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In light of the recent report that shows that during this current recession the already-wide racial wealth gap has grown even more wide, I thought it would be appropriate to post a series I wrote in 2007 when I was a contributing editor for the Black Agenda Report. Regrettably, the information is just as prescient now as it was then.

In part six I concluded the deconstruction of affirmative action and the real racial preferences in our nation and society. In part seven, I will tell the untold story about the predicament of Black males during the economic boom of the nineties and what the governmental and societal response to the black victims of Hurricane Katrina tells us about where we are today.

The Uneven & Unequal 90’s

Erik Eckholm, in an article for the New York Times titled “Plight Deepens for Black Men,” details the dilemma of Black males during the economic boom of the 1990’s (a boom that President Clinton and Senator Hillary Clinton take great pride in):

•The share of young black men without jobs has climbed relentlessly, with only a slight pause during the economic peak of the late 1990's. In 2000, 65 percent of black male high school dropouts in their 20's were jobless — that is, unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated. By 2004, the share had grown to 72 percent, compared with 34 percent of white and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts. Even when high school graduates were included, half of black men in their 20's were jobless in 2004, up from 46 percent in 2000.

•Incarceration rates climbed in the 1990's and reached historic highs in the past few years. In 1995, 16 percent of black men in their 20's who did not attend college were in jail or prison; by 2004, 21 percent were incarcerated. By their mid-30's, 6 in 10 black men who had dropped out of school had spent time in prison.

•In the inner cities, more than half of all black men do not finish high school.
According to data compiled by Princeton sociologist Bruce Western, the shift from factory jobs caused low & low-middle income workers of all races to lose ground, but none more profoundly than Black males. By 2004, 50 percent of Black men in their 20’s who lacked a college education were unemployed, as were 72 percent of all high school dropouts---these numbers are more than double the rate of white and Hispanic men.

Further, according to a Northeastern University Center for Labor Market Studies 2002 study, “Left Behind in the Labor Market: Labor Market Problems of the Nation’s Out-of-School, Young Adult Populations,” the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 and the Youth Opportunity grant program were modestly funded and short-lived responses. However, the sustained economic growth of the 1990s was sufficient to increase employment and earnings among most of this population. In an excerpt from the book, “Left Behind: Less-Educated Young Black Men in the Economic Boom of the 1990s,” Ronald B. Mincy states that “despite some erosion since the 2001 recession, the urgent need for special youth-targeted programs has been undermined by reports of the gains during the 1990s, including a widely cited study suggesting that the economic recovery would absorb less-educated young black men—historically, the hardest-to reach-population—into the labor market (Freeman and Rodgers 2000).

After all, business cycles affect the fortunes of most Americans, so, many observers assume that economic recovery will once again lift the fortunes of young, less-educated men (writer’s note: this is the Clintonian version of trickle-down economics).

“But such optimism [was] unwarranted. Less-educated young black men were left behind in the economic boom of the 1990s. During the 1990s the employment rate of 16- to 24-year-old, less-educated black men actually fell from its peak during the 1980s economic expansion. What’s more, their labor force participation rate continued the decline that occurred throughout the 1980s. These findings question the wisdom of a broad strategy for all less-educated youth and young adults, and suggest that targeted approaches are needed to recover a sub-population for which sustained economic growth is apparently not enough.”

By 2004, 50 percent of Black men in their 20's who lacked a college education were unemployed.

From 1979 to 2001, the labor force participation of Black males 16 to 24 shrunk from a little over 1 million to 898,000. This dramatic drop in the economic fortunes and employment prospects was exacerbated by the prison industrial complex as evidenced by the rapid growth in the number of Black males who were incarcerated, on parole or probation.

In the 1990’s we see the result of governmental indifference and the hopelessness (that breeds apathy) of many in the Black community.

The Hurricane Horror

To properly contextualize the attitudes and perceptions concerning Black folk (that existed long before Katrina) in the aftermath of “The Hurricane,” let us look to a statement made by former first-lady and current first-mother, Barbara Bush:

“What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena [the New Orleans Superdome] here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working out well for them.”

This clear and insensitive sleight (although I don't believe it was  meant to be derogatory) against those who had experienced incredible loss and devastation (as was detailed in Spike Lee’s documentary “When The Levees Broke,” there were some who had to line up their dead loved ones outside the Superdome in the heat of the Louisiana sun).

There were many who believed the reports regarding widespread lawlessness and mayhem in the days and weeks that followed Katrina---such as gangs of Black men on the prowl for women to rape. It is important to point out, however, that these reports have been debunked ad nauseum. Who could forget the two AP photos showing hurricane victims wading through waist and chest-high water in what appeared to be in the same location. Each was carrying a loaf of bread from a nearby grocery store.

However, in the caption under the Black man we read the word “looting” while in the other photo, the white woman was characterized as “finding” her goods. The Black folk left behind and stranded by governmental incompetence and institutional racism, were viewed not as American citizens devastated by a tragedy of epic proportions, but as criminals, rapists, looters and ne’er-do-wells undeserving of common human consideration or compassion.

We left body bags behind... The people of New Orleans were stranded in a flood and were allowed to die.

Community activist Leah Hodges stated: “We left body bags behind… The people of New Orleans were stranded in a flood and were allowed to die.” New Orleans evacuee Patricia Thompson, adds, “Yes it was an issue of race. Because of one thing: when the city had pretty much been evacuated, the people that were left there [were] mostly was Black.”

According to a 2005 Gallup poll, six out of every 10 Black New Orleans residents said if most of Katrina’s victims were white, relief would have arrived sooner.

Over one million people with the means to leave fled before the storm, but nearly 150,000 were left behind, trapped by poverty and neglected by disaster plans. Those who got out were mostly affluent and white. Those left behind were not. They represented the poorest 15-20 percent of New Orleans’ population and were predominantly Black. And yet their deservedness of rescue or consideration was assailed by political pundits and many in the media. Does a doctor in an emergency room treat only the dying patients she deems worthy of treatment?

Nevertheless, the value of the lives of those left behind, were being discussed and debated on television and radio talk shows. While many in the country consumed the lies about rampant criminality, they ignored the truth regarding the countless displays of heroism.

It was the ancient question about Christ reconfigured: “what good thing can come out of New Orleans? Katrina should serve as a wake-up call to the still present institutional and everyday racism; to the incompetence and cronyism of government at all levels and most importantly, it should serve as a wake-up call to a new Black self-determination.

Originally posted to Slavery in the United States - History on Thu Aug 18, 2011 at 10:05 AM PDT.

Also republished by Black Kos community and White Privilege Working Group.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Almost all American bore witness to Katrina (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    evergreen2

    Good diary.

    Yet, I have to disagree with the parts I bold.

    Over one million people with the means to leave fled before the storm, but nearly 150,000 were left behind, trapped by poverty and neglected by disaster plans. Those who gout out were mostly affluent and white. Those left behind were not. They represented the poorest 15-20 percent of New Orleans’ population and were predominantly Black. And yet their deservedness of rescue or consideration was assailed by political pundits and many in the media. Does a doctor in an emergency room treat only the dying patients she deems worthy of treatment?

    Nevertheless, the value of the lives of those left behind, were being discussed and debated on television and radio talk shows. While many in the country consumed the lies about rampant criminality, they ignored the truth regarding the countless displays of heroism.

    We're all witnesses. There was no getting away from the stark truth. Maybe there's a matter of opinion or experience here? Or is there data?

    As for today - it's bad now but big parts of the African American communities are headed for misery. All of the corporate and international finance predictions are for increased unemployment to last at least a decade. Americans will be poorer. The country needs constructive plans of course (we'll get tired of waiting for them soon enough) but there is a special measurable immediacy for those already unemployed and/or at the bottom of resources.

    It's time to call for local community, city and state plans.

    We can read these tea leaves. We know how much more misery can happen. We need to marshal our communities now.

    Eliminate the Bush tax cuts Eliminate Afghan and Iraq wars Do these things first before considering any cuts

    by kck on Thu Aug 18, 2011 at 10:23:01 AM PDT

    •  No, the point is still valid... (7+ / 0-)

      although many people of goodwill could see through the prejudice-free lenses, the vast majority of white Americans were not able to rise to the occasion of reaching a bias-free conclusion.

      The media was complicit in passing around certain questionable and unsubstantiated stories of armed black thugs raping and pillaging. What I didn't mention in the piece was the execution of blacks by white New Orleanians and law enforcement officers. As a nation, the ball was dropped, even though there were wonderful people who saw the humanity of those who suffered the most.

      •  This is shocking data... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dr Rhymes, alizard
        Specifically, roughly 60% of African American
        respondents, but fewer than 20% of European American respondents, agreed that the government response to Katrina would have been faster if most victims had been
        White
        (Page & Puente, 2005). Similarly, 71% of African American respondents, but only 32% of European American respondents, agreed that events of Katrina showed that racial inequality is still a major problem (Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 2005).
        ...and out of synch by my experience although I've only lived in major US cities.

        The "armed black thugs" theme is certainly being heavily pushed on the London news.

        Thanks, your participation here, Dr. Rhymes, is a great asset.

        Eliminate the Bush tax cuts Eliminate Afghan and Iraq wars Do these things first before considering any cuts

        by kck on Thu Aug 18, 2011 at 11:46:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  This is a good series. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    unspeakable, Dr Rhymes, icemilkcoffee, kck

    Thank you.

    The American people must wise up and rise up!

    by TomP on Thu Aug 18, 2011 at 10:24:49 AM PDT

  •  I remember (8+ / 0-)

    when there were floods in Iowa a few years after Katrina. Being that the victims were white, the emphasis then was on how admirably they acted in the face of such tragedy. I think it was Limbaugh who tried exploiting that angle for some racebaiting jollies.

    Thank you so much for this series, Dr Rhymes.

    If the people one day wish to live / destiny cannot but respond / And the night cannot but disappear / and the bonds cannot but break. -- Abu'l-Qasim al-Shabbi

    by unspeakable on Thu Aug 18, 2011 at 10:33:49 AM PDT

  •  Hi Dr. Rhymes... (5+ / 0-)

    finally caught up with the series.  Remarkable!

    This...

    These findings question the wisdom of a broad strategy for all less-educated youth and young adults, and suggest that targeted approaches are needed to recover a sub-population for which sustained economic growth is apparently not enough.”

    No approach will work until white supremacy and privilege are confronted.  You provide the classic case of Affirmative Action and for black folks, even when we win, we lose.  I don't hold not broad enough strategies solely or even mainly responsible for it.  I hold continuing and persistent and evolving white racism largely accountable for it.  As was said in the Kerner Report, whites are complicit in creating, maintaining and supporting the conditions in which black folks live. Until that changes, we will see the same and unequal results we've seen for decades.  

    I for one am tired of pandering to perpetrators --- many of whom are opposed to any discussion however it comes. -- soothsayer99 DPK Caucus

    by princss6 on Thu Aug 18, 2011 at 11:58:23 AM PDT

  •  I can't let this one pass. (0+ / 0-)

    Who could forget the two AP photos showing hurricane victims wading through waist and chest-high water in what appeared to be in the same location. Each was carrying a loaf of bread from a nearby grocery store.

    However, in the caption under the Black man we read the word “looting” while in the other photo, the white woman was characterized as “finding” her goods.

    The black guy really was looting, and the white residents really did just find their goods floating in the current.

    That being said, the media reaction to Katrina was incredible.  It certainly taught me personally to be a lot more skeptical about what is reported.

    •  Not Quite (5+ / 0-)

      The photographer in the photo depicting the white person never said that they found anything.  Read that Snopes article more carefully - what Reuters stated was that since their photographer DIDN'T see them take it, he couldn't say they were taking it.

      Big, big difference.  

      If you don't stand for something, you will go for anything. Visit Maat's Feather

      by shanikka on Thu Aug 18, 2011 at 02:06:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Oops (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dr Rhymes

        Getty, not Reuters.  My bad.

        If you don't stand for something, you will go for anything. Visit Maat's Feather

        by shanikka on Thu Aug 18, 2011 at 02:07:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  His comment seems to indicate... (0+ / 0-)

        ...that he saw them pick up items floating in the current.

        "they picked up bread and cokes floating in the water"

        •  Sorry (0+ / 0-)

          But yours is no more fair a construction than the other one, not based upon what Getty put out:  He didn't see them take it, so he couldn't say they took it.  Where we differ is whether that equates to the ability to say, truthfully, "they found it."  The answer is No.   And Getty doesn't even try to make it yes.  We have no idea what happened with those two white folks.  But I am seriously doubtful that undamaged food was just "floating away" given what was going on those days.

          If you don't stand for something, you will go for anything. Visit Maat's Feather

          by shanikka on Sat Aug 20, 2011 at 04:55:59 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  What is the definition of looting in the midst... (7+ / 0-)

      of a catastrophe? So if one is starving, or if their family is starving, they should wait for food to float by? Did either one of them actually pay for their items? If they were indeed able to pay for items, how could they? In other words who would have been able to transact the purchase?  

      The validity of the account of the photographer is shaky at best, in my opinion. It appears, at least to me, that this is an example of someone defining human need differently based upon melanin.

      •  On guy broke in and looted a store... (0+ / 0-)

        ...the other two didn't.  Seems like a pretty big distinction to me.

        •  I read nowhere, that he was seen breaking into... (0+ / 0-)

          the store, nevertheless, my questions remain unanswered.

          •  It's in the article I linked. (0+ / 0-)

            I don't copy-paste it here because for whatever idiotic reason, they took a picture of the text rather than copied it into the Snopes.com article.

            As for your question, I don't really have any problem with people looting supplies necessary for survival during a disaster.

            If it was my store, I personally wouldn't be upset about people taking food that was going to spoil (and was already covered by insurance, presumably) anyway.

            People looting TVs and such, though, are a different matter (but neither of the people pictured were doing that)

            •  Why wouldn't people want a piece of the pie that (0+ / 0-)

              they have been deprived of for so long, especially when they see other people eating it right in front of
              them, espcially when the rules about who gets the pie are so unfair in the first place?  
              What surprises me more is that people follow the rules for so long before "looting"when it is clear that the distribution of the pie was not fair in the first place?
               

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