Thursday, January 06, 2005

Bringing Down the Hope: Condoleezza Rice, Black Capitalism and War

By Max Gordon
Democratic Underground
January 6, 2004

Having grown up in Birmingham, Alabama as the daughter of a Presbyterian pastor, it is easy to image that Condoleezza Rice kicked the underside of a church pew with patent-leather shoes, that she was shushed during a lengthy service with a peppermint from her mother's purse; or worse, an arched eyebrow silenced her and a girlfriend's giggles with the promise of a beating after church. Mrs. Rice may have stayed up late ironing Condoleezza's Sunday dress or pressing her hair by the stove, finally styling it with red ribbons the next morning. Pastor Rice might have carefully mouthed the words from the front pew as Condi remembered all her lines in the Christmas pageant.

As a young girl growing up in Birmingham, it is likely that Condoleezza Rice, at least once in her life, hesitated before two drinking fountains; finally approaching the one with the sign marked "Colored Only." She was born the year of the landmark decision, Brown vs. Board of Education, ending the legal segregation of public schools. In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote "Letter From Birmingham Jail," having been imprisoned for the 13th time for protesting segregation. Dr. King had called Birmingham, "The most segregated city in the country." Police Commissioner "Bull" Connor promised that before integration was realized, "blood would run in the streets" and kept his promise.

At the urging of his aides, King had made movement history by recruiting high school students and elementary-age children to march, hoping to stir the moral conscience of the nation; Connor unleashed police dogs and turned fire hoses on them, blasting many protesters against concrete which ripped off their clothes and bloodied their skin. (1) That same year, at the age of nine, Condoleezza Rice's schoolmate Denise McNair was killed in the bombing of the Black Sixteenth Street Baptist Church when Ku Klux Klan member Robert Edward Chambliss planted 19 sticks of dynamite in the basement of the church.

At 15, Rice began attending classes at the University of Denver with the goal of becoming a classical pianist, her aspirations changing soon after to political science. After earning a degree at 19 with honors, she continued post-graduate education at the University of Notre Dame. For six years she served as Stanford's provost, where she was also a tenured professor; she was on the board of directors for the Chevron corporation; and joined the George H.W. Bush Administration as Senior Director of Soviet and East European Affairs in the National Security Council.

On December 17, 2000, Rice was picked to serve as National Security Advisor and stepped down from her position at Stanford. If confirmed by the Senate in January 2005, Condoleezza Rice will be the first black female Secretary of State ever in the United States.

Dr. Rice does not represent the typical physical example of black American success and self-denial. She doesn't have to play any of the Hollywood black glamour tricks or wear a foundation that is three shades too light for her skin, she isn't photographed from strange angles to keen her features, nor does she wear blonde dye-jobs, flowing shoulder-length extensions or green contacts. With her combed-back, straightened hair in a gentle flip, the tiny, friendly space between her front teeth and her carefully considered makeup, she recalls a handsome matron of the church or a favorite conservative aunt; authoritative and adequately fashionable, yet not enough to make a point of it. If you'd never seen a photograph or watched her on television, her first name alone would reveal to you who she was. Condoleezza Rice is an American black woman.

Which is the reason why the racism that she represents is so elusive, and that much more maddening. There is no question that Dr. Rice's achievements will be marked in the annals of black capitalism as a triumph. She is a talented woman, a successful business person, a military hawk; dedicated and fiercely loyal to her country and her president. She represents American progress, and specifically black American progress.

Yet something is painfully, deeply wrong. The theme-song to the 70's black upward-mobility sitcom "The Jeffersons" cried, "We finally got a piece of the pie!" My sister and I would jump up and dance to the song when the show came on. Maybe all black America danced to it. But did anyone stop to ask what kind of pie it was?

If you are a black employee of an American corporation and have decided to file a complaint about racism, you may be dismayed to find that the entire human resources department is black (with the exception of one white supervisor). Having to face this black army you are immediately discouraged. To have to tell a black face, with your black face, that you've been passed over for a promotion or raise, or that you're underpaid and you think it is because of your race, seems more than a little odd. It takes a black bulldozer to get over the psychological fun-house mirror of seeing blacks "everywhere" in the human resources metropolis and still argue about black invisibility within the company (we're on every other floor as secretaries, mail-room clerks, and custodians - not as executives). You leave the confrontation and return to your desk, confused, postponed.

I consider the human resources department of the United States of America: Gutierrez, Gonzales, Rice, Powell. What should elicit exuberance at the progress we as a nation are finally making towards inclusiveness, instead inspires weariness and cold suspicion.

In his Atlantic Monthly article of July 2003, Alan Berlow described how Alberto Gonzales, legal counsel to then Texas Governor Bush, helped in deciding the fate of prisoners on death row. (It is estimated by the ACLU that of the more than 2,000 people on "death row" virtually all are poor, a significant number are mentally retarded or otherwise mentally disabled, and more than 40 percent are African American, a disproportionate number Native American, Latino, or Asian.)

Gonzales was responsible for creating the summaries that helped determine whether fifty-seven prisoners lived or died: clemency was denied in all cases but one. Berlow notes that "one of the most basic reasons for clemency is the fact that the justice system makes mistakes. (Yet) during Bush's six years as governor 150 men and two women were executed in Texas - a record unmatched by any other governor in modern American history." Gonzales also wrote a controversial February 2002 memo, in which Bush claimed the right to waive anti-torture law and international treaties providing protections to prisoners of war; our debacle in Abu Ghraib was arguably its consequence.

A black, a Jew, a Latino, an Asian, a woman, and a homosexual can be brought to the table of capitalist power; but if they are all right-wing and neo-conservative, if they are determined to maintain the status quo and erase their unsavory "differences" by outwhiting the white people, outmaling the men, the richness that comes from true diversity, from the exchange of contrasting cultures, religions, genders and sexualities, is compromised. What remain are six variations of a patriarchal and white supremacist ideology - the same person six times.

It's this kind of "diversity" that is celebrated in the photographs of company annual reports and White House press conferences. A black woman at home watching television knows the people being sworn-in don't represent her or her community, and may actually do her great harm. She certainly doesn't trust them; they look too hollowed out, benumbed, Stepford-niggered.

A president who chooses the birthday of the greatest American civil-rights icon to express his condemnation of affirmative action, can't really care about diversity or about black students at American universities. Bush's comments were directed specifically at the University of Michigan; having gone to school on that campus, I know that as far as retention of students of color is concerned, U of M, like most American universities, needs all the help it can get. Affirmative action goes against our puritanical values: you shouldn't get something if you haven't earned it. However, for the working-class black student who may come from a community with inferior schools, inadequate money for materials and no advanced placement classes; whose relatives have taken out loans to get her a place to live on campus; who has to barter at the financial-aid department, filling out scholarship applications and concentrating this year on how she's going to pay for next year; who feels isolated on a predominantly white college campus and has to guard herself against the potential racist epithet uttered by the white person on her dormitory hall, or by her professor under the guise of "intellectual discourse"; who wants to stay in bed all semester, overwhelmed with the anxiety of trying to prove to herself and everyone else that she is there because of her achievements and not a number; by the time this student sits in a classroom at an American university, believe me, she's earned it.

My great-grandmother was educated in rural South Carolina through the sixth grade, when racist whites burned her school to the ground. Several children were still inside. As the story is told in my family, she went back to the school and searched the ashes for the charred bones of her classmates, some of which she kept and placed on a mantle piece. My grandmother grew up with those bones as a reminder of what education means in America for a black person, what it has sometimes cost.

Affirmative action was not meant for black idiots to have free rein, for colleges to hand out diplomas like flyers as an apology for past maltreatment, for someone to work three weeks in a company's mail room and suddenly be advanced to CEO. It was a way, however flawed, to rectify the fact that education for black Americans has been violently discouraged in the United States through racist legislation, lynching and murder. The easiest way, of course, to keep from having to share the American pie is to make sure certain people are too terrified to come anywhere near it.

While expressing her reservations at a press conference, Dr. Rice supported the president in his criticism of affirmative action and the policies of the University of Michigan, despite having acknowledged in prior interviews that her own tenured position at Stanford was based, in part, on the school's diversity initiatives. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, also a beneficiary of the opportunities afforded blacks as a result of civil-rights efforts and giddy from his own stylized brand of black contempt, is famous for his views against affirmative action as well.

Perhaps the determinant factor in knowing one has reached the pinnacle of black capitalist power is when one is economically or politically powerful enough to slam the door of possibility on a set of young black fingers as brutally, and as finally, as any racist white person ever did or could.

I avoided seeing the Queen Latifah film "Bringing Down the House" for as long as possible but, so as not to appear hypocritical for condemning a movie I hadn't seen, I relented. Friends had warned me about it, but their choice of words was curious; not the usual, "it's bad, but funny," assigned most modern black comedies, but, "it's painful." A black life is saturated with so much historic pain that it seems masochistic to deliberately seek out further persecutions, absolutely insane to pay for them. I went anyway.

In the movie, Latifah plays Charlene, a black female ex-con who claims to have been falsely convicted of a crime, and who tricks Steve Martin's Peter, a tax attorney, into meeting and defending her. Martin attempts feebly to rescue her from a series of humiliations, one involving an older white client played by Joan Plowright, who recalls at dinner a black servant from her childhood, ("Our Ivy… We used to pay her nothing. We would put all the food we hadn't eaten from our plates onto one plate just for Ivy.") and sings a happy "darky" song (entitled "Mama, is Massa Gon' Sell Us Tomorrow?") while Latifah serves her in a pink maid's uniform.

Charlene has no real community in the film except her black "friends" who "bring down the house" by almost destroying it during a raucous party, and her ex-boyfriend, a black thug who tries to kill her. The movie sets up the romantic-comedy expectation of boy gets girl, but ends instead with Steve Martin going back to his ex-wife and Charlene sitting on the lap of Peter's lascivious, white best friend who has objectified and violated her throughout the movie with provocative racial and sexual come-ons. Latifah pulls down the shade and looks at the audience with a smile that promises a "bootylicious" good time once we are out of the theater, and a secured future for her character in the sex industry (Charlene to Peter at the end of the film: "Shaking is what I do best"). Disney meets Mandingo.

It is extraordinary, the impact of a tiny, silly movie - I am still recovering. After watching, I take a moment away from considering the lump in my stomach, and imagine a 12-year-old black girl. Examining media images for a reflection of herself and her developing sexuality, she visits a friend who tells her she has to see the movie because it's "hilarious." My mother told me once, at about the same age, "Be careful what you expose yourself to. Some things change you in ways you can't imagine and it can take a while to get yourself back." (I took this to mean protect your innocence: as a rape and incest survivor, her innocence hadn't been protected.)

What I want to shield the child from is not sex-talk or naked bodies; it's the contempt the movie has for her, for humanity. It's never the sex in pornography that eats away at us, nor is it just the sexual contact of incest that ultimately destroys; it's the cynicism, the overwhelming psychological burden of despair that an adult pours into a child's body and mind.

We know how to protect our kids from the blatancy of obvious sex: what we don't protect them from is the blatancy of commercialism. A black girl or boy who looks to this film for inspiration finds two: the prostitution that occurs on the screen and the prostitution in the movie studio's boardroom.

In "Monster's Ball," Halle Berry plays Leticia, another bereft black female character with no family or friends, who depends on the white prison officer of her husband's execution to be her great white savior. Leticia has no on-screen community either; no black cousin or neighbor to borrow rent money from before she is evicted from her house, or even to sit with at a kitchen table and cry over a piece of sweet-potato pie. Rudderless and adrift, Leticia has the skin of a black woman, but no visible cultural antecedent in the movie; she may as well have hatched from an egg. Her son, the only family she has, is killed in a way that serves the plot more than it makes any comment on their lives: his death, dispensable like her husband's, doesn't linger or provide the viewer with a lasting grief.

To keep from being completely abandoned one night, she offers a monologue about her son's obesity and his greediness for fried chicken as she rips open her blouse and presents her breasts to Billy Bob Thornton's depressed, grieving, Hank. Through offering sex, she is finally vital and focused, Hank is guided and redeemed. Order is restored. Latifah and Berry's screen characters revisit the old Southern plantation ethic; American homeland security achieved through a black woman's vagina.

As a black gay man who has had more than my share of white male sexual partners, I may be the last person to challenge anyone on sucking white dick, metaphorical or otherwise. A black man or woman who sleeps with white men may seem to justify condemnation for engaging in the "ultimate" act of capitulation to patriarchy, but the judgment against them is only a crude and limited analysis of the real dynamics of racist power. Whether we are gay or straight, male or female, to survive America is to suck white dick a lot of the time (Saddam Hussein refused to before the war started, and look what happened to him). Liberation comes not only from defining who one's sexual partners are (i.e. loving a white man or woman as an empowered choice and not the codependency that comes from fearing a loss of power), but from resisting the inevitability of the black prostitute archetype, which has been our American birthright, in all its forms; economic, social, artistic, commercial.

When I call my friend to commiserate about "House," I've already anticipated his response. While we both agree that the movie is "wrong," we can't even claim that Latifah was victimized, or complain about what "they" did to her - she executive-produced the film. "Well," he sighs, "at least she got paid."

It is the same justification that African-Americans, many Americans, give for Condoleezza Rice: "Well, I don't agree with her politics, but you can't take away from her achievements. She is the most powerful black woman in America."

As a leading proponent of the war in Iraq, a war that sends black and Latino soldiers from economically depressed communities around the country to untimely and unnecessary deaths, this black female Secretary of State is not only not an inspiration, but a macabre distraction. The racism of the war continues to go unchallenged, perhaps not even considered, because it has a black stamp of approval. An oven may be made of the highest quality metals, work with amazing precision and be a creation of manufacturing art, but if it was used at Dachau, is it still to be admired? Is a great achievement still great in the service of a great wrong?

There were black Americans whose romance with Malcolm X's fierce entreaty of the 60's, "By Any Means Necessary" ended with the increased opportunities for black capitalism on the horizon; his words became no more than a poetic battle-cry. Malcolm X and Dr. King shared visions in their lifetimes of world equality for all black people, but to the provincial, capitalist black "civil rights" may have been re-defined as the opportunity for black capitalists finally to exploit poor American blacks and the rest of the world as freely as American whites had, protected at last from the racist reprisals that led to black business owners' being lynched in the South.

As Maya Angelou writes, "They don't want change, they want exchange." We are now at war with insurgents who, when they say "By Any Means Necessary," mean it. (Anyone who can chop your head off and create a music video at the same time makes one thing absolutely clear: theirs is a far uglier, fiercer resistance than we anticipated). It is deeply unintelligent to support this war in the unequivocal manner of Donald "You Go To War With the Army You Have" Rumsfeld or Condoleezza "Stand By Your Man" Rice. Tennessee Williams couldn't have imagined delusions of grandeur this determined.

A black right-wing politician can be as adrift and isolated from her community as any Hollywood representation of a black person on-screen (and as discouraging; an example to the black viewer of the impossibility of coalition building and political empowerment, which may be the representation's cynical intent). She may be black by racial lineage and cultural heritage, but her complete disregard for her community's needs and her unaccountability to them make her obsolete. She cleaves to her president and appears to have the support of her party, but she is only allowed through their patronage to be the most "powerful" black in America as long as her power doesn't shift or threaten anything that matters to them (their money or real power.)

If it does, he or she is out faster than one can say "no weapons of mass destruction" (see Powell, Colin). Our Lady of the Black Hope stands at a White House podium asking us to admire her slave collar from Tiffany & Co., beautifully encrusted with diamonds. It sparkles, and we may admire its price, but in the end it's just as tight as ours.

In his great speech, delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

Maybe the right to black capitalism, to black neo-conservatism is part of that equality, but I believe that the freedom Dr. King wanted for blacks was also spiritual, not only economic.
Might he might question the "freedom" of a Michael Jordan, no matter how great our admiration for his athletic skill, who endorses Nike, a company famous for its exploitation of workers in the Third World, countries whose militaries retaliate violently against those who fight for fair wages? The "freedom" of rap-artists like Ice Cube who enjoy contracts with liquor companies whose advertising is targeted specifically to black communities, encouraging addiction, drug use and violent crime? Or a black conservative like J. Kenneth Blackwell who co-chaired President Bush's re-election campaign while serving as the Secretary of State for Ohio; a state where black voters complained of disenfranchisement and were allegedly discouraged from voting in many areas in our last presidential election?

If anything has assassinated King's dream, long after the assassination of the man himself, it is the backlash against what is often referred to as "political correctness". In our efforts not to be "politically correct" and thus hypocritical, we may now call someone a nigger directly to his face and take satisfaction from the fact that we have been honest with him. We've created a nation of John Waynes; hearty, swaggering bigots, desperate to be challenged so they can prove how politically incorrect (racist) they are.

All progressive change is now under the banner of being "politically correct" and is thus considered too obnoxious to discuss; one feels unhip or a whiner for demanding equal pay for women, reproductive rights, anti-racist education, an end to homophobia, anti-Semitism, homelessness and poverty. Coming from the University of Michigan where, to some people's minds, political correctness was invented, I wonder: if all these political ideals are so "correct," why haven't we achieved them? How can we hope for change when those sent in the image of the oppressed are more determined than ever to ensure nothing changes, that business goes on as usual?

Our victory lies in not just seeing any black face in power, or any woman, but in the knowledge that as people of color, as gays, as women, we aren't enabling greater crimes against those we represent, that our faces aren't used to promote a war or to reassure, to anesthetize or disempower, to exploit or enslave.

From the first black African who refused to get off the boat in Charleston to Fanny Lou Hamer's "we didn't come all this way for no two seats" lock-out at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, we have always resisted, and must now insist on a definition of success that is not only financial; an idea of liberation that is greater than our ability to wield economic or military power. If that means asking different questions than most Americans; our legacy, as an enslaved people whose children were sold away from us so that someone's company could have a great year, demands it.

It was in Birmingham, Alabama, where Condoleezza Rice was born and raised, that Dr. King enjoyed perhaps his greatest civil rights victory. On Sunday, May 5th 1963, three thousand young people went on a pilgrimage to Birmingham jail and were confronted by police. They sang and knelt in prayer. When Police commissioner Connor, waiting with dogs and armored cars, gave the command to "turn on the hoses" as they had before, the firemen and cops just stood there, disobeying his command, mesmerized before the crowd; a few even crying. The crowd marched on. King later said, "It was one of the most fantastic events of the Birmingham story. I saw there, I felt there, for the first time, the pride and the power of nonviolence."

In the end, despite her many achievements, I can't claim Dr. Rice. If she is the realization of Dr. King's dream, he should have been more specific.

(1) Oates, Stephen B., Let The Trumpet Sound: A Life Of Martin Luther King, Jr., Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1982.

copyright Max Gordon

Versions of this article can also be read at


Blogger Neil said...


8:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh huh neil... wow. Thank you

2:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saadam Hussein sucked White Dick and paid the price! It's Fidel Castro that has refused to suck white dick. It's Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, that refuses to suck White Dick. It's Brazil's President, Lula De Silva, that refuses to suck white dick.
I prefer Kiss White Ass as the correct methaphor. Whatever your metaphor. It's China, North Korea, and Iran that refuse to Kiss White Ass! Black folks better wake up and smell the coffee..or they will find themselves in invisible chains more secure and unbreakable than the real ones of Abject Slavery of old.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous ADO said...

This is righteously beautiful and I thank you for it.

3:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tavis Smiley's "State of the Black Union" 2005 Unity Covenant...

Atlanta was the hot spot today. Tavis Smiley hosted his annual symposium "The State of the Black Union." The forum was held at Rev. Eddie Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. The program focused on defining the African American Agenda. Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition took opportunity to explain to those gathered that the Black Congressional Caucus has in place a ten (10) point plan of action. But regardless of the question of whether or not the agenda set forth by the Caucus is the substance of this group's covenant the forum did establish that the process will include a community unity.

Today, black leaders voiced a need to advance the community. Freedom was the agenda until 1864. Civil rights, voting rights and access to public accomodations followed from 1864 to 1964. Leveraging the black community's collective capital appears to be the new covenant.

They voiced a concern that Democrats have taken the black community for granted and the republican party "just takes, using blacks who really have no power to lead."

The highmark of the event was when the Honorable Louis Farrakhan, Nation of Islam, explained to the group that "regardless of where we have been, we want to advance our people." He said, " black children can't eat at the table of illusion and hypocrisy." He added, "we can't focus on the house that denied us access for 400 years." He closed, "the hell with democrats and republicans."

These African American leaders, carrying the history and weight of the black experience want group unity. They appear to have found meaning in their individuality and heritage. It's more than a common skin pigmentation. It has now become a community based on a social phenomenon of systematic and comprehensive forces that only those challenged by a longstanding history of discrimination and violence may understand.

The Need:The level playing field remains more illusion than reality... Since the start of George W. Bush presidency in January 2000 a general concern in the African American community was voiced that on issues that are of the greatest importance to millions of Americans, the President's policies are misplaced priorities. The uncertainty continued into 2004 election.

But there's one truth above all others in second term elections. They are referendums on the incumbent. So as hard as it is to accept, there are other Americans outside the African American community that like the job that George W. Bush is doing. And, with re-election he's not an asterisk anymore alone among American presidents. That is, riding the votes of 59 million (other)Americans, he's the president regardless of the fact that majority of African Americans who voted would rather have had the other guy.

So... it's time to move on. African Americans must put their differences aside. American identity is not a function of birthright but a way of life. The African American community must keep moving toward the America identity it believes is possible. Isn't democracy great?

Some argue "African American leaders judges America from the utopian standard, never comparing America to anything other but the Garden of Eden (immigrants, for example, are said to compare America to their old country)." But, it has been only forty years since separate water fountains of Jim Crow prohibitions and many Americans would now like to proceed as if the slate is clean and the scale is balanced.

The upward strides of many African Americans into the middle class have given the illusion that race cannot be the barrier that some make it out to be. However, one in four African Americans continue to live below the official poverty line (versus approximately one in nine whites). The optimistic assumption of the 1970s and 1980s was that upwardly mobile African Americans were quietly integrating formerly all-white occupations, businesses, neighborhoods, and social clubs. Black middle- and working-class families were moving out of all-black urban neighborhoods and into the suburbs. But, the one black doctor who lives in an exclusive white suburb and the few African American lawyers who work at a large firm are not representative of the today's black community. And although most white Americans are also not doctors or lawyers, the lopsided distribution of occupations for whites does favor such professional and managerial jobs, whereas blacks are clustered in the sales and clerical fields.

In short, the inequalities run even deeper than just income. One must compound and exponentiate the current differences over a history of slavery and Jim Crow, and the nearly fourteenfold wealth advantage that whites enjoy over African Americans—regardless of income, education, or occupation—needs little explanation, and add the failure of the education system where African Americans children are the clear victims.

The explanations for economic inequality perceives the American political economy as being fundamentally fair with virtually everyone guaranteed an equal opportunity to compete, work hard, and excel in American schools, labor markets, housing markets, and other American social institutions. However, using wealth as a measure of economic inequality, the same top twenty percent of American households controlled over sixty-eight percent of the net worth of the United States, leaving virtually no wealth in the hands of the bottom twenty percent.

Economic inequality that characterized the United States at its inception continues to influence contemporary institutional practices and American social institutions routinely discriminate against African Americans denying them the means of acquiring human capital (innate individual capacities such as talent and motivation combined with achieved qualities such as educational qualifications and employment experiences). Limited to segregated neighborhoods, educated in inferior schools, and lacking access to the good jobs that are increasingly located in inaccessible suburban neighborhoods, African Americans bear an unfair share of the costs and economic inequality in the United States constitutes economic injustice.

Recurring discrimination in workplaces and elsewhere wastes human capital and seriously restricts and marginalizes its victims. The negative impact of racial animosity and discrimination includes a sense of threat at work or elsewhere, lowered self-esteem, rage at mistreatment, depression, the development of defensive tactics, a reduction in desire for normal interaction, and other psychological problems. The costs of racial animosity and discrimination extends well beyond the individual to families and communities. While many African Americans may have managed to overcome discrimination, their struggle will take a toll in their personal health or on the ability to maximize contributions to the larger society.

Discussion:Are some blacks becoming a "black bourgeoisie?"

Are some blacks controlling the wealth and power within the black community and turning its back on its own people?

Are many members of black America adopting the values, standards and ideals of the white middle class, and are trying to distance themselves from the black poor?

In the 1960s, federal entitlement programs, civil rights legislation, equal opportunity statutes and affirmative action programs broke the open barriers of legal segregation. The path to universities and corporations for some blacks was now wide open. More blacks than ever did what their parents only dreamed of – they fled blighted inner-city areas in droves. The new frontier, business where the dollar is made and where significant wealth and resources are at stake.

But, is there a widening rift between the black haves and the black have-nots that has been blurred by racism, ignored by blacks and hidden from white society?

Is black wealth, like white wealth, now concentrated in fewer hands?

A study by the Harvard Civil Rights Project, shows progress toward school desegregation peaked in late 1980s. That is a half-century after the Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of American education, schools are almost as segregated as they were when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The report said that a massive migration of black families toward the suburbs is producing "hundreds of new segregated and unequal schools and frustrating the dream of middle-class minority families." According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test report, by the 12th grade, on average, black students (in the United States) are four years behind those who are white or Asain.

The "NAEP" test report not only average scores for each racial or ethnic group; they also place each individual test-taker in one of four different "achievement levels." The bottom is labeled below basic, which is reserved for students unable to display even "partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills." In five of the seven subjects tested, a majority of black twelfth graders perform Below Basic. In math, the figure is almost seven out of ten, in science more than three out of four.

While this gap may not be hidden from public, black republicans have been inhibited from describing the problem in its full dimensions. But closing the skills gap is the answer to real racial equality in American society.

What, in fact, are black republicans doing with what they aggregate?

Access to positions of power and prestige – and to well-paying jobs in general – are limited because blacks typically leave high school with an eighth-grade education. The status of blacks today is different than it was a half century ago, when almost 90 percent of blacks lived in poverty. By now more than 40 percent of blacks describe themselves as middle class, and a third live in suburbs. College attendance rates are as high although a high percentage drop out before getting a four-year degree. African-Americans are CEOs and occupy lofty positions in the federal government. But all is not well.

The most discouraging news of all is that which has been barely discussed by black leaders: the appalling racial gap in academic achievement in the K-12 years. Without an education, black children are slaves to the world they live in. Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education decision struck down legalized school segregation to give equal educational access to African Americans and other minorities. But, today's major American educational issue still involves race.

Blacks have no choice but to prepare its young. At least three black men ascended in the aftermath of civil rights movement to become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and an additional 275 or more senior black executives are now no less than three steps away from the CEO. They've attended the nation's most prestigious schools, learned how to navigate the highest reaches of the systems, and they have thrived. But, for all their great wealth and enormous resources, it appears most sucessful blacks remain absent from the struggle of educating our young. Recently, Kmart Holding Corp. chose Aylwin Lewis to improve the giant retailer's image and operation. Lewis joins Stanley O'Neal of Merrill Lynch, Richard Parsons of Time Warner, Ken Chenault of American Express and Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae as the only African American chief executives heading top publicly trading companies in the U.S.

Corporations today say they do look to a talent pool largely comprising minorities and women for their senior and middle managers. But the level of education and the caliber of schools blacks attended are not equal, and the competition for market share is so ferocious that companies must recruit the best talent.

George W. Bush appealed to Americans' best instincts when he declared that no child should be left behind.


All agree that every child in America should have the same opportunity to reach his or her full potential regardless of the color of skin, gender or the income level of the child's parents. The president's plan has set up millions of vulnerable kids for failure, leaving black youth with another dose of mostly symbolic politics. The education reform accountability system based on annual testing in grades three through eight that financially sanctions schools that do not show quick improvement, will do a great deal of additional damage to the children in America's most-troubled public schools. It is wrong to expect schools to succeed virtually overnight when so little is done to attack inequalities in education.

How can he expect the poorest children, who face every disadvantage, to do as well as those who have every advantage?

Given Bush's spending priorities there is little left to finance his efforts to leave no child behind. Further, by the time students enter the third grade, when the Bush testing plan would kick in, much already has been determined about whether individual children will succeed or struggle academically.

America's schools must be accountable to the children being educated in them and to their parents. But making high-stakes annual tests the sole determinant for students and their schools, and imposing major costs on those who fail, is counterproductive.

In closing, assessment should measure, not drive, education reform. Why force schools to spend thousands on consultants to teach test-taking strategies instead of substantive learning? The magic that can happen between a creative teacher and engaged students is too often lost in schools driven by test preparation.


12:36 AM  
Blogger erinberry said...

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10:05 AM  

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