their communities will benefit, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Friday.
"Obviously there is a debate raging, saying that we should come out and say this expressly for the Black and Latino community," Kirk said. "But this president got elected spectacularly on his premise that we are not a black America, a brown America, a white America. We are one America."
The White House moved quickly to capitalize politically on the good will, emailing an extraordinary blast of supportive statements from elected officials, union leaders and interest groups within minutes after Obama spoke Thursday night.
On Friday, while the president pushed his American Jobs Act in Richmond, Va., his aides promoted targeted relief to Hispanics, teachers, police officers, construction workers, small businesses and others.
Administration officials said the plan would extend unemployment benefits and provide support for 1.4 million blacks who have been unemployed six months or longer. It also would provide summer and subsidized jobs for youth; help boost the paychecks of 20 million black workers through an extension and expansion of the payroll tax, and benefit, in some way, more than 100,000 black-owned small businesses.
"With over 16 percent of African-Americans out of work and over 1 million African-Americans out of work over six months, I think the president believes this is a serious problem and the onus is on us to do everything we can to tackle this," Danielle Gray, deputy director of the National Economic Council, told reporters.
White House adviser Valerie Jarrett promoted Obama's plan on Steve Harvey's syndicated morning radio show, saying it would help "every part of our country, but particularly those who are the most vulnerable, who have been struggling the hardest, who have been trying to make ends meet and all they need is a little help from their government."
A factor in the early enthusiasm in Obama's plan with blacks is that most accept that, as the country's first black president, there are limits to what he can do about their specific problems — especially as he heads into the 2012 campaign.
“Obviously the president cares about the African American community as he does all Americans,” said Fattah. “This bill will benefit the African American community and the broader community as whole, because the minute someone goes to work, they start spending money. And that’s what stimulates the economy. It will have significant benefits in cities like Philadelphia, Detroit, Cincinnati, Chicago and the likes. I think what the president has done is structure a program that deals with the hardest hit communities.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
School officials allege factual errors in seven Black plaintiffs’ lawsuit
The Lower Merion School District denies the allegations of a lawsuit claiming it intentionally and routinely placed African Americans in special education programs when it wasn’t merited, and is seeking to have the case thrown out.
Earlier this summer, the LMSD filed a motion for a summary judgment in the case. The plaintiffs — seven African Americans — want to see the case go before a jury, and their representation responded with a court filing detailing why the case should move forward.
However, in a recently filed reply brief, the District maintains that there are factual errors by the plaintiffs that further point out why a trial by jury is not needed.
Specifically, the LMSD refutes the assertion that “from 2005 to 2008, Lower Merion did not enroll a single African-American student in any of its Honors, AP or IB courses.”
The District asserts that the plaintiffs’ expert’s work doesn’t include this. Rather, the District says Dr. James Conroy’s report states “that African-American students were enrolled in more than 30 Honors and AP courses in every year from 2005 to 2008.”
A judge is expected to rule on whether or not this case will have a jury by early November, according to LMSD liaison Doug Young. However, the judge can take as much time as he wishes before rendering a decision.
In the meantime, the LMSD says that it wants the best for all of its students whether they are Black or white. The District maintains that these are just a few isolated incidents and that they are not a full representation of the District’s approach to educating children.
“What we are trying to do is get to the same place; we do share the same goals,” said Young. “We would like to see every student achieving at their highest level. We are proud of what we have accomplished at Lower Merion. That is not to say that we are perfect and that there is not room for improvement.”
Overall, statistically Lower Merion is not doing too badly in terms of educating African Americans.
According to the District, PSSA math and reading scores for African-American students in the LMSD are at all-time highs. Its African-American students attend college at twice the rate (83 percent in 2011) of the national average. The African-American graduation rate (97 percent) substantially outstrips the national average (55 percent). In fact, African Americans in the LMSD do better than their white counterparts nationally (78 percent) and statewide (80 percent).
Lawyers for the plaintiffs, however, contend that the overall success of African-American students in the LMSD and the herding of African-American students into special education classes are exclusive of one another.
“One has absolutely nothing to do with the other,” Carl Hittinger, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said last week.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers say that in 2006 and 2010 a state report found that there were a disproportionate number of African-American students at LMSD in special education classes, which the commonwealth found was not in compliance with its requirements and standards.
The District countered this by saying that in the 2003-2004 school year, data indicated a disproportionate number of Black students “receiving special education services in relation to their population within the District.”
The obvious difference here is that the parties are discussing different school years altogether.
According to Wanda J. Blanchett, associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Education and an associate professor of urban special education in the Department of Exceptional Education at the University of Wisconsin, the disproportionate placement of African Americans in special education classes is a nefarious plot.
“African-American students are disproportionately referred to and placed in high-incidence special education categories of mental retardation, emotional or behavioral disorders and learning disabilities,” Blanchett said.
She referred to a 2004 study by the U.S. Department of Education that indicated that African-American students are not only placed in these programs at a disproportionately higher rate than their counterparts, but that they also exit from them at a slower rate.
“Once labeled as having disabilities and placed in special education, African-American students make achievement gains and exit special education at rates considerably lower than those of white students identified as having disabilities.”
African-American students, Blanchett says, that are placed in special education classes are more likely to be segregated from — with little to no contact with — their non-disabled peers and denied access to the general education curriculum.
“These realities suggest that race maters, both in educators’ initial decisions to refer students for special education, and in their subsequent placement decisions for students labeled as having disabilities,” Blanchett concluded.
A higher incidence of secondary breast cancer is seen among Black women regardless of age, research has found.
The findings were highlighted during a press call from the fourth American Association for Cancer Research conference on The Science of Cancer Health Disparities held September 18–21 in Washington, D.C.
The teleconference was hosted by Chanita Hughes-Halbert, director of the Center for Community-Based Research and Health Disparities at the University of Pennsylvania.
When cancer is diagnosed in women younger than 45 years old, the incidence of primary breast cancer is higher among Blacks than among whites — and the cancer tends to be more aggressive.
“While the incidence of breast cancer is generally higher among whites for first-time diagnosis, we found the incidence of the second contralateral diagnosis was higher among Blacks,” said lead researcher Nsouli Maktabi Hala, Ph.D, graduate of George Washington University.
“Our findings were unexpected, since Blacks have a higher mortality rate than whites from the first cancer, so you would expect Blacks to have lower rates of second cancers.”
The research also found that when cancer is diagnosed at an older age, the incidence is higher among white women. Since most breast cancers are diagnosed in older women, the overall incidence is higher in whites, said Maktabi.
Maktabi said about four percent of all breast cancer patients will present with a second primary cancer.
“Collectively our findings should urge physicians to watch patients carefully for the second breast cancer in the contralateral breast, especially in the first six to 10 years following the diagnosis of the first time,” Maktabi said.
The researchers used the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results Registry 9 data to determine breast cancer incidence among 415,664 white women and 39,887 Black women diagnosed with primary breast cancer at age 19 or older and possible development of a second cancer in the opposite breast.
Results showed that 22,290 (40 percent) developed a second breast cancer, of which 18,142 (four percent) occurred in the opposite breast. Incidence of second primary cancers of the opposite breast was higher among Black women and 15,101 (83.2 percent of second cancers developed in those who were diagnosed with first breast cancer at age 45 or older.
Maktabi joined three other researchers in highlighting their studies during the teleconference.
According to study results, an association has been found between stress and breast cancer aggressiveness.
“We found that after diagnosis, Black and Hispanic breast cancer patients reported higher levels of stress than whites and that stress associated with tumor aggressiveness, said Garth H. Rauscher, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology in the division of epidemiology and biostatistics at the School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago.
Rauscher and colleagues studied patient perceptions of fear, anxiety and isolation, together referred to as psychological stress and associations with breast cancer aggressiveness.
The study included 989 breast cancer patients who were recently diagnosed. Of those, 411 were non-Hispanic Black, 937 were non-Hispanic white, and 181 were Hispanic. Results showed that psychosocial stress scores were higher for both Black and Hispanic patients compared to white patients.
“Those who reported higher levels of stress tended to have more aggressive tumors. However, what we don’t know is if we had asked them the same question a year or five years before diagnosis, would we have seen the same association between stress and breast cancer aggressiveness?” Rauscher said in a release.
Depression affected preventive health screenings among Latina breast cancer survivors according to data presented during the conference.
“Depression can make people more inattentive to potential risks to their health and more likely to ignore recommendations to reduce their risk,” said lead researcher Amelie G. Ramirez, professor and director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the Cancer Therapy and Research Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
Ramirez and colleagues examined the extent of depression among a group of 117 Latina breast cancer survivors to assess the barriers to preventive health screenings for colorectal and ovarian cancer.
“The most important thing we found was that Hispanic breast cancer survivors were more depressed than Hispanics in the general population and that they were not following recommendations to continue other cancer screening behaviors.”
Research also indicated that U.S. immigrants are still less likely to have undergone breast cancer screenings than native U.S. women.
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University believe that lack of access to health insurance and a regular source of health care are important factors related to the lower percentage of mammography screening among U.S. immigrants.
“There is progress, overall, in use of mammography among foreign-born women in the United States, but there is still a lot of work to do to improve their use of recommended breast cancer screening,” said lead researcher Nengliang Yao, a doctoral student in health policy and administration.
African Americans are more likely to be unemployed, and are among the longest-term unemployed, and yet are less likely to be receiving unemployment benefits than any other ethnic group in the country, according to a series of studies released this week by the Urban Institute.
“This means many low-wage, unemployed Black workers are likely suffering more economic hardship than their white counterparts,” said Margaret Simms, co-author of one of the reports, and the institute’s director of the Low-Income Working Families project.
Using data from 2010 as an example, the report noted that the unemployment rate for Blacks was 11.2 percent, compared to 6.9 percent for whites, 9.4 percent for Latinos and 8.6 percent for other ethnic groups.
During the same period, only 23.8 percent of unemployed African Americans received unemployment insurance. That compared to 33.2 percent for whites, 29.2 percent for Latinos and 29.7 for other ethnic groups.
A series of four related reports, released online, examined the impact of race on unemployment, the collection of benefits — and detailed a number of reasons for the gap.
“African Americans are at a confluence of factors leading to low [unemployment insurance] recipiency,” Simms said. They include “low levels of education, concentration in occupations or industries where workers are less likely to be covered, and short tenure on jobs.”
Minorities were more likely than their white peers to be unemployed. In 2010, 65 percent of unemployed Americans were Black, Latino, young (ages 16–24), single mothers, high school dropouts, limited English proficient, or born abroad.
Overall, it’s more difficult for those disadvantaged workers to collect benefits, found one report.
Only 10 to 36 percent of unemployed workers with labor market disadvantages collected benefits in 2010, found one report. That compared to 69 percent of non-disadvantaged workers.
One of the primary reasons is the way the unemployment insurance program is structured.
According to one of the reports, it’s more difficult for workers who work only for short periods to get benefits. That figure includes seasonal and other short-term workers, a group that includes high numbers of Blacks. Lower education levels were also a factor, the report found, noting that many less educated unemployed people were unaware that they were eligible for unemployment insurance or unable to complete the application process. Simms also linked lower educational attainment to shorter periods of employment.
A related factor was the fact that many African Americans have been unemployed for longer periods than members of other ethnic groups — taking them beyond the period where they are eligible to receive benefits.
But, it found that even among groups that were similarly educated and had similar work histories, African Americans tended to lack unemployment benefits at a disproportionately higher rate.
“Some of the difference may be due to workers’ choices or preferences, but some may reflect discrimination in hiring and the reported reasons for separation from those jobs, both of which can affect eligibility,” noted one report.
The report concludes by suggesting that the federal government take a more active role in overseeing how unemployment benefits, which are distributed and administered by the states, are disbursed. As part of that reform, one of the reports suggested allowing benefits for part-time workers or employees with sporadic work histories, as well as providing more information about unemployment insurance programs to the public, and investigate rates at which employers contest unemployment claims to see if there is racial gap there.
The findings are especially troubling for the Black community, Simms noted, because “African Americans likely have fewer assets to fall back on.”
Maybe it’s purely coincidental that the number one movie in the nation in recent weeks — and one of the top-selling books in America — has been “The Help,” which is about Black maids in Jackson, Miss., in the early 1960s.
Maybe it just so happens that the Census Bureau informed us last week that the overall poverty rate has climbed to 15.1 percent for Americans across the board but to 27 percent for Blacks and to 40 percent for Black children. That goes along, of course, with our already well documented 16.7 percent Black unemployment rate.
Highlighted by “The Help,” we’re forced to recognize a disturbing pattern of Black economic disenfranchisement, complicated by a seemingly worsening series of race-based negative factors.
For example, according to Catalyst, which focuses on women’s employment issues, women comprised 51.5 percent of management, professional and related positions in 2010. However, Black women represented just 5.3 percent of those same positions. A different level of discrimination than that endured by maids in the 60s, but painful, nonetheless, for Black females.
It appears that the book and the movie have created an interesting backdrop, reminding us that even though African Americans may have thought they were suffering when they were relegated to demeaning, menial jobs during the Civil Rights era, the 21st century is, in many ways, proving to be even worse because, in far too many Black households, we have no jobs at all or are significantly underemployed.
I must admit I didn’t actually see the movie version of “The Help.” I don’t go to movies much, any more.
But, hold up! It’s not just me.
According to those who follow such things, move ticket sales actually peaked in 2002, at 1.55 billion, but have fallen off since then to 1.33 billion in 2010. That’s 220 million fewer tickets sold!
Call me crazy if you want, but like so many others I’ve become a slave (there’s that word, again) to media multi-tasking, and I find it increasingly difficult to sit still and narrow my input to a single screen for an extended period of time. Now, for me, a movie is just something that’s on the small screen, in the house, while I’m doing two or three other things.
Stop me if I’m wrong, but don’t you more and more find yourself listening to music while exercising, emailing while web-surfing, and —God forbid — responding to urgent text messages at traffic stops while driving from place to place?
We’re being bombarded, constantly, by all manner of print, video, audio and digital input and we’re learning — for good or bad — to juggle two or three at a time.
Brilliant university researchers are telling us, for example, that the average American is being exposed each day to more than 3,000 advertising messages alone. That’s a lot. But, you know what? It’s starting to feel “real normal.”
And you know what? Two hundred twenty million former movie ticket buyers are starting to feel the same way about movie theaters — due to technology or due to the rapidly rising price of admission, which far outstrips the rate of inflation.
Like I said, I didn’t see the movie or read the book, which was on the New York Times best seller list for an amazing 100 weeks and sold an incredible 5 million copies. The topic, however, based upon what I’ve seen in reviews and on video trailers, does intrigue me.
Apparently, the story included all of the standard Black-white confrontation episodes we’ve learned to expect from Mississippi during that period. The women worked hard, were grossly underpaid and constantly disrespected. None of the content was new or surprising. It was, I’ve been informed, explained in an engaging and telegenic way for movie audiences, who had either forgotten how things used to be for Black maids, or who today may be too young to have ever known in the first place.
Both film critics and predominantly female, mostly older audiences seem to love the movie. It came out of the gate at a respectable $35 million, but wound up only in second place at the box office. However, to the surprise of the entire country, it went on to claim first place for three weeks in a row over the more highly touted and substantially bigger-budgeted “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”
During the movie’s first week of release, Cinema Score rated “The Help” an A+, a designation that has been given only about twice a year since 2004. And, even in a year when summer movie audiences had fallen to their lowest levels in 14 years, “The Help” grossed $137 million as of last week. That’s with a production budget of a “measly” $25 million, as compared to the $93 million it took to produce “Planet of the Apes.”
Recently, there’s been “Oscar buzz” for the brilliant African-American women who played the two lead roles — especially for Octavia Spencer, who portrayed Minny, the outspoken “sister” who refused to bite her tongue when she felt she was being treated unfairly and who wound up being fired from 19 jobs as a result.
Sounds like a great flick. And if I went to movies at all, I’d probably go to see it.
But, as is the case in most issues, there’s a reason to be cautious about “The Help.” There is, in fact, a temptation to believe that the movie’s message is that — back in the day — Black maids used to be mistreated, they used to be underpaid and, at one time way back in the Civil Rights era, Black female employees used to be the victims of sexual harassment and discrimination in the work place.
If you came away from having read the book or having watched the movie believing any of those things, you need to get another belief.
According to a 2010 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 1.4 million persons employed as “maids and housekeeping cleaners” right now in the United States, 89 percent of whom are female. The hourly wage level for those maids started at $10.17, for an annual wage of $21,150, and the median wage was $9.28, some going as low as $7.68 an hour.
Having maids has also never been a Southern-only phenomenon. To that point, the Florida Courier newspaper recently wrote: “Historians estimate that 70-90 percent of the African- American women who worked before WWII did some type of domestic service for whites.”
Want to be reminded that Black maids caring for well-to-do white families’ children isn’t a relic from the past? Just take a casual stroll on any sunny day through Society Hill or Rittenhouse Square, where the average household income exceeds $322,000.
You’ll note that it’s quite common to see baby carriages containing white toddlers or infants being pushed by Black women. It’s also a rare elderly, disabled white senior citizen who’s not being guided along the sidewalk by a youngish Black female.
“The Help,” during these precarious times of runaway Black poverty and unemployment levels, is also a somber reminder that even marginal, low-paying jobs are now in great demand across the country.
Think I’m kidding?
Another intriguing bit of information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ files on “Maids and Housekeeping Cleaners” is that in 2010, 5 percent of maids and domestics were Asian, 40.8 percent were Latino and just 16.3 percent were Black.
Who would have thought that the day would come when, at the same time, college-educated Black women were holding on “by the skin of their teeth” in Corporate America and Black women without college degrees could no longer be hired at all, even as domestics?
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
In my first career, as Advertising and Public Relations director at a major Philadelphia bank, I was struck, one day, by the fact that the company had eight African-American branch managers — and not one of them was a Black male.
When I called the senior vice president of the bank’s Human Resources Department to ask why that happened to be the case, he told me that: “Black males simply don’t interview well.”
That response, of course, surprised and disappointed me. I thought it was simplistic, condescending and inaccurate. How could this multi-billion dollar banking company really believe that Black male college graduates “interviewed” less effectively than Black females, for the same jobs? In our further discussions on the subject, I learned that, on paper, the Black males and females the bank invited in had virtually the same academic credentials. Both came from similar family backgrounds and, in many cases, had even graduated from the same schools — with the same degrees.
The Human Resources department had brought them into the company after careful screening, and reference and background checks. However, the process fell apart once the Black male applicants moved to the next step of the interview procedure, i.e., meeting face-to-face with the managers in the departments in which they would have to work, once hired.
Somehow, at that point, a harsh, racially tinged subjectivity would set in and, following the interviews, more often than not, the HR department would be informed that “There was something about the candidate that made us think he wouldn’t be a good fit, here,” or “I’m not quite comfortable with that (Black male) candidate’s responses. Who else do you have?”
Curiously, the same interviewing departments didn’t seem to have quite the same reservations about hiring Black females. That “extra bias” against Black males was not unique to the bank where I worked.
With all of that as background, I took special interest in the buzz on mainstream media outlets last week that informed us that Black males now constitute just two percent of all teachers in America’s school classrooms. The version of the story on CNN included a great deal of weeping and gnashing of teeth, and a sympathetic profile of a young, Black, male kindergarten teacher, in D.C., who was trying to make a difference. But then, as is the network’s style, CNN moved on immediately to cover something entirely different.
In a better world, the network could have easily done a more comprehensive and in-depth treatment of Black male employment and unemployment challenges, here in the U.S., but, not unexpectedly, it chose not to do so.
I guess the editors didn’t want to bore or antagonize their largely non-Black viewing audience by putting too much context around that story. If you were looking for a reason why this situation happens to exist, here’s what CNN gave you: “If you ask most African-American men why they don’t teach, they’ll tell you it just doesn’t pay the bills.”
So there you have it, America. We have evidence that only about one in 50 teachers in the county’s schools are Black males, and mainstream media tells us that has nothing to do with lack of opportunity, or discriminatory hiring practices. No, Black males, it seems, just want to get paid more than all white teachers, and Hispanic and Asian teachers, and Black female teachers are earning, so they simply choose not to go into the profession.
At least, that’s the impression the average CNN viewer would get having watched that poorly reported and misleadingly presented story.
If the horrific issue of Black male joblessness and underemployment is as simple as what was reported about the teaching profession, then how do they explain the bigger picture?
How about the fact that 8 percent of Black men in this country lost their jobs from 2007 to 2009? How about the fact that a 2011 report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) disclosed that, contrary to the CNN story, “Occupational preferences ... are not the causes of employment disparities between Blacks and whites.” Indeed, according to the Center For American Progress, by systematically excluding those other causes, EPI concludes that discrimination must exist in today’s job market.”
Wow! Who knew?
Quick! Send an email to CNN and to all those other media outlets, and to the elected officials that keep wanting us all to believe that discrimination has been totally expunged from workplace decision-making in America.
While you’re at it, include in your email some even further, enlightening information on the topic that has been recently announced by New America Media. That would include the fact that “Black men without criminal records tend to have a tougher time finding employment than do white men who have been convicted by the criminal justice system.”
Also, add this one, from the same source: “Black men earn 70 cents to every dollar for a white man.” And then, throw this one in from Education Week: “College-educated Black men who are working still make far less than their white counterparts.”
It’s also important to mention, here, that the employment and unemployment challenges in the African-American community clearly are not limited to Blacks who have achieved college degrees. A report by the University of Wisconsin informs us that Black male employment rates, from 1970 to 2010, have all declined in every one of the 40 largest metropolitan areas in the country.
There is growing evidence that this national phenomenon has little to do with Black males feeling in need for greater salaries than every other job-seeking applicant. The cold fact is that discrimination’s ugly head is clearly visible when we note that only two major metropolitan areas — D.C. and Dallas — had a Black employment rate higher than 60 percent; while, at the same time, only two metros — Portland and Detroit — had a white male employment rate that was less than 70 percent.
As shocking as it was to hear about Black males representing less than two percent of all school teachers, we should be no less alarmed to realize that Black males with less than a high school diploma only represent 1.4 percent of apparel store workers; 1.4 percent of hotel and motel workers; 1.7 percent of trucking service employees; 3.1 percent of department store employees and 5.8 percent of construction workers, according to the Employment Policies Institute.
While most of us in the country seem to be oblivious to these issues, or just “used” to catching these bad breaks in the employment arena, the rest of the world seems to be paying close attention.
Recently, the British-based Economist magazine noted: “Despite all of this, worklessness among less-educated men does not seem to be a priority for American politicians, in either party.”
I happen to believe the Economist is right on the money. If you’re watching the candidates, they all seem committed, instead, to finding jobs, solely, for the so-called “middle class.”
The Economist also let us know that it is wide awake on the whole issue of Black male joblessness; but it added this: “Poor educational performance also interacts perniciously with America’s habit of imprisoning large numbers of young Black men.
Remind me to renew that subscription to the Economist!
Another interesting sidebar to this whole effort of bringing much-needed awareness to the issue of Black male joblessness was the filing in 2010 to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council, which sought a U.N. investigation of the lingering issues of Black unemployment in the U.S., and referred to that situation as a “human rights issue.”
I happen to agree.
This crisis should be taken a lot more seriously by a lot more national decision-makers. We can’t afford to ignore it much longer.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
OK, Republicans, we’ll go over this one last time: I am Black. I voted for President Barack Obama. I did not vote for him because he’s Black, and I’m willing to bet my meager paycheck that most Black politically astute voters didn’t vote for his skin color either.
I voted for the president because he was head and shoulders above the lying, smarmy, condescending, snake-eyed weasel you Republicans called a candidate. For most Black folk, and for most Americans in general, it turns out — it wasn’t even a choice.
Look, we Democrats didn’t complain when our nominee, the jelly-spined Michael Dukakis, got his butt kicked by George H.W. Bush in 1988. Dukakis was an idiot, and we knew it. Once we saw the ridiculous photo of that doofus riding in a tank wearing a battle helmet, we realized the race was over. But we sucked it up, and took the beating we deserved, because it was essentially our fault that our candidate was so weak.
Republicans seem to lack even that minimum degree of self-awareness. In defeat, the GOP has pointed fingers at everyone but themselves. Mostly, though, they’ve blamed Blacks and other minorities for their own dismal failures.
Paul Ryan, the phantom running mate — who magically disappeared as soon as he was named for the VP slot, blamed the loss on Obama’s turnout in “urban” communities — as if we’re too stupid to figure out the code. Mitt Romney, still clueless about his own culpability in turning off millions of potential voters, said Obama bought the election with lavish “gifts” to the president’s base supporters at taxpayer expense — “gifts” like health care and student loan forgiveness.
Only Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, attempted to grasp the message voters were sending the GOP on Election Day — and even he only got it half right.
Jindal said, rightly, that the GOP would need to reach out to minorities and disenfranchised voters if the party ever wants to become viable again. He said they’d have to soften the divisive language on rape, homosexuality, immigration, and contraception, to name a few — or perish like the dinosaurs.
Jindal’s on the right track here, but he’s still on the wrong train. The GOP has got to reach out beyond its base of rich old white men, to be sure — but not just by softening the language. They’ll have to completely shift their divisive platform, politics and policies to even give themselves a chance with the millions of voters who rejected them last week in disgust. Just changing the tone will only mask their intentions, and add another layer of hypocrisy to their present pack of lies.
The fact is that millions of Americans — Black, white, gay, Hispanic, or whatever — voted for Obama not because they were snookered by a Democratic snake oil salesman, but because they were justifiably horrified by the things that actually came out of Republicans’ mouths for more than two years.
Did the GOP really think that the softer, gentler Romney who emerged at the very end of the campaign would somehow negate the 47 percent putdown, or the legitimate rape fiasco, or Rush Limbaugh attacking a college student as a slut, or invasive ultrasound procedures forced on women seeking to terminate their pregnancies? Did they think we’d forget about Newt Gingrich’s “food stamp president” slap, or Rick Santorum’s vow not to give white people’s money to lazy Blacks? Were we supposed to look the other way while Michelle Bachmann blamed the economic recession on poor Black folks, or ignore Rick Perry’s frequent hunting trips to the N-word Ranch?
We haven’t even gotten to their unashamed hatred of gays and lesbians, their plan to build an electrified fence to fry undocumented workers crossing the border like a giant bug zapper, or their apparent willingness to let their own grandmothers search through dumpsters for food scraps in exchange for hefty tax cuts for millionaires.
No, they’d rather believe that somehow Black people conspired to undo them, because if history has shown them nothing else, it’s that blaming dark-skinned folks is easier than looking in the mirror.
So go ahead. Call me racist for voting for Obama, while ignoring common sense and a mountain of damning evidence. Blame everything and everyone but yourselves — and your obsession with a continuing white pseudo-Christian plutocracy.
Keep it up all the way until 2016, when you can blame President Hillary Clinton and all those darned women for your next scheduled butt kicking.
Daryl Gale is the city editor of The Philadelphia Tribune.
Someone has sold all of us on the “fact” that Black Americans are more criminally inclined, that they deserve to be disproportionately incarcerated, and that they are fundamentally unemployable, in a high-tech society.
Since 1953, the United States has worked through an agency called the United States Information Agency (USIA), shaping world opinion about every issue in which our country has an interest. The agency maintains 190 offices in 142 countries and reports to the U.S. State Department. It clears and instructs all external messages about the United States, so none of the things that people in Europe, Asia, Latin America, or the Middle East hear about our country is the result of happenstance. It’s all very strategic and very focused.
That ability to sell and to influence doesn’t begin and end overseas, certainly. The U.S. communications juggernaut has also been especially effective at selling goods, services, elected officials and political issues to poor, unsuspecting, domestic, Black people, and to other Americans.
Both the federal government and Corporate America have always been very good at this stuff. They’ve been especially effective because the “customer” usually didn’t even realize that he/she had been “sold.”
In that context, one of the things we’ve been “sold,” as a Black community and as a nation, is the new, inherently criminal image of Black people. African Americans have been here for nearly 400 years but, it’s only been over the past 35 years that someone has sold us on the fact, and we have accepted, being classified as America’s permanent, criminal underclass.
As a result of these efforts, the U.S. has changed the image of African Americans from “hard working,” “industrious,” “family-oriented” and “honest” (what we were, for all but the last 35 years we’ve been in this country) to “lazy,” “irresponsible” and “inherently criminal” and it has all happened, as I have said, in the past 35 years of our 392-year tenure in this country.
It’s really not too difficult to trace the point in time when all of the new imagery about Black Americans began to emerge.
Older African Americans will tell you, for example, that they can recall when their community was not called “the ghetto,” or the “the hood,” but, simply, the Black neighborhood. They’ll also mention that they can recall when people believed that Black folks had a real sense of community, that they really did support one other, worked hard, and, yes, partied hard. They also, no matter where in the country they live, are quick to point out that in the Black community — in the South and in the North, right up to about the late 1960s — you could sleep with your windows open and your front doors unlocked, without fear or concern.
As the most visible example of how strong Black communities had grown and how much talent and vibrance they had, there is the so-called “Harlem Renaissance.”
Those words described conditions in New York City’s substantially Black Harlem community, following the Great Migration of Black, former farm workers, from the South to the North.
They came not to be “lazy,” “irresponsible,” or to be engaged in criminal activities. They came North — and, specifically, to Harlem, by the thousands — to escape blatant, overt Southern racism, to work in factories in the industrialized North, to write, to play music, to exercise their other creative talents and to build a community.
It’s been said that “by 1918, Harlem, New York had the highest concentration of Black people in the world.” It was there that W.E.B. DuBois (author of “The Philadelphia Negro”) and others formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It was there, working out of the same heightened sense of racial pride and dignity that the legendary Jamaican-born activist Marcus Garvey founded the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and initiated his “Back To Africa” movement.
Having survived the Great Depression and World War II, Harlem, like North Philadelphia, parts of South and West Philadelphia, and many other large Black communities across the country, could not as easily withstand the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), passed by the U.S. Congress in 1970, and the related importation of wholesale amounts of illicit drugs into Black communities. Those drugs were brought into the country and transported to Black communities to be sold at the retail level by small, Black “Amway/Tupperware”-type distribution methods. Those “dealers” were the people subject to arrest and conviction, even though they wouldn’t be in “business” at all, unless some other more-wealthy, more-influential trafficker, with global connections, didn’t import the product into their communities, in the first place.
The Controlled Substances Act “changed the nature of federal drug law and policy, expanded the scope of federal drug laws and expanded federal police power enormously.” The CSA has had dramatic effect on the national Black community because it really did coincide with massive increases in drug importation, even as government leaders told the country to “Just Say No.”
The fact is that, from 1925 to 1975, the Black rate of prison incarceration had ranged from about 60,000 per year to about 130,000 per year. Surging in 1970, at about the same time of the implementation of the new, harsher penalties for “controlled substances,” including marijuana, cocaine and heroin, the Black incarceration rate grew to about 750,000 per year, by 1990.
Since 1972, the U.S. prison population has increased seven-fold and that upsurge has affected young Black men more than any other group. In 2004, the white incarceration rate was 393 per 100,000, the Latino incarceration rate was 957 per 100,000 and the Black rate of incarceration was 2531 per 100,000, nearly seven times greater than the white rate.
It was also true, at that point, that one in three Black men between the ages of 20 and 29 were under some form of criminal justice control. By that same year, it was disclosed, a Black male born in 1991 stood a 29 percent chance of being imprisoned, at some point in his life, compared to 4 percent, for a white man born that year. In a related issue, 1.4 million Black men, or 13 percent of the African-American adult male population, have lost the right to vote due to their involvement in the criminal justice system.
Here’s the problem: The government has categorized marijuana, for example as a controlled substance, even while it recognizes that that very drug, had grown, by 2006, to be America’s number one cash crop ($35.8 billion for marijuana, $23.3 billion for corn, $17.3 billion for soy beans, $12.3 billion for hay, $7.4 billion for wheat, etc.). That situation clearly gives the appearance that the recent history of wholesale Black criminalization may very well be orchestrated by those who are not actually members, themselves, of the Black community.
As a recent example, 15 percent of all arrests in NYC, in 2010, were marijuana possession-related and 86 percent of those included in low-level marijuana arrests in that city are Black or Latino, even though whites use the drug at higher rates.
Its also clear that if one in three Black men are largely, through these processes, now under some form of criminal justice control, then it’s going to be difficult, in the foreseeable future, to find gainful employment opportunities for a significant part of the Black community.
Ask yourself: Just who is making these decisions?
When will Black Americans begin to have more substantial input in shaping their own futures?
And, finally, whether you believe or not that all of this is taking place with input from the previously described, government-sponsored U.S. image makers — I hope it isn’t so.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
FORT KNOX, Ky. — For Marcia Anderson, the promotion from brigadier general to major general validates the work of everyone who came before her.
Anderson on Thursday became the first African-American woman given a second star as a general in the U.S. Army during a ceremony at Fort Knox. It's a day, Anderson said, that Black soldiers who fought during the Civil War or the Tuskegee Airmen could never have imagined.
"But, they still signed up and served," said Anderson, who lives in Verona, Wis., when not on active duty.
Anderson, who will leave her post as deputy commanding general of the Human Resources Command at Fort Knox on Friday, received the promotion after a three-decade long military career. She is moving to the office of the chief of the U.S. Army Reserve in Washington, D.C.
Anderson's father, Rudy Mahan of Beloit, Wis., served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, but never got to fulfill his dream of flying bombers. He drove trucks instead. It's something Anderson attributes to the narrow options available to Blacks at the time.
"There were just limited opportunities," Anderson said in an interview after her promotion.
Her military career started almost by accident. When she was a student at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., Anderson signed up for ROTC after being told the "military science" course would fill her science requirement.
"I pretty quickly found out it was much more than a substitute for gym class," Anderson said.
Ahe stayed with the military, fulfilling her eight year commitment before deciding to re-enlist in the reserves. Anderson, an East St. Louis, Ill., native, said she was a captain, working on training soldiers "just off the street," when it occurred to her it was a job she enjoyed and wanted to keep doing.
"Before there is a war fighter, there is a trainer," Anderson said. "I get really excited about training soldiers. I think it's the best job in the Army."
The military promoted Anderson periodically and, when she became a brigadier general, Anderson became the highest-ranking African-American woman in the Army. She arrived at Fort Knox about a year ago to work on combining the Army's Human Resources Command under one roof from stations in Richmond, Va., St. Louis and Indianapolis.
Fort Knox Commander, Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, told Anderson she is "a role model, not only to me and those that worked with you, but to countless soldiers."
"I am very, very grateful," Freakley said.
Maj. Gen. Gina Farrisee, who oversees the Human Resources Command, said Anderson was tenacious and diligent in making sure soldiers got the information they needed.
"To me, it is very hard to fathom Human Resources Command without you," Farrisee said. "This is going to be very hard."
Despite the plaudits, Anderson never lost sight of what her father and others went through to make her career possible.
"This is for people like him who had dreams deferred," Anderson said. -- (AP)