Showing posts with label African-American. Show all posts
Showing posts with label African-American. Show all posts

Friday, July 31, 2020

Democrats Have Nothing to Fear, but Themselves

(Image: Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted”
-Aldous Huxley

When Mr. Trump completed his hostile takeover of the Republican Party and claimed the 2016 nomination, it became Mrs. Clinton's election to lose. Her senior aides had secretly been hoping she would face Mr. Trump because they were convinced that “a race against Trump would be a dream for Clinton”. A few months before the election it became clear to me that Mrs. Clinton’s hubris might cost her the election. She did not feel the need to make a case for why voters should choose her, and instead came across more like a Queen expecting a political coronation.

Fast forward to the 2020 Democratic primary, once again my views were out of sync with the majority media, political pundits and progressive party base. From the outset it was clear to me that Joe Biden would win the nomination. Not because I believed Mr. Biden was the strongest or most qualified candidate, but reading between the lines of a fractured and deeply divided party it was evident that of the frontrunners, he was the only one who had support among Black voters; without whom no Democrat can win the White House.

In February this year, I would have put Mr. Trump’s chances of re-election at about 90% because the economy was going great guns, and Democrats seemed too divided to form a cohesive front. Covid-19 changed everything. With the economy in freefall, small businesses shuttering in record numbers and the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression, the picture now is very different.

In addition, the President’s handling of the crisis has been nothing short of a disaster and his repeated refusal to follow the guidance of his top scientists or develop a coordinated federal response has led to a patchwork of disparate actions at the state level, leading to a dangerous resurgence of coronavirus cases and deaths all over the US.

As a result, polls show Mr. Biden’s lead growing to double digits nationally.  He is widening the gap in swing states and even leading in states that Mr. Trump won with double digits in 2016. There is growing consensus in the media and within the Republican ranks that Mr. Trump is hurtling toward a massive defeat, one that could see Democrats win not just the White House, but also gain majorities in both chambers of congress.

Like 2016, it would seem that the 2020 election is fast becoming Mr. Biden’s to lose. Especially since Mr. Trump continues to administer self-inflicted wounds almost daily. His latest approval has dipped below 40%. Other than Harry Truman no incumbent President has won reelection with such an abysmal job rating. However, if there is one thing Democrats excel at, it is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. There are six things I would caution them about:

Don’t take Black (and Latino) voters for granted: Since 1968 no Republican presidential candidate has received more than 13% of the Black vote, so it is no surprise that Democrats have come to take the Black vote for granted. In 2020 they do so at their own peril. A recent survey by BlackPAC of registered African American voters found that a significant number are disillusioned with the Democratic Party and more than half feel that the party is not paying close enough attention to the black community.

The Democratic Party’s overly simplistic view of African Americans as a monolithic voting bloc is out of touch with the reality. Blacks in America comprise multiple ethnicities and nationalities, with immigrants representing almost 10% and 24% of Latinos also identify as Black. Similarly, Black voters do not hold the same views across the board. As the Bernie wing of the party pushes the party farther leftwards, they are in danger of disillusioning 25% of Black Democrats who called themselves conservative and 43% who called themselves moderate.

Worryingly, polls show that Mr. Biden’s support among young Black voters, who are leading movements like Black Lives Matter and spearheading calls for systemic change, significantly trails the levels of support he enjoys among older Black voters. Also, Mr. Trump’s support among Black and Latino voters has increased in the past year from 8 to 10 percent and 28 to 30 percent, respectively, this despite his best efforts to the contrary. What should worry Democrats is not the level of support Mr. Trump has, which remains low, but that displeasure with the President has not translated into more support for them.

It’s (still) the economy, stupid: In the second quarter US GDP shrank 32.9% on an annualized basis, making it the worst contraction since record-keeping began in 1947. If the current trajectory continues then Mr. Trump will lose the only arrow in his tiny quiver. But we are still almost 100 days away from the election, and we have seen that the moment the country begins re-opening, as it did in May, there is an economic rebound. In May and June alone a record-breaking 7.5 million jobs were added and there was evidence of pent-up consumer demand with retail brick and mortar sales rising 7.5% in June, following a record jump of 18.5% in May.

If we are able to get the current coronavirus surge under control and start re-opening businesses once again across the country, it is possible that we might see the start of an economic recovery just in time for the election. This would unquestionably be a boost for Mr. Trump because the economy is the only issue he is still trusted on, more than Mr. Biden. In fact, a sizable majority of swing state voters approves of Mr. Trump’s handling of the economy, and trusts him more than Mr. Biden to lead America out of this economic crisis.

Biden’s enthusiasm gap: A recent national survey conducted by SSRS for CNN finds that there is a gap in enthusiasm among Biden versus Trump’s supporters. 70% of Trump voters say they support the President and are voting to reelect him, with only 27% stating they are voting against Biden. On the flipside Biden voters claim the opposite with 60% saying they are voting against Trump, and only 37% casting a vote in support of Biden.

We also know that the Democratic Party is deeply divided with various factions within it jockeying for position. Earlier this year an Emerson College poll found that 50% of Bernie voters would not support a candidate in November if Mr. Sanders was not the nominee. The vitriol and divisiveness was laid bare during the recent primaries, and while one has seen some degree of coalescing between the Bernie and Biden wings of the party, there is still more that divides them than unites.

More recently Nina Turner, a co-chair of Mr. Sander’s campaign, described the choice in November to a reporter at the Atlantic as, “It’s like saying to somebody, ‘You have a bowl of shit in front of you, and all you’ve got to do is eat half of it instead of the whole thing.’ It’s still shit.”

Harvard professor and Bernie supporter Cornell West added in the same article that, “We have to be true to ourselves and acknowledge that Biden is a mediocre, milquetoast, neoliberal centrist that we’ve been fighting against in the Democratic establishment.”

In polls we trust: In 2016 national pollsters consistently predicted that Mrs. Clinton’s likelihood of winning the presidency was around 90 percent. Two weeks before the 2016 general election multiple polls showed her leading in the key swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, with leads of anywhere from 4 to 9 points. Mr. Trump won all three states.

One big difference between 2016 and 2020 is that Mr. Biden’s lead has been larger and more consistent at both the national and state levels. Also, we should note that the issue is not so much accuracy of polling, because studies show that they have been historically accurate within the margins of error, but that the country has become so divided that the winning or losing can lie within these margins of error of +/- 4 points.

Also, remember that winning the popular vote does not mean winning the Electoral College. In 2016 Mr. Trump lost the popular vote by around 2.5 million votes, but won the Electoral College thanks to 79,646 voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Democrats must not grow complacent based on current polling numbers. We know that Mr. Biden faces a serious gap in enthusiasm with his voters and he also must not repeat Mrs. Clinton’s mistake, and assume people will turn up simply because they dislike the sitting President. Mr. Biden must continue to outline his kinder and more inclusive vision for America, and contrast it with the President’s divisive one, giving voters a reason to come out for him.

Biden’s fitness for office: Rasmussen poll conducted at the end of June found that nearly four out of 10 voters believe Joe Biden has dementia. It is true that a higher percentage of Republican voters (66%) think this, but 30% of independents and 20% of Democrats also believe it. The same poll finds that over fifty percent of Democrat voters feel it is an important issue, and one that Mr. Biden should publicly address. Another poll by Zogby found that 60% voters aged 18-29 thought it likely that Biden is suffering early-onset dementia, along with 61% of Hispanics and 43% of Blacks.

To be fair, unlike Obama’s birth certificate, this lingering doubt is not a figment of the fringe right-wing’s imagination. Through the primary debates Mr. Biden’s performance was viewed as uneven, with him often losing his train of thought, forgetting words and sometimes the question he was answering. He would routinely cede time back to the moderators, when every other candidate was fighting for more time to speak. Julian Castro brought up the issue of Mr. Biden’s memory lapses during one debate, and was backed up by Cory Booker, who said in a post-debate interview on CNN that it was a legitimate question based on Biden’s “fumbling”.

It is worth pointing out that there is a double standard in the mainstream media on this issue. They have openly debated and discussed President Trump’s cognitive faculties but seem to stay away from questioning Mr. Biden’s. In the end, it will likely come down to Mr. Biden’s debate performances against Mr. Trump, which will lead the American people to decide for themselves.

Covid-19 and vote by mail; fail: New York has a Democratic Governor and the party holds majorities in the state senate and assembly. The Mayor of New York City is a Democrat, and the city council has a super majority with only 3 Republicans serving in its 51 member body. For our local primary election on 23rd June this year, every official from the Governor down vowed to expand voting by mail and other options.

So far, around 100,000 absentee ballots have been invalidated, which is about one in five, and a number of races are still waiting for results at the end of July. To say it was an unmitigated disaster would be an understatement. What is scary is that, in a state committed to getting this right, and completely controlled by Democrats, the official preparation and infrastructure was clearly not capable of handling the influx of mail-in ballots.

Every facet of the system seems to have failed in New York. There were not enough ballots printed, the postal service faced delays in sending and receiving forms, people were unable to understand the mail-in ballot instructions and now officials are struggling to count them. Furious candidates are still waiting for results more than a month after the election and many are filing lawsuits claiming voter disenfranchisement.

Consider that a major factor in Biden’s ability to win rests with 65+ voters showing up to the polls, and Democrats are more fearful of contracting coronavirus than Republicans. So with Covid-19 at large, one could conjecture that older Democrats are more likely to opt for absentee ballots, than Republicans, which would give Mr. Trump a major advantage.

The bottom line is that if a solidly Blue state, one that made a concerted effort to expand voting rights, could not get any aspect of a small local election rightwhat will happen during a massive national election, and in far more contentious swing states?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Black and White of Race in America


 (Image: Piotr Makowski on Unsplash)
 
"Blacks have traditionally had to operate in a situation where whites have set themselves up as the custodians of the black experience.”
August Wilson

For me, the question of inequality between Blacks and Whites in America boils down to one simple question: how many Black parents tell their kids that they can achieve the American dream, one where anybody can start from humble beginnings and with honest hard work and perseverance rise to the greatest heights?

If the American Dream is achievable for Blacks, then tell me where are the Black scientists, artists, nuclear physicists, painters and playwrights? Where are the Black Nobel Laureates? Where are the Black Walter Cronkites, Charlie Roses and Tom Brokaws? Where are the Black Michael Phelps and Arnold Palmers? How many famous Black historians, economists and army generals can you quote? Where are the Black Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalkers? Can you name two Black super hero? Where is the Black David Ogilvy? For that matter in the liberal bastion of Hollywood can you find me a Black studio head?

In Silicon Valley there are numerous Indian and Asian entrepreneurs, tech moguls and billionaire venture capitalists. Currently, Microsoft, Google and Adobe all have Indian born CEO’s at their helm. Yet, I struggle to name one Black startup founder, tech mogul, hedge fund billionaire or even Wall Street tycoon.

It is hard to argue a case for blanket racism in America because many non-white immigrants tend to do extremely well, across many different industries and fields, from medicine to science and technology. In fact, Asian-Americans continue to have the highest household incomes in America. I want to know why the American dream continues to seem largely unattainable for Black people outside of music and a few sports.

Across every major statistic used to measure social mobility and economic progress, there is huge disparity between Whites and Blacks in education, unemployment and income. In fact, after the financial crisis things got worse for Blacks; the income inequality between Black and Whites is now the worst it has been in America’s history. According to Pew Research "the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of Black households….” “These lopsided wealth ratios are the largest since the government began publishing such data a quarter century ago and roughly twice the size of the ratios that had prevailed between these groups for the two decades prior to the Great Recession that ended in 2009.” Hispanics fare badly too but are still considerably better off than Blacks.

All this data has been debated and discussed to death but nobody has really provided sufficient answers as to why this should be the case. Why does the plight of Black people in 2017 still seem dire, one hundred and fifty years after slavery was abolished?

The first place to start is to think about the images that have consistently been portrayed through Hollywood movies, mainstream television and media; Black people have long been stereotyped as thuggish hoodlums in hoodies and portrayed as drug dealers and petty criminals. Even Eddie Murphy’s character in Beverly Hills Cop had a disdain for rules and broke the law while the White cops were disciplined and anal about upholding and following the law.

To this day we are bombarded with mugshots of Black criminals and rapists on national and local news every night. Until very recently politicians routinely talked about the Black community’s desire to live off the welfare state as a truism. They made it seem like all Blacks were lazy and that black youth were a lost cause, choosing to live off handouts, sell drugs or join gangs versus getting an education and lifting themselves out of poverty. For too long we have been told that the reason for the Black community’s lack of social mobility is that they are inherently lazy, lacking determination and self-motivation.

Before we default to this lazy argument, we should look at a few things in America’s history that can explain the inter-generational disenfranchisement and lack of mobility among the Black community.

For years, corporate and mainstream America buried its head with tokenism. I remember when ad agencies were told by clients to put one Black person in the ad to check the box for diversity. In the same way that clients added a token Black person in an ad, to prevent being sued for lack of diversity, the same false reality gave rise to the Cosby Show, Eddie Murphy and the Arsenio Hall Show. It was tokenism that allowed White Americans to feel better about the opportunities being provided to Black people; it was never real social or racial integration.

Consider that “approximately 12–13% of the American population is African-American, but they make up 37% of prison inmates”  according to a 2014 US Department of Justice report. A 2013 UN Human Rights Committee report  found that “African-American males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males…. And went on to conclude that  “If  current trends continue, one of every three Black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime—compared to one of every seventeen white males.”

These two statistics alone are alarming and led to my investigating why it was that the US prison system is overwhelmingly filled with Black males, in spite of the fact that Black people are no more criminally prone than Indian, Chinese, White or any other ethnic group in the world.

To fully understand this anomaly, we need to go back to the abolition of slavery because there is a common misconception that it ended with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863; this assumption masks a reality that slavery silently got institutionalized into other forms of legally sanctioned barriers against Blacks that exist even today.

I recommend watching Ava Duvernay documentary, '13th'. It chronicles the institutionalisation of slavery from 1863 to after the civil war, through the war on drugs started by Nixon, broadened by Reagan and codified by Bill Clinton into the industrial prison complex we see today. It explains the insane rates of incarceration we see among Black youth today.

As a non-white immigrant, I felt there was something dramatically wrong in America because I realised very early on that I had a much greater chance of achieving the American Dream, in virtually any profession, than a Black person born here.

It is worth noting that the majority of successful non-white immigrants from India, Middle East and Asia who came here in the 1950’s were typically middle class, well-educated and came of their own free will and volition; for this reason I believe they have never been viewed through the same lens as Blacks, who were all brought here in servitude and never considered equals by their White masters. Every Black person in American can trace their ancestral roots back to a slave. I believe this stigma still prevails among White Americans, albeit unconsciously for the vast majority.

You might ask how it is possible after so many generations that these imprints might remain in people. Interestingly, there is science that suggests that our DNA also contains within it the traumas and experiences of our ancestors. “According to the new insights of behavioral epigenetics, traumatic experiences in our past, or in our recent ancestors’ past, leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA. Jews whose great-grandparents were chased from their Russian shtetls; Chinese whose grandparents lived through the ravages of the Cultural Revolution; young immigrants from Africa whose parents survived massacres; adults of every ethnicity who grew up with alcoholic or abusive parents — all carry with them more than just memories.” Coupled with the images we have been repeatedly fed of the stereotyped black person through Hollywood and the media’s lens, both exclusively controlled by White people, this can help to explain our perceptions and biases today.

For our purposes here I want to share a few historical facts to illustrate why I am convinced that the Black experience in America is not only unique but explains the lack of social and upward mobility among Blacks.

When Southern Democrats took power after Reconstruction they passed a series of local and state laws and social rules to oppress Blacks and disenfranchise them. These became known as the Jim Crow laws and etiquette and were in effect from around 1877 until the 1960’s. They legalised segregation in transport, education, restaurants and bathrooms. Below are just a few examples of the types of things that Jim Crow etiquette mandated:

1.     “A Black male could not offer his hand (to shake hands) with a White male because it implied being socially equal.

2.     Obviously, a Black male could not offer his hand or any other part of his body to a White woman, because he risked being accused of rape.

3.     Under no circumstance was a Black male to offer to light the cigarette of a White female -- that gesture implied intimacy.

4.     Blacks were not allowed to show public affection toward one another in public, especially kissing, because it offended Whites.” (Source: Ferris State University site). 

The effect was to relegate Blacks to inferior status and make them second class citizens in their own country. The laws also ensured voting restrictions such as poll taxes, literacy tests and residency requirements that prevented the majority Blacks (and the poorest Whites) from voting; leaving Southern Blacks politically crippled and economically disadvantaged.

While the laws in the southern states were overtly segregationist, discriminatory practices were prevalent even nationally and began to get institutionalised. One of the most heinous was a policy known as redlining, which was designed to prevent Black neighbourhoods from receiving housing loans. 

It was introduced by the creation of the Federal Housing Administration in 1934, and lasted until 1968.” “Otherwise celebrated for making home ownership accessible to White people by guaranteeing their loans, the FHA explicitly refused to back loans to Black people or even other people who lived near Black people.” Redlining destroyed the possibility of investment wherever Black people lived." We know that to thrive and grow every community requires investment in jobs, housing, infrastructure, etc.; such investments were discouraged in majority Black communities across America.

With the passage of the Civil Rights act of 1964 and the Voting Rights act of 1965, people believed, like with the Emancipation Proclamation, that they would magically bring equality for all Black Americans. 
In 1963, A Gallup poll found that "78% of White people would leave their neighborhood if many Black families moved in. “When it comes to MLK’s march on Washington, 60% had an unfavorable view of the march, stating that they felt it would cause violence and would not accomplish anything.

These laws were necessary to end 
segregation, ban employment discrimination and give Blacks the right to vote, but once again what American society failed to realise was that to change deeply-ingrained beliefs and multi-generational prejudice would require much more than the passage of a law; especially when there were still White people in power determined to maintain the status quo and the inequality between Blacks and Whites.

If you find this hard to believe, consider that as recently as 2006, a city government report found that "affluent, non-white Milwaukeeans were 2.7 times likelier to be denied home loans than White people with similar incomes.” A more recently a 2009 study by the National Institute of Health that looked into how much people consider race when choosing a neighborhood to live in, concluded that “that White people prefer to live in communities where there are fewer Black people, regardless of their income.”

A field study conducted by CNN in 2008 found that “Among those with no criminal record, White applicants were more than twice as likely to receive a call back relative to equally qualified Black applicants. Even more troubling, Whites with a felony conviction fared just as well, if not better, than a Black applicant with a clean background.”
The US Department of Justice settled a lawsuit with J.P. Morgan Chase in January 2017, for charging “African-American and Hispanic borrowers higher rates than white borrowers from 2006 to 2009, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.”


Based on this historical evidence it becomes clear that numerous policies purposefully put in place to institutionalise racism; these policies were designed to silently prevent Black people from gaining mobility and integrating with White America. The impact can be felt to this day.

Upward social mobility requires each generation to move one step up the social ladder, which then allows the following generation to gain access to better housing and higher quality education which leads to better jobs, better pay and a higher standard of living – more than any other non-white group, Black people have been denied the ability to gain social mobility.


Think back to the fact that currently 1 in 3 Black American men face jail in their lifetime and then consider that a criminal record pretty much disqualifies you from participating in US society; even for low-level, non-violent offenses, for which the majority of Black people are jailed. “Even your lower-paying fast-food jobs are now doing background checks,” he said. “How can I pay child support if I can’t get a job?”

Without question we have come a very long way, but the fact is that many of these biases are still prevalent today and we must be aware of them in order to move forward. I believe that to heal these long simmering racial divisions (that have come to light more starkly under the first Black President) and mend this broken narrative, Americans need to start by acknowledging and owning the sins of slavery (much like Germany does about the Holocaust) and gain a deeper understanding of how the subsequent years of institutionalised racism have ravaged the Black community.

This is not about retribution or pity; it is about understanding the starkly different reality Black and White people in America face.

Until Americans fully appreciate this reality, we cannot begin to do the necessary work to ensure that the American Dream becomes real for future generations of Black children.