Written by Sureshi Jayawardene
The misuse and addiction to opioids in the US has gained extraordinary attention since President Trump took office last year. In October 2017, the president declared opioid abuse a public health emergency, and Black communities nationwide rose with contempt arguing that structural racism was at the heart of the public motivation to address this issue. This outrage contrasted the nation’s response to the “crack epidemic” of the 1980s. This was a time when urban Black communities were stereotyped as portraying the “crack epidemic,” and the public approach to this crisis was different. Back then, when drug abuse was a “Black problem,” Americans showed little compassion to African Americans battling crack addictions. The media shamed Black mothers with addiction. The national response to drug abuse in the 1980s drew attention to the criminally dangerous drug addict. The media sensationalized the harm caused by crack abuse and “brought us endless images of thin, black, ravaged bodies, always with desperate, dried lips. We learned the words crack baby.” The “crack epidemic” was cast as a pathology of Black communities and the American public viewed this as evidence of African Americans’ collective moral failure. The national rhetoric was that Black people would have to “pull themselves out of the crack epidemic” and could only be allayed by “cordoning off the wreckage with militarized policing.” The nation responded with punitive measures codified in the “War on Drugs” and the public was “warned of super predators, young, faceless black men wearing bandanas and sagging jeans.” The resulting harsh sentencing and mandatory minimums continue to disproportionately affect African American and other communities of color with devastating effects on the incarcerated, their families and children.
The invocation of “war” is absent with the current opioid crisis. Instead, the nation is linking arms to save lives and ramp up rehab initiatives. According to Ekow Yankah, a professor at NYUs Cardozo School of Law, the rallying cries this time around have been issued by various social actors including senators, CEOs, Midwestern pharmacies, and tough-on-crime Republicans who are trying to do something for the real people crippled by opioid addiction. The issue itself has been framed as a problem affecting young, suburban, and rural Whites. Contrary to this popular view, the Research and Policy Center at the Chicago Urban League (CUL) argued, in November 2017, that “this is a wholly inaccurate depiction.” According to the CUL, this predominant “Whitewashed” account eschews the profound effects of the opioid epidemic on communities of color. For instance,
While the public health approach to the opioid crisis is a significant step, as the CUL notes, treatment capacity must necessarily meet treatment needs. Thus far, this has not been the case for Chicago or the state of Illinois. The CUL insists, “African American people, families and communities should not be excluded from narratives told about the opioid epidemic. African Americans must be included in the development and implementation of national and local public health initiatives, as well as in treatment response plans.” Especially since the “War on Drugs” model toward drug addiction is alive and well in Chicago, the CUL urges a public health model that, first and foremost, is evidence-based and therefore, scientifically proven to work. To this end, the CUL identifies three types of intervention:
Added to the above multi-layered and evidence-based approach to addressing opioid epidemic, is the need to consider cultural variables in prevention strategies and programs. Not only is a certain respect for cultural traditions, values, and beliefs important in prevention programs. They also require protective factors such as religious and church activity, employment, family support systems, education, racial pride, and communal orientations. Steinka-Fry et al. (2017) determined that culturally sensitive treatments were associated with notably larger reductions in post-treatment substance use levels relative to their comparison conditions in their meta-analyses of experimental and quasi-experimental treatment programs. Current strategies devised to respond to the opioid abuse and fatalities in Africana communities throughout the US must necessarily ensure culture is central to these efforts to enhance the effectiveness of evidence-based programs.
Steinka-Fry, K., Tanner-Smith, E.E., Dakof, G.A., and Henderson, C. (2017). Culturally Sensitive Substance Use Treatment for Racial/Ethnic Minority Youth: A Meta-Analytic Review. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 75: 22-37.
Written by Serie McDougal and Sureshi Jayawardene
In the past month or so, there has been increased attention brought to the ongoing practice of the enslavement and trafficking of Black African migrants in Libya. Libyan ‘slave markets’ are not a new phenomenon, however. The International Organization for Migration, the UNs migration agency, reported in April this year that North African migrant routes were rife with ‘slave markets’ where “hundreds of young African men bound for Libya” were subject to treacherous conditions. For Black African migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe by sea, Libya is the main transit point. Many of them, from countries like Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal, face rape, torture, starvation, disease, and murder. Since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has struggled to implement the rule of law and descended into civil war and lawlessness. Given this unstable political climate, Libyans see the slave trade as a lucrative industry. TIME reports some important figures for the dangers facing Black African refugees and migrants in Libya:
As a Pan-African community, this is a time for a multilayered response to the situation of our people in Libya. We commend the US foreign policy efforts advanced just this week by Congresswoman Karen Bass, who is also the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Africa. Rep. Bass introduced a bill calling for the U.S. government to “impose sanctions against Libya if the country fails to end slave auctions and other forms of forced labor”and hold accountable parties to human smuggling and trafficking as well as Libyan “detention center guards.” Rep. Bass’s resolution also calls for the U.S. Secretary of State and Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Develop to use allocated funds to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants and refugees in Libyan detention centers. This bill urges the African Union to conduct its own independent investigation into the Libyan slave crisis.
We commend African countries making efforts to facilitate the repatriation of captives; all those placing pressure on countries to adopt the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime; the shared commitments of the African Union, European Union, and United Nations (reached on Wednesday, November 29th) to work collectively to “freeze the assets of human traffickers” and refer them to the ICC; and, all those pressuring the international community to not only investigate but issue convictions.
Lastly, as a research institution, we urge Africana scholars and practitioners to counter any evasion of the protracted history of abuses targeted at indigenous Black African ethnicities and cultural practices in North Africa so that present abuses may be placed in proper context and not rendered invisible or detached from a larger history of North African oppression targeting Black African people.
Written by Serie McDougal III
Why do perpetrators of ethnic violence like to tinker around with definitions of their targets’ identities? This happens so much so that the international legal definition of genocide makes special note that perpetrators of such acts sometimes create identity labels for their benefit. In this tradition, the FBI has now created a label that it calls “Black Identity Extremist (BIE)” based on its evaluation of six cases between September 2014 and December 2016 where Black men (in particular) have targeted and killed police officers. An explanation can be found in a leaked FBI report on Black Identity Extremists. It states, “This intelligence assessment focuses on individuals with BIE ideological motivations who have committed targeted, premeditated attacks against law enforcement officers since 2014” (p.3). For Black people, it is hard to dismiss the FBIs long history of using sparse acts of resistance and violence against the state to create broad categories that have allowed them to label Black social movements, organizations, and individuals as ongoing threats to national security, such as Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Black Panther Party (Blackstock, Perkus, & Paul Avrich Collection, 1975). The report traces the trajectory of BIE activity to its peak in the 1960s and 1970s, exemplified by the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement, Black Liberation Army, and “Moorish Sovereign Citizen Ideology” and more recently its resurgence in response to the spate of police brutality in 2014. It states, “Convergence of BIE and Moorish Sovereign Citizen Ideology very likely leads to violence against law enforcement officers” (p.4). This framing allows law enforcement to take violent and extreme action against their targets, people they deem are troubling elements of American society. But the question that remains is, what does Black identity do to people of African descent at its higher levels?
Scholars of Black racial identity generally define it as having a sense of pride in one’s collective and individual identity as a person on African descent and a sense of commitment to racial equity, justice, and freedom (Cross, 1971; Cunningham & Regan, 2012). Janet Helms and Thomas Parham (1996) conceptually define Black racial identity as a sense of collective identification based on one’s identity as a Black person. What are the attitudes and behaviors associated with Black racial identity in people of African descent based on the collection and analysis of empirical data? For example, the Racial Identity Attitude Scale (RIAS) uses a five-response agreement scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Racial identity at its upper levels has been found to be related to self-esteem and many other indicators of psychological well-being for Black people.
The FBI, on the other hand, leaves the actual meaning of Black racial identity undefined. One thing that they do mention—which is highly contradicted by social scientific evidence—is the notion that Black racial identity at its higher levels is associated with violence. In sharp contrast to the unscientific claims made in this FBI report, Caldwell, Kohn-Wood, Schmeelk-Cone, Chavous & Zimmerman (2004) investigated the relationship between racial identity as protective factors against violence among African American adults. They found that the safe-guarding effects of racial identity were salient, particularly for men (a race/gender category highlighted by the FBI report). They also argue that the more central race was to their identities, the less violent behaviors Black men engaged in.
It is in the interest of people of African descent to magnify and promote all social programs and practices that lead to positive Black racial identities at high levels. Anti-Black racial violence however, does lead to violence. A prime example of this is how the racialized use of excessive force and extrajudicial killings of Black people at the hands of law enforcement officials incites sometimes violent responses. Some Black males respond to racism by engaging in violence and other negative behaviors (Wilson, 1991). Given this empirical data, the notion that engaging in violence is the direct cause of Black racial identity is, in fact, false, and illustrates how Black identity and culture are demonized to sustain racist agendas. This prompts the question: does the FBI rendering of “Black identity extremism” then justify law enforcement’s use of excessive force? This seems to be what the FBI report suggests. What their own data corroborates is that the use of violence is caused by anti-Black racist violence toward Black people, the most common feature of the killings cited in the recent FBI report. Yet, they have chosen to identify Black racial identity as the cause in an effort to disrupt Black racial cohesion because they see it as undermining White power and privilege and the racial injustice that White America has and continues to benefit from.
What again is it that sparks genocidal actors’ fascination with their victims’ identities? There is research conducted in which White American participants generally reacted more negatively toward strongly identified ethnic minorities, and those who identify strongly with their own ethnic identities (Sellers, Shelton & Diener, 2003). The authors of that research suggest that this occurs because Whites see them as rejecting the very status hierarchy that generally privileges Whites. Black people who identify with their Blackness is an existential threat to White supremacy. In the case of BIEs, the FBIs data set is not only unrepresentative, it is simply inaccurate but because of its clout as a government agency, it is positioned to contribute to dominant ideologies and fuel fear of Black communities’ embrace of healthy Black identity development that not only centers culturally relevant ways of being in the world, but also a clear view of the oppressive forces in it.
Blackstock, N., Perkus, C., & Paul Avrich Collection. (1975). Cointelpro: The FBI's secret war on political freedom (1st ed.). New York: Monad Press : Distributed by Pathfinder Press.
Cross, W.E. (1971). The Negro-to-Black conversion experience: Towards a psychology of Black liberation. Black World, 20, 13–37.
Cunningham, G., & Regan, M. (2012). Political activism, racial identity and the commercial endorsement of athletes. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 47(6), 657–669.
Caldwell, C. H., Kohn-Wood, L. P., Schmeelk-Cone, K. H., Chavous, T. M., & Zimmerman, M. A. (2004). Racial discrimination and racial identity as risk or protective factors for violent behaviors in African American young adults. American Journal of Community Psychology, 33, 91-105.
Helms, J.E., & Parham, T.A. (1996). The racial identity attitude scale. In R.L. Jones (Ed.), Handbook of tests and measurements for Black populations (pp. 167–174). Hampton, VA: Cobb & Henry.
Sellers, R. , Shelton, J. , & Diener, E. (2003). The role of racial identity in perceived
racial discrimination. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(5), 1079-1092.
White, J. L., & Cones, J. H. (1999). Black man emerging: Facing the past and seizing a future in America. New York: W.H. Freeman.
Wilson, A. N. (1991). Understanding Black male adolescent violence. New York:
Afrikan World InfoSystems.
Written by Serie McDougal
White slave owners associated several general characteristics with Black men, including weak, docile, and ignorant. There were also certain characteristics that enslavers did their best to deny to Black males, including authority, family responsibility, and property ownership (Dancy, 2012). However, White respect for these characteristics was not so cut and dry. Therefore, Black male exceptionalism represented the circumstances under which Whites recognized and respected characteristics of Black men that were contrary to these generalizations. For example, Marable (1994) explains that Black men during slavery were not praised or rewarded for being assertive, they were rewarded by Whites for being accommodating. Black men who were considered exceptional were those who were industrious and ethical and assertive. However, to earn the respect of Whites, their assertiveness must not be used to challenge the established order or White privilege.
Black male assertiveness was acceptable as long as such Black men were pawns for Whites or that their assertiveness was used to support White power and privilege. For example, Black slave drivers were allowed to be assertive in forcing other enslaved Blacks to work and punishing their failure to do so. Athletic Blacks were allowed to use their physicality to entertain Whites. During slavery, Whites sometimes arranged events to force Black men to fight one another for entertainment. By all means, they were discouraged from fighting on behalf of other Blacks, particularly engaging in anti-slavery activism. Black male athletes engaging in political protest of police killings of Black males by kneeling during the U.S. National Anthem, are abandoning the model of Black male exceptionalism that has for so long reinforced White supremacy. President Donald Trump, in September 2017, made national headlines for redirecting focus away from police brutality, by framing football players as disrespectful to the U.S. flag and military (Hayward, 2017).
After admonishing football team owners to fire football players, who he described as “sons of bitches,” when they refuse to stand for the national anthem. In keeping with his point that the players are being treated too softly, Trump draws on the stereotype of the Black male as a bloodthirsty brute and super athlete. He does this alongside expressing his disfavor for football rules designed to minimize head trauma that may lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). ESPN analyst Kevin Blackistone suggested that one reason Trump promoted a form of football that disregards traumatic brain injury is because most of the NFL players are Black males. Moreover, Black males are overrepresented among football positions that suffer the greatest levels of CTE (Moye, 2017; Weaver, 2017). Although President Trump’s rhetoric was shifting national dialog about protests away from the original political issue, the theme that remained consistent was lack of value for Black lives, in this case, Black male lives in particular. His comments harken back to antebellum beliefs that Black males could bear more pain and were less vulnerable to physical stress than their White counterparts.
This racialized and gendered stereotyping has implications on Black males’ health status in general. James (1994) defines masculine self-reliance as a risk factor for John Henryism, a state of mental/physical vigor with a single-minded focus on hard work without regard to physical well-being. Some gender scholarship, according to Pass, Benoit & Dunlap (2014), exacerbates this problem in its repeated definition of Black masculinity as the hyper-version of every negative aspect of hegemonic White masculinity. Trump is using rhetoric that reinforces a great deal of gender scholarship about Black males as hypermasculine invulnerable beings. Black males’ break with racial gender stereotypes and exceptionalist expectations will always be seen as an ungrateful betrayal as President Trump has framed it.
Dancy, T.E. (2012). The brotherhood code: Manhood and masculinity among African American males in college. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.
Hayward, P. (2017, September 27). Trump unites his rivals by hijacking a courageous protest. The Daily Telegraph (London), p. 12.
Marable, M. (1994). The Black male: Searching beyond stereotypes. In R.G. Majors and J.U. Gordon (Eds.), The American Black male. Chicago: Nelson-Hall Publishers, pp. 69-77.
Moye, D. (2017, September 25). Donald Trump prefers violent football so more Black players get hurt: ESPN analyst. Huffington Post, np.
Weaver, C. (2017, September 27). MSNBC, huffpost: ‘Neanderthal’ Trump wants Black players to suffer. Newsbuster.org, np.
Written by Serie McDougal
I grew up watching Michael Jordan on TV in an apartment on the South Side of Chicago. If you did that you would inevitably have to sit through commercials. I have to say that my favorite commercials were the ones that featured Jordan. Looking at the sacrifice and protest of Black male athletes today, I recall Jordan’s commercials. One that comes to mind is the “maybe I destroyed the game commercial” in which Michael Jordan explains his hard work, determination, sacrifice, and courage. I was always extremely inspired. I would be so caught up in the values he espoused. I remember being disappointed when I realized that the commercial gave the impression that Michael’s primary goal was individual greatness and basketball success, though you could apply those principles to anything. But why was that a problem? Why would Jordan appear so different to me than Muhammad Ali who public proclaimed he was the greatest of all time? Maybe the answers lie in the reasons why Jordan’s greatness was celebrated during his prime when Ali was so greatly ridiculed.
Have Blacks been hindered in their pursuit of so called “traditional” manhood values such as independence, assertiveness, leadership & strength? Yes… and no. Players like Mahmoud Abdul Rauf, Craig Hodges, and Colin Kaepernick have exercised some of these values during their athletic tenures. However, their exercise of these values became a problem only when they began to support collective Black liberation and/or challenge anti-Black oppression. The purpose of this article is to locate the more recent forms of Black male athletes’ protest within the history of Black male workers’ political protest. For example, in the 19th century, northern Blacks were significantly impacted by European immigration. Employers preferred hiring Irish workers, therefore Blacks lost employment opportunities. Clarke-Hine and Jenkins (1999) explain that before 1820, Black craftsmen were in demand, although employers preferred to hire other Whites. By the 1830’s certain practices were used to successfully drive African Americans from skilled trades.
Many Whites resented the idea of working alongside Blacks. These sentiments were made known through practices used by White workers to exclude Black men from apprenticeships. Sometimes White workers used terrorist attacks (i.e., lynching & bombings) to prevent employers from hiring Black men. In New York, for example, Black men were systematically prevented from achieving the advanced status of “cartman.” During that time, a major concern for Whites was Black collective advancement. In 1802, the postmaster general wrote to the U.S. senate that only Blacks should not be allowed to be mail carriers because the position would provide them a good opportunity to instigate and carry out revolts among the enslaved (Litwack, 1961). In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Black men were disproportionately represented among those who worked as seamen. Seafaring was less segregated than other labor forces in the 19th century. By no means was seafaring without racism, but maritime culture had a system of order, hierarchy, and mutual dependence that made the experience a more tolerable workplace for Black men compared to other industries (Bolster, 1990). This, in addition to the relatively high wages, and relatively less racial intolerance aboard vessels was attractive to Black men. Traditionally thought of as a manly occupation, being a seaman also offered Black males opportunities that would typically not be available to them. Enslavers sometimes hired enslaved Black men out to work aboard ships to receive their wages (Bolster, 1990). Some Black men, eager to make an escape or to temporarily get relief from the high level of racist hostility ashore, sought out seafaring. Indeed, the prominent Black advocate for freedom and liberation, Frederick Douglass, sought his escape aboard a ship. On the heels of Denmark Vesey’s plan for revolt, South Carolina passed legislation (Negro Seamen Acts) deterring Black men from seafaring. Some of the laws required that Black seamen be imprisoned upon arrival in South Carolina until their vessels departed, with their captains paying the expenses of their detention (Bolster, 1990). South Carolina passed Act for the Better Regulation and Government of Free Negroes and Persons of Color, because they feared that Black seamen would infect other Blacks with the spirit of revolt. They were correct, Black seamen, as early as 1809 participated in the distribution of abolitionist materials (Bolster, 1990). They were the defiant ones. Muhammad Ali became legendary and iconic because he refused to submit to the pressure. Harshly ridiculed during his time and admired in death, Ali took the road less travelled by; he was the greatest, but he stood for something greater. Something greater than personal success costed many of our ancestors’ wealth and prestige, but gained them eternal glory. As many football players have pledged to continue to kneel during the national anthem whether Colin Kaepernick does or not, pressure on them will continue to mount. The questions that remain are, will current athletes sustain this movement and will Black people translate the spirit of Black athletes protest into social and political advancement in the settings where we live and work?
Bolster, W. J. (1990). "To feel like a man": Black seamen in the northern states, 1800-1860. Place of publication not identified: publisher not identified.
Clarke-Hine, D. & Jenkins, E.(Ed.) (1999). A question of manhood: A reader in U.S. Black men’s history and masculinity. Bloomington, IA: Indiana University Press.
Litwack, L. F. (1961). North of slavery: The Negro in the free States, 1790-1860. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Reese, F. (2017, August 31). Sidelined, silenced: Unsigned Kaepernick highlights limits of free speech in sports, workplace. Atlanta Black Star. Retrieved September 01, 2017, from http://atlantablackstar.com/2017/08/31/sidelined-silenced-unsigned-kaepernick-highlights-limits-free-speech-sports-workplace/
Written by Sureshi Jayawardene
The Urban Institute, a think tank specializing in economic and social policy, recently issued a report, “Why Does Cash Welfare Depend on Where You Live?” exploring the variation in state Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) policies and the factors that might explain these differences. TANF is the primary government program associated with cash welfare and provides cash assistance to low-income families with children. Black families are hyper aware of this weak social safety net and understand the racialized nature of this system in its failure to help those who need it most. Black communities also already know that race is key to the implementation of TANF. However, the Urban Institute’s study shows the importance of a deeper awareness of why benefits vary by state.
The central goal of TANF, since 1996, has been to help curb poverty. Welfare reform implementations of 1996 significantly changed the structure of TANF. When Clinton created TANF twenty years ago to replace, AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children), states were afforded much greater flexibility in the disbursement of benefits. Each state uses its federal TANF block grant to fund its own unique TANF program. Whereas with AFDC, the federal government shared the burden of any heightened need and costs with states which meant that funding rose automatically, with the block grant design of TANF states receive a fixed amount of money regardless of the volume of people who qualified for benefits.
According to the Urban Institute, differences in TANF benefits by state result from states’ broad authority to establish rules related to:
Congress has done little to adjust these fixed funds for inflation and other factors, which means that funding levels have eroded and not seen an increase since then. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, due to the fundamental design of TANF, states reach far fewer poor families than they did with AFDC. Therefore, the number of families benefiting from the program has been on the decline, without any significant shifts to poverty rates in the nation. For example, in 2013-14, for every 100 families living in poverty, only 24 families received TANF. This figure fell to 23 in 2015. In 2016, in an average month, 1.5 million families—that is, only 1% of the total population—received TANF cash benefits, and nearly 40% of these families received benefits only for children in the household.
The TANF-to-Poverty Ratio
The Urban Institute reports that although the TANF-to-Poverty ration has fallen in every state except Oregon, the difference among states has increased. For instance, in 1998, for every 100 families with children in poverty, the state of California provided cash assistance to more than 3 times as many families as Texas did. By 2013, this ratio had grown to 13 times as many families. Between 2013 and 2014, Louisiana, Texas, and Wyoming provided TANF to fewer than 5 families for every 100 with children in poverty.
The report highlights that the majority of African Americans lives in states that provide TANF cash assistance to no more than 19 families for every 100 families living in poverty. The majority of non-Hispanic White people live in states that provide TANF to at least 20 families for every 100 living in poverty. Here is one of the ways the policy has racially disproportionate effects.
The Urban Institute analyzed TANF policies of each state, organizing them into three broad categories: generosity, restrictiveness, and duration. Their findings were key to the racialized and racist nature of the delivery of TANF benefits. For instance, researchers found that the racial demographics of a state were central to how generous or restrictive a state’s TANF policies were. According to them, African Americans as well as other groups of color are highly concentrated in states where TANF policies are less generous with maximum benefits, more restrictive on behavior, and stipulate shorter time limits on families. African American families, in particular, are concentrated in states with harsher, more restrictive TANF policies.
Trump’s Budget and TANF
The Trump administration recently released its budget outline which involves major changes to social safety nets, including dramatic cuts to the country’s only cash assistance program, TANF. Critics of the Trump budget blueprint have called attention to the severe underfunding of TANF in the past two decades, which means the program would be further stifled and ineffective in achieving its objectives under the current administration’s proposed budget. Trump aims to cut TANF funds by $21 billion over the course of a decade and reduce the amount of federal funds to states to deliver benefits by $15.6 billion. This budget also proposes the elimination of TANF contingency funds, which account for funding needs when an economic crisis increases pressure on the program. According to the White House, this budget “strives to replace dependency with the dignity of work through welfare reform efforts.” The Urban Institute’s findings and the budget proposal of the Trump administration demonstrate that access to welfare for poor families would be further restricted. Poor Black families are likely to find themselves even more ineligible with Trump’s proposed welfare cuts.
Written by Serie McDougal
It was a steamy hot July in1955. A young Martin Luther King Jr. stepped up to the podium at the Holt Street Baptist Church in the midst of a Bus Boycott to end the segregation aboard buses in Montgomery, Alabama. He began giving a riveting speech to the crowd who was gathering confidence and inspiration that they could eventually break the back of Montgomery County and force it to end segregated seating aboard buses. However, King noticed that people began to enjoy the carpooling system they had created as an alternative. He had been hearing rumblings among the congregation that people were proud of the system they started because it was a creation all their own. Moreover, they enjoyed one another’s company. They began to get to know one another on a different level. They enjoyed being together in the interest of advancing the Black community. They became more interested in expanding this new experience instead of integrating Montgomery’s busing system. As King read the crowd, he abandoned his prewritten speech as proclaimed, “I want you to realize the gravity of what you have created. You have claimed something that Montgomery was never capable of giving you. Something more valuable than sitting next to someone who is White? You have claimed your freedom, and you have experienced what that feels like. Let’s not end that! Let’s not end this bus boycott! Let us build and sustain it in perpetuity! Let's call it ‘The Harambee Transportation Company’.” The rest is history.
Obviously, the above is an alternative history of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. But why reimagine such a momentous accomplishment? More specifically, how is it relevant to the work experiences of Black people today? People tend to perform better on their jobs when they are respected at work and find their jobs interesting and fulfilling. Many African Americans do not have this experience in large part due to racism. In Chicago, seven African American, current and former employees of the water department are a part of a class-action lawsuit charging that they were and are subjected to systematic denial of promotions and routine racial and sexual harassment. Yet, racism is said to be bad for business because it denies companies the best and the brightest due to their race. Well, then why engage in systematic bias over a protracted period of time and foster a culture of White supremacy if the market accepts the logic that racism is bad for business? Milton Friedman argued that capitalism was fundamentally good and racism doesn’t make sense because the pressure to make money will force employers to not make decisions based on race. Racist math doesn’t work according to this logic. Answering this question requires a different calculus. The country may lose billions of dollars annually due to employment discrimination that causes loss of productivity and talent. However, according to the crowding hypothesis as articulated by Bates & Fusfeld (2005), when Black people are crowded into lower paying jobs and systematically denied promotions, their wages will go down or do not rise. Non-Black workers benefit from this because it takes them out of competition with Black workers, making it easier for their wages to rise (Bates & Fusfeld, 2005). The other kind of capital not accounted for in the logic that racism is bad for business is the psychological capital that is gained from the sense of superiority that is fed by routinized racial harassment. The same logic applies to sexual harassment but combined with racism the experience is far more pervasive transcending labor markets and class divisions. However, did the Montgomery Bus Boycott prove Friedman’s logic correct? Did it prove that racism, in fact, is bad for business? In fact, it resulted in a collective action model that gave the civil rights movement a blueprint. However, racism has found new and more resilient means of resisting this economic logic, as it has in Chicago’s water department. But, imagine for a minute, what would have happened if the Montgomery Bus Boycott had never ended. Perhaps, the outcome would have been a Black owned transportation company. Maybe it would have been a model for Black owned business expansion in similar cities across the country. The Black liberation struggle has developed many methods for advancement. For example, the NAACP has made clear the role that legal action plays in challenging racism. An additional solution to job discrimination may come from moving the creation of Black businesses up the priority list from an “alternative” to a “primary” method of creating work opportunities for Black people in which they are respected, fulfilled, and stimulated.
Bates, T. & Fusfeld, D. (2005). The crowding hypothesis. In C.A. Conrad,
J. Whitehead, P.L. Mason & J. Stewart (ed), African Americans in the US economy.
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, pp. 101-109.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, referenced rising rates of violent crime in a recent speech. Indeed, the murder rate increased 11% in 2015, particularly in cities like Baltimore, Memphis, Milwaukee, and Chicago (Gass, 2017). Sessions’ background is an important shaper of his response to the recent uptick in violence. Sessions was a prosecutor in the 1980’s, and his recent critics argue that his approaches to fighting crime, have not moved far beyond those of the 1980s (Jackman, 2017). For example, in a March memo, Sessions, quite arbitrarily ordered prosecutors to seek the harshest penalties possible (Cevallos, 2017). It is expected that sessions will take a hard line on mandatory minimum sentencing as well. However, it would be difficult to find evidence that this measure will bring those levels down.
Disregard for Scientific Evidence
What has not been noted is what Sessions didn’t say. In his speech, Mr. Session’s merely mentioned the need for prevention in a single sentence, yet after the stand-alone statement, he quickly abandoned the idea and returned to his focus on incarceration. What scientific evidence tells us is that treatment, reentry programs (i.e. job training), and prevention are far more effective approaches to fighting drug crime than incarceration (Gass, 2017; Kerman, 2017; Rhodan, 2017). Moreover, the Federal Sentencing Commission and the National Research Council indicate that lengthy prison sentences are ineffective crime control methods (Kerman, 2017). The US criminal justice system, based on its spending, continues to favor punishment over rehabilitation and prevention (Cevallos, 2017). Mr. Sessions memo and speech contributes to the already existing punitive imbalance. What motivates a policy so lacking in 21st-century logic? Who benefits?
Among the direct beneficiaries is the $20 billion-dollar prison industrial complex. Black people’s presence in prisons across the country already fuels the industry in the form of jobs created, building contracts, telephone services, bussing services, medical services, and purchase of products and services (Weatherspoon, 2014). As incarcerated populations are not counted among the unemployed and mostly vote democratic, Sessions policy is likely to undermine democratic voting power while also allowing the Trump administration to claim economic improvement by hiding a significant portion of its otherwise unemployed population (for example, most Black men in prison were unemployed at the time of incarceration) (Stewart, 1994).
What Can Black People Expect
With the implementation of Sessions’ order, Black people must have expectations based on historical precedent and scientific evidence. Racism is endemic to sentencing, therefore Black people can expect to absorb a disproportionately larger share of the sentencing increases that Sessions has called for. For example, a Washington State Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System found that Black offenders received harsher sentences for drug offenses than similarly situated Whites (Weatherspoon, 2014). Prosecutors seeking the harshest sentencing may also result in overworked, inexperienced public defenders compelling more Black defendants to admit to crimes they did not commit to negotiating for shorter sentences. It is also likely that harshest penalties and increased mandatory minimums will result in more fragmented families as judges and prosecutors will have less discretion to be lenient to certain offenders based on the circumstances of their offenses. Finally there is what Michelle Alexander calls the final phase of the mass incarceration process, which includes punishments that isolate Black people from the mainstream economy. She calls this final phase, invisible punishment, which begins after prisoners are released from prison. Largely outside of public view, they prevent convicted offenders from integrating into mainstream society. In this phase, they are legally discriminated against by way of denial of employment, housing, education, and public benefits (Alexander, 2010).
November 6, 2018
As midterm elections approach it will be critical that Black voters demand that elected officials have policies that include a commitment to treating drug abuse as a public health issue. It is time to convert popular Black resistance movements into a viable political party in the tradition of the Gary Convention. Moreover, officials that Black people vote for must have policies that place emphasis on reentry programs, prevention, and drug treatment…… However, in a White supremacist society it is not likely that this will happen speedily at levels that will provide measurable protection to the Black community from the regressive policies of the Trump administration. Recognizing this may compel Black public health professionals and criminal justice professionals to develop independent community-based crime prevention programs, job training programs, and drug treatment programs customized for Black people. Independent Black professional innovation is the only reliable failsafe for the Black future.
Attorney general jeff sessions delivers remarks on violent crime to federal, state and local law enforcement. (2017). States News Service .
Cevallos, D. (2017). Jeff sessions takes wrong turn on crime. CNN Wire.
Gass, H. (2017). Why some worry Jeff Sessions' crime-fighting approach is out of date. The Christian Science Monitor,.
Jackman, T. (2017). Sessions takes federal crime policy back to the '80s. The Washington Post.
Kerman, P. (2017). Tough on crime still racist. USA Today,
Rhodan, M. (2017). Sentencing reversal angers both sides. Time, 189(20), 11.
Stewart, J.B. (1994). Neoconservative attacks on Black families and the Black male: An analysis and critique. In R.G. Majors and J.U. Gordon (Eds.), The American Black male. Chicago: Nelson-Hall Publishers, pp. 40-68.
Weatherspoon, F. (2014). African-American males and the U.S. justice system of marginalization: A national tragedy. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Written by Serie McDougal
Recently, Tom Weathersby of the Mississippi state House of Representatives proposed a bill. It recommends a new law that would impose fines and psychological counseling for people who sag their pants. This article contains thoughts about what this bill means for young Black males. To be in violation of the law, one has to sag their pants in ways that expose underwear or body parts in an “indecent or vulgar manner.” The ambiguity of this phrase invites what is known as aversive racism. The theory of aversive racism assumes, for example, that in situation where evaluation criteria is unclear, Whites will typically treat African Americans with negative bias (i.e., stop and frisk laws) (Dovidio, & Gaertner, 2000). This proposal could be, at once, the continuity of White cultural racism and trickle down cultural chauvinism in the time of Donald Trump. Cultural chauvinism, goes beyond the recognition of cultural difference, toward to punishment of difference and elevation of one’s own cultural preferences as a default societal standard. This has been the White supremacist orientation toward African American styles for hundreds of years. Yet, in a way that might be considered strange, Whites have described African American cultural styles as wild, barbaric, and indecent (blues, rap, Ebonics, dance), yet also expressed deep admiration of those styles, expressed through imitation, appropriation, and commodification of them. The cultural chauvinism that President Donald Trump has shown the world, may be trickling down to the state and local levels or simply emboldening already existing White cultural racism. Tom Weathersby’s prejudice against certain styles of clothes, such as sagging pants, will be institutionalized into law if the bill is passed. But what do clothes mean?
Generally, clothes can simply represent style, but they can also be used to tell elaborate stories about culture and identity. African Americans have used clothing to symbolize, attitudes, values, interests, affiliation, pride, and identity (Andrews & Majors, 2004, p.326). From zoot suits to traditional African garments, African American men have developed unique ways of dressing to express themselves and distinguish themselves (Franklin, 2004). During slavery, Black men used the clothes available to them to create their own styles. This is, in part, a way of expressing themselves on their own terms and enhancing self-image while society attempts to make them invisible (Majors & Billson, 1992; Franklin, 2004). Black male clothing trend-setting has taken common items such as stocking caps or do-rags, bandanas, and plain white t-shirts to the point that they have been commodified and transformed into mainstream symbols of masculinity. Yet, their styles have also been criminalized and marketed. The hip hop industry has garnered millions of dollars by transforming Black male clothing styles into designer apparel.
Sagging pants is one of many culturally influenced behaviors such as playing the dozens, clothing styles, rapping, and using slang. However, for Black males these are not just innocent stylistic choices, they can be life-threatening (for example, Trayvon Martin). Black parents recognize this and send messages to their sons in preparation for bias, which is a racial socialization practice that between two-thirds and 90% of African American parents engage in. These parents make their children aware of racism and prepare them with strategies for how to handle it. They may engage in telling their sons to “be on time, to avoid wearing sagging pants or hoodies, and to work extra hard” (Brewster, Stephenson & Beard, 2014, p.97). They do this because they know that their sons will be misjudged in society’s institutions. Kunjufu (2009) explains that when some Black males behave in accord with their culture, their teachers perceive their shoulder shrugging, baggy clothes, sagging, attitudes, and direct eye contact as threatening, noisy, disrespectful, intimidating.
It is important that Black communities demand that service providers interrogate their assumptions about Black males and where those assumptions came from. In addition to interrogating their beliefs about Black males, they need culturally responsive policy making. To continue with the traditional approach of training Black males to adjust themselves in preparation for bias is placing too much pressure on them and not social institutions and it can lead them to internalize negative attitudes about themselves and other Black people.
Brewster, J., Stephenson, M., & Beard, H. (2014). Promises kept: Raising Black boys to succeed in school and in life. New York, NY: Spiegel & Grau.
Dovidio, J., & Gaertner, S. (2000). Aversive racism and selection decisions: 1989 and 1999. Psychological Science, 11(4), 315.
Franklin, A. J. (2004). From brotherhood to manhood: How Black men rescue their relationships and dreams from the invisibility syndrome. New York: Wiley.
Graham, A., & Anderson, K. (2008). “I have to be three steps ahead”: Academically gifted African American male students in an urban high school on the tension between an ethnic and academic identity. The Urban Review, 40(5), 472-499.
Majors, R., & Billson, J. M. (1992). Cool pose: The dilemmas of black manhood in America. New York: Lexington Books.
Written by Sureshi Jayawardene
Ida B. Wells once said, “those who commit the crimes write the reports.” Today, the glaring truth of Wells’ words reverberate throughout the Black community as the death toll steadily rises, while law enforcement officers face minimal charges often going without a conviction, and the criminal justice system remains the same well-oiled machine. As the Afrometrics article, “The False Premise of ‘Not Working’” from April 2015 pointed out, the system is working. In fact, it’s working rather well. In the late 19th century, Wells was concerned about the powers that would narrate and subsequently find ways to justify the extrajudicial killings of Black people. She dedicated her life to bringing attention to the dominant discourse, hegemony and American spirit underlining these killings. An avid activist and Black political theorist, Ida B. Well’s words are so relevant today, not simply because of the ceaseless gratuitous violence against Black people, but also because of how documentation of such violence is taking place. Or, not taking place. It is quite ironic, but not writing reports is as good as writing a report that does everything to avoid incriminating the murderer.
The Reports They Don’t Write
In October 2015, at a US Justice Department summit on violent crime reduction FBI director James Comey stated,
“It is unacceptable that the Washington Post and the Guardian newspaper from the UK are becoming the lead source of information about violent encounters between [US] police and civilians. That is not good for anybody.”
Comey claimed it was “embarrassing and ridiculous” that entities independent of the federal government had been more efficient in this data collection and that they made it easily accessible to everyone. However, a year prior to that, a few days before Michael Brown’s violent death, the most reputed crime-data experts in DC determined they could not accurately count how many Americans die each year at the hands of police, so, they put an end to counting altogether.
Since we are the victim and we fight daily to avenge those who are killed, we have to be the ones to compile the evidence and put together the reports. We have to compose our own narrative so that it will ultimately aid us in our collective action to bring down the forces that oppress us.
Today, the FBI claims to know little more than a year ago when Comey made his embarrassing admission. But, there is plenty data, as Kia Makarechi, story editor and associate director of audience development at Vanity Fair, reported in July this year. He writes, “eighteen academic studies, legal rulings, and media investigations shed light on the issue roiling America.”
The Guardian, through a crowdsourced project, The Counted, has created an extensive searchable database of police killings in the US. Here you will find amassed significant detail about each police involved death of a civilian from 2015. For each case, you can also find links to news and media coverage of the incident:
This database also has a “send a tip” tab encouraging vigilance and awareness among citizens to report any helpful information regarding these incidents. In a separate effort, the Washington Post tracked the number of people killed by the police in just the year 2015. The data gathered includes demographic information for each victim and also notes conditions such as “signs of mental illness,” “threat level," and "weapon.”
According to Mapping Police Violence, in 2015 alone, unarmed Black people were killed by police at 5 times the rate of unarmed White people.
This organization presents data in easy-to-digest infographic form. Readers can find a map of police violence across the nation, images that portray the rate of conviction of police officers for their crimes, the “most dangerous police departments,” police violence by city and state, as well as annual reports. The organization also urges visitors to the website to demand political action.
Other databases also exist. They include: Fatal Encounters and the Facebook compilation Killed By Police. Finally, a database specifically focused on African American deaths at the hands of law enforcement, Operation Ghetto Storm, which is supported by the Malcolm X Grassroots Committee issued a report in 2014. This was actually an updated version of their 2012 report which details their organizational mission and objectives, and tallies the number and frequency of extrajudicial killings of Black people. The author, Arlene Eisen, links present day violence against Black communities to the long history of oppression and subjugation endured by African Americans. Furthermore, Eisen underscores that the model of protest immediately after a police shooting is insufficient to take down the system that sustains this oppression. She describes necessary steps to act against the continued war on Black people, including self-defense training and organization in the Black community, but also building broad alliances with other oppressed groups to work together against the continuing modes of violence on our communities.
In addition, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled last week in the gun conviction case of Jimmy Warren that the fact that Warren ran away should not be used to further incriminate him. The court said that according to state law, individuals had the right to not speak to police and even walk away from them if they were not being charged with anything. The justices further declared,
“…flight is not necessarily probative of a suspect’s state of mind or consciousness of guilt. Rather, the finding that black males in Boston are disproportionately and repeatedly targeted for FIO [Field Interrogation and Observation] encounters suggests a reason for flight totally unrelated to consciousness of guilt. Such an individual, when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled as by the desire to hide criminal activity. Given this reality for black males in the city of Boston, a judge should, in appropriate cases, consider the report’s findings in weighing flight as a factor in the reasonable suspicion calculus”
The court cited evidence from a 2014 ACLU of Massachusetts report about the disproportionate levels of police stops experienced by Black people. The court also cited evidence from Boston police data on field interrogation and observation (FIO) to further support this.
Our Own Vigilance and Racial Protectionism
As a parent of a Black son, I often find myself frustrated and helpless that as his mother any amount of protection I afford my son will not safeguard him from experiencing racist violence. As we have seen in recent years, Black people are being killed by police for simply being. A new study from the Yale Child Study Center found that ‘implicit bias’ affects how teachers treat African American males from as young an age as 4 years old. Implicit bias refers to unconscious prejudices and stereotypes that influence interaction with different people. The researchers examined “the potential role of preschool educators’ implicit biases as a viable partial explanation behind disparities in preschool expulsion.” Researchers found that when expecting challenging behaviors, educators looked longer at Black children, particularly Black boys. The findings also suggest difference in implicit biases based on teacher race.
The findings of this study demonstrate the deep-seated nature of racist thinking and ideas. It is clear that teachers’ hyper-vigilant gaze at Black boys is influenced by the dominant culture’s racist narrative of Black criminality. However, to call something implicit and unconscious is dangerous, because this suggests that people have little to no control over the “unconscious” and that everyone is “biased” and “prejudiced” to some varying degree. In turn, there is little that comes in the form of a critique of the overarching dominant culture that sustains the real culprit: racism. While the term implicit bias can be problematic because it deflects accountability and transparency for racism and its consequences, the results of this study are useful for Black parents making decisions about their children’s education, everyday racial socialization, and overall safety from racial violence throughout the lifespan. Taking action regarding the impact of racial profiling and presumptions of criminality at the preschool age might aid Black parents and larger community networks in preventing our loved ones from being featured in the above databases.