Friday, April 16, 2010

Where's the Black community anyway?


The other day I listened to an interesting panel discussion on "the Obama Administration: Perspectives from the African-American Left." The speakers, pictured above were (l to r) Carl Bloice, from the Black Commentator; Linda Burnham, former ED of the Women of Color Resource Center; Steven Pitts, from the UC Berkeley Labor Center; and Malkia Amala Cyril from the Center for Media Justice with Alicia Garza of POWER moderating.

Panelists covered lots of topics, but the most interesting moments came during the Q&A when someone asked "where is the Black community anyway? I feel like people are just moving away, some to the South, some to cheaper areas of the Bay, but it is like community is just drifting away ..."

Linda Burnham shot back, yes .. the community might feel as if it is dispersing, but we have to remember that African-Americans have been and remain "the core of the progressive movement." Black politics has been and will remain progressive because the Black experience of living in this country pushes African-Americans in a progressive direction.

White people don't instinctively get this, so I thought I'd assemble here just a few statistics and facts that bear this out. Lest we forget ...
  • Fully 95 percent of African-American men and 96 percent of African American women voted for President Obama (MSNBC) That's not radical leftism, but it certainly is a community moving in the same direction.
  • For the last 60 years, Blacks have become more and more identified as Democrats. Again, not radical leftism, but a sign of progressive community.
  • In this recession, African-American unemployment is now stuck around 16.5 percent (higher for Black men), while white unemployment is 8.8 percent for whites (only 7 percent for white women). It's no surprise that Blacks demand the government they elect to help fix the economy.
  • There's still a big wage gap between black and white workers. A recent Illinois study found that whites make about $3 an hour more than Blacks. It's not hard to conclude that something needs fixing there.
  • Whenever some pollster asks whether there is still racism in the country, Blacks (except President Obama) guffaw and say "of course"; whites think not.
  • African-Americans believe it is government's job to help level the playing field for everyone. Whites disagree.
  • Progressive attitudes among African-Americans aren't limited to matters that seem immediately self interested. Interestingly, African-Americans in attitudinal surveys express willingness to spend more for electricity if that would help stop global warming.
Yes -- the African-American community is different and other progressives should be darn glad for that!

There are progressive concerns that are not at the forefront of the African-American community's agenda. On the panel, Malkia Cyril pointed out that national advocacy institutions that represent communities of color in Washington have been co-opted by the telecommunications industry to undermine net neutrality; they've bought into a false dichotomy between increasing access to do away with the digital divide and giving corporations a property right that would undermine the open internet. Color of Change is leading the charge against this development.

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