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286 posts categorized "Current Affairs"

Trust and Corruption

March 03, 2014

(Mark Rosenman is emeritus professor at Union Institute & University and a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. He lives in Washington, D.C., from where he drew many of the examples of the national problems cited below.)

Rosenman_headshotSelf-serving and dishonest actions in both the public and private sectors are severely testing the trust and confidence of Americans. That's a problem for government, for courts and the criminal justice system, for corporations and business leaders, and, yes, for the nonprofit sector.

It's a much more significant problem, however, for the larger society. Are we destined to slide further toward the pernicious levels of corruption so prevalent in other parts of the world? Can the already strained fabric of American society hold as growing numbers of public, private, and charity officials scramble to profit, legally and otherwise, from their positions? What happens when the fundamental American belief in fairness is undermined by declining confidence in the institutions we all rely on?

Make no mistake, confidence in our institutions is declining. Since the early 1970s, those of us who have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in our institutions, including banks, newspapers, and the medical establishment, has fallen dramatically – in some cases by more than 50 percent. Confidence in religion, the Supreme Court, schools, organized labor, and the presidency has fallen by 25 percent or more, while fewer than 25 percent of us have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in big business.

Charitable organizations don't fare so well, either. Following a precipitous drop more than ten years ago, a recent survey found that over a third of Americans have "not too much" or no confidence in nonprofits. Meanwhile, Congress's approval rating has fallen to an all-time low of 10 percent.

Interestingly, the few institutions that have shown gains in public confidence include the military and the police and criminal justice system. But while the military is the most respected of American institutions, a series of recent incidents is beginning to take a toll. They include a scandal involving two Navy officers and a senior agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and a series of misconduct charges leveled at senior military officers for abusing their positions and accepting illegal gifts. His confidence shaken, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has demanded a broader investigation.

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'A Small Committed Minority of Believers'

February 18, 2014

(Shawn Dove is campaign manager for the Open Society Foundations Campaign for Black Male Achievement. In a December 2012 Newsmaker interview with PND, he discussed the report Where Do We Go From Here? Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys.)

Headshot_Shawn Dove_A generation ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. asserted in Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community?, the last book he published before he was assassinated, that "it will take…a small committed minority [of believers] to work unrelentingly to win the uncommitted majority. Such a group may well transform America's greatest dilemma into her most glorious opportunity."

The great dilemma that King wrote about in 1967 still gnaws at the roots of a nation that was founded on a premise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness but was built on a foundation of racial and gender inequality. And while today no single group of people in America can claim that it alone is marginalized — sadly, there are many such groups — it is hard to dispute that disparities faced by black men and boys across a number of indicators, including incarceration, academic achievement, and unemployment, paint a picture of their systemic exclusion from the American mainstream.

The thorny issue of black men and their standing in American society is, of course, not a new one. Yet in light of recent advances in the emerging field of black male achievement, there is reason to hope that the small committed minority of believers who have been working hard to improve the life outcomes and perceptions of black men and boys are swaying the majority of non-believers.

By now, most people have heard that President Obama intends to launch a significant new effort "to bolster the lives of young men of color" in America. Building on momentum that has been growing over recent years, the public rollout of My Brother's Keeper, as the initiative is called, represents a bold response to the challenges confronting so many young men of color. Without a doubt, this is an historic moment for the work and aspirations of many leaders working within and outside philanthropy who have devoted their lives to creating an America where black men and boys can compete on an even playing field of opportunity and realize their full potential.

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Nonprofits Must Speak Out Against Poverty and Income Inequality

January 21, 2014

(Mark Rosenman, professor emeritus, Union Institute & University, is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. In his previous post, he argued that the rush by many to embrace social impact bonds is another example of private profit crowding out a public good.)

Rosenman_headshotIn the battle to stem and reverse widening economic inequality in the United States, too many tax-exempt organizations are either missing from action or are part of the problem. While charities and foundations in general do much to help the poor and indigent, some organizations and institutions actually make the problem worse through their own compensation practices. At the same time, these organizations and others often go out of their way to disassociate themselves from policy debates on a host of related issues, from increasing the minimum wage to preserving government programs for needy families.

The good news is that both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have started to pay more attention to poverty and economic inequality. Given the profound ideological differences between the parties, however, there is a great deal of disagreement about how government ought to address these problems and what kind of nonprofit programs it ought to support. Unfortunately, charities and foundations cannot truly serve the public interest unless they engage in these debates — today and into the future.

First, though, let's consider the deteriorating economic circumstances of many Americans. While most of the 15 percent of Americans living in poverty are children or adults who do not participate in the labor market, close to 1 in 4 of the 46.5 million people in the United States who are poor do work; that's 7 percent of the country's total workforce, and among other things it means the poverty rate today is as high as it has been since 1965.

What's more, income inequality in the U.S. has reached historic levels. Based on something called the Gini coefficient, the United States now ranks 32 out of 34 OECD member countries in terms of inequality; in fact, we haven't seen these levels of inequality since the 1920s, just before the onset of the Great Depression.

It gets worse. In the three decades prior to 2010, the top 1 percent of Americans increased their share of the national income by 66 percent, while those at the bottom of the economic ladder actually lost ground. Meanwhile, 95 percent of income gains since 2009 have gone to the top 1 percent, who now claim 22 percent of the national income, while the richest 5 percent of American households control more than 60 percent of the country's wealth.

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Fifty Years After the War on Poverty, Americans Want to Renew a National Commitment

January 20, 2014

(Deborah Weinstein is executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, a partner in the Half in Ten campaign.)

Headshot_deborah_weinsteinIf your refrigerator is empty and you’re not sure when you’ll be eating your next meal, reflecting on the fiftieth anniversary of the War on Poverty may not be your first priority. Unfortunately, a recent survey conducted by Half in Ten, an organization dedicated to cutting the poverty rate in America by 50 percent within ten years, finds that having trouble paying for necessities is a fact of life for at least a quarter of all Americans. And more than half of all Americans say that someone in their immediate or extended family is poor. For millions of struggling families, building a pathway out of poverty is an urgent matter.

Americans, regardless of socioeconomic status, should share this sense of urgency. But wanting to do something about poverty isn't enough. We need to take a hard look at why poverty persists and what works to reduce it. At a time when people increasingly are aware of growing inequality and hardship in America, the fiftieth anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's speech launching the War on Poverty is a good opportunity to do so. In the survey conducted by Half in Ten, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they believe poverty stems from jobs that do not pay enough and/or from lack of education and health care, while only one in four ascribed poverty to bad personal choices or irresponsibility. Many see — in their own lives or in the experiences of friends and relatives — that the economy is failing to provide people with opportunities to move up, let alone support a family. They are correct. According to a new report from the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, in the three years after the "official" end of the Great Recession, 99 percent of Americans saw their incomes grow by less than 1 percent, while income for the richest 1 percent rose 31 percent. Yes, the economy has grown since the recession, but most Americans are not sharing in the gains.

What's more, an overwhelming majority of Americans (86 percent) agree that government has a responsibility to take action to reduce poverty, while at least eight in ten survey respondents support expanded nutrition assistance, affordable quality child care, universal pre-K education, and raising the minimum wage as steps toward that goal. The War on Poverty introduced many initiatives in these areas that did help to reduce poverty in America. Over a period of four years, LBJ and his team managed to push a stunningly comprehensive package of legislation through Congress, creating the food stamp program, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, college affordability programs, job training, housing, and civil rights laws, as well as increasing Social Security benefits. Indeed, a recent Columbia University study shows that when income from food stamps and low-income tax credits is included in poverty calculations, the U.S. poverty rate declined from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2012. Similarly, a long-term look at Head Start program participants found they were more likely to finish high school and less likely to turn to crime than low-income children who didn’t participate in Head Start.

Thanks to Johnson's War on Poverty, the official poverty rate in America was cut in half over little more than a decade, bottoming out at 11.1 percent in 1973. Then it began to rise again. Some in Congress who oppose spending federal dollars on programs for the poor point to today's unacceptably high poverty rate to argue that the War on Poverty failed. That is not true. Substantial progress was made, but it wasn't enough to overcome the changes that have transformed the American economy over the last thirty years.

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[Video] 'Apple Forecast: Immigration Reform'

December 28, 2013

Kathryn Pyle, one of our favorite PhilanTopic contributors, also is an acomplished documentary filmmaker. Her latest effort, a very short documentary titled Apple Forecast: Immigration Reform, "gives voice," in Kathryn's words, to small farmers who say our immigration system is hurting their business.

You can watch the film in its entirety below. It's also being hosted on the Web by the Francisan Action Network, where you can read a statements about the film by Kathryn and FAN executive director Patrick Carolan.

(Running time: 4:97)

To read more of Kathryn's posts for PhilanTopic, click here.

Have a thought or opinion about the doc or our immigration system? Feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (October 2013)

November 01, 2013

A shutdown of the federal government that lasted sixteen days, the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, a well-deserved (!) Red Sox win in the World Series -- October was nothing if not eventful. And now that it's history, it's time to look back at the most popular posts on PhilanTopic during the month:

What have you been reading/watching/listening to that PhilanTopic readers should know about? Share your favorites in the comments section....

When Government Shuts Down, the Nonprofit Community Pays

October 04, 2013

(Tim Delaney is president and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, which, as the hub of the nation's largest network of charitable nonprofits, serves as a central coordinator and mobilizer, helping nonprofits by identifying emerging trends, sharing proven practices, and promoting solutions that benefit charitable nonprofits and the communities they serve.)

Headshot_tim_delaneyThe federal government shutdown is more than just a symbol of political dysfunction. Real people are being hurt. And charitable nonprofits and foundations are unfairly being asked to subsidize government even more than usual while the government is closed.

Community and human needs do not stop just because the federal government has stopped functioning. Indeed, the shutdown has actually increased the needs of millions of Americans. That's why when politicians shut the doors of government, charitable nonprofits struggle even more than usual to meet the needs of their constituents.

Increased Public Needs Transferred to Nonprofits

The government shutdown means there is no federal money to pay for essential programs. Many federally funded, community-based programs that provide food for infants, children, veterans, and seniors, such as WIC (Women, Infant, and Children Supplemental Nutrition) and Meals on Wheels, report having only enough resources to continue operating for a few more days. At least twenty-three Head Start programs in eleven states have already run out of money, leaving children without access to vital educational programs and their parents scrambling for options. Similarly, people who could be applying for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans' benefits, or other essential programs -- all of which have been idled during the shutdown -- turn to charities for help.

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Labor Day Weekend Link Roundup (September 1-2, 2013)

September 01, 2013

Laborday2013A special holiday weekend roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Rights

On its NOW blog, the Georgia Center for Nonprofits commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom with a look at the persistant disparities in employment, educational achievement, and upward mobility between Afrian Americans and whites as illustrarted by several recently released reports.

Before the fiftieth anniversary becomes a footnote, be sure to take a look at the ten-part Washington Monthly series on race in America that we re-posted here on PhilanTopic in the weeks leading up to Wednesday's events.

Communications/Marketing

From the folks at Optimind Technology, here's a great infographic with thirty digital marketing statistics you can't afford to ignore.

Impact/Effectiveness

Writing in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, William Burckart, managing director of Impact Economy's North America unit and a contributing author to the forthcoming New Frontiers of Philanthropy (Lester M. Salamon, ed., Oxford University Press), argues that impact investing, one of the buzziest memes in philanthropy at the moment, "is not well understood outside of a relatively small group of early adopters, and even this band of innovators harbors multiple, sometimes-incompatible interpretations of the concept." What's more, writes Burckart, although this "form of foundation investing has long been approved by government regulators," outside of a handful of foundations -- Ford, F.B. Heron, Kellogg, Mary Reynolds Babcock, K.L. Felicitas -- "it is an idea that has never gotten much traction."

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Reconstruction Deconstruction

August 09, 2013

On August 28, 1963, America witnessed what was arguably the greatest demonstration for racial justice in the history of the country. Half a century after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the looming question of racial equality in America remains.

In the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, PhilanTopic is publishing a ten-part series, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in which some of America's most important writers explore our race issues, past and present.

In the fifth installment of that series (click here for the fourth, "The Next Affirmative Action," by Kevin Carey), Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and the author of Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, argues that the tumultuous decade that followed the Civil War failed to enshrine black voting and civil rights and instead paved the way for more than a century of entrenched racial injustice.The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

Reconstruction_illustrationChildren in elementary school often come home with the idea that the purpose of the Civil War was to end slavery -- but if that were true, then why did it take Abraham Lincoln so long to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, and why was it less than universally popular in the Union states? If you see the movie Lincoln, you get a much fuller picture of the contingency of emancipation, and of the difficulty of passing the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery completely -- but why didn't Lincoln and the Congress think to address at the same time the obvious question of what status the freed slaves would have after that? After Lincoln's assassination, Congress and the state governments settled that matter by passing the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which gave the former slaves full civil rights and voting rights -- but why was it necessary for exactly the same rights to be reenacted, after enormous struggle, nearly a century later, during the civil rights era?

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Hey, Wall Street, Can You Spare a Dime?

August 05, 2013

(Mark Rosenman is an emeritus professor at the Union Institute & University and directed Caring to Change, in Washington, D.C. In his last post, he urged nonprofit leaders to speak out when confronted with evidence of illegal or unscrupulous behavior in the sector.)

Rosenman_headshotWhile religious groups and nonprofit organizations are forming new coalitions and joining established leaders in the fight to preserve the charitable tax deduction, most charities have remained silent about cuts in government funding for domestic needs. Even more disturbing, few in the nonprofit world seem aware of a new legislative initiative that could add billions of dollars to such programs -- and their own funding streams.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) have introduced a financial transaction tax modeled after one approved by the European Parliament that is being adapted in eleven nations. Oddly, though Harkin and DeFazio's version of this "Wall Street speculators sales tax" has attracted support from over forty national nonprofit organizations and labor unions, it has not captured the imagination of local and regional charities or nonprofit sector leaders.

According to one study, up to $350 billion a year might be raised by a tax on equity and bond trades as well as the trading of options, swaps, futures, and other derivatives. Such a tax would not apply to the day-to-day financial transactions of individuals or to things like loans and debt issuance.

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The Next Affirmative Action

August 02, 2013

On August 28, 1963, America witnessed what was arguably the greatest demonstration for racial justice in the history of the country. Half a century after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the looming question of racial equality in America remains.

In the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, PhilanTopic is publishing a ten-part series, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in which some of America's most important writers explore our race issues, past and present.

In the fourth installment of that series (click here for the third, "A House Divided," by Thomas J. Sugrue), Kevin Carey, director of the Education Policy program at the New America Foundation, argues that while affirmative action "as we know it is dying," the Supreme Court's targeting of current policies may be "an opportunity to change the way people think about race and higher education." The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

Affirmative-actionAffirmative action as we know it is dying. A growing number of states have moved to prohibit public universities from considering race in admissions, and the U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in an anti-affirmative action lawsuit that left little doubt about where the Court's conservative majority stands. Less than a decade after the Court upheld racial admissions preferences in Grutter v. Bollinger, newer jurists like Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts seem ready to render unconstitutional a policy that has helped generations of minority students grab a rung on the ladder of opportunity.

The Court's likely decision is particularly odious given the college admissions apparatus it will leave in place. Elite colleges warp and corrupt the meritocratic admissions process in a wide variety of ways. Academically substandard athletes, for example, are allowed in so they can play for the amusement of alumni and help shore up the fundraising base. While some men's football and basketball players come from low-income and minority households, many athletes at the highly selective colleges where affirmative action really matters engage in sports like crew and lacrosse that are associated with white, privileged backgrounds. Colleges also give preference to the children of legacies, professors, celebrities, politicians, and people who write large checks to the general fund. All of these groups are also disproportionately wealthy and white.

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Continuing the Fight for Voting Rights

July 30, 2013

(Ryan P. Haygood is director of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund's Political Participation Group, which works to promote the full, equal, and active participation of black people in the democratic process through legal, legislative, public education, and other means. He has represented people of color in a variety of actions involving voting discrimination, including challenges to discriminatory voting measures under Sections 2 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the United States Constitution, and state laws.)

Headshot_ryan_haygoodIn June 2013, a significant provision of one of the greatest pieces of civil rights legislation ever enacted fell. In Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act. This key provision identified the fifteen states and localities that were subject to Section 5 of the legislation because of longstanding racial discrimination with respect to voting.

Section 5 required those states and localities to demonstrate to the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, D.C., that proposed changes to their voting laws would not discriminate against voters of color -- before those changes were implemented. By striking down Section 4(b), the Supreme Court immobilized Section 5, which is like letting someone keep his or her car but taking away the keys.

The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. represented black community leaders from Shelby County and argued the case in the Supreme Court. We fought to keep these protections in place, and presented irrefutable evidence that racial discrimination persists in the places covered by Sections 4(b) and 5 of the legislation.

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A House Divided

July 26, 2013

On August 28, 1963, America witnessed what was arguably the greatest demonstration for racial justice in the history of the country. Half a century after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the looming question of racial equality in America remains.

In the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, PhilanTopic is publishing a ten-part series, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in which some of America's most important writers explore our race issues, past and present.

In the third installment of that series (click here for the second, "Emmett and Trayvon: How Racial Prejudice Has Changed in the Last 60 Years," by Elijah Anderson), Thomas J. Sugrue, the David Boies Professor of History and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that the racial wealth gap in America over the last fifty years has not only persisted, it has worsened -- in large part because, African Americans, going back generations, have had little opportunity to build and pass on wealth. Sugrue's latest book is Not Even Past: Barack Obama and the Burden of Race. The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

___________

Billboard_soup_lineIn 1973, my parents sold their modest house on Detroit's West Side to Roosevelt Smith, a Vietnam War veteran and an assembly-line worker at Ford, and his wife, Virginia (not their real names). For the Smiths -- African Americans and native Mississippians -- the neighborhood was an appealing place to raise their two young children, and the price was within their means: $17,500. The neighborhood's three-bedroom colonials and Tudors, mostly built between the mid-1920s and the late '40s, were well maintained, the streets quiet and lined with stately trees. Nearby was a movie theater, a good grocery store, a local department store, and a decent shopping district. Like many first-time home buyers, the Smiths had every reason to expect that their house would be an appreciating investment.

For their part, my parents moved to a rapidly growing suburb that would soon be incorporated as Farmington Hills. Their new house, on a quiet, curvilinear street, was a significant step up from the Detroit place. It had four bedrooms, a two-car attached garage, and a large yard. It cost them $43,000. Within a few years, they had added a family room and expanded the small rear patio. Their subdivision, like most in Farmington Hills, was carefully zoned. The public schools were modern and well funded, with substantial revenues from the town's mostly middle- and upper-middle-class taxpayers. All of the creature comforts of the good suburban life were close at hand: shopping malls, swim clubs, movie theaters, good restaurants.

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How Should Philanthropy Respond to Obama's Speech on Black Men and Boys?

July 22, 2013

Shawn Dove is manager of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, an initiative of the Open Society Foundations "to create hope and opportunities for black men and boys who are significantly marginalized from U.S. economic, social, and political life." In collaboration with the Open Society Foundations, the Foundation Center recently launched BMAfunders.org, a go-to resource for data and information related to black male achievement that also highlights the role philanthropy can play in supporting black men and boys. A version of this post appears on OSF's Voices blog.

Headshot_Shawn Dove_How do we as a nation heal from the open wound caused by the Zimmerman verdict? Words from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, offer guidance: "We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now."

I've watched President Obama's speech responding to America's Trayvon Martin moment more than ten times now. And with each viewing, I am increasingly inspired by our president's courageous depiction of the challenges black men and boys face in a society that too often perceives them as criminals and ignores their potential to be productive contributors to this great nation.

Debates about race, gender, the criminal justice system, and states' "stand your ground" laws rattled the country in the week leading up to the president's speech. When he finally spoke, Americans of all races who have devoted their time and resources to improving the life outcomes of black men and boys had divergent reactions -- from sighs of relief, to jaw-dropping disbelief, to tears of joy. Others thought the president's message about how America views, values, and invests in black men and boys was off-base, too late, divisive, and lacking a call to action.

Much of what the president said resonated with me, particularly as a black man, the father of young twin boys, and the manager of the Open Society Foundations' Campaign for Black Male Achievement. What was perhaps most compelling was how he helped the country understand the pain black communities were experiencing by weaving explanations of the complex policies that create the disproportionately large population of incarcerated African American men with his personal experiences of being racially profiled. What also resonated with me was the refrain "Where do we go from here?"

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Emmett and Trayvon: How Racial Prejudice Has Changed in the Last 60 Years

July 19, 2013

On August 28, 1963, America witnessed what was arguably the greatest demonstration for racial justice in the history of the country. Half a century after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the looming question of racial equality in America remains.

In the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, PhilanTopic is publishing a ten-part seriess, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in which some of America's most important writers explore our race issues, past and present.

In the second installment of that series (click here for the first, "America's Twentieth-Century Slavery," by Douglas A. Blackmon), Elijah Anderson, the William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Sociology at Yale University, explores how racial prejudice in America has changed in the sixty years since fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, visiting relatives in Mississippi, was brutally beaten and possibly shot by a group of men, who later dumped his body in a nearby river, because he had flirted with the daughter of a local storeowner. Anderson's latest book is The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life. The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

___________

 

Headshot_elijiah_andersonSeparated by a thousand miles, two state borders, and nearly six decades, two young African American boys met tragic fates that seem remarkably similar today: both walked into a small market to buy some candy; both ended up dead.

The first boy is Emmett Till, who was fourteen years old in the summer of 1955 when he walked into a local grocery store in Money, Mississippi, to buy gum. He was later roused from bed, beaten brutally, and possibly shot by a group of white men who later dumped his body in a nearby river. They claimed he had stepped out of his place by flirting with a young white woman, the wife of the store's owner. The second boy is Trayvon Martin, who was seventeen years old late last winter when he walked into a 7-Eleven near a gated community in Sanford, Florida, to buy Skittles and an iced tea. He was later shot to death at close range by a mixed-race man, who claimed Martin had behaved suspiciously and seemed out of place. The deaths of both boys galvanized the nation, drew sympathy and disbelief across racial lines, and, through the popular media, prompted a reexamination of race relations.

In the aftermath of Martin's death last February, a handful of reporters and columnists, and many members of the general public, made the obvious comparison: Trayvon Martin, it seemed, was the Emmett Till of our times. And while that comparison has some merit -- the boys' deaths are similar both in some of their details and in their tragic outcome -- these killings must also be understood as the result of very different strains of racial tension in America. The racism that led to Till's death was embedded in a virulent ideology of white racial superiority born out of slavery and the Jim Crow codes, particularly in the Deep South. That sort of racism hinges on the idea that blacks are an inherently inferior race, a morally null group that deserves both the subjugation and poverty it gets.

The racial prejudice that led to Trayvon Martin's death is different. While it, too, was born of America's painful legacy of slavery and segregation, and informed by those old concepts of racial order -- that blacks have their "place" in society -- it in addition reflects the urban iconography of today's racial inequality, namely the black ghetto, a uniquely urban American creation. Strikingly, this segregation of the black community coexists with an ongoing racial incorporation process that has produced the largest black middle class in history, and that reflects the extraordinary social progress this country has made since the 1960s. The civil rights movement paved the way for blacks and other people of color to access public and professional opportunities and spaces that would have been unimaginable in Till's time.

While the sort of racism that led to Till's death still exists in society today, Americans in general have a much more nuanced, more textured attitude toward race than anything we've seen before, and usually that attitude does not manifest in overtly hateful, exclusionary, or violent acts. Instead, it manifests in pervasive mindsets and stereotypes that all black people start from the inner-city ghetto and are therefore stigmatized by their association with its putative amorality, danger, crime, and poverty. Hence, in public a black person is burdened with a negative presumption that he or she must disprove before being able to establish mutually trusting relationships with others.

Most consequentially, black skin when seen in public, and its association with the ghetto, translates into a deficit of credibility as black skin is conflated with lower-class status. Such attitudes impact poor blacks of the ghetto one way and middle-class black people another. While middle-class blacks may be able to successfully overcome the negative presumptions of others, lower-class blacks may not. For instance, all blacks, particularly "ghetto-looking" young men, are at risk of enduring yet another "stop and frisk" from the police as well as discrimination from potential employers, shopkeepers, and strangers on the street. Members of the black middle class and black professionals may ultimately pass inspection and withstand such scrutiny; many poorer blacks cannot. And many blacks who have never stepped foot in a ghetto must repeatedly prove themselves as non-ghetto, often operating in a provisional status (with something more to prove), in the workplace or, say, a fancy restaurant, until they can convince others -- either by speaking "white" English or by demonstrating intelligence, poise, or manners -- that they are to be trusted, that they are not "one of those" blacks from the ghetto, and that they deserve respect. In other words, a middle-class black man who is, for instance, waiting in line for an ATM at night will in many cases be treated with a level of suspicion that a middle-class white man simply does not experience.

But this pervasive cultural association -- black skin equals the ghetto -- does not come out of the blue. After all, as a result of historical, political, and economic factors, blacks have been contained in the ghetto. Today, with persistent housing discrimination and the disappearance of manufacturing jobs, America's ghettos face structural poverty. In addition, crime and homicide rates within those communities are high, young black men are typically the ones killing one another, and ghetto culture, made iconic by artists like Tupac Shakur, 50 Cent, and the Notorious B.I.G., is inextricably intertwined with blackness.

As a result, in America's collective imagination the ghetto is a dangerous, scary part of the city. It's where rap comes from, where drugs are sold, where hoodlums rule, and where The Wire might have been filmed. Above all, to many white Americans the ghetto is where "the black people live,” and thus, as the misguided logic follows, all black people live in the ghetto. It's that pervasive, if accidental, fallacy that's at the root of the wider society's perceptions of black people today. While it may be true that everyone who lives in a certain ghetto is black, it is patently untrue that everyone who is black lives in a ghetto. Regardless, black people of all classes, including those born and raised far from the inner cities and those who've never been in a ghetto, are by virtue of skin color alone stigmatized by the place.

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