Category: reviews

Affirmative Action For Whites – began in the 1930s

As noted here in “Creating Segregated America in the 20th Century – government in action” segregated America didn’t happen by chance nor by choice of the victims. Consistent white supremacist government action supported by private institutions created the segregation that persists and flourishes in the 21st century. But there is a flip side to this. At the same time government law, regulation and policy created white affirmative programs to provide white people enormous advantages in jobs, education, housing, healthcare and more throughout this period. Columbia University professor Ira Katznelson’s When Affirmative Action Was White: an untold history of racial inequality in twentieth-century America1 lays out the history of Federal legislation, most prominently of the New Deal era, that created the booming white middle-class of the post-WWII decades while excluding African Americans. 

In June, 1965 President Johnson gave a commencement speech at Howard  University, “To Fulfill These Rights” about efforts to end segregation and poverty in the African American community. He outlined the growing disparity between white America and black America as follows:

A WIDENING GULF But for the great majority of Negro Americans-the poor, the unemployed, the uprooted, and the dispossessed–there is a much grimmer story. They still, as we meet here tonight, are another nation. Despite the court orders and the laws, despite the legislative victories and the speeches, for them the walls are rising and the gulf is widening.

Here are some of the facts of this American failure.

Thirty-five years ago the rate of unemployment for Negroes and whites was about the same. Tonight the Negro rate is twice as high.

In 1948 the 8 percent unemployment rate for Negro teenage boys was actually less than that of whites. By last year that rate had grown to 23 percent, as against 13 percent for whites unemployed.

Between 1949 and 1959, the income of Negro men relative to white men declined in every section of this country. From 1952 to 1963 the median income of Negro families compared to white actually dropped from 57 percent to 53 percent.

In the years 1955 through 1957, 22 percent of experienced Negro workers were out of work at some time during the year. In 1961 through 1963 that proportion had soared to 29 percent.

Since 1947 the number of white families living in poverty has decreased 27 percent while the number of poorer non white families decreased only 3 percent.

The infant mortality of nonwhites in 1940 was 70 percent greater than whites. Twenty-two years later it was 90 percent greater.

Moreover, the isolation of Negro from white communities is increasing, rather than decreasing as Negroes crowd into the central cities and become a city within a city.

Of course Negro Americans as well as white Americans have shared in our rising national abundance. But the harsh fact of the matter is that in the battle for true equality too many–far too many–are losing ground every day.2

Without exploring the ironies of Johnson, who was present in the Congress and Senate when much of the legislation that generated these disparities was passed with his support, now calling for a solution, this is the central set of facts that persist to this day with only a worsening in some areas in the ensuing five decades following his Great Society programs.

Katznelson recounts the central political facts of the political coalition that passed the New Deal legislation of the 1930s. Northern Democrats had to rely on the support of Southern Democrats for their majorities in both the House and Senate. The Southern Democrats were white supremacists across the board. They could effectively guarantee that every piece of legislation and the regulations that implemented it would exclude African Americans. Any Federal action that might upset the white supremacist regime in the South was foreclosed.3 Second, Southern Democrats also insisted that the administration of programs be handled at the state and local levels of government. This provided further opportunities to exclude or harass African Americans seeking to take advantage of the Federal programs. And third, Southern Democrats made sure that no anti-discrimination policies could be attached to a Federal program.

With the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935 the first national comprehensive economic security program proved not to be so comprehensive and not so national. Southern Democrats forced the final bill to exclude farm workers and maids. This excluded 65% of African Americans nationally and 70 to 80% in the South from the retirement program. To be sure these exclusions in a country that was still quite rural and agricultural also kept 40% of whites outside of Social Security. In the second portion of the bill, Aid for Dependent Children and help for elderly poor, where cost sharing between the Federal and state governments was involved, the impact of local administration was even more decisive in excluding African Americans. Three states, Texas, Kentucky and Mississippi did not participate at all. The third leg of the Social Security Act, unemployment insurance required that an unemployed person’s employer had paid into the system and that they had a history of “regular and stable employment”. Combined with the exclusions for farm workers and maids the availability of this insurance for African Americans was miserable. The net of these affirmative action programs for whites and others is that by 1950 over $100 billion had been transferred to the white population in preference to black America.4

Katznelson details how the same coalition of complicit white Northern Democrats and Southern white-supremacist Democrats crafted labor legislation and the great post-WWII GI Bill to further favor whites. All of these white affirmative action policies contributed to the increasing disparities between white and black America described by president Johnson.

Taken together, the effects of these public laws were devastating. Social Security, from which the majority of blacks were excluded until well into the 1950s, quickly became the country’s most important social legislation. The Labor Laws of the New Deal and Fair Deal created a framework of protection for tens of millions of workers who secured minimum wages, maximum hours, and the right to join industrial as well as craft unions. African Americans, who worked on the land or as domestics, the great majority, lacked these protections. When unions made inroads in the South, where most blacks lived, moreover, Congress changed the rules of the game to make organizing much more difficult. Perhaps most surprising and most important, the treatment of veterans after the war, despite universal eligibility for benefits offered by the GI Bill, perpetuated the blatant racism that had marked military affairs during the war itself.  At no other time in American history have so much money and so many resources been put at the service of the generation completing education, entering the workforce, and forming families. yet comparatively little of this largesse was available to black veterans, With these policies the Gordian knot binding race to class tightened.5

In short African Americans were excluded from the great boom of the 25 years that followed WWII.

This affirmative action for white people and persistent segregation have been the drivers of the continued disparities that mark American society. The ability of African Americans to fully participate and succeed in American life has been and continue to be severely inhibited. Since home ownership is the primary source of wealth accumulation for middle class Americans, we now see a multi-generational gap widening. The persistent segregation with its accompanying poor education, healthcare, lack of job opportunities and mobility, have produced African American incomes and wealth that areis a fraction of what would have been expected to result from the boom decades following WWII. Of course, since the mid 1970s everyone, excepting the top 10 percent, in America has suffered from stagnating incomes and a worsening of wealth accumulation. The fate of African Americans in this environment are predictably somewhat worse.

Katznelson ends his book with an examination of the affirmative action programs following President Johnson’s initiatives. The results have not been very good in terms of changing the fundamentals of income and wealth.

 

 

  1. Ira Katznelson. When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America. New York; London: W.W. Norton, 2006. []
  2. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=27021 accessed 07162017 []
  3. This is a repeat of the failure of Northerners and their politicians to make the emancipation of slaves real when they abandoned Reconstruction in 1877. Not only did newly minted civil rights for African Americans disappear over the following years to the semi-totalitarian system called Jim Crow but the very people who had cleared the land and made it productive were left landless and forced into the new slavery of share cropping. []
  4. Katznelson p. 142 []
  5. Katznelson p. 143 []

Creating Segregated America in the 20th Century – Government in Action

Today, more than 50 years after the much lauded 1960s era Civil Rights Acts legislated the end of segregation in housing and education, this country is as segregated as ever. The official explanation is that this is de facto segregation, the comforting idea that this segregation is a function of choice. This is notion amplified through our mass media and education system. It is a complete delusion.

There is a piecemeal awareness by some that, over the years – from the 1930s to the present, government and private business carried out policies that created and reinforced segregation. Some are aware of the history of Redlining in the real estate market. But fewer know that this was not a construct of private industry but the result of Federal policy. See the map created by a Federal agency below for an example. Investigate redlining in your city at MAPPING INEQUALITY – Redlining in New Deal America  for a complete set of these maps. 1  

Piecemeal bits of the story of segregation in housing hide the full reality of how our country came to look the way it does.

A new book, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein2 provides a compelling, comprehensive history. Rothstein’s relatively compact, readable exploration of this story presents dozens sad details to flesh out his argument. It will re-educate you about what you think of the history and politics of the 20th century and on into the 21st.

The story is not just about government. It includes a broad set of private and industry players acting in concert with government action and support. All of them pursuing explicit white supremacist beliefs.

Rothstein sets his story within the context of the distinction between de facto and de jure legal states.

De facto means a state of affairs that is true in fact, but that is not officially sanctioned. In contrast, de jure means a state of affairs that is in accordance with law (i.e. that is officially sanctioned).3

His primary objective is to demonstrate that government, Federal, state and local, took a long string of affirmative actions to set up and sustain segregation that is clearly unconstitutional and illegal. He proves the de jure nature of the history then puts the burden on the government, our government, to remedy the situation. 

Rothstein describes in great detail the following types of government actions:

  • Federal legislation with supporting regulations – e.g. New Deal legislation – Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Fair Labor Standards Act, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Public Works Administration, US Housing Authority, Federal Works Administration.4
  • Local zoning and land use regulations – these have been used and continue to be used to concentrate populations and functionally prevent the integration of suburbs.
  • Real estate industry – supported and enforced segregation through redlining practices based on government maps and discriminatory practices enforced by the courts.
  • Restrictive covenants in land and building contracts and deeds – these were written in based in part on maps created by the Federal government. These blatantly racist legal practices were enforced by state courts into the 1950s.
  • IRS grant of non-profit exemption to religious and educational institutions that supported segregation.
  • Insurance companies and banks supported whites only housing development.
  • “Slum clearance” via the Interstate Highway System and other Federally funded projects
  • Locating public schools to reinforce segregation.
  • State sanctioned violence against families attempting to move into white neighborhoods
  • Suppressed African American incomes due to segregation in housing and education – the concentration and reinforcement of poverty by the government
  • Unions were allowed by government to exclude blacks from membership
  • Real estate tax assessments and therefore tax burdens are higher on African Americans than whites.

    HOLC redlining map for Los Angeles – 1937

Rothstein notes that the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system was built in 1967 largely with Federal transportation dollars without a single African American worker on the entire project. This because the government refused to enforce the law against the wishes of the local trade unions.

As recently as July 2, 2017 the New York Times ran a story with the title, “Program to Spur Low-Income Housing Is Keeping Cities Segregated” – the beat goes on.

The Future

Rothstein does not end his book without addressing the question of what should and can be done to remedy government created and enforced segregation.

The first necessary step is for white people to accept responsibility for the racist actions of their government and their civic and economic institutions. The problem of segregation is not an African American problem. White people created this system and white people must bring it to an end. We need to create a broad public recognition of the facts of the history and reject the comforting notion that all of this happened by a combination of choice and chance. Here the education system needs to abandon its passive voice and actively teach the real history of the 20th century. Rothstein cites a widely used 2012 American history textbook that has this to say about residential segregation:

 “African Americans found themselves forced into segregated neighborhoods.” That’s it. One passive voice sentence. No suggestion of who might have done the forcing or how it was implemented.5

More active steps might involve banning exclusionary zoning in the suburbs. Rothstein envisions much more direct action:

We might contemplate a remedy like this: Considering that African Americans comprise 15 percent of the population of the New York metropolitan area, the federal government should purchase the next 15 percent of the houses that come up for sale in Levittown [built with Federal subsidies and excluding African Americans from ownership] at today’s market rates (approximately $350,000). It should then resell the properties to qualified African Americans for $75,000, the price in today’s dollars that their grandparents would have paid if permitted to do so. The government should enact this program in every suburban development whose construction complied withy the FHA’s discriminatory requirements, If Congress established such a program and justified it based on the history of de jure segregation, courts should uphold it as appropriate.6

Other Resources

Rothstein has appeared regularly in recent years. One can find recordings of his lectures, speeches and interviews readily on the internet. Here is a 13 minute speech by him, “A Human Rights Address: How Ferguson became Ferguson” 8/15/2015:

 

See also Ta-Nehisi Coates’ June 2014 essay in the Atlantic: “The Case for Reparations

 

  1. see http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/10/housing-discrimination-redlining-maps/ for examples of the  Federal Home Owners Loan Corporation maps. https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/#loc=4/36.71/-96.93&opacity=0.8 Go Look up your own city []
  2. Rothstein, Richard. Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017. []
  3. https://onlinelaw.wustl.edu/blog/legal-english-de-factode-jure/ []
  4. It must be noted that the original sin of the Constitution with its 3/5ths compromise to count slaves to mollify the Southern slave holders came back in a new form to continue white supremacist rule, now throughout the country.  Roosevelt could not pass his New Deal legislation without the support of Southern Democrats, white supremacists to the last. So segregation was written into law and regulation throughout the New Deal and on into the 1960s. This reflects the racism of Northern whites who have repeatedly failed to confront the issues raised by the alleged freeing of slaves at the end of the Civil War. []
  5. Rothstein, P. 199 []
  6. Rothstein, p. 202 []

Why Are There 16 Producers on House of Cards?

OK you Hollywood moguls and wannabes, what does a producer do? What do all of the variants do? Executive Producer, Associate Producer, Managing Producer, Supervising Producer, Co-Executive Producer?? How do they stay out of each other’s way?? How much are they paid, salary and residuals?? Should this be my next career stop??

The Environment, Trump, Koch Brothers & Big Money

Trump’s recent announcement that he is leaving the Paris Climate Accord and his ongoing gutting of the Environmental Protection Agency should come as no surprise given his billionaire class Cabinet and advisers.  Now it is clear that the Koch brothers have been at work. They are notorious for their Libertarianism, election buying and ownership of huge coal mining corporations. 

Today (6/5/2017) on the New Yorker magazine website Jane Mayer wrote in her article, “IN THE WITHDRAWAL FROM THE PARIS CLIMATE AGREEMENT, THE KOCH BROTHERS’ CAMPAIGN BECOMES OVERT” of the now publicly visible campaign by the Koch brothers and many others to make their decade’s long campaign to deny climate change bear new fruit in public policy. More evidence that the plutocrats are now so secure in their control over our politics and the government that they can come out of the shadows and rule directly through Trump.

BTW – Jane Mayer spent 5 years investigating big money and particularly the Koch brothers. The resulting book almost reads like a cloak and dagger mystery excepting for the very real people and money at play: DARK MONEY: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer (Doubleday NY 2016) – reviewed in the NYTimes 1/19/2016 by Alan Ehrenhalt.

Movie – War Machine – a misplaced parable

Netflix has just released War Machine onto the streaming media waters. This movie fits into the long tradition of American media mostly puffing up our military exploits or turning them into light tragi-comedy.  Brad Pitt, applying the acting style of a trimmed down George Clooney, portrays the fictional General Glen McMahon. Broadly and obviously based on the story of the real General Stanley McChrystal who took over the War in Afghanistan in June 2009 only to be ousted in June 2010 after a profile appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine revealed much foolishness and derogatory comments about President Obama and VP Biden. The movie has its comedic moments and the very broadly played General MaMahon is bound to either really annoy those enamored of the US military or fulfill the image of buffoonish generals that others may prefer.

Movie – In Order of Disappearance

A Norwegian Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Fargo Revenge Flick

In Order of Disappearance, available on Netflix and Amazon, stars Stellan Skarsgard as Nils, a droll snow plow driver who seeks to revenge the murder of his son at the hands of a bunch of drug dealers in some snow plagued town somewhere in Norway. What follows is a part Rashomon, part Fargoesque tale of murderous revenge bundled up with comedic moments and lots of snow.

I give it a Mr. Wonderful’s maximum thumbs up.

 

BTW – you probably will recognize Skarsgard. He was in Good Will Hunting, and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo among many.

More info on the movie here on IMDB.

 

NYTimes Book Review Misses Major Points About US Healthcare

Jacob S. Hacker, Yale professor and author of many books and article critiquing the American political system, economy, and the fate of the poor and middle classes, reviewed a new book, AN AMERICAN SICKNESS: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back by Elisabeth Rosenthal (NY: Penguin Press, 2017). Most of the review takes up the question of why healthcare is not like other commodities and does not fit into the “let the market solve the problem” ideology of the last 40 years. If you are unpersuaded now, this is useful territory. Towards the end of the review Hacker turns to our developed country competitors’ approaches to healthcare.

Building the New American Economy – Not

The title of this short book, only 130 pages, Building the New American Economy: smart, fair, & sustainable by Jeffrey D. Sachs with a foreword by Bernie Sanders (Columbia University Press, 2017) is unfortunately misleading. There is much here about the new economy. The misleading part is that there is very little about its construction, the building of the new economy.

Sachs covers many important issues in a thorough, efficient fashion. If you need a primer or a tune up about the economy this is a good place to start. These include: investment in our society, infrastructure, Federal budget, income inequality, healthcare, energy, military and the empire (not his phrase), and innovation. If you have been reading my postings over the last 5 or so years much of this will seem a bit deja vu.

BEHEMOTH (BEI XI MO SHOU) at TSL Hudson

This 2015 movie by Chinese director Liang Zhao is filled with great cinematography and sounds. It trades back and forth between scenes of enormous horizon gulping coal mines, under ground mines, iron making, and ends with scenes of a ghost city filled with enormous apartment blocks in a newly developed but vacant city West of Beijing. But, the most arresting part of the movie is its focus on the workers, men and women, in this relentlessly grim, polluted environment. The only narration is text read over scenes with a nude figure huddled on the ground in front of this devastation. It alludes to Dante’s Inferno.

Behemoth is a refresher course on why capitalism, whether in its American or Chinese variant, needs government regulation, strong regulation to prevent this egregious exploitation of the earth and mankind. Of course this presumes the government is in the hands of the people and nota tool of the rich and corporations. Therein lies the crisis.

The movie runs at TSL over this weekend and the two following. Here is TSL’s calendar.

Also playing at TSL is I Am Not Your Negro, the wonderful, challenging movie about James Baldwin.

Park Avenue and How We Got There

“There” is our current situation in which our government has been bought by the rich and corporations, over 80% of the population has not had a pay raise in 40 years and the public sphere, schools, parks, our infrastructure, really anything not behind the gated walls of private wealth, is being starved in the name of free market ideology. The American promise that hard work, pluck and a bit of luck can bring success to anyone, regardless of their rank at birth, is an empty myth. If you are born poor you will die poor. Even if you are middle-class, there is a significant chance that you will sink and at any rate you will always struggle just to keep that middle-class status.

The rich and corporations have waged a 40 year class war. At this point they have won all of the battles and continue to take home the spoils.