Something I read the other day brought me back to one of Black poet Jon Kasandra’s most thought-provoking observations: “All poor people ain’t Black, and all Black people ain’t poor.”
That came to mind as I reviewed Forbes magazine’s annual “Billionaire’s List,” which happened to include, this year, the richest Africans on the planet.
Without reminders such as the Forbes list, it’s easy to slip into the grossly inaccurate belief that there’s something peculiar to Black DNA that facilitates poverty, or makes us incapable of handling large economic resources.
Many of the stereotypes about Africans and their “natural inclination” to lack wealth and to be economically incompetent can be traced, of course, to the oppressive impact of the colonizers and the specious “logic” of the pre-colonial slave traders and slave masters. These ruthless businesspeople easily rationalized mass kidnapping, brutal treatment and lifetime bondage of Africans.
They did so in large part by repeating to anyone who would listen that the act of bringing Blacks to America was actually good for the future slaves, as it represented a vast improvement over the “horrible conditions” the “poor savages” would have had to face if they had remained with their own families, in their own homes, in their own countries, in Africa.
To the contrary, the Forbes list, and others like it, remind us that Africans, and by extension African Americans, much like people on all the other continents of the world, have a keen understanding of economic issues, and are no strangers to wealth-building, or to caring for their own people, left to their own devices.
In fact, unencumbered by the stereotypes of Black incompetence foisted on African Americans, African immigrants have created an exceptional record of achievement — perhaps most notably in academic pursuits.
Despite the fact that about 15 percent of the people on Earth are Africans, over the past 45 years the U.S. has only taken in only about 850,000 Africans, or 3.3 percent of total U.S. immigration. Perversely, prior to that time, from 1965 back to the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, the U.S. imposed a quota on non-Egyptian African immigrants of 1,100 persons per year, which was subsequently increased in 1952 to 1,400 Black Africans annually.
So during the “glory years” of European immigration, Black Africans were essentially excluded from having opportunities for U.S. citizenship.
Despite all that, those who were admitted have made great strides toward eliminating the “inherent Black lack of intelligence” stereotype that even today has been far too widely accepted by the American people.
For example, if the American people had been paying attention, they would have noticed that 48.9 percent of all African immigrants hold a college degree — that’s more than twice the rate of U.S.-born white Americans. They might have also noticed that by 1997, 19.4 percent of all adult African immigrants in the U.S. had attained a graduate degree, as compared to just 8.1 percent of adult white Americans.
Forbes also disclosed that there are now 1,210 billionaires worldwide, who hold a collective $4.5 trillion in wealth. Perhaps most noteworthy, however, is that increasingly the wave of global billionaires is not flowing from the U.S. and Western Europe. Instead, as a reflection of the overall shift in global economic influence, they’re coming from emerging nations.
Indeed, in 2011 one in four of the world’s 1,210 billionaires are citizens of one of the BRIC nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China — a group that recently sometimes has also included South Africa.
Five years ago, by comparison, just one in ten billionaires lived in those countries. Even more to the point, of the 214 new billionaires added to the Forbes list in 2011, 108 came from one of the four BRIC nations.
There are lessons to be learned.
The first and most obvious lesson is that when we compare the wealthiest Africans with the wealthiest African Americans, the wealth of rich Black Americans appears to be almost paltry. The five African billionaires, for example, have an average net worth of $8.3 billion.
They earned their money “the old-fashioned way,” and they include people such as Nigerian Aliko Dangote, ranked as the world’s richest Black person, and the 51st wealthiest person on Earth, with a personal net worth of $13.8 billion. Dangote generated his billions through sugar, flour, textiles, real estate, oil and gas.
Following Dangote, at $12.3 billion, is Mohammad Al Amoudi, he of the Saudi Arabian father and Ethiopian mother. Mr. Al Amoudi, who ranks as the 62nd wealthiest person on the planet, derives his wealth from the oil business. Third on the list of wealthiest Black Africans is Mike Adenuga, whose initial net worth figure as reported by Forbes was “just $2.0 billion.”
A huge controversy ensued regarding Forbes’ inaccurate report, and new postings have more accurately assessed Adenuga’s wealth at a minimum of $10.1 billion, and perhaps more than that of his countryman, Dangote. The fourth wealthiest Black African, ranking 336th in the world, is Patrice Motsepe, at $3.3 billion. Motsepe, a South African, purchased a gold mine in 1994 as soon as Blacks could legally do so in South Africa, following its “democratization.”
Fifth on the list is the high-profile business mogul Mohammed “Mo” Ibrahim. A self-made billionaire and the 23rd richest person in the U.K. with a net worth of $1.8 billion, Ibrahim is a native of Sudan, and earned his money by founding Celtel, a mobile phone company that now serves 23 countries in Africa and the Middle East. He sold the company in 2005 for $3.4 billion and promptly put $1.4 billion “on his hip.”
To his everlasting credit, Mo Ibrahim has grown to become one of the word’s most important philanthropists. Through one of his foundations, he has created a lifetime award in the amount of $5 million for ten years and $200,000 annually thereafter, to be presented to an African head of state who has retired within a preceding three-year period, and who has left his country materially better off and more transparent.
Clearly, with examples such as Ibrahim, what the world needs now is more Black African billionaires.
By comparison, the richest African Americans, while admirable in their own right, aren’t really operating on the same national or global economic level as those back in the “mother countries.”
For example, the top six wealthiest African Americans (and we have to include six of them because behind the top two, we have four African Americans who are tied for third place, with the exact same reported net worth levels), are Oprah Winfrey, No.1, at $2.7 billion; Robert Johnson, second, at $550 million; and then Sean “Diddy” Combs, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Earvin “Magic” Johnson, tied at $500 million each.
That comes out to an average net worth of $875 million, per person; without Oprah’s $2.7 billion in the calculation, the average drops to $510 million.
What I find most interesting is that while each of the top wealthiest Africans earned their fortunes in infrastructure-related pursuits, such as gold mining, oil and gas, agriculture, telecommunications ownership, textile and real estate development, every single one of the six wealthiest African Americans, on the other hand, traces his and her fortune back to either sports or entertainment.
They have gold mines, we have “hip-hop.” They create and run telecommunications firms, we play basketball. They provide incentives to government leaders to improve the quality of their governments, and the treatment of their people across the continent; we’re still working to improve the next talk-show format.
It appears there are great things that African Americans can learn about success and self-determination from Africa.
I hope we do so. It’s getting late.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
It was good to hear the Sixers’ new ownership deal announced last week.
Major sports franchises (the NFL, the NBA, the NHL and Major League Baseball) announce such ownership changes fairly frequently. What is not so frequent, however, is seeing Blacks — even as limited partners — in these 122 sports ownership groups (32 NFL teams, and 30 each in the other three sports). Sorry to report, there’s just one Black majority owner among all of those franchises, in all of those sports.
I point that out because the new Sixers major owner, a guy named Joshua Harris, was smart enough to add Will and Jada Smith as limited partners in the 15-person ownership group that he headed, as he bought the team from Comcast-Spectacor.
I don’t have a clue how much Will and Jada actually invested in the team’s $280 million purchase price, but it certainly wasn’t “chump change,” by any stretch of the imagination.
Harris, the lead owner, is not only a Wharton School graduate and a shrewd business owner, he’s also ranked at #309 on Forbes Magazine’s list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, one of 12 NBA owners to have made the list. He probably doesn’t do “chump change.”
In my opinion, the announcement was good for the Sixers, great for Philly, and constituted an outstanding message to young African Americans, such as my modestly talented nephews, for example, who can now stop dreaming about playing for an NBA team and start thinking more seriously about actually owning one.
On the other hand, as pleased as I was to see the Sixers’ announcement, this peek into the “business of sports” was just one more reminder that Black folks still have a very long road to travel, if they hope to gain economy parity, in the lucrative world of professional sports.
For example, when the Smiths officially made their investment, they actually joined three other African-American entertainers with limited partnership stakes in NBA franchises. There’s Usher, with a small stake (by NBA ownership standards) in the Cleveland Cavaliers; there’s Nelly, with a similar investment in the Carolina Bobcats; and then there’s the ubiquitous Jay-Z, with a minority participation with the New Jersey Nets.
In football, there are a few Black limited partners, including the Williams sisters — Venus and Serena — who hold a minority stake in the Miami Dolphins. In baseball, there are six Black limited partners in the Washington Nationals baseball franchise, including TV broadcaster James Brown. And then there’s Sheila Johnson, former wife of BET’s Bob Johnson, who reportedly has ownership interests in the WNBA Washington Mystics, the Washington Capitals hockey team and the NBA’s Washington Wizards.
But as I implied earlier, among all of those major sport franchises, there is only one Black majority owner, and that happens to be the legendary Michael Jordan, who in 2010 bought an 80 percent interest in the Carolina Bobcats from Sheila Johnson’s former husband, Bob. Mr. Johnson, you may recall, had, himself, become the very first Black majority owner of a major sports team in the U.S., in 2002, when he bought the Bobcats.
If, in the back of your mind, you had been thinking that well-paid Black athletes should have been better prepared to invest in pro sports franchises after their retirements, we should be aware that, according to Sports Illustrated, 78 percent of NFL players are bankrupt within two years of their retirements. The same holds true for 60 percent of NBA players. For them, however, it takes five years to go “broke.”
Please, is there an African-American investment manager in the house?
Even though the Atlanta Post has recently reported that 65 percent of all National Football League players are Black and that 80 percent of National Basketball Association players are Black, it will be, even under the very best circumstances, a very long time before Black ownership levels in pro sports franchises look anything like the racial composition of their teams.
Diversity among sport franchise owners cannot simply be reduced to inclusion ratios or affirmative action policies. Make no mistake. There is still a lingering issue of potential Black owners having to be “approved” for participation by those already at the table in these very private “clubs.” Race notwithstanding, however, being able to participate as a majority owner or limited partner in a pro sport franchise is not for the faint of heart, or for the thin of wallet.
Indeed, there are more than a dozen NBA owners and minority owners who were included, in 2011, by Forbes Magazine, in its ranking of the country’s 400 wealthiest persons.
Topping the list of the wealthiest NBA owners was the Portland Trailblazer’s Paul Allen, who just happens to be the guy who co-founded Microsoft, along with Bill Gates. Allen, according to Forbes, has a net worth of $13.2 billion (that’s “billion” with a “b”), ranking him 23rd on the magazine’s list, but far and away number one among NBA owners, with regard to wealth.
Second wealthiest NBA owner is Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, who owns the Orlando Magic. With $5 billion in net worth, DeVos ranks as America’s 60th most wealthy person.
DeVos is followed by Micky Arison of Carnival Cruises, owner of the Miami Heat, and a $4.2 billion fortune. He is followed by Stan Kroenke, of Walmart, who owns the Denver Nuggets, and his own $3.2 billion, and Tom Gores, owner of the Detroit Pistons, who claims $2.5 billion in net worth.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Put into that context the previously mentioned Mr. and Mrs. Smith, who report net worth figures of $200 million and $20 million, respectively (that’s “million” with an “m”). The Smiths are viewed by most Americans, and, arguably, by most Black Americans as being fabulously wealthy. It’s clear, however, that sports franchise net worth levels are in an entirely different league.
Many of the pro sports franchise owners are drawn from the CEO ranks in America’s largest publicly traded corporations. In the main, according to Forbes, this population, that makes the top “1 percent” look broke. Indeed, the magazine describes the top 25-income CEO’s as the “.0001% at the top.”
In fact, when you count their wealth, the top ten on that list, which includes Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, three members of the Walton family (Walmart), the infamous Koch brothers and George Soros, you find an average net worth of $29.1 billion, with Gates floating at the top, at $59.1 billion.
By comparison, Forbes probably enjoyed rubbing “pseudo-rich” Black athletes’ noses in it, when it reported recently that the 50 highest-paid athletes in the world, which includes the LeBrons, the Carmelos, the Kobes, the Tigers, the Derek Jeters, and, even, the Yao Mings and Tom Bradys, earned a combined $1.4 billion last year, or $28 million (that’s “million” with an “m”), on average.
So you see, when you come to the table to talk about sports franchise ownership, you simply have to be possessed of serious money. That is probably why “relatively wealthy” Blacks, such as Reggie Jackson, Bill Cosby and the late Bruce Llewellyn, were denied access to the “club,” when they tried to buy into the pro football and pro baseball ownership elite.
I “say all of that to say” that perhaps we should sit up and pay attention when Joshua Harris and his $1.54 billion of net worth rolls into town, together with the Smiths, to begin his reign over Philadelphia professional basketball.
We, in the Black community, obviously have a great deal left to learn — in entertainment, sports and elsewhere — about making and holding onto our money, if we’re serious about becoming major owners, one day, in pro sports franchises.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
Odunde 365, producers of the annual Odunde Festival, presented an one-of-a-kind evening on Wednesday at the African American Museum of Philadelphia (AAMP) with some of Philadelphia’s top leaders of color.
Moderated by local businessman A. Bruce Crawley, “My Story” shared the personal stories of triumph and success of Sen. Anthony Williams, Willie F. Johnson, founder/chairman of PRWT Services, Inc. and Robert W. Bogle, Publisher and CEO of The Philadelphia Tribune in front of over 50 guests. Wednesday’s event was the second series.
While all of the panelists were unified in eschewing the term “legend,” they each recalled the path they took to success. PRWT was launched in 1988 as a result of an alliance Johnson made with Lockheed Martin IMS, the state and local government division of the Bethesda, Md.-based defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.
During Johnson’s reign as CEO, PRWT grew into a 1,500-person operation with workers in eight states including Washington, D.C.
“There is something very unique about Black enterprise: most Black enterprises develop and grow with in their own community and within their own region because they are depending on their relationships with politicians, etc., for market share and a whole a lot of other things,” Johnson said. When asked about his personal management style the answer, he replied: “I am me … I call it like I see it—and then get scared later.”
Bogle, who recalled that he joined The Tribune in 1970 selling advertising, responded in kind:
“Johnson and I are absolutely and unequivocally together: I've rolled the dice a few times. It's not easy being Black and a world that is controlled financially by non-African Americans. So, you can go and say I don't give a damn but you're not going to win. So, Mr. Johnson is right: you've got to find some balance. Balance doesn't mean you say, 'yes massa,' so don't go too far. It means that you have to feel good about who you are; you have to be willing to say what you believe and in doing so that doesn't mean you get out of character and call people a bunch of dirty names. You say, sometimes we left the social skills to deal with situations that we need to be better at, so I'm not ready to say massa and I'm not ready to give that up and I'm not ready to say good morning white, but what I am prepared to do is let him know that I am as prepared as any as anybody he knows — whether they’re white or Black. I'm prepared to do that job."
Williams, a lifelong resident of West Philadelphia, remembered his life as the son of the popular late Sen. Hardy Williams. During the event he took to social media to tweet a thank you to the organizers for "forcing us to talk about issues concerning (the African-American) community."
Earlier in the week, Odunde's Executive Director, Oshun Bumi Fernandez told WDAS’ Patty Jackson that “the most important thing about this “My Story” event is that it is in their own words. One will not be able to find this information on the resume; you won't be able to Google it, so you have to hear it in your own words. How I came upon this idea was that me and my partner, Tiffany Nunez, realize there are a lot of young people that have problems finding mentors, and think that people just wake up and they are successful. But, there are a lot of sacrifices that takes place.”
For more Odunde365 information, visit http://odundefestival.org/odunde365.html
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.
Yes, I saw President Obama’s comments endorsing same-sex marriage. I thought it was an extraordinarily risky political strategy for an incumbent with a very tight race ahead of him. I also thought it was a position that put him in direct opposition with his most loyal voting bloc — Black folks.
But, hey, what do I know?
Let me say, early on, that, as a Black American, who has been, and continues to be, subjected to racially insensitive and overtly racist behaviors, I’d be right up there among the last people on earth to condone harassment or discrimination against people who are different than I am.
At the same time, let me be clearly on the record as saying that I do not believe that mainstream media, elected officials and national activists should continue to compare the public debate about “same-sex” marriage to the Civil Rights Movement.
That’s simply a disingenuous, and highly inaccurate, analogy. It’s also an insult to millions of African Americans who were brutally enslaved, here in this country, since 1619; who had never been granted the right to vote, until 1965; who were deprived of the opportunity to provide for their children because of racially oppressive employment practices; who couldn’t (and still can’t) live in segregated neighborhoods and, who, finally, were savagely lynched, by the thousands, simply because they were born Black.
Don’t get me wrong.
I do respect the challenges that people in the gay and lesbian community face when they want to have their civil unions respected as full-fledged marriages. As long as people don’t create hardship, pain or deprivation for other human beings through their lifestyle choices, I say they should have the right to do as they please.
But, again, I do resent reading or hearing that the “same-sex” marriage debate is the “Civil Rights Movement of the 21st century.” It most certainly is not, in my opinion.
The Civil Rights Movement was focused on a comprehensive set of goals, each of which was designed to finally convey full U.S. citizenship to Black Americans, who had been living in this country for hundreds of years, without it. There was a demand for Federal works programs; for full and fair employment; for equal access to housing; for adequate, non-segregated education, and even, for the fundamental right to vote.
Over a period from about 1942 to about 1958, rallies were held at hundreds of Black churches; Black children required the assistance of federal marshals, simply to attend classes at previously all-white schools; thousands of marches had to be held; hundreds of restaurants, businesses, transportation systems, bowling allies and entertainment venues had to be boycotted and picketed; and millions of Black folks had to be registered to vote, for the very first time — often at substantial risk to their own lives, and to the lives of those who had encouraged them to do so.
When more pacifist elements of the Movement seemed to be stalled in their rate of progress, despite the water hoses, cattle prods, attack-dog bites and sniper bullets they had endured, other, more-strident, less-patient, segments of the Black community came to the fore, in the form of the so-called “Black Power” advocates. They added some “teeth” and a much-needed, “good cop, bad cop” element to the long-suffering Civil Rights model.
Unfortunately, at this stage of the Movement, Black folks were feeling so frustrated by the lack of meaningful progress that “rebellions” against racist authority broke out in several major cities (mainstream media, of course, referred to them as riots). In the process, scores of lives and millions of dollars worth of valuable commercial and residential property were lost.
This happened in places such as Harlem, in 1964; Watts, in 1965; Hough, in Cleveland, in 1966; and in Plainfield, N.J., Newark, and Detroit, in 1967. There was even a very small “riot,” in Philadelphia, in 1964. These actions, at the grassroots level, really did get the attention of lawmakers who were encouraged to make changes, sooner, rather than later.
Given all of that, I find it difficult to see the “same-sex” marriage debate being compared to the Civil Rights struggle. As difficult as some gays and lesbians may feel that their lives have been, here, I would humbly submit that this country has yet to move to wholesale job discrimination, housing segregation, or to massive economic and financial services disparities against the LGBT community.
While I don’t want to harp too much on the differences between the legitimate plight of gays and the legitimate plight of Blacks in this country, I do need to remind readers that, according to the most recently available data, the median household net worth for Blacks dropped by 83 percent, between 2007 and 2009, to $2,170. By comparison, the median net worth for whites fell by just 24 percent, during the same recessionary period, to $97,860.
In addition, the Phoenix Wealth Survey has recently reported that, between 4 percent and 7 percent of “high net worth” households (those with investable assets of $500,000, or more) identify themselves as either lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgendered. Conservatively estimated, at even a 6 percent level, that would equate to 450,000 “gay” high net worth individuals, in this country.
I say all of this to point out that I believe that there is some justifiable resentment among members of the black community when they hear the comparisons being made, and when they recognize that the President has been nowhere near as outspoken on the need for specific support for black people, as he seems to be for the LGBT community.
In addition, there still seems to be a significant degree of discomfort among black folks, who tend to be disproportionately religious, to having their government make them choose between the “same-sex” marriage issue as a political platform for an elected official, and their long-held religious beliefs.
A Pew Research report last year disclosed that, while 58 percent of all Americans believe homosexuality should be accepted, only 29 percent of white evangelicals agree with that position, and just 45 percent of blacks do.
Not surprisingly, therefore, a NewsOne poll of 400 Black people, immediately following last week’s “announcement” found that 63 percent of the respondents did not support the president. Perhaps even worse for Mr. Obama, as of Friday, Al Sharpton, who hasn’t disagreed with him, on anything, in about two years, was the only Black minister in the country who said, publicly that he agreed with the president, on “same-sex” marriage.
For the president, this issue also has international implications. There are just ten countries in the world, out of 194, in total, wherein gay marriage is legal. Seven of those countries are European, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Portugal and Iceland; an eighth is Canada; and the final two are Argentina and South Africa. The collective population of those ten countries stands at just 224.6 million, or about 3.2 percent of the total number of people on earth.
It seems that the president has his hands full. On a purely political basis, he has also given ultra-conservative, white evangelicals the “religious, moral high ground,” if, and when, they vote against him, in November. With the president’s same-sex” position now on the table, right-wing conservatives won’t be voting against him simply because he’s Black (wink, wink!), they’ll be voting against him because to do otherwise would cause them to violate their life-long religious principles.
To top it all off, North Carolina, the state where the Democratic National Convention is scheduled to be held, in early September, last week voted down its own “same-sex” marriage law. The Convention should be especially lively.
I hope the Obama people like an uphill battle. They just chose one.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
I was struck by two apparently unrelated stories this past week. The first was the announcement by the Census Bureau that more poor Americans now live in U.S. suburbs than in cities. The second was the New York Times article that finally, officially, conceded what most of us already knew: That Washington, D.C., no longer qualifies, anymore, to be called “Chocolate City,” now that only 50 percent of its population is Black.
It took me about a minute, but I did finally figure out that these two stories were not actually unrelated, at all. In fact, they are each a part of the same, growing phenomenon, and it’s not just Washington. Among other cities, it has also impacted Harlem, New York, the iconic cultural center of Black America, which is now no longer a majority Black neighborhood.
There’s clearly a plan in place and it’s being carried out with great, or frightening, efficiency, depending upon which side you stand. Those who believe that most Black people shouldn’t continue to be “priced out” of major U.S. cities had better wake up and smell the coffee.
There was a line in one of Ray Charles’ songs, that he had “lifted” from the old spiritual “Amazing Grace.” It took on greater significance, and exponentially higher levels of “hipness,” when it was sung by “Baby Ray,” who, as you know, was a blind piano player and musical genius.
The line, which I’ll never forget, was: “I once was blind, but now I see.”
What made it all so “hip,” of course, was that we all knew that Ray wasn’t using the line in that Amazing-Grace-kind-of-way; but, instead, in the “Now, I finally realize what’s going on around me, and I will no longer be fooled” kind-of-way.
If we, in the national Black community, could be at least as enlightened and insightful as Ray Charles was, in that one song, we might finally be able to develop plans that will slow down this decades-long trend of having the most desirable “inner city” real estate, which was previously owned by us, claimed by wealthy, former suburbanites, while we’re being unceremoniously displaced to rapidly declining, terribly inconvenient, now-less-than-desirable suburbs.
As I’ve said in this space previously, major U.S. cities are starting to look more and more like beautiful, downtown Johannesburg, and our country’s former, middle- and upper-middle-class suburbs are starting to look more and more like Soweto.
As most readers are already aware, Soweto, short for South West Townships, is a 99 percent-Black suburb of Johannesburg, that became home to what is now 1.3 million indigenous South Africans, when the Apartheid government implemented its “resettlement” program, systematically evicting Blacks from South Africa’s cities.
While it may seem extreme, to some, to compare Apartheid South Africa, in any way, to the United States, the federally sanctioned and private-sector-driven population shifts, by race, in this country, are difficult to deny.
That doesn’t prevent major media and government leaders from pretending that it’s not really happening. Take, for example, the 2010 Brookings report on the “Suburbanization of Poverty,” which was cited by “Dateline” in producing its one-hour special last Sunday on the topic.
Among other things, Brookings pointed out that by 2008, U.S. suburbs were: “Home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in the country.” Curiously, in its entire 16-page report, Brookings opted not to mention, at all, the implications of racial demographic shifts on suburban poverty. Hence, the “Dateline” story, while purportedly designed to explain increasing poverty in suburban America, didn’t include a single, Black or Hispanic “economic victim.” In fact, the only African-American presence in the entire show was the network’s reporter, Lester Holt, who, so far, is not living in poverty, as far as we can tell.
By no means am I implying that encroaching poverty among whites is any less important or painful than Black or Hispanic poverty. On the other hand, it is virtually impossible to explain the new suburban poverty phenomenon ( though Lester Holt certainly tried) without including the fact that white Americans, who generally are more fully employed and have substantially higher net worth levels, are moving into America’s cities, and that Blacks and Hispanics, who are disproportionately unemployed, underemployed and without wealth, are moving (or, being moved) out of those same cities, and into the suburbs. It’s not rocket science; heads don’t have to be scratched.
For example, according to the Census Bureau, 35 percent of suburban residents are now minorities, similar to minority representation in U.S. cities. In addition, more than half of all minority groups in large metro areas, including Blacks, now reside in suburbs.
In fact, of the 100 largest metro areas, from 2000 to 2010, almost one third (32) experienced an absolute loss of white residents and, in the last decade, for the first time, more than half of Blacks (51 percent), in large metro areas, now reside in the suburbs. That’s an increase from 44 percent, in the year 2000, and 37 percent, in 1990.
If we want to continue to test our Soweto comparison, we need to understand how and why so many Black folks are winding up outside the city limits, in the first place.
Mainstream media would have us believe that African Americans (51 percent of them) have moved to the suburbs, as a result of “Black flight,” i.e., African Americans wanting to move far away from other Black city residents, to find “better” schools and suburban tranquility.
I have no doubt that there is a relatively small percentage of middle-class Black people who did attempt (too late, it seems) to follow the “American Dream” into the wooded suburbs. There’s no denying that. I’m happy for them.
On the other hand, I’m also convinced that the country’s banks have not found sufficient religion, overnight, to provide suburban mortgage loans to 51 percent of the Black population. So, there must be another reason.
No, a more accurate cause of Black migration to the suburbs can be traced directly to the movement of whites — both younger “singles” and “empty-nesters” — into the cities that their families deserted when they sought “red-lined” FHA mortgages and “better schools” for their children, in the mid-20th century.
Once they moved to the ’burbs, however, they slowly realized just how much they were sacrificing city-based access to cultural and entertainment venues, how much valuable time they were losing each day in tedious commutes, and how much gas prices continued to rise, among other things. In response, they developed a new strategy.
Incentivized with massive, multiple-year tax abatements and other lures, they moved, in droves, calling themselves “urban pioneers,” back into long-term Black and Hispanic communities, raising property values and tax rates, to the point where the former residents could no longer afford to stay. In some places, such as Atlanta, the white population has increased by five percent, since the year 2000, and in Washington D.C., a similar white population increase has called into question its George Clinton-inspired “Chocolate City” pseudonym.
When you combine all of the above with the strategic, Hope VI financing provided by HUD over recent decades, to reduce population density in predominantly Black public communities, you get, not surprisingly, a virtual elimination of low-income housing options in cities such as Chicago and Washington, and a reduction of previously affordable housing options in places such as Philadelphia’s Richard Allen Homes, where the Black family count, after HUD-financed demolition and new construction, went from 1,324 units to 408.
Now, do those two stories — the one about poverty in the suburbs and the need to rename “Chocolate City” — make more sense, now?
Maybe now you can run out and buy yourself one of those Ray Charles T-shirts, the ones that say, in bold letters, on the front: “I once was blind, but now I see.”
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
Did you see the news last week about the “racially insensitive” advertising agency that handles television commercials for the Acura automobile? It was hard to miss. It was all over traditional and digital media, and actually started with a leaked alert to TMZ by a Black actor.
It turns out that Acura’s “casting agency” put out a call for a Black man who would be “nice looking, friendly, not too dark” to appear along with Jerry Seinfeld, in one of their new commercials.
Needless to say, people went “buck wild,” at least for a minute. There were the usual expressions of outrage and demands for an apology, which was subsequently given.
The situation was widely, but certainly not deeply, reported. In fact, it is clear that, once again, mainstream media totally botched and/or significantly underreported what should have been a larger story about the U.S. advertising industry’s long-standing, disrespectful, treatment of black acting and marketing talent, black-owned advertising agencies and black-owned media, of all types.
Mainstream media, and most bloggers, didn’t even attempt to put the Acura “friendly, not too dark” story into context. It was simply: “Casting agency caught being insensitive, apology issued by the agency, case closed.”
If casual readers didn’t dig any deeper than that, they would have been ill-informed. They might have believed that other than the “Acura” kind of isolated misstep, the advertising industry is actually some bastion of glamour, truth, justice and fairness.
They’d be wrong, of course, on almost all counts. Indeed, there’s actually not much glamour, at all, about an industry that has perennially been recognized as extremely and dismissively insensitive, and blatantly racist, for as long as anyone can remember.
As hard as that same casual reader might have tried, it would have been very difficult to find very much “fairness” in an industry that was ranked last year by “News One for Black America” as the sixth-worst industry in the country, with regard to Black under-representation. In producing their ranking, reporters cited the fact that Civil Rights leaders and Black advertising professionals disclosed, in 2009, that the advertising industry is 40 percent more discriminatory than the general job marketplace, and actually worse today, in that regard, than it was 30 years ago.
I must say that I found it almost laughable that the news coverage about the Acura commercial tried to give the impression that “skin color preference” was in any way unusual in the industry, or in the country, as a whole.
First, let’s deal with the sordid race-based history of the ad business. A report, back in 1996, by the Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy, which was submitted to the Federal Communications Commission, addressed the practice wherein large advertisers testified to their advertising agencies that their upcoming campaigns included “No urban/Spanish dictates.”
What that widely used practice simply meant was that the large corporate advertisers had officially relieved their agencies from any obligation to include Black or minority-focused radio stations or cable outlets, in their campaigns.
In a related practice, advertisers also insisted upon receiving “minority discounts,” i.e., minority-focused or -owned stations would be paid, by design, less revenue, per each of their listeners, than mainstream-focused stations, even when they had the same audience sizes.
No wonder there are just 240 black-owned radio stations out of 11,000, nationwide. No wonder it’s so hard to turn a profit at a Black-owned station.
In 1994, Dr. Marilyn Kern-Foxworth, wrote that “African Americans account for just 2.1 percent of all marketing, advertising and public relations managers, which ranks these industries as 336th out of 351 monitored by the Bureau (of Labor Statistics).” In that same year, added Foxworth, “Advertising Age, the ‘bible’ of the advertising industry, estimated that African-American managers in mainstream ad agencies stood at approximately one percent.
In its 2009 report, “Research Perspectives on Race and Employment In the Advertising Industry,” Bendick and Egan Economic Consultants disclosed that Black college graduates working in advertising earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by similarly qualified white counterparts; that 16 percent of large ad agencies employed no Black managers, whatsoever, a rate 60 percent higher than the overall labor market; and that eliminating the ad industry’s current Black-white employment gap would require tripling its current level of Black managers and professionals.
At about the same time, the long-running Madison Avenue Project, designed to reduce racial disparities in the advertising industry, discovered: “...a persistent unwillingness by mainstream advertising agencies to hire, assign, advance and retain already-available Black talent.”
Even in the midst of this self-defeating commitment to Civil War-era employment policies, it’s clear that the whole “preference for light-complected Black thing” is not peculiar to Acura advertising, or even, sadly, to racially biased white persons.
Black folks have apparently been sipping the same Kool Aid.
In a 2008 doctoral thesis, “Effect of African-American Skin Tone on Advertising Communication,” Yuvay Jeanine Meyers set out to determine how the “skin tone” of a Black model in an advertisement affects specific outcome measures of advertising.”
According to the study, “More favorable attitudes were formed when the Black model’s skin tone was “light,” as opposed to when the Black model’s skin was ‘dark.’ “
The author cited earlier studies, including one from 2005, on the subject of “colorism,” i.e., the process of discrimination that gives privilege to people of a lighter skin tone over their dark-skinned counterparts.
Ms. Meyers’ scientific analysis considered the fact that the advertising industry, in trying to make the most favorable and productive use of Black models and actors, certainly needed to have a clear understanding of “colorism” and its potential impact on its clients’ sales.
Even more unfortunately, in a study done in 2006, a majority of African-American college students at a Midwestern university said that, “Lighter complexions are more attractive than darker ones.” Indeed, 96 percent of the men preferred a medium-to-light complexion in women, while “70 percent of women found light skin of value in men.”
So — maybe Acura’s ad agency was not being racist, at all. Maybe their agency’s creative people had simply done their homework and found that Americans — even African Americans — still feel less positively disposed to darker-skinned Black people than to light-skinned black people.
Maybe they also were aware that even in Mother Africa, there seems to be a lingering inferiority complex about dark-skinned color, as a holdover from age-old perceptions of European political, economic and military dominance.
Indeed, in a report last month by Consultancy Africa Intelligence, it was disclosed that 35 percent of women in Pretoria, South Africa; 52 percent in Dakar, Senegal and 77 percent of female traders in Lagos, Nigeria, used skin-lightening chemicals on their faces and bodies (at some significant risk to their own health), and that these women say they associate lighter skin tones with “elegance, beauty and higher social status.”
In summary, it appears that, like many other things having to do with racial unfairness in this country, “colorism” in the selection of models for ad campaigns is based partly on long-standing negative institutional practices, but also, on Black folks’ own continued willingness to be psychologically subjugated by whites, and to feel inferior to them as if there really was some inherent, God-given, advantage in having been born with white, or light, skin.
Before we get mad at Acura’s ad agency, before we set out to bring “justice” to the entire advertising agency business, maybe we should work on bringing common sense, self-pride and economic self-determination to our own community.
How can we expect others to respect us and our dark skins, if we, ourselves, don’t?
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
To say this lady wears many hats is an understatement.
The Rev. Dr. Lorina Marshall-Blake is the president of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation and vice president of Community Affairs for Independence Blue Cross (IBC).
She is also the mother of three children: Julian, Chawnda and Jamila; and grandmother of Jamile. One can sense the feeling of pride as she notes all of her children attended an historically Black college, i.e. Howard, Lincoln, Spelman and Xavier — and are successful in their respective careers.
Marshall-Blake serves as associate minister at Vine Memorial Baptist Church and spiritual chief officer at IBC where, from time to time, she has been called on to provide spiritual support for employees experiencing personal challenges and/or when an employee dies.
Additionally, this lady serves as president of the Omega Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. The group is a Pan-Hellenic organization with approximately 400 members. This is a position she has held since last fall.
The chapter has initiated the Emerging Youth Leaders program focusing on leadership by design, and on purpose, through the Bailey Arrington Leadership Institute.
In her role with the IBC foundation, her philosophy is to take the social to the philanthropic. The foundation serves Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties.
Marshall-Blake believes it important to see where the clinics are and to interact with the staff and clients. To that end, she has visited all 32 clinics. The foundation’s six-member board meets twice a year. Launched in 2011 with a $10 million budget, the foundation has awarded $3.25 million to date. She loves her job and views it as her dream job. She’s worked at IBC for 22 years and served on the board of directors at one point. Before this position, she worked at the Philadelphia Gas Works for 14 years.
Literally, a lady of many hats, she’s known for the stylish hats that she wears every day. Being ladylike is a trait she patterned after her grandmother and mother.
“It’s important for young girls to see ladies as role models and to be able to see themselves unfold and learn to have love for themselves — as referenced in Dr. Mona Lake’s poem ‘Getting Ready to Unfold,’” Marshall-Blake said.
This tastefully dressed businesswoman appreciates hearing remarks of admiration from passers-by as she moves from activity to activity in Center City.
Her wardrobe is developed from selections delivered by Fred Lee, a deacon at her church who provides this service for many of the female congregation members.
While many view her as a fashionista, she describes herself as a classic dresser. However, she always makes a special effort to seek out a unique pair of earrings from a jeweler in New York during Pennsylvania Society Weekend.
A self-proclaimed “typical” middle child of five children (one brother is deceased), she and her siblings were expected to do well, go to school and “don’t go out acting a fool.”
Her father was a master plumber and handyman, while her mother stayed home to raise the children. When she was a baby, she was nicknamed “Bootsy” because she was small enough to fit inside her father’s fishing boot.
One of her fondest childhood memories is of Friday nights eating Chinese shrimp dinner from Ms. Punchey’s.
The family didn’t vacation much, however, a visit to Atlantic City or Wildwood for the day and a trip to Ocean City for the weekend were special treats.
She reflects fondly on neighborhood entrepreneurs “Mr. Otis” and “Miss Sadie” and she feels good to still know most of the families on the street on which she was raised and where her 84-year-old mother still resides. She has a special smile as she shares that she talks with her mother every day, no matter where she is, in or out of the country, and does her laundry and performs other duties that a daughter does for her mother.
Always mindful that “God never blinks” Marshall-Blake was raised to always be grateful for whatever you have and to treat everyone with the dignity they deserve.
She attended Brooks Elementary and was in the first group of bused students (to Mitchell Elementary on Kingsessing Avenue) and Overbrook High School. She has a master of arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania, a master of divinity degree from Palmer Theological Seminary (she was ordained on July 21, 2004) and an honorary doctorate of humanities from Albright College in Reading, Pa.
Marshall-Blake sleeps only about 4 to 5 hours daily and it’s ok with her.
She’s able to balance her extremely busy business, civic and personal life because she’s organized.
She noted that she and her father, who was exceptionally organized, would be awake moving through the home and doing things while the rest of the family was still sleeping.
Mentors of this extremely busy businesswoman include Delores Brisbon, Rev. Dorothy Watson Tatum, Anne Wrice Mullin, Chris Cashman, Dan Hilferty, Bruce Crawley and Councilwoman Augusta A. Clark. She gives back by mentoring several young people within and outside of the company. The group consists of Ayana Moses, who is getting married in Ghana and has invited Marshall-Blake to participate in the ceremony), Joanne Ferguson, Shalimar Blakeley, Bridgette Daniels and Marcus Allen.
The list of role models includes her mother, first lady Michelle Obama, her pastor, the Rev. James Allen, and her good friends, the Rev. Sandra Reed and Jan Gillespie.
These three words characterize this lady executive.
Moving from meeting to meeting, and activity to event, she logs many hours on a daily basis changing from corporate hat to community member to board member to mother and friend. After knowing her for a while, many of her business associates affectionately call her “Reenie.”
The recipient of numerous awards, she is quite proud to have been acknowledged by the Wynnefield Presbyterian Church, Women of Faith, the League of Women Voters with its Civil Leadership Award, BEBASHI, the Tribune’s Most Influential list, the American Jewish Committee. She also received the G. Fred DiBona Leadership Award, the highest award given by Independence Blue Cross.
An avid reader, she enjoys material from a variety of genres and quotes from them with ease. Some of her favorite books are: the Bible; “Heaven is For Real: A Little Boys Story of His Trip to Heaven,” Todd Blupo, et al; “Great Day Every Day: Navigating Life’s Challenges with Promise and Purpose” (Max Lucado) and Dennis Kimbro’s “What Keeps Me Standing: Letters From Black Grandmothers on Peace, Hope and Inspiration.”
With respect to leadership style she refers to “Leading Like Madiba: Leadership Lessons from Nelson Mandela.” This philosophy suggests that one does not have to be in front to lead; rather, one can lead from behind using one’s influence, bench strength and by supporting others — “it’s not always about a title,” she notes.
Marshall-Blake is excited simply about life every day and the possibilities of each new day. While much of what she does is in the public realm, most wouldn’t know that she has run the IBC Broad Street Run twice (and that’s the limit she says while smiling). She also loves to cook, and is a great cook, which can be attested to by anyone who has had the pleasure of dining on a meal she has prepared.
Other community activities include serving on the boards of the Philadelphia Urban League, the Urban Affairs Coalition, the Black Women’s Health Alliance and the IBC Safety Advisory Commission. She also finds time to be affiliated with 2000 African American Women, the Community College of Philadelphia and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.
Cultural heroes and “sheroes” include Fannie Lou Hamer, Sojourner Truth and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “If they hadn’t done what they did, we wouldn’t be here to do what we are doing,” Marshall-Blake said.
Living legends who complete her list include General Colin Powell, President Barack Obama, and Radio One founder Cathy Hughes.
“Our young people need to be able to see them and learn how they are able to do what they do,” she said.
Her office, with a large picture window looking out over the city, is that of a busy woman. One gets a sense of who she is and what her interests are from the books, artifacts and other materials that are displayed throughout the space.
Family photos, AKA paraphernalia, an African-American doll with a small bag of cotton (‘lest we forget’), a photo of President Barack Obama, numerous awards, a bookcase full of books and other mementos. Her degrees adorn her office walls and there is a coffee table near the cushiony couch near the entrance to her office that holds some of her favorite books.
“The key to my success is my faith walk,” Marshall-Blake said. “I believe that as I succeed, you succeed. I love my job. When I leave at the end of the day, I feel fulfilled. I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish at IBC. Those of us who are in these positions of leadership are the exception; we should be the rule, and young people should be able to see African Americans in different leadership roles.”
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.
How do you say Black History Month in Spanish?
Since this still is Black History Month, I want to raise what has long been a nagging question for me on the whole subject of racial categorization: Why is it that the Census Bureau includes "Hispanics" together with "non-Hispanic whites" to comprise a total U.S. "white population," but fails to include the significant numbers of "Hispanics" of African descent as part of the country's overall Black population count?
According to everything I've read, the Hispanic population in the U.S. — both citizen and "undocumented" — is estimated at about 50.5 million people. Of that number, it's been reported, only about 26.7 million are "white." Of the remaining 23.8 million people, 22.5 million of them identify themselves as either "Black," "two or more races," or "some other race," categories which do not include American Indians, alone, Asians, alone, or Pacific Islanders, alone, who constitute the remaining 1.3 million Spanish-speakers.
Potentially, it seems, the inclusion of those 22.5 million visibly black, visibly Mulatto or mixed race, and genetically African- descendent Hispanics, when added to 42 million Census Bureau-counted blacks, that have already been identified, would increase the U.S. black population count to 64.5 million people in this country. That would equate to 20.6 percent of the overall U.S. population.
Wouldn't that be interesting?
Why is it, after all, that the Census Bureau and the rest of U.S. society separates Spanish-speaking Blacks from the rest of the country's Black population?
People of European descent, regardless of the language they speak at home, or their country of origin, are pretty much classified as "whites" here. Blacks, at the same time, who speak any other language other than Hispanic, are considered, simply "Blacks." They can be absolutely fluent in German, French, Russian or Italian. Doesn't matter, they're classified, simply, as "Blacks."
Take me, for example. During all the years that I tried in vain to become fluent in the Japanese language, I suffered no delusions, whatsoever, that people, here, would start referring to me as "that Japanese guy." It just doesn't happen.
So what's the deal with "Spanish," and how does an ability to speak that particular language convey the power and authority to make people of African descent no longer "Black," once they arrive in places such as New York City, Philadelphia or Cleveland?
As a further example of this curious phenomenon, the headline on a recent story carried on CNN read: "Hispanics Drive Growth of U.S. White Population." It went on to quote Census Bureau data that disclosed that the growth in the U.S. white population, in the decade ending in 2010, was due largely to a rise in the number of the country's Hispanics.
Even though America's "white" population grew by 6.5 percent to 231 million people over the period, 74 percent of that growth was traced to the increase of "Hispanics," many of whom had been counted as "white," even though they self-reported as "multi-racial white," i.e.,"white and black," or "white and Asian" (a much smaller percentage).
It's curious to me that if you are a Spanish-speaker in the "good old U.S.A.," you can be counted as "white," even though you self-describe as "multi-racial white." On the other hand, an English-speaking "multi-racial white" person, can "aspire" only to be classified as "mixed race" or "two or more races," but certainly not "white."
Seems as though the Census Bureau has been overcounting people as "whites," and seriously undercounting people who should be categorized as "blacks."
The more you drill down into the curious history of racial categorization for Spanish speakers, the stranger it actually gets. For example, most Americans don't know that George Washington, himself, approved the Naturalization Act of 1790, which actually barred any Puerto Ricans who were not of the "white race" from applying for U.S. citizenship, and that, up until the middle of the 20th Century, only Puerto Rican immigrants of the "white race" could become naturalized citizens of the United States.
With that as context, we can readily understand that racial-self identification in Puerto Rico, despite the population's strong African slave heritage, is a much different thing than it is here. In fact, Puerto Rican racial categorization is done almost 180 degrees differently than in the U.S.
It's common knowledge, for example, that the Census Bureau and virtually all of American society, beginning early in the 20th Century, has used the "one-drop rule," by law, to determine whether an American citizen is either black or white. If a person has had "one drop of black blood," by those laws, they were considered black.
On the other hand, due largely to a desire to be able to move freely onto the U.S. mainland, Puerto Ricans who could demonstrate having at least one white ancestor, over four generations, could legally be classified as "white." As a result, especially up through the 1950's, every Puerto Rican, no matter their appearance, hair texture, or Negroid features, who could prove "one drop" of white blood was classified as "white," and could be approved for entrance into the U.S.
Strange, huh? Who knew that language and cultural history could have the power to actually change a person's race, on an as-needed basis?
It'll be interesting to watch whether, in the not-too-distant future, people, here, or in Latin America, or in other parts of the world, will still be compelled to place a priority on claiming a stratified, white, self-identification, given the shifts taking place in global economic and military power -- away from the West and toward the East, Middle East, Africa and South America.
Won't it be great, finally, for people to be able to freely claim African and any other diverse heritage, and not feel that their non-white status will bring with it economic and social disadvantage?
Won't it be much better to take pride in our collective heritages and no longer have to, as blacks, continue to address the lingering effects of slavery and second-class citizenship, which still impact our residential patterns, job opportunities and ability to generate family wealth?
Won't it be a real sign of progress to be able to explore the world's various races, ethnicities and cultures -- those that are part of our genealogy, and those that are not -- and not have to be concerned, at all, about how they fit into some racial or social hierarchy?
Won't it be good, finally, to be able to walk into a place of business, anywhere in this country, and to no longer have to wonder if the deck might be stacked against us, simply because we are considered Black, somewhat Black, or not entirely white?
As I watch how the world is evolving, and how nations across the color and language spectrum are now beginning to be recognized as "equal players," in emerging global power centers, I have to think that such a day is coming, fairly soon.
To get a head start on all of this, let's get on with the rest of Black History Month; then, let's get ready for Asian-Pacific Islander Month, in May, National Hispanic Heritage Month, in September, and American Indian Heritage Month, in November.
Hey, we'll know we really have "overcome" when we can all comfortably take interest, also, in German-American Heritage Month, Italian-American Heritage Month and Polish-American Heritage Month, all of which are observed during the month of October.
Oh, and by the way, the way you say "Black History Month," in Spanish, is "Mes de la Historia Negra."
With so many enlightened Spanish-speakers of African descent now living in the U.S., that might just come in handy.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.