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.
So what if Elizabeth Warren claims to be part Native American? She’s entitled, according to historical documents. Besides, Americans never have been all that clear or consistent about what distinguishes one race from another.
Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts is calling on his Democratic challenger Warren to clear the air over questions raised by the Boston Herald as to whether she has used her apparently ancient and diluted Indian heritage to give herself an unfair employment advantage.
At least she’s not lying about her background. Historical records seem to confirm that she has Cherokee ancestors. But is her background Indian enough?
That question looms after researcher Christopher Child at the New England Historic Genealogical Society turned up evidence of her Indian blood. A transcript of an 1894 marriage application shows Warren’s great-great-great-grandmother listed herself as Cherokee.
That would make Warren 1/32 Native American, although it is possible that more recent Indian ancestors could be turned up in further research. Child also found that Warren’s great-grandfather, John Houston Crawford, had lived in Native American territory but identified himself as white in the 1900 census.
However, Warren’s family is not included in the official Dawes Commission rolls, a census of major tribes completed in the early 20th century that Cherokees use to determine tribal citizenship.
Such a tenuous tie to her Indian past has led critics at the Boston Herald, which first broke the story, to label her “Fauxcahontas,” among other nicknames. Yet, I would ask, how much Indian blood do you need these days to claim Indian heritage?
In other words: Whatever happened to the one-drop rule?
That’s the rule in Americans past, you may recall, that declared anyone who had at least “one drop” of Black blood to be Black. The irony of this rule, invented by slave masters who wanted to have more slaves, is how it has been encouraged in modern times, particularly by Black leaders who want to have more Blacks.
Like other rules of race, this one is not applied uniformly or consistently. George Zimmerman, the accused murderer of Trayvon Martin in Florida, had an Afro-Peruvian great-grandfather on his mother’s side, according to his family. That would make him at least one-eighth Black, which is a lot more than Warren is Indian. Yet Zimmerman was reported first as “white” then a “white Hispanic.” If the old one-drop rule applies, he also could be called a white-Hispanic Black.
If taken literally, that would make the killing of the teen-aged Martin, about whose Blackness there is no confusion, a Black-on-Black crime — which, sad to say, attracts a lot less national attention than similar violence that crosses racial lines.
Zimmerman is not likely to be seen as Black by many people. However, like the Warren controversy, his case illustrates how quickly our old racial narratives are failing to keep up with changing times.
The Herald reported that Warren used to list herself as “Native American” in law school directories while teaching a several law schools across the country in the 1980s and ’90s.
She dropped the reference from her biography after she was hired at Harvard Law School in the 1990s at a time when protesting students and faculty had been pressuring the school to hire more minority female faculty. The law school says it has one faculty member of Native American heritage, according to reports, but won’t say which one. However, in 1998, a Harvard Crimson article identified the one “tenured minority woman” on the faculty as Warren, “who is Native American.”
If Warren was claiming Indian ancestry when it worked to her benefit, she was following another American tradition, writes David Treuer, an Ojibwe Indian from northern Minnesota and author of “Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey through Reservation Life.”
“An Indian identity has become a commodity,” he recently wrote in the Washington Post, “though not one that is openly traded. It has real value in only a few places; the academy is one of them. And like most commodities, it is largely controlled by the elite.”
Race is no longer as simple as black-and-white, but then it never really was. The real issue of what Warren, Zimmerman and the rest of us want to call ourselves has two sides: how we see ourselves and how we are seen by others.
If anything, Treur is right about elites. The Warren controversy illustrates how rapidly the one-drop rule and other old codes of race are fading at a time when race is becoming less of a problem than privilege — who has it and who doesn’t — regardless of race.
I have many discussions with people who claim that they do not need the help of a labor union in their workplace. These individuals will even go so far as to suggest that they can get ahead on their own and that a union will get in their way.
It is difficult to argue with someone who is intent on believing a myth. It is sort of like those people who continue to believe that the world is flat or that the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction at the time of the 2003 U.S. invasion. No matter what sort of proof you put up, they have an “answer.”
But for the rest of us, it is worth considering a common workplace problem: favoritism. If we are honest, we all know that if someone is personally close to a supervisor or manager they can frequently count on better treatment. Most of us expect that to happen and take it for granted. Still, that does not make it right. In fact, favoritism in the workplace is a major source of demoralization for the workers. You work hard and expect to be rewarded, only to find out that someone else who just happens to be friendly with management is being treated better than you.
Perhaps you are lucky and there is a human resources department at your workplace. Maybe it is just one person, but in any case, you can go and speak with them. If you do, I am sure that they will offer you coffee or tea, and an opportunity to share your pain. At the end of the discussion, however, nothing has changed.
Absent a labor union, a workplace has only the rules that are demanded by government or created by management. The thing about management’s rules — and this is the kicker — is that they do not have to go by them. That’s right. They can set up a “personnel policy” that says that promotions are based on the best qualified person and, presto, the best friend of the manager gets the promotion and there is not one thing that you can do about it unless you can show that there was some sort of discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin or disability.
Another, and very ironic side to all of this, is that someone who was playing footsy with a supervisor could find themselves in a very different situation if a new supervisor appears on the scene. The conditions that supervisor X set up can be changed by the new supervisor Y. The person who was the recipient of favoritism, in other words, can find that they are on the “outs” with no explanation or apology.
In the United States many if not most owners of companies do not want to be obligated to follow any rules. This is why so many companies objected to legislation to create health and safety protections for workers. The owners simply did not want to be accountable to anyone.
The most consistent answer to such lawlessness, then, ends up being a labor union. A union can negotiate a contract/collective bargaining agreement with an employer that emphasizes fairness in personnel decisions, including promotions. None of this is onerous. It is just ensuring that workers are treated with respect. This is what always makes it so odd when you hear politicians attacking unions. Why are they afraid of workplace fairness?
On Saturday, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati hosted a Juneteenth celebration commemorating the jubilant day in 1865 when the last Black slaves got word they were free more than two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Labor, civil rights, education and community leaders, child advocates and citizens conducted a silent march Sunday in New York City to protest the New York Police Department’s “stop and frisk” policing tactics. These two events, at very different places and times, are connected as part of the slow, hard and unfinished journey towards freedom and racial justice in our nation. Although we have come a very long way on the arduous road from slavery to freedom, we still have a long way to go.
The recent death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., and the brutal hateful murder of James Anderson by a gang of young, white men in Jackson, Miss., attest to this continuing reality.
So does the persistent mass incarceration of Black and Latino sons, fathers and potential leaders which is becoming the new American apartheid or the new Jim Crow as Michelle Alexander calls it in her important, bestselling book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” That we have the world’s largest incarcerated population — our incarceration rate exceeds China, Russia, and India combined — is the end result of a national Cradle to Prison Pipeline® crisis which is lodged at the intersection of continuing poverty and racial disparities in American life. A Black boy born in 2001 has a one in three chance of going to prison in his lifetime and a Latino boy a one in six chance of the same fate. Children of color, especially males, face an uphill battle in overcoming poverty (one in five Black children is poor) and continuing racial barriers and stereotyping.
An analysis of New York Police Department data by the New York Civil Liberties Union showed that more than 96 percent of the students arrested in the city school system in the first three months of 2012 were Black and Latino, and more than 73 percent were male. Police were 12 times more likely to arrest a Black student than a white one. It’s time to get the police out of the schools; to stop the massive suspension and arrest of children for nonviolent offenses; and to stop the criminalization of children at younger and younger ages. It makes no sense for unarmed six-, seven- and eight-year-olds to be handcuffed and arrested for nonviolent offenses. Sometimes I think many adults have lost our common and moral sense and forgotten the purpose of public education which is to educate and prepare children for the future not exclude or bar them in huge numbers every year. Some schools are initiating restorative justice practices which discipline children without excluding them from desperately needed education.
The June 17 march was a silent protest against the stop and frisk tactics that purport to stave off crime and get guns off New York City’s streets — a goal I certainly share. But in 99.9 percent of these searches guns were not found. In reality, stop and frisk may simply terrify and criminalize Black and Brown boys and young men and empower police to randomly stop, search and demand account from Black and Latino boys and men ostensibly born free. Black and Latino young men ages 14 to 24 are less than 5 percent of the city’s population but are 41.6 percent of the stops. The reality in New York City today shows we are still far from being a free and just land.
How far have we come on the road from slavery to freedom isn’t just a rhetorical question more than 150 years later. A people who don’t know their history are more likely to repeat it. The resurgence of hate crimes and emergence of mass incarceration of males of color remind us that freedom requires constant vigilance and justice needs a fire that burns in all of us.
I believe that we are in the second post-Reconstruction era — a view shared by distinguished historians David Levering Lewis, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of W.E.B. Du Bois, and Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and author of “The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America.” They and civil rights icons including Myrlie Evers-Williams, Andrew Young, James Lawson, Vincent Harding, Ruby Bridges and many others will join us at the Children’s Defense Fund’s national conference in Cincinnati, July 22–25, to examine the racial signs of our times, affirming our great progress, but ensuring we continue to move forward — and not backward — on the still incomplete road to freedom. Although some forms of continuing racial intolerance are overt, some forms are subtle, covert, technical, political and very polite. Wrapped up in new euphemisms, better etiquette and clever political rhetoric, it’s still, as Frederick Douglass warned, the same old snake. Let’s call it out systematically, oppose it nonviolently and move forward on becoming a free and just nation. — (NNAP)
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund. For more information, go to www.childrensdefense.org.
Almost every consumer is concerned with today’s tough financial times. But for those looking to make a fast buck, tough times can also make for easy prey — especially when a payday loan borrower can be tracked down.
Across the country state attorneys general, the Better Business Bureau, law enforcement officials and others are alerting consumers to overly-aggressive phone callers who threaten arrest if a payday loan is not immediately repaid.
Claiming to be representatives of a law firm or collection agency these fake collectors demand personal financial information such as bank account or credit card numbers. Others request that monies be wired immediately or direct consumers to purchase a pre-paid credit card. Regardless of the specific request, their aim is to either get your money directly or gain access to it through information provided.
In truth, however, many of these callers have no affiliation with a credible business, the names are fictitious and calls are made from untraceable numbers. The heavy-handed collection tactics are intended to get cash quickly and move on to the next victim.
According to North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, “Don’t fall for these calls from crooks demanding that you pay phony debts. Never agree to share your personal information with someone you don’t know who calls you, no matter how convincing they sound.”
Rather than reacting to harsh language and pressures to pay immediately, consumers would be wise to assert their own interests. A legitimate debt collector should respond to requests for written and additional information. That kind of inquiry should identify the original creditor, amount owed, date of the alleged transaction, etc. Any pushback from this line of questioning should signal that the caller is suspect.
For bona fide collection businesses, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) sets standards for debt collectors and covers personal, family and household debts. Abusive, deceptive or unfair practices are specifically prohibited. This law covers personal, family and household debts — including payday loans, credit cards, auto loans and more.
Phoning consumers before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. is illegal. Any collection attempt at a consumer’s workplace is also banned. In either of these circumstances, the consumer is protected so long as they advise the collector of their unwillingness to take such calls.
Each year, the Federal Trade Commission prepares a report on FDCPA. For 2010, the agency received more complaints on debt collection than on any other industry. The three top categories of complaints were:
America’s lingering and widespread unemployment imposes financial challenges. But just because you may have fallen into debt, now is not a time to fall victim to a consumer scam. If debts are owed, speak directly with your creditors to arrange a manageable repayment plan, and develop a paper trail as evidence of your good faith efforts to repay.
Most importantly — let the scammers find someone else to make flinch. — (NNPA)
On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama banned mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole for juveniles. This is a major victory for children and for America. Until last week, America was the only country in the world to routinely condemn children as young as 13 and 14 to die in prison. Now about 2,000 people who were sentenced to die in prison as juveniles have hope for a new hearing and a new sentence. While we are disappointed the court did not ban the practice outright, we must keep working toward justice for children and end the devastating “Cradle to Prison Pipeline” crisis that leads to marginalized lives, imprisonment and premature death.
Bryan Stevenson, the brilliant founder and executive director of Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., argued this case and the companion case Jackson v. Hobbs before the Supreme Court. Last month, he told participants at the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools National Training session how he first became devoted to helping children in our adult justice system:
“I was working on a case when a grandmother called me, and this young boy had been arrested. This boy was living in a house where his mother had repeatedly been the victim of a lot of sexual assault, a lot of physical assault and domestic violence. And one day this boy’s stepfather came home, and he just punched this boy’s mother in the face. She fell on the floor unconscious, and the little boy tried to revive his mom and he couldn’t do it, and she was bleeding. And we think he thought his mom was dead.”
Bryan Stevenson continued with his harrowing true crime story: “And the man went into the bedroom and fell asleep, and after he did that, this little boy got up. He was about five feet tall, 14 years of age, under 100 pounds, and he waited until the man went into the bedroom and fell asleep . . . and he went over to the man’s dresser, and he pulled out this man’s handgun. And while the man was sleeping, this little boy walked over to him, and he pointed the gun at his head, and tragically at point-blank range, he pulled the trigger. The man was killed instantly.
“Now, this child had no prior criminal history. He had never been in trouble before. He was actually a good student, no juvenile adjudications and probably would have been tried as a juvenile but for the fact that this man was a deputy sheriff. And because he was a deputy sheriff, the prosecutor insisted that this child be tried as an adult, and the judge certified him to stand trial as an adult and put him in the adult jail.
“The grandmother called me three days later, and I went to the jail to see this little boy. I started asking him questions, and no matter what I asked him, this little boy just sat there. I tried to ask him some more questions; he just sat there. He wasn’t responding to anything I said, and finally after 20 minutes, I said, ‘Look, you got to talk to me. I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me.’
“I got up and I walked around the table, and I got my chair close to him . . . I started leaning on him a little bit and leaning on him, and finally, he leaned back. And when he leaned back into me, I put my arm around him and said, ‘Come on, tell me what’s going on.’ This boy started crying, and through his tears, he began talking to me not about what happened at his house with his mom or his stepdad, but he began talking to me about what had happened at the jail. He told me on the first night, he had been assaulted by several men. Then he told me on the next night, he had been sexually assaulted by several men, and then he told me on the night before I had gotten there, there were so many people who had assaulted him, he actually couldn’t remember how many there had been.
“I held this little boy while he cried hysterically for over an hour, and I left that jail thinking this is our system – our system – and so it became necessary for me to say something.”
So now, Bryan Stevenson said, “I represent these young people who have many times been horribly abused. We put them in adult prisons. There are 27 states that put children in adult facilities where they are 10 times more likely to be the victims of sexual assault, 25 times more likely to commit suicide, and there is this silence.”
Once Stevenson saw the truth, he knew he could never be among those who stay silent. He also said: “Of all the problems that I’m talking about [with the treatment of juveniles in the adult justice system] — and I’m talking about race and I’m talking about poverty and I’m talking about abuse of power and I’m talking about misconduct — the problem that we have got to confront is hopelessness, the profound absence of hope that is represented by the death penalty, by life imprisonment without parole for children, by mass incarceration, by the way in which we are dealing with people . . . I’ll tell you something about hope. Where there is hopelessness, there is always injustice, and you can never achieve justice without hopefulness.”
The Supreme Court’s historic decision to abolish mandatory life in prison without parole sentences for children reinforces the importance of never giving up hope as we all keep speaking out and fighting for justice for children. We still have so much work left to do to solve the crisis of children in adult prisons – but we now have a huge victory to spur us on and give us more hope. Bryan Stevenson helped changed the nation’s course by saying something and doing something, and so must we. — (NNPA)
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.
The recent torrential rainstorms left many residents with flooded basements, trees on top of their homes and their streets turned into rivers. You know things are bad when you see residents being rescued by boat from their own homes. Driving to work afterward was an unforgettable experience. Radio reports indicated that many of our main thoroughfares were flooded. Some railroad routes had shut down. Thus, I ignored my customary route downtown and managed to navigate through North Philadelphia streets that I had not traveled in years. Eventually, I ended up on North Broad Street near Allegheny Avenue. While the drive, toward City Hall was slow, boring and frustrating, my spirits were lifted when I reached the 2200 block of North Broad. Bumper-to-bumper traffic stopped me for several minutes in front of 2240 North Broad in front of a building that brought back warm memories of sitting in the audience of The Uptown Theater, back in the day.
I cannot imagine there are many people who grew up in Philadelphia in the ’50s and ’60s who had not been to a live performance at The Uptown. This was a major venue for entertainment for Black audiences and performances. Back then, the horrors of segregation limited places where Blacks could gather for entertainment. Upper North Philadelphia was home for upper and upper-middle class whites who lived in fashionable mansions and Victorian brownstones. Lower North Philadelphia was home for the up-and-coming white business class. Obviously, The Uptown Theater was a perfect place for entertainment for the well-to-do whites of North Philadelphia. It could seat 2000 people. Even though it was more than 30 years after its opening before I attended a show there, it was still a magnificent building; with stained glass, high ceilings and terracotta designs. As times changed, due to declining employment and limited business opportunities in the area, white residents fled, leaving behind Black professionals; both middle class and lower class. The Uptown Theater opened for white audiences in 1929. In 1951 a gentleman named Sam Stiefel purchased the building to host live music shows for Black audiences. While the Apollo Theater in Harlem was viewed as the ultimate for Black performers along the so-called “chitlin’ circuit,” The Uptown was its rival here in Philadelphia. I never went to the Apollo, but I can tell you from personal experiences that what I saw at The Uptown would have been hard to match at any theater anywhere, back in the day.
My trips by trolley and subway from home in West Philadelphia to North Philadelphia’s Uptown Theater were unforgettable. At that time, it was safe to travel through that part of the city. We did not fear for our lives as we traveled to and from these shows; shows which provided opportunities to observe highly talented artists perform. There was a matinee, an early evening and a midnight show. While I do not recall the exact prices for the shows, they could be considered a bargain, as we could see ten or more acts at each show. Even accounting for inflation and cost of living in the past, I am certain you will agree that 50 cents to two dollars was not much for a show with so many acts.
The Uptown Theater was popular for its amateur nights, where artists would compete for prizes. As a 17-year-old member of a vocal group, Herb Johnson and the Ambassadors, I vividly recall participating in one of The Uptown’s amateur nights, back in the day.
The Uptown’s large marquee is hard to miss as you drive by. What you miss now are the names of artists that appeared in large bold letters in the past. If you are a rhythm and blues fan and attended this theater back then, I know you can still see names on the marquee, of performers such as Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, The Olympics, Jackie Wilson, Jerry Butler and the Impressions, and many others. Most of us learned who was appearing at The Uptown through radio advertisements. However, sometimes we would go without knowing who was appearing. Because of the reputation of The Uptown Theater, we knew we would have a great time, and we would often stand in long lines, always dressed up, for admittance. There were several hosts for Uptown shows, including Kae Williams and Jocko Henderson. However, Georgie Woods of WDAS-AM radio was the most popular host. He brought to the stage the most popular and dynamic artists, and hosted shows the longest. The show’s routine was always the same; it started with the house band under the direction of band leader Bill Masse, and later, Sam Reed. After the initial selection, Woods would come tiptoeing onstage with a bell that he would clang when introducing new acts. I clearly remember his image; he seemed to have no rhythm, but obviously had the business acumen and relationships to put together unforgettable shows. Each began with a comedian. But there was one comedian who did not start the show, as she had star billing. Some of you recall her proclamation that, “The only thing an old man can do for me is to show me the way to a young man.” You must know that I am referring to Jackie “Moms” Mabley.
If I close my eyes today, I can still see and hear the sounds of The Drifters, The Eldorados, The Dubs, Donnie Elbert, Stevie Wonder, and The Chantels. I can still see the vocal groups, all dressed alike. Their choreography was always outstanding, with each group trying to outdo the others. I understand that Woods booked The Supremes for ten days for $400. I remember well the shows that were advertised under the theme, “Battle of the Groups.” There was one vocal group I thought was extraordinary, and I found myself in the Uptown whenever they appeared. That was The Flamingoes; a group that had multiple lead singers. If you know rhythm and blues, you must remember their recordings of “I’ll Be Home,” “Golden Teardrops,” or “I Only Have Eyes for You.” I never saw The Heartbeats, my favorite rhythm and blues vocal group, at The Uptown, but the Flamingoes made up for my disappointment. So did two other outstanding groups. Though it was more than 50 years ago, I can still see Little Anthony and the Imperials and The Blue Notes of “If You Love Me” fame in performance.
The Uptown Theater contributed to the Civil Rights Movement with the production of Freedom Shows, in which artists promoted the cause through their performances. Shows at The Uptown also contributed to the economic development of the neighborhood. After all, the performers needed places to eat, to have their hair done, accommodations for sleeping and places to purchase outfits for their performances. Changes in the economic fabric of the neighborhood contributed mightily to the demise of this theater. Ultimately, it would become a movie house and eventually a place or worship; physical decline finally resulted in its closing. However, we cannot ignore the impact of integration in making a venue such as this obsolete. The integration of the music industry where Black artists crossed over to popular music and white artists and white music lovers became more involved in Black music became the norm. This crossover also dictated the need for larger facilities. Thus, places like The Uptown Theater were no longer only for Black performers and audiences. After several failed attempts, efforts are currently underway to renovate this marvelous edifice. Thus, there is a chance I could drive down Broad Street in the near future, not to get to work, but for a fun evening; a fun evening to watch live performers at the Uptown Theater, as I used to do back in the day.
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.
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.
With all that’s been going on in our fair city lately, you may have forgotten that there’s a major election less than six weeks away. I think this time around the incumbents prefer it that way.
The School District of Philadelphia, and the School Reform Commission that runs it, have squandered whatever public goodwill they still had. School superintendent Dr. Arlene Ackerman got her nearly million-dollar payout, and instead of going away quietly, has lobbed incendiary grenades at everyone she feels is responsible for her ouster.
Most people would be lounging in a beach chair, sipping on some fruity rum drink with a tiny umbrella in it and toasting their good fortune, but not Ackerman.
She has implicated SRC chair Bob Archie, Mayor Michael Nutter and state Rep. Dwight Evans, among others, as major players in this shameful fiasco that just won’t go away. If she’s telling the truth, those three guys are guilty of serious ethical breaches and violations of the public trust, if not outright crimes.
Archie, partner at Duane Morris, one of the city’s top law firms, has been a power broker in this town for many, many years. While the general public may have just learned of him since his appointment to the SRC, the movers and shakers have long known Archie, and his reputation for getting deals done.
The problem is, the School District is not a private law firm, and deals made on their behalf are public deals using public monies, secret agendas and closed door meetings have no place in a public entity, even though we all know that in Philly, that’s generally how things work.
But Archie turned in his resignation from the SRC early this week, leaving the School District’s governing body with just two members. (SRC member Johnny Irizarry, perhaps seeing the handwriting on the wall, quit the same day as Archie.) Mayor Nutter quickly appointed old friend and former employee Wendell E. Pritchett, chancellor of Rutgers University, to fill one of the empty slots, but the damage is done, and the District is almost completely rudderless, at least for now.
I don’t know how he’s managed to do it, but so far Nutter seems untouched by this whole stinking mess. After all, the mayor appoints two SRC members, and he certainly played a large role in Ackerman’s departure — the hideous details of which have yet to come to light.
Speaking of which, isn’t this the same mayor who campaigned four years ago on clean government and an end to municipal corruption? Isn’t this the guy who promised us transparency, integrity and accountability in City Hall? Now he’s lobbying local rich folks for Ackerman’s buyout money and keeping it hush-hush, and if Ackerman’s accusations are to be believed, he’s turning a blind eye to corruption by sitting on a report which would blow the lid off the Martin Luther King charter school scandal, and was not averse to holding 5-year-olds ransom by threatening the end of all-day kindergarten simply to advance his political agenda.
Now, it seems to me that a man — especially an incumbent mayor up for re-election in a few short weeks — would vigorously, publicly and immediately defend himself against such vile accusations.
His opponent in November is Democrat-turned-Republican Karen Brown, who has been making some noise herself lately by demanding a number of debates with Nutter before Election Day. Nutter’s people have agreed to only one public forum, which in all honesty makes more sense for them. You don’t give an unknown opponent the opportunity to compete on your level if you’re the incumbent — especially when you’re favored to win by a landslide.
But it does leave a cloud hanging over the election in many ways.
What if the GOP had put up a serious, well-developed candidate in this race? Would Nutter’s confidence level be as high, especially considering the huge pile of hypocrisy and bad faith that has shown up on his doorstep lately?
Nutter will certainly win, and probably by the predicted margin, but when he does his first phone call of thanks should be placed to Vito Canuso and Mike Meehan, the city’s GOP leadership.
By randomly plucking Brown from obscurity rather than grooming, preparing and financing a genuine alternative candidate, Canuso and Meehan have virtually assured Nutter’s re-election at a time when a little healthy competition could have at least raised the level of discourse.
I have the uneasy feeling that we’re about to get exactly what we deserve.