Archive for the ‘african americans’ category

More From Down Under

February 26, 2017

Traveling in Australia, one can not escape that Country’s struggle to deal with the Aboriginal people and the past conflicts white society has had with the indigenous people. All the lecturers our tour group has met speak of the frustration and to some degree, shame, Australians experience when they reflect upon the past. Hmmm.

Much of Australia’s past (1800s to 1950s) sounds similar to Americas experience with our “first nation” people.  Make promises (treaties), take their land, and then renege on the promises. Indigenous people were told that their ways must give way to the new or face getting wiped out.

Today, aboriginals are the poorest educated, most unemployed, many (but not all) experience drug and alcohol addiction, and too many suffer diseases such as diabetes associated with the white man’s diet. Aboriginals are almost all poor and depend upon government support. The cycle of poverty, despite governments efforts seems well fixed into Aboriginals’ fate.

Aboriginals are jet black in skin color, easy to pick out of any group. Aboriginals, however, who are descendent from mixed race marriages, are less black and future generations will have even less color, making it possible to pass as a white, all other things being equal. Is this important?


The Australian indigenous people are not a monolithic group. Although they are all different from the non-indigenous Australian population, they vary widely amongst themselves and reflect the impact of which parts of Australia they have lived in. For example, in the northeast part of Australia (Queensland), indigenous people have existed with ample food easily available. Consequently, traveling large distances for food or water was less necessary to these Aboriginal tribes.  Where as, in the Northern Australian territory, in the great “bush” with long droughts and little food or water, Aboriginals had to move and move often. In both cases, the indigenous people placed high value on family and cultural customs which bound their families and tribes together. What so wrong with that?


Australian “Aboriginals” largely remained stone age hunter gatherers even after the arrival of non-indigenous Europeans. While “Aboriginals” are not “stupid” or uneducable, (and make pragmatic decisions around natural cures), indigenous people also make choices which make them less competitive in education or professional pursuits. In today’s society, most indigenous people fall further and further behind in what one would recognize as the modern world. The degree of uncompetitiveness may vary but never the less, too many Northern Territory or Queensland indigenous people fall behind, for example, despite the Government spending large amounts of money to support improvements in Aboriginal life prospects (as judged by non-indigenous Australians).

America has indigenous people too. Is this a comparison Americans should look to?


The American indigenous person is aka the American Indian. Although different, many American Indians also believe strongly in their heritage and its way of living. And to be sure, these life styles compete poorly with western life styles. Not surprisingly American Indians have important values which could benefit the greater society too. Proper regard for the environment is a good example.

In the US, American Indians, similarly to the Australian Aboriginal have experienced a “lose-lose” experience with white America. Despite much Government spending, American Indians suffer from a cycle of poverty, seemingly unable to break out. The Federal Government spends, the first nation people take, and not much changes.


Does this cycle remind you of the African American?

African Americans make up disproportionately more people carrying the label “member of the cycle of poverty”. The Federal Government spends money trying to provide the means for African Americans to break into the mainstream, poverty free. Unfortunately, too many find it too difficult to change life styles and while some succeed, too many others fail.

Comparing the Australian aboriginal’s cycle of poverty to the US’ African American community, one finds some African Americans are quite successful by any measure. On the other hand, some African Americans lead both personally and collectively self destructive lives. And most of these sad and destructive life choice decisions were made by the victims themselves. So whose problem is that?

If there is any basis for studying the Australian Aboriginal situation, the message for America might be government policy alone can not break a cycle of poverty, the individual must make the decision to buy in or accept the consequences. For government policy makers, policy cannot be expected to effect social change without those involved as full partners.


The Flint Primary

February 6, 2016

Actually there is no official “Flint (Michigan)” Primary. There probably should be but it is highly doubtful that anything good would come of it. Flint is a poster child for so much. A Flint Primary would be about a city that won’t take care of itself, a State which is blindly following a “no new tax, no spend” formula, and a Federal Government Agency which is running on autopilot with controls set firmly on neutral.

The Flint story tied to beginnings of the auto industry, its growth, and now its decline. Over the years, automobiles were good to Flint and the city became home to several auto parts and assembly plants each employing thousands. Flint also became home to the top notch engineering school, “General Motors Institute” (now named the Kettering University after Charles Kettering, inventor and GM executive). One would think that there would be no dearth of technical knowledge in Flint.

In the 80s and 90s, the production of automobiles began to drop in Flint as newer assembly plants were build elsewhere. With the drop in production came a drop in employment. Executives and skilled tradesmen move away to other jobs while the less skilled remained behind. Soon poverty and unemployment were rampant.

A few years ago, the city leaders decided to reduce costs by changing the source of its drinking water. The officials selected the Flint River over the previous supplier, Detroit Water, and restarted its own water treatment plant. City officials were told that the Flint River water needed to be treated in a certain manner in order to prevent the untreated water from corroding existing pipes. If the existing pipes corroded, there would be discoloration of the water and even worse the release of lead from the pipes into the water.

No treatment was implemented and soon the water discolored and lead began to accumulate.

General Motors noticed the change fairly quickly and began treating the water used in its plants itself. Why? Because the water was corroding expensive equipment. Hmmm.

Citizens complained and State agencies reviewed the matter and made their own recommendations. None were implemented.

After about 18 months, the EPA became involved and determined that lead pollution existed and provided the State with a set of recommendations. Nothing happened as a result. No State action, no EPA follow up.

About 2 years after the switch to Flint water, the dire situation became front page news. Now there is more activity on who did what and whose to blame, than acton. Flint citizens are still drinking bottled water.

A Flint Primary might reveal residents who were content to grumble, and who wanted be taken care of rather than taking care of themselves. The largely African American population accepted their fate as it it were a by-product of a war effort.

The Flint educated and more wealthy citizens immediately switched to bottled water and installed home filters, and nothing more. Leading businesses like General Motors took care of themselves and went on about their business. Flint elected officials worried about getting elected again and not the water.

State officials were content to follow Governor Rick Scott’s fiscal restraint agenda. No new taxes and reduction is State services. To be fair, Detroit was bankrupt and presented a huge fiscal mess, Flint just didn’t rate that high. And, the Federal EPA was far more concerned with super fund sites and global warming, a shameful excuse.

A Flint Primary would allow voters to register their demands for immediate action on a basic life requirement, clean water. The primary could make the unemployed voices clear that they wanted jobs so they could pay for the water, and by the way they demanded the water be lead free. The Flint Primary could vote out the incompetent and callous Flint officials who had allowed what they knew health-wise as clearly wrong to persist.

The Flint Primary could also shine a bright light upon the “no new taxes” advocates who are happy to hold the line on taxes by reducing necessary government services. “No new taxes” may be defensible but only under conditions where existing services are made much more productive (or eliminated) so that funds could be applied to those essential services. In Michigan as in most other “no new taxes” States, there is little effort to ensure essential services continue, or to consider the need for necessary infrastructure repair and maintenance.

The Flint Primary could do so much. Given the history off Flint resident’s complacency, I can’t help but wonder, however, how many Flint residents would show up to vote.

Woodrow Wilson and Black Lives Matter

November 25, 2015

There have been a number of college campus protests recently initiated allegedly over claims these institutions engaged in racial discrimination. The unrest at University of Missouri resulted the President’s and Chancellor’s resignation as demanded by the protesting students.

Now Princeton is looking at a set of “demands” which include eliminating all public references to former President Woodrow Wilson (as in 28th US President and Princeton’s “Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs”). Hmmm.

Black Lives Matter seems to have arisen following a series of police shootings where African Americans were killed during run ins with police. In many of the incidents, two characteristics seemed present. First, excessive lethal force was apparently employed and second, incident investigation exonerated the accused.

Even though data shows that police have killed almost twice as many white persons as African Americans, when the data is corrected for population, the disproportioned African American police shootings jumps out.

These two issues are tempting to conflate. Racism and Police prejudice may seem potentially interrelated.

Being human, the tendency is to assign behavior of some to the group as a whole.   The charge of prejudice is unavoidable. For the police, dealing regularly with dangerous people, they could easily see most everyone (like those in the poor areas) as a criminal and justify lethal force.

Racism and racist policies are not always that easy to detect. Universities have been under pressure to open enrollment to a more “diverse” group and clearly now feel betrayed when minority students bite back.

Looking back most higher learning institutions some group had to be the minority. Each of these groups would have struggled with slights and often outright prejudices. Over time the schools evolved to be more inclusive and probably the minority group grew thicker skin. One might see the current African American discrimination claims as simply they are going through the same process. Hmmm.

Woodrow Wilson and Princeton represent something a little different. African Americans have a legitimate grievance if Wilson is presented as a great man without flaws. Having his name on a prestigious University School could certainly convey this. But to suggest all will be ok if Wilson name was struck from the school’s official name borders on naive if not short sighted.

Renaming institutions cannot change what the historical record already says. It is far more to everyone’s benefit that Wilson be remembered as a Statesman and College President who endorsed many good beliefs and who unfortunately also held other discredited beliefs.

Championing the “League of Nations” does not make his segregation views any more acceptable, nor does his views on race subtract from his contributions in other areas.

The excessive use of force in police matters can arise from a great many causes, not just racism. Emotional aptitude, training, and supervision can all contribute to a mind set that is ready to employ excess force.

Black lives must matter and so should all lives matter. If we allow police excesses (that African Americans are calling out) to continue, all other groups may live to experience these same excesses should police be ever called into confront some other type of protest or demonstration.

African American leaders will do well by their peers to emphasize education and acquiring the emotional and executive skills to compete and succeed in life after school. While some protesting and push back on perceived organizational slights is part of human nature, the victim would be wise to match, no double, their protest efforts with even greater academic work.

Excessive police force is a danger to all Americans. Since we can not do without police support of law and order, we all need to support proper police selection, training and supervision.

Do Churches Fail The Poor?

May 19, 2015

Ross Douthat in his New York Times opinion column on Sunday asked this questions, “Do Churches fail the poor”? But why the euphemism? Why the “poor” and not “African Americans deep in the poverty cycle”?

If Douthat did mean the heart and soul of the “poor”, his observation presents no contest, of course they do.

Without debating the question whether his assertions that churches have been more concerned with women’s health and gay rights, or that churches real interest in poverty bent to keep their pews filled, the question is has the churches’ malfeasance worsened the poor’s lot? Or even more important, had churches focused differently, could they have been a key force to end poverty?

One can spend hours listing the real interests of organized religions. These institutions are creations of man (or woman) and in the end take on characteristics of any other social or bureaucratic collection of people. Churches may claim a “higher purpose” but when the cows are counted, churches are interested in whether they have collected more dollars than what they owe. Churches will create any beliefs or visions to fit the narrative that most likely will fulfill their quest for financial survival regardless of its impact (or lack there of) on the poor.

So where do the poor fit in?

The world is awash in pockets of poverty. No continent is without its poor. Some maintain poverty is a necessary bi-product of a free market. In this zero sum world view, everyone has a chance, the smarter do better and the less smart, not as well. At some point, some begin a life long process of losing.
These losers reproduce and the cycle becomes a little more set. The question is can this poverty cycle be broken, and if so, how?

The US poor, it is said, have such dysfunctional lives, they produce a following generation less able to complete than itself.   Hmmm. This is a pretty dismal outlook.

Hmmm. I wonder how churches can break this cycle?

(Let’s be clear, the poor or poverty cohort is mainly African American. But all African Americans are not poor or stuck in a poverty cycle.)

The apparent perception is that churches, somehow, should be able to inspire the poor so they become winners. Alcoholics Anonymous, a quasi-faith based organization requires attendees to swear to a “higher authority” as the prerequisite to becoming sober. Do you think this would work with just substituting “poverty” for alcoholic?

Regrettably AA has a relatively low success rate ( despite what even those who get the “cure” think). But what is evident with those “cured” is (1) they want to be cured, and (2) they recognize they are responsible for their own cure.

America is based upon notions that upward economic mobility is available for all. Americans believe that the destitute can become better off if they try hard enough. Americans also generally believe that if they do better, their children will have a chance to do even better if they work hard. Both of these notions is hard to detect in the US poverty zones.

So, to the question, “do churches fail the poor”, the best answer is “we don’t know”. All we know is that churches have not enhanced the lot of those stuck in the poverty cycle.

“Fail the poor” implies that churches have either done nothing (when they knew what to do) or have done somethings (which turned out to be incorrect) and in either case, have not reduced poverty.

While the answer to the breaking poverty cycle is still unclear, it is hard to imagine any solution that does not run through education and skill development, a family unit with limited family size, and community support within the poverty cohort.

I wonder whether churches know how to teach math, english. plumbing, carpentry, nursing, etc?  I also wonder  whether churches would step up to real family planning and birth control?  And lastly, just how far are churches (especially those with large African American presence) willing to push parishioners to help their brothers and sisters do what they should know better to do?