Friday, April 24, 2015

American Progress? 
We are falling behind

In my last blog I asked why there was no mention in the 20 or more presidential campaigns now underway of the results of the “Social Progress Imperative.” This public interest research program sets out to measure the accomplishments of different countries not by the amount of money they earn annually (GDP) but by outcomes, by what these countries accomplish on different dimensions. A summary of the scorecard for the US in 2015 is dismal: in health and wellness we rank 68th of all countries in the world. In personal safety we rank 30th, with respect to access to basic knowledge –which refers to primary and secondary education-- our rank is 45th (although we do much better in higher education), in ecosystem sustainability our rank is 74th. These are our scores in spite of spending more money, for instance, on health care than all other countries.
If we were third, or even fifth I would not give it a second thought, but 68th in health and wellness--that is really troubling. In 68 countries, most of them a lot smaller and not as rich as we are, citizens get better health and wellness care. That does not seem acceptable.
What will we have to do if we are to improve our health and wellness services, our primary and secondary education, our security and our treatment of our environment? Obviously the answer to that question will be complicated and in different categories different remedies will be needed. The problems of health care are different from those in trying to educate our children, and both of those need different remedies than our environmental heedlessness.
But there are also common themes in those different dimensions of our failures. Consider the issue of health care. Many countries have a publicly owned and run system of health insurance for all citizens. Our system is cobbled together with many different private health insurers. Our laws forbid the government expressly to bargain with pharmaceutical countries for lower prices. Dealing with many private insurers and suppliers makes our system excessively complicated and more prone to failures. The more complex a system the more likely that some patients will not receive the care they need.
In addition our health care system is designed to yield profits--large profits in some cases--for private companies. It should not surprise anyone that we spend more money with less impressive results because what we pay for is not merely an essential service but also healthy profits for private investors.
It is tempting, at this point, to complain about the greed of business men in the different branches of the health care industry. In the last few years this has become a very common reaction. But that would be unfair and dishonest because large numbers of ordinary Americans are convinced that services performed by privately owned, for-profit institutions will be cheaper and more effective than similar services offered by a government bureaucracy. Distrust of government has a long history in the US. As a consequence there is widespread support for farming out what should be government services to private enterprises. Ordinary citizens often only have themselves to blame for their unthinking support of privatization of public services.
The failures on the different international scales of social process are an eloquent demonstration of the foolishness of this mania for privatization. There may be services which would be better performed by private companies. Health care does not seem to be one of them. The many experiments in privately owned, for-profit education are largely failures and often fraudulent, taking money from veterans and people with limited resources without providing training that is at all useful. Different experiments that apply free market mechanisms to reduce global warming have, so far, not shown themselves to be effective. There exists a great deal of evidence to suggest that in many cases privatization does not have good results.
There are, of course, counterexamples. The failure of a number of regional VA hospitals--a government organized, run and financed health care system-- to provide timely care to veterans is a real scandal. But even there a private solutions was tried. Two private physicians networks have been hired to provide medical care to veterans living at a distance from the nearest VA. So far this solution through calling in the assistance of private for-profit business has proven to be a failure.
But Americans, rich and poor, are so distrustful of government that they do not see the facts in front of their own eyes. We will not improve our standings on the social progress scales until we end this blind devotion to privatization of public services.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Misdirected Presidential Campaigns.

Hilary Clinton opened her Presidential campaign with a video showing images of happy people, two men walking, holding hands, some pretty babies, ducks, a happy couple expecting their child and more. Then there is Hilary herself, in front of an upper middle class home with white trim and a white picket fence (really!) and a flower garden in bloom telling us about growing inequality in the US and offering to be the champion of the majority that is losing out.
The message I hear is: Our America is in good shape. It would be even better if we could reduce economic inequality and she will, if elected President, fight for that. The message is designed to make us feel warm inside. It certainly did that for me.
But then I recalled the Social Progress Index produced annually by an organization that calls itself “Social Progress Imperative.” It sets out to measure the accomplishments of different countries not by the amount of money they have (GDP) but by outcomes, by what these countries accomplish on different dimensions. A summary of the scorecard for the US in 2015 is dismal: in health and wellness we rank 68th of all countries in the world. In personal safety we rank 30th, with respect to access to basic knowledge –which refers to primary and secondary education-- our rank is 45th (although we do much better in higher education), in ecosystem sustainability our rank is 74th. These are our scores in spite of spending more money, for instance, on health care than all other countries.
Before proceding I should say that the board of directors of the organization producing these rankings includes one professor from Harvard Business School, one professor from MIT and Oxford University each, an editor from the British business journal The Economist and the President of the Rockefeller Foundation. These are not socialists or communists, or flaming left-wing radicals. They are enlightened persons in the middle of the political spectrum. Their numbers and the implicit criticisms of existing conditions in the Unites States deserve to be taken very seriously.
Our country is seriously falling behind. At issue is not an international competition that ends in some sort of World Cup of health and welfare, or educational accomplishment. If we rank 68th in health and wellness there are 67 countries whose population is in better health and cared for more effectively when they fall ill than are citizens of the US, even though those countries spend less money on health care than we do. The ways in which these other countries organize their health delivery system, their preventive medicine programs, their medical and pharmacological research and delivery systems of medications and medical technology are more effective than ours. These other countries have figured out a lot of ways of doing things related to health and wellness that are better than what we do. All of that in spite of our justly world famous universities and research institutes.
We hear none of that in Hilary's opening campaign video. Nor is that anything the matter with Hilary Clinton. If you consult the opening videos of Republican candidates, our dismal performance in the Social Progress Index does not show up there either. None of the candidates for president so far has dared to tell us that we have mismanaged our country and our ample resources is disastrous ways. Many other countries, smaller, saddled with more problems, have managed to keep their citizens, healthier, better educated than we have. They have been less destructive of their environment than we have.
Why is that not a topic in the presidential campaign? The candidates who each in their own way assure us that America is well, healthy and thriving and just needs a small tune-up here or there are lying to their constituents. Our political campaigns are based on deception, misinformation, on making citizens feel good. They do not appeal to us as mature adults who can stand to face crisis situations. They do not exhort us to have our eyes open to struggle against the difficulties we are facing. They are trying, instead, to narcotize us with false feelings of security.
What is going on here? Ask any schoolchild what democracy is and they will tell you that in a democracy the people rule. That means they run things. Running things means recognizing problems and trying to fix them. If that is what American citizens were doing, our candidates for office would come to us with problems and their specific proposals for resolving this problem or that. Candidate and citizens would have to have detailed conversations about the precise nature of a problem and what different possible resolutions might look like. But that is not what we get. Hilary talks about economic inequality. Is that one problem or many? Whatever it is, Hilary will help us fix it. She does not tell us how. So we—the people who supposedly run things—have nothing to bite into. We can like Hilary because she makes us feel good. Her republican opponents promise to deal with the deficit. How will they do that? don't ask. They promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. Replace it with what? We are not told.
Candidates treat voters not as the people who run things, but as the gullible, unthinking audience to a political American Idol. The voters, infantilized by the candidates' public relations wizards, accept that role.
What a sad caricature of democracy!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Conversations about Race 

In the present situation of great upset about racial killings, racial inequities, overt displays of anti-black racism, we hear a great deal about the need for conversation. A good example is a recent story in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a publication read by college and university administrators and faculty. The story reported a meeting where 300 diversity officers discussed the racial climate on campus. The suggestion was made repeatedly that campuses needed to organize opportunities for white students to have conversations where they could learn what it was like to be black in the United States today.
This seems reasonable. Until some black friends explained to me the condition of African-Americans in the United States, I did not really understand the gravity of our racial situation. White people often just don't know.
At the same time, one must understand that passing on information in conversations will not be enough to improve racial justice in our country. Giving information to people who do not want to learn is useless. Every teacher knows that. You can put important facts before students and many of them will not learn anything because they don't want to learn. History suggests some reasons for white Americans being so reluctant to apprehend the facts about racism in America.
The Founders, men like Jefferson and Washington, who determined that a Black slave was not to count for more than 3/5 of the most abject white human being knew perfectly well what they were doing. They both owned slaves. Neither of them thought that owning slaves was morally acceptable. They knew that they were compromising their high political principles. They did, in fact, talk and correspond a good deal about the moral failure of owning slaves, but did not change their behavior. Their economic interest pushed them to go against their moral principles. Slaves provided cheap labor. In a time when all work was done by hand, refusing to have slaves meant that one had to pay people to work on the farm or in the house. Paid help was more expensive than slave help. Without slaves, one would have fewer servants and thus a more cramped style of living. Economic interest was a strong support for the institution of slavery.
But it was not the only support for racism. There are other reasons why Whites refuse to grasp the ravages of racism. Once again history helps us to understand that.
The first black men and women arrived in Virginia in 1609 – just about 400 years ago. Until the 1670s both black and white servants were indentured. In order to work off the cost of their voyage to the new world, they were committed to be servants for a set period. Their indenture at an end, they would be given a piece of land and supplies, including a gun, regardless of whether they were black or white. More often than not, the land they received was marginal.
Racism was widespread among the English immigrants; slavery was not unknown. From the middle of the 17th century on, some blacks were enslaved. But that process of converting the temporary indentured servant status of Blacks to the permanent status of slaves accelerated after 1676. In that year, in Bacon's Rebellion, former indentured servants, both black and white together, rose up in Virginia to protest their land being in the foothills, and less fertile than the land of their previous masters. The rebellion was put down but afterwards the white masters encouraged the institution of slavery to drive a wedge between white and black pioneer farmers. Political rather than purely economic motives supported the development of slavery and the anti-black racism that accompanied it.
330 years later racism has become very much part of the flesh and bone of the American. Whites who are not wealthy and of high status have learned to reconcile themselves to their low condition by glorying in their whiteness, in the fact that they are not black. Racism serves a political purpose to keep large numbers of less favored Whites content. But our society, having changed a great deal in the last 330 years, now has an economy that is unable to provide jobs for everyone in the country. Racism that incarcerates large number of young black men and some black women restricts the number of job seekers and thereby serves an economic function. It reduces the opposition to prevailing economic practices.
White men and women may get a job that also has black applicants simply because they are white. That gives whites a serious economic advantage, especially when jobs are scarce. The racism that supports those practices is not going to be extinguished by having conversations about race.
As long as it is to someone's advantage to be racist, that blot on our national identity will remain. Conversations about racism will have very limited effect because Whites derive advantages—economic, political and psychological—from racism. Ours will remain a country plagued by racism until we have changed our economy to provide enough good work for everyone. Until everyone has work and lives, that they can be justly proud of, whites will bolster their self-esteem by oppressing blacks and other groups—Hispanics, immigrants, homosexuals.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Hidden Injuries of Class.

A few weeks ago, This American Life, told a story about young persons of color who had attended public school and not learned a whole lot. They were then given the opportunity to study at a good, predominantly white college. Most of them flunked out. They were overwhelmed by the alien environment. They felt themselves to be utterly incompetent. They were much too ashamed to talk to anyone to ask for help. They lacked the most elementary self esteem they would have needed to survive in a mainly white, middle-class, intellectual environment which felt utterly strange and incomprehensible to them.
The students I teach at a State college are overwhelmingly white. They are there because tuition is a lot lower than it is at all the private colleges in the area or even at the State University. They belong to what is now referred to as the middle-class but they definitely belong to the lower strata of that middle-class. They have limited financial resources. They are not well prepared for college. Many of them do not write a decent paragraph in English. Many of them have difficulty reading academic texts because their vocabulary is very limited. They know a good deal about popular culture, but few of them are readers of books. Not too many of them are familiar with current affairs, or with the outlines of the history of our country and our world.
A lot of them are bright people who, given half a chance, could do good work of some kind. Not all of them will have that chance.
But their greatest handicap lies in the rarely considered class distinctions in contemporary American society. To illustrate that, here is the story of Timothy.
Just before spring break I assigned a midterm paper. It had to be all of two pages long and discussed issues, some of which we had been talking about in class – the problems of having a functioning democracy when large portions of the electorate are ill-informed about political matters and are not in a position to make reasonable choices between candidates.
The papers were to be submitted in the last class before Spring Break. Timothy did not give me a paper. When asked, he told me he would send it to me that afternoon by email. I sent him a message when I did not receive this paper, but did not hear any more from him.
After class at the end of spring break I asked him what had happened. It turned out that the paper he promised to send me had never been written. Then he went off to spring break somewhere warm. He saw my question on his email when he returned, but felt I had sent it too long ago. He could not respond. It was certainly embarrassing to confess that he had never written his paper. He could not really talk to me about it and so he did nothing at all.
Not writing an assigned paper does not strike me as such a terrible thing that it should have been impossible for him to ask me for an extension, or even to make up some family tragedy to excuse himself. But from Timothy's perspective the distance between him and me is so enormous, that it did not seem possible for him to talk about the whole matter.
I am almost four times as old as he is and that makes a difference. But the age difference is not the only thing that makes it hard for him to take an active part in his own education. He is clearly finding himself in an alien environment where he does not seem to have much agency. I do not think that his situation is as dire as that of the students of color mentioned in the beginning of this blog. But his problems are not unlike theirs. He is not oppressed by racial prejudice – he is white. But the class differences between him and his teachers, and the administrators in the college are serious enough for him to not be able to take charge of his education, to ask questions when he is confused, or to ask for an extension if he cannot get his work done.
But how is he going to learn anything if he can't ask any questions of his teachers, if having questions appears to be so terribly embarrassing that he can't let on? How can he make useful educational choices if the entire project seems so strange and in some way incomprehensible?
Timothy's class problem is, of course, also an element in the failure of the students mentioned at the beginning of this blog. It is not just their skin color, and all the restrictions and limitations attached to that, but also the deep divide between classes in the US today that makes attending college terribly difficult or perhaps impossible for them.
It is high time that we should admit and carefully consider the class problem we have.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Ruminations about the Good Life

Last week I ran across a video from the Getty Museum that showed how illustrated manuscripts were made around the year 1000. The process began with transforming animal hides into parchment. That was a long, laborious undertaking of scraping, stretching, treating the hides until they became soft and smooth surfaces that would take up ink and paint and would, unlike paper, last literally for more than 1000 years.
Preparing the parchment was just the beginning, then a scribe would slowly and laboriously write out the text after having prepared his ink and cut a goose quill just right. The letters were placed on the page one by one, one next to the other, each exactly the same size, each straight up and down.
Once the text was done, came the illustrators with their elaborate designs and miniature

paintings in gold leaf and many colors.

This work took a very long time and a great deal of effort. It required enormous concentration. Multitasking was not possible when the task at hand required your complete attention. Not everybody could do this work. It took many years of patient apprenticeship and practice to acquire the necessary skills.
Two characteristics stand out in this process. Whatever people did in 1000 took a great deal of effort. That was not only true of producing illuminated manuscripts. It started early in the morning when someone had to revive the remaining coals in the stove or the fireplace to make a new fire for cooking breakfast. No automatic coffee makers or other labor saving devices. Every part of the day required physical effort, concentration. Life was a struggle.
Our life today is totally different. Ease and lack of effort are supreme goals. We buy many devices because they will, their manufacturers tell us, save effort and make life easier. An easy life is nice. But after you have run 5 miles as fast as you can and are really out of breath you have accomplished something. After driving 5 miles, what have you achieved?
It is not an accident that having children is so important to us because having and raising children has not become any easier than it was a long time ago. Children still are new persons every day, and will challenge us in many ways. There is no way of automating child-rearing. There are no machines to deal with uncomfortable questions, unreasonable demands, or temper tantrums. When your children are grown up you know that you have accomplished something very difficult and you take pride in it, however it works out.
You do not take pride in the coffee your automatic coffee maker made during all those years.
To the extent that life has been made easy by all sorts of labor saving devices and by having other people do things for you that you used to do yourself, such as buying ready-made clothes sewn in China or Thailand instead of making then yourself, life has become awfully convenient but not very satisfying. After a long life you may take pride in all the good bread you baked, but you will not take pride in all the sliced bread you bought in the supermarket.
What we do is worth doing when it requires an effort. Challenges are worth taking up. Having exerted yourself to accomplish something that you found difficult, that you barely pulled off because you put in some extra energy and concentration, gives real satisfaction. Popping a TV dinner in the microwave and pushing the button does not. (Obviously not everything difficult is worthwhile doing, but few things that are easy foster contentment.)
There's a second way in which our world is very different from that long gone day when life was difficult and challenging.
I learned about the illuminated manuscripts from a video. I stumbled on this video through an app called "StumbleUpon" which literally provides you with a series of random websites some of which may interest you, many of which do not. There are millions upon millions of websites, every day brings more. There are Facebook pages, twitter messages, etc. etc.
There is the Super Bowl, and hardly is that past when we have March Madness while we already follow our favorite baseball team in spring training. Soon it is opening day and then there are the golf tournaments and the car racing.
And all the while people are making youtube videos that go viral and which you don't want to miss. There are not only new trends but millions of people pretending to start new trends and in all this madness you are rushing as fast as you can and you can't keep up.
The most common description of who we are, these days, is "extremely busy." We do too many things. Few of any of them occupy as fully. Our attention is scattered and concentration lacking. We are extremely busy with things which require few skills, require no physical or intellectual effort, are done in the blink of an eye, and do not require concentrated attention.
At the end of a busy day what have we done? What have we accomplished? Who are we?
In this setting it is very difficult to have a sense of oneself as a clearly defined person, who does a difficult job patiently with concentration and considerable effort. In this setting it is very easy to lose oneself, it is very difficult to have any sense of oneself at all.
The lives we lead in this supercharged culture overwhelm us with stimulation but make it very difficult to take satisfaction in accomplishing challenging tasks. It is difficult to be in touch with who we are in a world where innumerable things constantly demand our immediate attention.
Is ours the good life in 2015?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Resisting racism

Racism is so deeply entrenched in our culture that few, if any, whites can honestly say that they never catch themselves thinking racist thoughts. It behooves all white Americans to continue struggling against the profound hold racism has on our attitudes.
But it is also important to understand that many institutional injustices need to be confronted.
I mentioned in a previous blog that using and selling marijuana are as common among white young people as they are among young blacks but, by and large, only the black young men end up in prison. Wildly unfair law enforcement practices need to be targeted if we are going to reduce racial injustice.
Wealth and income have a great deal to do with who ends up in prison and who does not. It is completely unacceptable that in a nation which prides itself on adhering to the rule of law, poverty automatically increases one's likelihood of ending up in prison. An adequately financed and staffed legal defense service needs to be run by various government agencies in order to reduce racial injustice.
In many cities neighborhoods inhabited primarily by persons of color have the worst public transportation. At the same time more people in those neighborhoods cannot afford to maintain reliable automobiles and are therefore dependent on efficient public transportation to go to their jobs. Planning public transportation so as to enable the people most in need of it to get to work, is an important priority in the face of racial inequalities.
In New York City rent-controlled public housing has more building code violations, such as leaking water pipes, than so-called "market value" housing. People with low incomes, many of the persons of color, are not adequately protected by the cities code inspection and enforcement department.
Many other cities have similar experiences: housing in poor neighborhoods is poorly inspected. Building codes are not enforced against landlords in those neighborhoods.
Black children, a new study shows, are seven times more likely than other children to grow up in the worst neighborhoods in the country. If they are stuck in the poorest neighborhoods from age 1 to 17, only 76 percent will graduate by age 20, compared to 96 percent of black children in affluent neighborhoods.
Of course, you don't have to be black to suffer from bad surroundings. Among non-black youth, 87 percent graduate from high school if they grow up in the poorest neighborhoods, compared to 95 percent from affluent neighborhoods.
The longer children spend in bad neighborhoods, the worse their chances of graduating from high school, researchers found.” (
These residential differences and the resultant educational deficits for children growing up in poor neighborhood is directly reflected in differences in the median income between White and Black families. For every dollar earned by a White family, a Black family brings home 60 cents. Lower educational levels of the children growing up in poor neighborhoods accounts in part for that difference. So does the assignment of lower paying jobs to Blacks and Hispanics.
One of the results of all these limitations placed on young black men and women is that they feel profoundly devalued. Their confidence in their own abilities is really low. Young Black persons, when given the opportunity, for instance, to attend a good college are so intimidated, they sometimes cannot function. (
These observations have several important implications. While it is important for whites to keep working on enhancing their awareness of their own racist attitudes, doing so is not enough. There are a number of clear and blatant injustices that need to end. Only citizen activism will do that. Blacks and Whites holding hands and singing “We Shall Overcome” will not do the job.
The second implication is tactical. It is not helpful to call various government agents – from police officers to school board members to code enforcement apartments – "racist." That just makes everybody really defensive. It is preferable to press for these different government departments to do their job properly, to enforce existing law in all communities, to provide first-class schools in all parts of the city, to enforce building codes against all landlords, not only the landlords in middle-class communities.
It is time to stop talking quite so much about racism and to make the many different changes that are so urgently needed by demanding that government do its job as mandated by law.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Racist Cops”

When the Black Panthers first organized in Oakland in 1966—close to 50 years ago—their Ten Point Program called for an end to (white) police brutality in black neighborhoods. “ 7. We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of Black people, other people of color and all oppressed people inside the United States.”
Fast forward to Ferguson and we see the same demand, louder to be sure, but still the same demand.
Nothing has changed in the last 59 years. How can we have a Black president, a Black Attorney General, a Black Supreme Court Justice but nothing is changed for the Black kids on the block?
How can we explain this to ourselves? What lessons can we draw for changing this disgraceful situation?
Many people give a two-word answer: “Racist Cops” thereby oversimplifying a complex situation. They make it impossible to make change because they are not willing to think carefully about why police rampages continue in Black communities.
Racist Cops” is as biased a statement as what many whites say or think about young Black men being unwilling to work, being unwilling to take responsibility for their actions. The one statement, as much as the other accuses large numbers of people of negative attitudes. As long as each sides parades its prejudices, we cannot move forward.
It has struck me for a while that when policemen shoot at young Black men they appear to shoot to kill, not to disable, not to throw off their presumed attackers. Individual policemen do not make up the rules. Their shooting to kill must be approved by police chiefs, by the mayors and city councils to whom the police chief answers. The racism here is not limited to the police but to the people who run our cities and towns.
Some of these people, for instance city councilors, are elected. The permission for policemen to shoot to kill has not to my knowledge ever been an issue in city elections. How many citizens have quizzed their city-council candidates on that issue? Ordinary voters are involved, however peripherally, in making rules for police conduct. White liberals who say “Racist Cops” are evading their own complicity.
Michelle Alexander has been writing and speaking eloquently about the mass incarceration of young Black men. Studies show that among young men, Whites are as often involved in trading and/or using marijuana than Blacks. But Blacks are six times as likely to be incarcerated as whites.
Here is where the “racist cops” explanation is seriously incomplete. Policemen make the arrest. But it is the prosecutor who asks for a long prison sentence, preferably for a felony conviction. A judge instead of chastising the prosecutorial staff, cooperates and sends the young man away for five years.
Prisons are often private enterprises whose profits go up with every additional prisoner. Prison corporations are known to lobby legislature for increasing mandatory sentences, and legislatures cooperate. The main motivations are familiar capitalist desires to increase profits; racism is not the main issue.
Prisoners come under the care of parole officers at the end of their terms.
Here are prosecutors, judges, legislatures and the parole system—all of whom see every day the overwhelming preponderance of prisoners of color, but no one raises an alarm. The entire judicial and the entire criminal justice system cooperate in perpetrating gross injustices. If we were satisfied to blame the policemen's racism we would miss completely the pervasive injustices encountered at every turn in our system of legislation, law enforcement and “corrections.”
But there is more.
It is a commonplace that “everyone commits crimes—only the poor get punished for it.” Unable to pay for a good lawyer, the poor are inadequately represented in court, often by lawyers completely unprepared for mounting a serious defense. Many localities jail people for not paying fines. Poor people unable pay fines return to prison. Middle class people and the rich pay and get on with their life.
The problems of young Black men with the criminal justice system have to do with a complex system corroded by racial injustices. But those difficulties are intensified by the pervasive poverty of the same Black young men. Our society is unfair to people doing the low-paying jobs. One large source of the injustices perpetrated against young black men and more and more against black women is the result of our economic system which produces increasing numbers of poor people.
If we strive for racial justice, we must stop putting all the blame on the police. We must call out the gross failures of the economic system to provide a decent living for every hard working citizen, and the failure of that same economic system to provide decent employment for everyone. We must also see clearly that prosecutors, judges, legislatures, in cities, states and at the federal levels and voters are all involved in this by refusing to challenge the ongoing injustices of the criminal and judicial system.
It is just too easy to say “Racist Cops.” The troubles of Blacks in the US are much more extensive and what I have mentioned so far is only a small part of the entire range of persecutions and inequalities.
Predominantly white legislatures in most states have passed laws that disenfranchise felons. In Ferguson a third or more of Blacks are convicted felons who cannot vote. That is one reason why a city with a Black majority of 67% is governed by an elected white City Council, a White city manager, a white police chief and a predominantly white police force.
Felons, however, are not only disenfranchised. More often than not they cannot find work. They cannot work—except in some illegal activity. They are unable to maintain their families. Trying to do so will soon land them in jail again.
In recent days a research institute at Brandeis documented the sharp rise in unequal asset ownership between whites and Blacks. The report states that ”in 2011 the median White household had $111,146 in wealth holdings, compared to just $7,113 for the median Black household and $8,348 for the median Latino household”--a difference of more than $100,000.00 in assets!--reflecting many factors, among them residential segregation in our cities which, in turn, reflects racial discrimination. But it also reflects the lower wages earned by many Blacks, the glaring inadequacy of many schools in Black neighborhoods. And, of course, it also reflects once again the mass-incarceration of young Blacks and the economic disaster a felony conviction is.
The list of restraints imposed on persons of color seems to have no end.