The year 2009 and the state of Black America in turbulent timesBy Charlene Muhammad -Western Reg. Correspondent- | Last updated: Dec 30, 2009 - 3:36:46 PM
(FinalCall.com) - Barack Obama taking charge as the president of the United States was seen as the most significant development for Black America in 2009, according to analysts interviewed by The Final Call, but despite that historical change—serious challenges remain.
Blacks still live in greater poverty (24.7 percent) than non-Hispanic Whites (8.6 percent), Asians (11.8 percent), or Hispanics (23.2 percent), despite recent increases in poverty levels. Black men are incarcerated in U.S. prisons or jails at a rate more than six times higher than White males. In addition, Black unemployment increased from 8.9 percent to 15.6 percent since the recession struck in 2007, while overall, the national unemployment rate rose from 4.9 to 10.0 percent.
“Any assessment of last year must concede that there was both great joy and hope as well as deep disappointment as things settled in, returned to the rule of big business as usual, and people realized that symbolism is not substance and that there is no substitute for self-conscious, committed and continuous struggle,” said Dr. Maulana Karenga, creator of Kwanzaa and professor in the Department of Africana Studies at California State University Long Beach.
While President Obama's election, as well as his winning the Nobel Peace Price, brought a sense of joy in 2009, other events brought just as much sadness and disappointment.
The world mourned the death of music great Michael Jackson, reportedly given a lethal overdose of Propofol and other sedative drugs by his doctor. The housing downturn caused 1.9 million foreclosure filings on U.S. homes in the first half of 2009 and set off a domino effect causing destruction to already lacking Black wealth.
According to Dr. David Bositis, of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the housing mortgage scam that saw overpriced real estate—like $200,000 houses valued at $500,000—also sparked an increase in credit card debt and job loss.
“It was a bad year which means for African Americans it was even worse—double the unemployment, double the poverty rate. While it's gotten somewhat better, in January there were three quarters of a million jobs lost whereas last month there were only 11,000, so there's been a pretty steady improvement, but things are still bad,” Dr. Bositis said.
The American Recovery Reinvestment Act, also known as the president's Stimulus Plan, clearly helped to make a difference between 775,000 jobs lost and 11,000 jobs lost, but Black unemployment hasn't been turned around, the researcher noted.
While the effective unemployment rate for Blacks is probably 20 percent, the official rate is around 15 percent.
“But if you look at people who are discouraged, who really aren't looking for work, you're really talking about a bad situation. It's getting better. There's still a long, long ways to go,” Dr. Bositis said. Job creation from any source in 2010 can help usher in some change, but it's going to take awhile for things to get back to a decent level, he added.
Health, economic status still lagging
According to attorney Barbara Ratliff, a California-based reparations advocate, with disparity in the employment of White and Black college graduates, some Blacks are retooling resumes to minimize their ethnicity in hopes of getting hired.
According to a recent report by New America Media, more than 91 percent of the special small business loans from the stimulus package went to White-owned businesses while only 1.5 percent or less than $2 million went to Black-owned firms.
Blacks continue to suffer police murders and the threat of lost Black-owned radio stations and newspapers.
“2010 will bring the same thing 2009 brought and 2011 will bring.I have long held that Black people are in an abusive relationship with America.In all abusive relationships, the abuser and the victim repeat the pattern of abuse,” Atty. Ratliff argued.“Hence, until we unify to stop the abuse, we can predict that, as a group, our future will look like our past, and our present will be our future. We must continue to demand reparations for the historical wrong and legacy of 250 years of slavery and 100 years of legal discrimination.”
On the health front, the American Medical Association said, despite overall improvements in Americans' health, minority Americans lag behind on nearly every health indicator, including health care coverage, life expectancy and disease rates.
The AMA believes that the new Senate health care bill is a step in the right direction but more is needed. “Studies indicate that minority physicians are more likely than White physicians to practice in under-served areas and care for minority, poor, underinsured and uninsured people. We believe solutions to health care disparities can be found through education and awareness,” said Dr. J. James Rohack, AMA president in an e-mailed statement.
Increased racial pride in 2009
According to Dr. Karenga, Blacks will continue the struggle for universal health care in 2010. They'll continue to organize unions, build anti-foreclosure projects, fight for affordable housing, organize againstwar, and for peace, quality education and social services, andfreedomof their people fromall forms of imprisonment and injustice, he said. But that all depends on rebuilding a movement, and formingeffective alliances and coalitions, added the Black scholar.
Dr. Gloria Batist-Roberts, president of the National Association of Black Social Workers and professor of social work at Texas Southern University, thinks Blacks will need to rely on 1960s-style survival techniques to endure 2010—just as they did when the economy went bad.
Overall in 2009, she said, Blacks experienced a lot of racial pride, which also brought more unity. On the other hand, her 29 years of experience as a protective services supervisor still revealed too many grandmothers forced into retirement to parent small children because other relatives either would not or could not.
“I still saw too many young Black women on crack cocaine. I saw too many older women who have teenage children as well as young children and they're still giving birth to babies born addicted to crack, babies coming in shaking from being addicted. That was not a good sign to us, not a good feeling, and there were too many of those cases,” Dr. Batist-Roberts told The Final Call.
In addition, she said, there were still too many Black children entering the foster care system in disproportionate numbers because Black families are not stepping up to the plate to adopt.
The National Association of Black Social Workers encourages agencies to try to find Black families for Black babies, but when they can't, to at least train families of other persuasions how to properly care for them, hair, skin, and all.
“I have hope for us. I just think we're going to do better. I think that those 200,000 African American children who are still lingering in foster care, we're going to take care of them. We have to. They're depending upon us to make sure that they can find permanent homes and Michael Jackson can tell you that if he could come back, you can't relive a childhood. Once it's gone, it's gone and children deserve the right to have a happy life. They need to understand their culture and we need to expose them better to the rich culture of our heritage,” Dr. Batist-Roberts added.
For Black veterans 2009 was a year to realize all they have is themselves and God, said Dr. Ronald Beavers, a psychologist with the Positive Imagery Foundation in South Los Angeles. He serves combat veterans and their families from Vietnam and other armed conflicts.
“It's very discouraging because I see Black veterans have sacrificed, and that's not to say that all veterans have not sacrificed, but when you look, you see that disproportionately Black veterans are more homeless. They have more incidents of going to jail, and they have more substance abuse issues,” Dr. Beavers said.
One answer is for Black churches to adopt a veteran or two, he feels, and that could help make up for society's great disregard of vets. Adoption could mean calling veterans, assisting them as outreach workers at regional centers, or simply asking what people can do to help.
According to Dr. Beavers, some veterans are having a little more opportunity through financial means and access to health care, yet others disproportionately fighting for basic benefits for good medical care. The bottom line is the government's empty promises to take care of veterans has carried over from Vietnam, he said.
“We're getting ready to have over 40,000 veterans come into Southern California alone from Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of them will be displaced and they will have mental and health issues. Can we take care of them in a service capacity? History has shown us that we always fall short when it comes to the veteran community,” Dr. Beavers said.
The rise of Barack Obama
The same could apply to race relations in America, according to Dr. Joy DeGruy, a nationally and internationally renowned researcher, educator, author, and presenter. What struck her most about the historical change in politics brought in with the election of President Obama was the racist backlash.
President Obama has received more death threats than any other U.S. President, specifically 30 death threats a day, according to Ronald Kessler, author of “In the President's Secret Service.” According to Mr. Kessler, threats against President Obama increased 400 percent from 3,000 under former President George W. Bush about a year ago.
This speaks to two major issues, Dr. DeGruy said: Blacks should not feel comfortable in any way that they've achieved a major cultural, racial, ethnic change; and while the change has signaled a movement, it also awakened a sleeping giant. “It's awakened those breast-fed racists that have always been there, more than many, even liberal White people, did not realize were there,” she said.
They have never been able to grapple with just how racist America is because it wasn't their experience, but people are seeing now because the racists are coming out of the woodwork, and every Black man, woman and child should be concerned. “It's being taken out on everybody. Every one of those dyed-in-the-wool racist police officers, it's boiling in his blood every time he sees or hears about President Barack Obama so that young brother that might have escaped his wrath is not going to escape his wrath today,” Dr. DeGruy said.
In 2010 and beyond, Blacks are going to have to prepare themselves, their families, and communities to be self-sufficient, Dr. DeGruy said. That means learning to trust one another again, heal from old baggage, and accept responsibility for educating themselves and their children, she said.
If Blacks continue down the same path they have been on for the last year, really the last five or 10 years, they will continue to see a fractured and fragmented community because of their unfounded faith in the American democratic experiment, said Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, political commentator and association professor of education at Columbia University.