Remembering “Dr. Ben” ll In Conversation with Sirius/XM Host, Dr. Wilmer Leon,

OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham

This Week

Tribute to Dr. Yosef Ben-Jochannan  In Conversation with Dr. Wilmer Leon
HOST, “Inside the Issues with Dr. Wilmer Leon
Sirius/XM Radio
March 21, 2015 10 pm ET LIVE

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Join the broadcast Here: http://bit.ly/1bkVIxc

dr.ben2ABOUT Dr. Yosef Ben-Jochannan

He was one of the most courageous and inspiring scholars of our time would live for nearly a century, paying personal witness to dramatic transformations in the lives of Black people across the globe. Now a Beloved Ancestor.

ABOUT Dr. WilmerLeon Dr. Leon’s Prescription

Wilmer Leon is the Nationally Broadcast Talk Show Host of “Inside The Issues with Wilmer Leon” Saturday’s from 11:00 am to 2:00pm on Sirius XM (126).

Wilmer_Leon_2011-02-17_18-12-03_webWilmer J. Leon III, Ph.D. is a Political Scientist whose primary areas of expertise are Black Politics and Public Policy. Wilmer has a BS degree in Political Science from Hampton Institute, a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from Howard University, and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Howard University.Dr. Leon is also the host of XM Satellite Radio’s, “Inside The Issues”, a three-hour, call-in, talk radio program airing live nationally on XM Satellite Radio channel 126.”

Dr. Leon was a featured commentator on CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight and is also a regular contributor to The Grio.com, The Root.com, TruthOut.org, The Maynard Institute.com and PoliticsInColor.com. He is an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice for more than 5 years.

We will discuss with Dr. Leon about today’s urgent and pressing issues and events before African-Americans.


                                                                               

Sankofa 2015

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2014, The Meaning of July Fourth for the African American l Dr. Wilmer Leon

2014, The Meaning of July Fourth for the African American

 July 3, 2014

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III

LTCWashington-hi-fireworks_1“I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common.-The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” Frederick Douglas – The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro – 1852

As America celebrates July Fourth, as the grills smoke, the salads are tossed, pools filled, and fireworks displayed take a moment to reflect.  Reflect upon how far we have come as a nation and yet how far we have to go.

I implore African Americans to read the entire text of Frederick Douglas’ famous speech, The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.  Are we as a people able to enjoy the blessings, the justice, and the liberty that are celebrated on this day?

We have become all too familiar with the data.  According to Bread for the World, one in four African-Americans lives below the federal poverty line and more than a third (35.7 percent) of all African-American children live in poverty.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that for 2013, the underemployment rate for African-American workers was 13.4 percent compared 6.7 percent for white workers. That does not account for those who have lost faith in the process and dropped out of the system.  The Pew Research Center reports that the Median Net Worth of Households for Whites is $113,149 and for African Americans is $5,677.  The NAACP reports that African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million of the incarcerated population. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of Whites.

These are just a few examples of the frightening realities with which we are faced.

Douglas asked, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”  Yes, slavery ended in 1865 but that two hundred- fifty years of slavery was followed by ninety years of Jim Crow; sixty years of separate but equal and thirty-five years of racist housing policy.

Yes, legislative and judicial progress have been made.   The Civil Rights Act of 1866 provided for the equality of citizens of the United States in the enjoyment of “civil rights and immunities.”  That Act was undermined by the Tilden/Hayes compromise of 1877. We have recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and will soon celebrate the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.   One problem is that too many have confused the legislative successes with the ultimate victory, changing the racist core and premise upon which this country was founded as memorialized in the U.S. Constitution.

I take this moment to focus on the past because as Douglas said, “We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future.”

Douglas continued, “At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”

As we enjoy the Fourth, eating ribs and hot dogs, we must ask ourselves, are we as a people able to enjoy the blessings, the justice, and the liberty that are celebrated on this day?  If not, what must we do to bring about substantive and permanent change?

Our plight, our success, and our future have always been in our hands.  Dr. King once said, “…nobody else can do this for us; ?no document can do this for us?; no lincolnian emancipation proclamation can do this for us;?no kennesonian or johnsonian civil rights bill can do this for us; ?if the negro is to be free, he must move down into the inner resources of his own soul and sign with a pen and ink of self-asserted manhood his own emancipation proclamation.”

Here is one, just one very simple yet challenging thing to consider.

The former President and CEO of the NAACP, Ben Jealous has just released a report entitled, “True South: Unleashing Democracy in the Black Belt 50 Years After Freedom Summer.” According to the report, “The first and most important lesson is that massive voter registration can overcome massive voter suppression. Our analysis shows that registering just 30 percent of eligible unregistered black voters or other voters of color could shift the political calculus in a number of Black Belt states, helping blacks elect candidates who share their concerns or alternatively, forcing all candidates to pay attention to the community’s concerns. Registering 60 percent or 90 percent would change the political calculus in an even greater number of states.”

I opened with Douglas and I will close with Douglas, “…Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope.”

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the Sirius/XM Satellite radio channel 110 program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon He is an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice.

 Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email:wjl3us@yahoo.comwww.twitter.com/drwleon and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at Facebook.com  © 2014 InfoWave Communications, LLC

– See more at: http://blackpoliticsontheweb.com/2014/07/03/2014-the-meaning-of-july-fourth-for-the-african-american/#sthash.b9W4uagX.dpuf

 

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America’s Moral Debt To African Americans l Smithsonian.com

America’s Moral Debt To African Americans

SLAVERY
 As a historian, I know slavery has left a deep scar on America. The reasons are many. I have found wisdom in the words of Cornelius Holmes, a former slave, interviewed in 1939, a man who saw brutality and separation of families. Holmes shared the dreams and melodies before freedom and then witnessed the reality of freedom.

One reason for my current retrospection is the fine essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the June issue of the Atlantic arguing that reparations are deserved and long overdue. He has gathered an amazing array of facts about racism, economics, violence and the role of the U.S. government, implicit and explicit. With pinpoint clarity, Coates has focused a scholarly light that shines into all the dark corners of this shameful chapter in our history.

Read the whole story at Smithsonian.com

Print Article

 

OCG Reparations Page

Who are Black Americans? A Primer for Educators φ Ivory A. Toldson, Editor in Chief, The Journal of Negro Education

wegeonocideWho are Black Americans? A Primer for Educators

By: Ivory A. Toldson 

Persons of Black African ancestry live as citizens, foreign nationals, and indigenous populations on every continent as a result of immigration, colonialism and slave trading. Today, most Black people in the Americas are the progeny of victims of the transatlantic slave trade. From 1619 to 1863, millions of Africans were involuntarily relocated from various regions of West Africa to newly established European colonies in the Americas. Many different African ethnic groups, including the Congo, Yoruba, Wolof, and Ibo, were casualties of the transatlantic slave trade. The Black American population is the aggregate of these groups, consolidated into one race, bound by a common struggle against racial oppression and distinguished by cultural dualism.

Importantly, the historic legacy of Black people in the Western Hemisphere is not limited to slavery. The Olmec heads found along the Mexican Gulf Coast is evidence of African colonies in the Americas centuries before Columbus arrived in the Caribbean. Black people were also responsible for establishing the world’s first free Black republic, and only the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere, with the Haitian Revolution. In the United States, almost 500,000 African Americans were free prior to the Civil War and were immensely instrumental in shaping U.S. policy throughout abolition and beyond. Post-Civil War, African Americans influenced U.S. arts, agriculture, foods, textile, language, and invented technological necessities such as the traffic light and elevators, and parts necessary to build the automobile and personal computer. All of these contributions were necessary for the U.S. to become a world power by the 20th Century.

Racism and oppression are forces that have shaped the experiences and development of Black people worldwide. Although European colonialists initially enslaved Black people because of their agricultural expertise and genetic resistance to diseases, they used racist propaganda to justify their inhumane practices. During periods of slavery and the “Scramble for Africa,” European institutions used pseudoscience and religion (e.g. the Hamitic myth) to dehumanize Black people. The vestiges of racism and oppression survived centuries after propaganda campaigns ended and influence all human interactions today.

Today, racism is perpetuated most profoundly through the educational system. Black students are taught to revere historians, such as Columbus, who nearly committed genocide against the native population of the Dominican Republic; and Woodrow Wilson who openly praised the Ku Klux Klan. Although many of these facts are not well known and purposefully disguised in history texts, children often leave traditional elementary and secondary education with the sense that aside from a few isolated figures (e.g. Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman) Black people had a relatively small role in the development of modern nations.

Survey data often indicate that African Americans have the highest incidence and mortality of any given mental or physical disorder, are more deeply impacted by social ills, and generally have the lowest economic standing. While some of the data are accurately presented, rationales are usually baseless and findings typically lack a sociohistorical context. In addition, studies on African Americans unfairly draw social comparisons to the social groups that historically benefited from their oppression.

Historical distortions accompanying dismal statistics have resulted in many educators and counselors perpetually using a deficit model when working with Black students. The deficit model focuses on problems, without exploring sociohistorical factors or institutional procedures. Persons of Black African ancestry have a distinguished history, are immeasurably resilient, and have developed sophisticated coping mechanisms throughout centuries of oppression. Appreciating and celebrating a Black people’s legacy, contextualizing problems, and building on strengths instead of focusing on deficits are universally appreciated counseling strategies, which merit greater prudence when working with Black children.

IVORY TOLDSON  is the Deputy Director of  White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges; Universities; Associate Professor at Howard University and Editor in Chief of The Journal of Negro Education

The Economics of Reparations: Why Congress Should Meet Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Modest Demand

MAY 21, 2014

The Economics of Reparations: Why Congress Should Meet Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Modest Demand

By  @dannyvinik

IIn the newest issue of The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the case for slavery reparations. “The idea of reparations is frightening not simply because we might lack the ability to pay,” Coates writes. “The idea of reparations threatens something much deeper—America’s heritage, history, and standing in the world.” The piece is provocative, but short on details: It doesn’t put a number to what black Americans are owed, and it doesn’t provide a specific prescription for how to make reparations. Rather, Coates simply recommends that Congress passRepresentative John Conyers’s bill for a “Congressional study of slavery.”

But now that Coates has re-ignited this debate, it’s worth considering the practical implications. How much money, for instance, is due to black America? How should that money be distributed? Who should be eligible for it? Perhaps those are questions that a Congressional study could answer. What academic evidence we have provides an incomplete but sobering assessment of the costs of centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, and state-sanctioned discrimination.

How much should reparations be?

As Coates explains in his piece, reparations must compensate African Americans for more than just the centuries of slavery in the United States. After slavery was abolished, whites frequently lynched black Americans and seized their property. A 2001 Associated Press investigation, which Coates cites, found 406 cases where black landowners had their farms seized in the early-to-mid 20th century—more than 24,000 acres of land were stolen. Housing discrimination, which has been one of the largest obstacles to African Americans’ building wealth, still exists today.

Larry Neal, an economist at the University of Illinois, calculated the difference between the wages that slaves would have received from 1620 to 1840, minus estimated maintenance costs spent by slave owners, and reached a total of $1.4 trillion in 1983 dollars. At an annual rate of interest of 5 percent, that’s more than $6.5 trillion in 2014—just in lost wages. In a separate estimate in 1983, James Marketti calculated it at $2.1 trillion, equal to $10 trillion today. In 1989, economists Bernadette Chachere and Gerald Udinsky estimated that labor market discrimination between 1929 and 1969 cost black Americans $1.6 trillion.

These estimates don’t include the physical harms of slavery, lost educational and wealth-building opportunities, or the cost of the discrimination that persists today. But it’s clear the magnitude of reparations would be in the trillions of dollars. For perspective, the federal government last year spent $3.5 trillion and GDP was $16.6 trillion.

 

What form should reparations take?

In a 2005 article, economists William A. Darity Jr. and Dania Frank proposed five different ways to make reparations. The first approach is lump-sum payments. This is the most direct form of reparations, but it does not correct for the decades of lost human capital. The second is to aggregate the reparation funds and allow African Americans to apply for grants for different asset-building projects. These projects could promote homeownership or education, for instance. Under this thinking, reparations should be more than one-time payments, but should build the human and wealth capital that black Americans struggled to gain over the past few centuries.

A third approach would be to give vouchers for a certain monetary value to black Americans. This mirrors the goal of the second approach, but with a focus on building financial assets. “Thus reparations could function as an avenue to undertake a racial redistribution of wealth akin to the mechanism used in Malaysia to build corporate ownership among the native Malays,” Darity and Frank write. “In that case, shares of stock were purchased by the state and placed in a trust for subsequent allocation to the native Malays.”

Fourth, the government could give African Americans in-kind reparations—free medical insurance or guaranteed college education, for instance. Finally, the fifth approach “would be to use reparations to build entirely new institutions to promote collective well-being in the black community.” Darity and Frank don’t elaborate on the potential structure for those institutions. Congress could also combine any or all of these approaches.

Who should be eligible to collect reparations?

READ THE FULL ARTICLE

A New Case for African American Reparations: A Simple Three-Part Plan

 A New Case for African American Reparations: A Simple Three-Part Plan

 12/03/2013 

Follow   Black Voices News

 

2013-11-26-slaveswhobuiltthewhitehouse.jpg

Photo courtesy of “I Was A Slave”

The idea of reparations is not new. Yet, in today’s presumed colorblind and post-racial society, many white Americans are convinced that the enduring legacy of racial inequities facing the black community are best remedied by individual responsibility and personal accountability; that is, if African Americans would simply work harder by “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps” and stop pulling the so-called “race card,” they might actually get ahead and finally lay claim to the ever-elusive “American Dream.” In other words, from a white person’s point of view, reparations for the 346 years of chattel slavery and near-slavery like conditions of Jim Crow racism involves a call for black Americans “to do for themselves.” Black folk need to get their moral house in order.

Most whites profess individual responsibility as a means to success or failure. By ignoring the paradox that the failure of black Americans is attributed to individual responsibility, white Americans (and bright Americans) neglect to acknowledge the crippling effects of centuries-old white racism and contemporary forms of institutional prejudice anddiscrimination. Additionally, this shared, group-based understanding — implying that whites work hard while blacks apparently do not — is seriously misguided and has significant consequences for African Americans. Given the historical context of racial oppression and current white-controlled industries, white notions of merit-based success ensures that black Americans linger in a perpetual state of marginalization keenly visible across a broad spectrum of institutions like healthcare, education, housing, employment, politics, and other major domains of society.

Like white Americans, black Americans want the necessary resources to allow their children good health and achievement in life. Superior education, access to decent employment and quality health care are key among other requisites identified by a variety of sociological, epidemiological, public health, educational and social science research as important factors that influence the overall health and well-being of a society, its communities and its individuals. It is time for the nation to take responsibility for the current state of affairs for scores of black Americans living on the fringes of obsolescence. A simple three-part plan calling for group recompense will address the central racial disparities that remain trenchant within the black community and American life. With this, the US will finally offer a tangible solution to challenge the systemic conditions of deprivation known all too well by the black community.

First, we must concede that formal education is key to some semblance of full participation in US society. The problem with education, in part, stems from how schooling is unequally funded, often punishing poor white, black and brown children for their inherited circumstances in life. The most nefarious of abuses to blacks occurs in public education as they are divested of the opportunity to be educated on their terms in ways that foster success, which begins with healthy racial identity development and positive affirmation that blackness matters. When American schools began the slow and violent process of desegregation after 1954, African American students were expected to close black schools and attend historically white schools. It was hoped that by placing black students next to white students, school achievement would effortlessly improve. Instead, jobs for thousands of black teachers and administrators throughout the south were eliminated, and black students were placed into an unequal structure where they encountered a predominately white, middle-class, female teaching profession racially-primed to view blacks through a deficit lens for generations to come. This white racial frame of black inferiority lends itself to present-day microaggressions toward black students (especially black males), who are severely mistreated, misunderstood and overly pathologized in public education. This not only hinders the possibility of equal education, but it exposes the fallacy of integration. These historically white institutions were never formally prepared or adequately resourced to meet the needs of black students, and the intermingling of blacks and whites occupying the same space in no way assured equality. Currently, blacks attend under-funded urban schools in considerable numbers (ironically re-segregated from whites). Most of these urban schools are nothing more than holding pens more akin for prison preparation rather than substantive schooling for collegiate preparation. Education for African Americans and their progeny should be equally funded and staffed to those of the best public schools in the nation, and students should have the benefit of free public education through their collegiate years.

Secondly, African Americans should receive free necessary health care in all areas of life. As evidence-based research documents, protracted exposure to chronic psychological stress is shown to be physiologically and mentally corrosive for health and well-being. More importantly, exposure to race-based discrimination at the institutional and interpersonal level of society, coupled with grinding inequalities in housing, jobs, education and income parity, keeps the body’s stress response in a constant state of arousal. Disease does not exist in a vacuum. The historical domination and complete disenfranchisement of black Americans in a so-called integrated and free society gives rise to a perfect storm for disease formation deep within the cells and biological pathways of the body. Because black Americans report higher levels of racial discrimination in a number of supposedly fair and impartial institutions, they are more vulnerable to pre-mature disease in the form of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, certain cancers, cardiovascular disease and other serioushealth-related consequences.

Like black children exposed to the whiteness of public education, black Americans have, likewise, been exposed to a two-tiered racist healthcare system. Not too long ago, “Black disease” was considered inherent to being black rather than the cause of dehumanizing forces of systemic white racism. As health care providers pledge an oath to treat all patients equitably and with integrity, how is it possible that health disparities remain a major concern for communities of color? To lesson the burden of disease for African Americans, they should be given federally-sponsored health care and unencumbered access to high quality health care delivery services. This would allow black Americans to gain substantial ground toward group uplift with the elimination of race-based health disparities.

And finally, African Americans need to be economically empowered with the resources necessary to provide a meaningful existence and future. Black Americans, as a group, have long been denied access to wealth and wealth-generating opportunities. Between 1619 and 1865 alone, black people were robbed of millions of dollars in wages for over 222 million hours of forced labor. After 246 years of chattel slavery along with another 100 years of Jim Crow, white racism has taken a toll on black folk of all stripes — young, old, rich, poor and everything in between. To this day, blacks have considerably less personal wealth than even poor white Americans and other Americans of color. The debt owed to African Americans is severely underestimated and long overdue. Therefore, all blacks should be exempt from federal taxes for a minimum of 346 years or until the poorest black American has equal parity with the poorest white American in terms of employment, income, wealth accumulation, and improved educational and health-related outcomes.

It is well known that white people have a strong aversion to the idea of a “free ride.” Yet, white America has an extensive and bloody history of taking what it wants with no thought or concern for the lives of Native Americans, black folk and other Americans of color. White supremacy is alive and robustly active still in North America. If the practice of segregation was bad, the illusion of integration has been misery. African Americans are literally dying from the stresses of an unrelenting and uncaring white power structure. This three-part plan will allow black Americans the time to heal their communities and regain some sense of control and destiny in their lives.

 Follow Darron T. Smith, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrDarronSmith
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How Racism, Global Economics, and the New Jim Crow Fuel Black America’s Crippling Jobs Crisis

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Jobs

Posted: 07/05/11

 How Racism, Global Economics, and the New Jim Crow Fuel Black America’s Crippling Jobs Crisis

Andy Kroll, Staff writer, Mother Jones magazine

Tomdispatch.com 

Like the country it governs, Washington is a city of extremes. In a car, you can zip in bare moments from northwest District of Columbia, its streets lined with million-dollar homes and palatial embassies, its inhabitants sporting one of the nation’s lowest jobless rates, to Anacostia, a mostly forgotten neighborhood in southeastern D.C. with one of the highest unemployment rates anywhere in America. Or, if you happen to be jobless, upset about it, and living in that neighborhood, on a crisp morning in March you could have joined an angry band of protesters marching on the nearby 11th Street Bridge.

They weren’t looking for trouble. They were looking for work.

Those protesters, most of them black, chanted and hoisted signs that read “D.C. JOBS FOR D.C. RESIDENTS” and “JOBS OR ELSE.” The target of their outrage: contractors hired to replace the very bridge under their feet, a $300 million project that will be one of the largest in District history. The problem: few D.C. citizens, which means few African Americans, had so far been hired. “It’s deplorable,”insisted civil rights attorney Donald Temple, “that… you can find men from West Virginia to work in D.C. You can find men from Maryland to work in D.C. And you can find men from Virginia to work in D.C. But you can’t find men and women in D.C. to work in D.C.”

The 11th Street Bridge arches over the slow-flowing Anacostia River, connecting the poverty-stricken, largely black Anacostia neighborhood with the rest of the District. By foot the distance is small; in opportunity and wealth, it couldn’t be larger. At one end of the bridge the economy is booming even amid a halting recovery and jobs crisis. At the other end, hard times, always present, are worse than ever.

Live in Washington long enough and you’ll hear someone mention “east of the river. That’s D.C.’s version of “the other side of the tracks,” the place friends warn against visiting late at night or on your own. It’s home to District Wards 7 and 8, neighborhoods with a long, rich history. Once known as Uniontown, Anacostia was one of the District’s first suburbs; Frederick Douglass, nicknamed the “Sage of Anacostia,” once lived there, as did the poet Ezra Pound and singer Marvin Gaye. Today the area’s unemployment rate is officially nearly 20%. District-wide, it’s 9.8%, a figure that drops as low as 3.6% in the whiter, more affluent northwestern suburbs.

D.C.’s divide is America’s writ large. Nationwide, the unemployment rate for black workers at 16.2% is almost double the 9.1% rate for the rest of the population. And it’s twice the 8% white jobless rate.

The size of those numbers can, in part, be chalked up to the current jobs crisis in which black workers are being decimated. According to Duke University public policy expert William Darity, that means blacks are “the last to be hired in a good economy, and when there’s a downturn, they’re the first to be released.”

That may account for the soaring numbers of unemployed African Americans, but not the yawning chasm between the black and white employment rates, which is no artifact of the present moment. It’s a problem that spans generations, goes remarkably unnoticed, and condemns millions of black Americans to a life of scraping by. That unerring, unchanging gap between white and black employment figures goes back at least 60 years. It should be a scandal, but whether on Capitol Hill or in the media it gets remarkably little attention. Ever.

The 60-Year Scandal

The unemployment lines run through history like a pair of train tracks. Since the 1940s, the jobless rate for blacks in America has held remarkably, if grimly, steady at twice the rate for whites. The question of why has vexed and divided economists, historians, and sociologists for nearly as long.

For years the sharpest minds in academia pointed to upheaval in the American economy as the culprit. In his 1996 book When Work Disappears, the sociologist William Julius Wilson depicted the forces of globalization, a slumping manufacturing sector, and suburban flight at work in Chicago as the drivers of growing joblessness and poverty in America’s inner cities and among its black residents.

He pictured the process this way: as corporations outsourced jobs to China and India, American manufacturing began its slow fade, shedding jobs often held by black workers. What jobs remained were moved to sprawling offices and factories in outlying suburbs reachable only by freeway. Those jobs proved inaccessible to the mass of black workers who remained in the inner cities and relied on public transportation to get to work.

Time and research have, however, eaten away at the significance of Wilson’s work. The hollowing-out of America’s cities and the decline of domestic manufacturing no doubt played a part in black unemployment, but then chronic black joblessness existed long before the upheaval Wilson described. Even when employment in the manufacturing sector was at its height, black workers were still twice as likely to be out of work as their white counterparts.

Another commonly cited culprit for the tenaciousness of African-American unemployment has been education. Whites, so the argument goes, are generally better educated than blacks, and so more likely to land a job at a time when a college degree is ever more significant when it comes to jobs and higher earnings. In 2009, President Obama told reporters that education was the key to narrowing racial gaps in the US. “If we close the achievement gap, then a big chunk of economic inequality in this society is diminished,” he said.

Educational levels have, in fact, steadily climbed over the past 60 years for African Americans. In 1940, less than 1% of black men and less 2% of black women earned college degrees; jump to 2000, and the figures are 10% for black men and 15% for black women. Moreover, increased education has helped to narrow wage inequality between employed whites and blacks. What it hasn’t done is close the unemployment gap.

Algernon Austin, an economist for the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., crunched data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that blacks with the same level of education as whites have consistently lower employment levels. It doesn’t matter whether you compare high-school dropouts or workers with graduate degrees, whites are still more likely to have a job than blacks. Degrees be damned.

Academics have thrown plenty of other explanations at the problem: declining wages, the embrace of crime as a way of life, increased competition with immigrants.  None of them have stuck. How could they? In recent decades, the wage gap has narrowed, crime rates have plummeted, and there’s scant evidence to suggest immigrants are stealing jobs that would otherwise be filled by African Americans.

Indeed, many top researchers in this field, including several I interviewed, are left scratching their heads when trying to explain why that staggering jobless gap between blacks and white won’t budge. “I don’t know if there’s anybody out there who can tell you why that ratio stays at two to one,” Darity says. “It’s a statistical regularity that we don’t have an explanation for.”

Behind Bars, the Invisible Unemployed

So what keeps blacks from cutting into those employment figures? Among the theories, one that deserves special attention points to the high incarceration rate among blacks — and especially black men.

In 2009, 7.2 million Americans — or 3.1% of all adults — were under the jurisdiction of the U.S. corrections system, including 1.6 million Americans incarcerated in a state or federal prison. Of that population, nearly 40% percent were black, even though blacks make up only 13% percent of the American population. Blacks were six times as likely to be in prison as whites, and three times as likely as Hispanics. For some perspective, consider what author of The New Jim Crow Michelle Alexanderwrote last year: “There are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.”

Incarceration amounts to a double whammy when it comes to African-American unemployment. Rarely mentioned in the usual drumbeat of media reports on jobs is the fact that the Labor Department doesn’t include prison populations in its official unemployment statistics. This automatically shrinks the pool of blacks capable of working and in the process lowers the black jobless rate.

In the mid-1990s, academics Bruce Western and Becky Pettit discovered that the American prison population lowered the jobless rate for black men by five percentage points, and for young black men by eight percentage points. (Of course, this applies to whites, Asians, and Hispanics as well, but the figures are particularly striking given the overrepresentation of blacks in the prison population.)

Even that vast incarcerated population pales, however, in comparison to the number of ex-cons who have rejoined the world beyond the prison walls. In 2008, there were 12 million to 14 million ex-offenders in the U.S. old enough to work, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). So many ex-cons represent a serious drag on our economy, according to CEPR, sucking from it $57 billion to $65 billion in output.

Of course, such research tells us how much, not why — as in, why are ex-cons so much more likely to be out of work? For an answer, it’s necessary to turn to an eye-opening and, in some circles, controversial field of study that may offer the best explanation for the 60-year scandal of black unemployment.

Twice as Hard, Half as Far

In 2001, a pair of black men and a pair of white men went hunting for work in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Each was 23 years old, a local college student, bright and articulate. They looked alike and dressed alike, had identical educational backgrounds and remarkably similar past work experience. From June to December, they combed the Sunday classified pages in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and searched a state-run job site called “Jobnet,” applying for the same entry-level jobs as waiters, delivery-truck drivers, cooks, and cashiers. There was one obvious difference in each pair: one man was a former criminal and the other was not.

If this sounds like an experiment, that’s because it was. Watching the explosive growth of the criminal justice system, fueled largely by ill-conceived “tough on crime” policies, sociologist Devah Pager took a novel approach to how prison affected ever growing numbers of Americans after they’d done their time — a process all but ignored by politicians and the judicial system.

So Pager sent those two young black men and two young white men out into the world to apply for perfectly real jobs. Then she recorded who got callbacks and who didn’t. She soon discovered that a criminal history caused a massive drop-off in employer responses — not entirely surprising. But when Pager started separating out black applicants from white ones, she stumbled across the real news in her study, a discovery that shook our understanding of racial inequality and jobs to the core.

Pager’s white applicant without a criminal record had a 34% callback rate. That promptly sunk to 17% for her white applicant with a criminal record. The figures for black applicants were 14% and 5%. And yes, you read that right: in Pager’s experiment, white job applicants with a criminal history got more callbacks than black applicants without one. “I expected to find an effect with a criminal record and some with race,” Pager says. “I certainly was not expecting that result, and it was quite a surprise.”

Pager ran a larger version of this experiment in New York City in 2004, sending teams of young, educated, and identically credentialed men out into the Big Apple’s sprawling market for entry-level jobs — once again, with one applicant posing as an ex-con, the other with a clean record. (As she did in Milwaukee, Pager had the teams alternate who posed as the ex-con.) The results? Again Pager’s African-American applicants received fewer callbacks and job offers than the whites. The disparity was particularly striking for ex-criminals: a drop off of 9 percentage points for whites, but 15 percentage points for blacks. “Employers already reluctant to hire blacks,” Pager wrote, “appear particularly wary of blacks with known criminal histories.”

Other research has supported her findings. A 2001-2002 field experiment by academics from the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, uncovered a sizeable gap in employer callbacks for job applicants with white-sounding names (Emily and Greg) versus black-sounding names (Lakisha and Jamal). They also found that the benefits of a better resume were 30% greater for whites than blacks.

These findings proved a powerful antidote to the growing notion, mostly in conservative circles, that discrimination was an illusion and racism long eradicated. In The Content of Our Character (1991),Shelby Steele argued that racial discrimination no longer held black men or women back from the jobs they wanted; the problem was in their heads. Dinesh D’Souza, a first-generation immigrant of Indian descent, published The End of Racism in 1995, similarly claiming racial discrimination had little to do with the plight of black America.

Not so, insist Pager, Darity, Harvard’s Bruce Western, and other academics using real data with an unavoidable message: racism is alive and well. It leads to endemic, deeply embedded patterns of discrimination whose harmful impact has barely changed in 60 years. And it cannot be ignored. As the old African-American adage puts it, “You’ve got to work twice as hard to get half as far as a black person in white America.”

Is There a Solution for Black America?

Tracing black unemployment in America since World War II, there are two moments when, briefly, the gap between black and white joblessness narrowed ever so slightly — in the 1940s and again in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For example in 1970, unemployment was at 5.8% for blacks and 3.3% for whites, a sizeable gap but significantly better than what followed in the Reagan era. Those are moments worth revisiting, if only to understand what began to go right.

According to University of Chicago professors William Sites and Virginia Parks, those periods were marked by a flurry of civil rights and anti-discrimination activity on the federal level. A series of actions ranging from the creation of the Fair Employment Practice Committee in 1941 to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which mandated the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, write Sites and Parks, had “dramatic impacts on employment discrimination.”

But those gains of the 1970s were soon wiped out. The thinning of union membership and the dwindling power of organized labor didn’t help either, after decades of pressure on employers to end discrimination against workers of color.

Today, in terrible times, with the possibility of social legislation off the table in Washington, the question remains: What, if anything, can be done to close the jobless gap between blacks and whites? When I asked Devah Pager, she called this the “million-dollar question.” This form of discrimination, she pointed out, is especially difficult to deal with. As she noted in 2005, many employers who discriminate don’t even realize they’re doing so; they’re just going with “gut feelings.” “It’s not that these employers have decided that they are not going to hire workers from a particular group,” Pager told me.

What won’t work is relying on discrimination watchdogs to crack down more often. The way federal anti-discrimination law works, it’s up to the person who was discriminated against to raise an alarm. As Duke’s William Darity points out, that’s a near impossibility for a job applicant who must convincingly read the mind of a person he or she doesn’t know. Worse than that, the applicant who wants to lodge charges of discrimination also has to prove that the discrimination was intentional, which, as Pager’s experiments make clear, is no small feat. Under the circumstances, as Darity told me, perhaps no one should be surprised to discover that blacks “grossly underreport their exposure to discrimination and whites grossly overreport it.”

Of course, fixing a problem first requires acknowledging it — something the nation has yet to do, says the Economic Policy Institute’s Algernon Austin. To put blacks back to work, lawmakers should invest federal money directly in job creation, especially for black workers. Other avenues for putting people back to work, like a payroll tax credit won’t do the trick. “We’ve spent billions in trying to build jobs overseas” in war zones, Austin told me. “But if we invested that money here in our cities, we wouldn’t have this racial gap.”

But how likely is that at a moment when, in a Washington gripped by paralysis, any discussion of spending in Washington begins and ends at how much to cut? The painful reality of permanent crisis for black workers is here to stay. That’s how it seems to blacks in D.C., especially those who live east of the river. In April, another group of protesters took to the 11th Street Bridge to demand more D.C. hires, and the following month, the group D.C. Jobs or Else took their complaints to City Hall. But progress is slow. “We’re being pushed out economically,” said William Alston El, a 63-year-old unemployed resident who grew up in D.C. “They say it’s not racism, but the name of the game is they have the money. You can’t live [in] a place if you can’t pay the rent.”


Andy Kroll

, Staff writer, Mother Jones magazine

Andy Kroll is a reporter in the D.C. bureau of Mother Jones magazine, and an associate editor at TomDispatch. He’s appeared on MSNBC, Al Jazeera English, Current TV, and Democracy Now! to discuss the economy and its ills.