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Beyond PostRacialism, Toward Opportunity and Social Justice


Barack Obama. Dr. King on Economic Justice ... Haven't we entered a post-racial moment with the election of Barack Obama? ... say that Obama is a Muslim ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Beyond PostRacialism, Toward Opportunity and Social Justice

Beyond Post-Racialism, Toward Opportunity and
Social Justice
Presentation at the MOSES 12th Annual Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. Banquet January 19, 2009
  • john a. powell,
  • Executive Director of the Kirwan Institute for
    the Study of Race and Ethnicity,
  • and Williams Chair in Civil Rights Civil
  • Moritz College of Law

Todays Conversation
  • Reflecting on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Our current situation
  • Difficulties faced by Detroit
  • Recognizing the relevance of race
  • Moving forward
  • Opportunity, coalition building and targeted
  • Importance of community organizations like MOSES

Dr. King and Barack Obama
  • Let us rise up tonight with a greater
    readiness. Let us stand with a greater
    determination. And let us move on in these
    powerful days, these days of challenge to make
    America what it ought to be. We have an
    opportunity to make America a better nation.
  • -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King and Barack Obama
  • This is our moment. This is our time, to put our
  • people back to work and open doors of opportunity
  • for our kids to restore prosperity and promote
  • cause of peace to reclaim the American Dream
  • and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of
  • many, we are one that while we breathe, we hope.
  • And where we are met with cynicism and doubts
  • and those who tell us that we can't, we will
  • respond with that timeless creed that sums up the
  • spirit of a people Yes, we can.
  • -Barack Obama

Dr. King on Economic Justice
  • Called for an economic bill of rights and a
    massive jobs program and worked on the Poor
    Peoples campaign
  • It must not be just black peopleWe must include
    American Indians, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and
    even poor whites.
  • In 1968, Dr. King supported a sanitation workers
    strike in Memphis
  • Our only hope today lies in our ability to
    recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out
    into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal
    hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.

Poverty by the Numbers
  • The official 2007 poverty rate was 12.5 percent
  • 37.3 million people were in poverty, up from 36.5
    million in 2006.
  • Poverty did not change for Whites (8.2 percent),
    Blacks (24.5 percent), and Asians (10.2 percent)
    from 2006, however they increased for Hispanics
  • The poverty rate increased to 18 for children
    under 18 years old while it remained unchanged
    for people 18-64 years old and people over 65
  • Over 3 times as many families fall below family
    budget thresholds as opposed to the poverty line

Source US Census Bureau
The Impact of Concentrated Foreclosures
  • Foreclosures pull wealth/equity and assets out of
    the neighborhood
  • Widespread displacement of renters homeowners
    tears disrupts the social fabric and creates
    instability for school age children
  • Vacant property encourages crime, disinvestment
    and public safety risks
  • These challenges eventually ensnare all residents

Disproportionate Impact
  • Surge in foreclosures
  • Nearly 900,000 homes repossessed by banks in just
    the last 12 months
  • Foreclosures rose 81 ensnaring 2.3 million U.S.
    households during 2008
  • A global crisis with racially disparate impacts
  • Nearly half of all subprime loans went to African
    American and Latino borrowers
  • even though many qualified for prime loans
  • African American and Latino homeowners are
    expected to lose between 164-213 billion in
    assets due to the crisis

Sources United for a Fair Economy, Foreclosed
State of the Dream 2008 Detroit Free Press,
Foreclosures up by 81 in US.
Detroit and Foreclosures
  • According to RealtyTrac Inc, Wayne County fell to
    10th place in 2008 foreclosure filings after
    being 1st in the nation in 2007
  • Filings fell by 7.7 from 2007
  • The rest of metro Detroit (Oakland, Macomb, St.
    Clair, Lapeer and Livingston counties) was up 42
    from 2007.
  • Bank repossessions rose 19 in Michigan last year
    and the state ranked 6th nationwide in the number
    of foreclosure filings
  • Filings are up 107 from 2006

Source Detroit Free Press, Foreclosures up by
81 in US. http//
The Undercapitalized City of Detroit
  • Detroit (like other rust belt cities) is an
    undercapitalized city with significant urban
    decline and limited new investment.
  • Other large undercapitalized cities include
    Cleveland, St. Louis, Pittsburg, Philadelphia,
    Baltimore, Newark.
  • Undercapitalized cities are categorized
    as being highly fragmented and having
    great racial and social disparities

The Core Rust Belt Region
Undercapitalized Cities
Hot Market Cities
San Fran.
Regionalism in a Detroit Context An
equity-based regional agenda in a
undercapitalized city
  • In contrast the only Midwestern regions with
    relatively low levels of disparity are
    Indianapolis and Columbus
  • Both regions have more regionalized government
    structures (Indianapolis through consolidation,
    Columbus through proactive annexation)
  • Research by David Rusk, David Miller and others
    supports this theme, finding that less fragmented
    regions as have more racial equity than their
    fragmented peers
  • Researchers feel that fragmentation (and
    corresponding exclusionary policies) produce
    greater levels of segregation and greater
    exclusion from opportunity for people of color,
    ultimately leading to greater inequity

Detroits Demographics Race
Opportunity in Detroit
  • Low opportunity communities are clustered in
    inner city, high opportunity areas are found in
    the suburbs
  • Based on an analysis of multiple indicators of
    neighborhood opportunity (poverty rates, vacancy
    rates, population change, unemployment rates,
    home values and job change, etc.)

Detroit Automakers and Race
  • Detroit car companies employed blacks at a time
    when other industries would not
  • The decent wages provided a route to the middle
    class for blacks
  • As of December 2008, nearly 20,000
    African-American auto workers had lost jobs, a
    13.9 percent decline in employment, since the
    recession began
  • African-Americans earn much higher wages in the
    auto industry than in other parts of the economy,
    and the loss of these solid, middle-class jobs
    would be devastating

Source Economic Policy Institute
Race and the Economic Situation
  • White unemployment was at 6.6 percent in
    December, but black unemployment was nearly 12
  • The unemployment rate for black men was 13.4
  • According to report by the Economic Mobility
    Project, African-American children were less
    likely than their white children to earn more
    than their parents did.
  • This is true even for middle class blacks
  • 45 of African American children fell to the
    bottom of the income scale as adults compared to
    only 16 of whites

Source U.S. Intra-generational Economic Mobility
from 1984-2004 http//
S.pdf New York Times, As Detroit Suffers, Black
Workers Hurt. http//
The Continuing Relevance of Race
  • Why does race continue to play such a critical
    role in determining societal outcomes?
  • Havent we entered a post-racial moment with the
    election of Barack Obama?
  • While significant in many ways, Obamas victory
    does not erase the persistent inequalities that
    hinder the life chances for marginalized groups

Myth of Post-racialism
  • Conservative and liberal political commentators
    termed Obama as a post-racial candidate much
    different from Rev. Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson
  • This was a color-blind election Deneen
    Borelli, National Center for Public
    Policy Research
  • Many others question the notion of past-racialism
    and worry about Obamas desire to transcend a
    critical black narrative about America
  • My fear is that, should Obama succeed with his
    effort to renegotiate the implicit American
    racial contract, then the prophetic African
    American voice which is occasionally strident
    and necessarily a dissident, outsider's voice
    could be lost to us forever. Glenn Loury,
    Brown Univ.

Racial Disparities and Inequity
  • Although racial attitudes are improving, racial
    disparities persist on every level.
  • Inequity arises as disenfranchised groups are
    left out of the democratic process.
Spatial Racism and Inequality
  • The government plays a central role in the
    arrangement of space and opportunities
  • These arrangements are not neutral or natural
    or colorblind
  • Social and racial inequities are geographically
  • There is a polarization between the rich and the
    poor that is directly related to the areas in
    which they live

Mutual Institutional Interactions
The Cumulative Effects of Racial and Opportunity
  • Zoning laws prevent affordable housing
    development in many suburbs
  • Municipalities subsidize the relocation of
    businesses out of the city
  • Transportation spending favors highways,
    metropolitan expansion and urban sprawl
  • Court decisions prevent metropolitan school
  • School funding is tied to property taxes

The Cumulative Effects of Racial and Opportunity
Segregation impacts a number of life-opportunities
Impacts on Health
School Segregation
Impacts on Educational Achievement
Exposure to crime arrest
Transportation limitations and other inequitable
public services
Job segregation
Neighborhood Segregation
Racial stigma, other psychological impacts
Impacts on community power and individual assets
Adapted from figure by Barbara Reskin at
Other Manifestations of Race
  • Historically, the notion of religio-racism
  • In 17th century, many Irish Catholics and native
    Irish (Celtic tribes) lost a considerable amount
    of landholdings due to an Act passed by the
    English government
  • From 1652 onward, racial oppressionwas anchored
    in the very bedrock of the Irish colonial
    economy, (p. 51)
  • Irish Catholics, Anglo-Irish landlords, and
    native Irish became a combined racialized

Source Allen, Theodore. The Invention of the
White Race Racial Oppression and Social Control.
London, UK Versa, 1994
Misconceptions about Obamas Faith
  • 46 of Americans unable to identify Obama as a
  • 3-in-10 say he is a Muslim or that they have
    heard different things
  • 2-in-10 McCain supporters say that Obama is a
  • Fewer than one-in-ten Obama supporters (7)
    identify him as a Muslim
  • More than three times as many white as African
    Americans voters think Obama is Muslim

Distribution of Religious Centers in the
Metropolitan Detroit
Source Pluralism Project
Moving Forward Effectively and Proactively
  • How do we make sense of all of this?
  • Understanding Opportunity
  • Recognizing our interconnectedness
  • Targeted Universalism as an approach
  • Coalition building and the role of community
    organizations like MOSES

Opportunity is Mediated
  • For much of human history, we interacted
    exclusively on a face-to-face basis within small
  • How we understand discrimination, prejudice, and
  • Now, many of our relationships are mediated
  • Technology
  • Distance
  • Institutions
  • People in foreclosure cannot find a person to
    talk to
  • And our opportunities are strengthened or
    truncated by these mediating factors

Opportunity is Global
  • Our world today is more complex and
    interconnected. Current and future changes will
    not be only driven by local/national issues, but
    influenced by systemic global trends and
  • Examples
  • Globalization
  • Climate change
  • The credit and foreclosure crisis
  • Growing diversity and widening inequality
  • We must adjust our lens of analysis to reflect
    these changing conditions
  • Moving towards a systems approach of problem
    solving and identifying solutions

Opportunity is Racialized
  • Structural racialization the joint operation of
    institutions produces racialized outcomes.
  • Structures unevenly distribute benefits, burdens,
    and racialized meaning.
  • In 1960, African-American families in poverty
    were 3.8 times more likely to be concentrated in
    high-poverty neighborhoods than poor whites.
  • In 2000, they were 7.3 times more likely.
  • This uneven distribution has negative
    consequences not just for those with the greatest
    need, but all of us.

Emphasizing our Linked Fateand Interconnectedness
  • All members of a society share a linked fate
  • Inequality is a sign of an economically/socially
    inefficient society, where proper investments are
    not made in human capital, and where much of the
    population can not meet its creative potential.
    These disparities and inequities make our nation
    less competitive, depressing opportunities for
  • should be collaborative and focus on coalition
  • recognize the interconnectedness of our being and
  • re-conceptualize society to promote the
    political, economic, spiritual, and psychological
    health of all

Targeted Universalism
  • Through collective imagination, we need to define
    what the future should look like
  • A New Paradigm! Targeted Universalism
  • What is our alternative vision?
  • A model where we all grow together
  • A model where we embrace collective solutions
  • This vision requires collective action and will
    require coalitions to be successful

Challenge False Universalism
  • An example of Transactional thinking
  • Uneven distribution of pathways to opportunity
  • Universal programs do not account for the
    differences in experience among Whites and people
    of color
  • Examples Poverty-reduction programs, social
  • Inability to reach opportunity through these
    universal programs is seen as an individual

Coalition Building
  • Move from transactional level to a deeper
    transformative level
  • Coalition across groups, space, ideology
  • Ethics of connectedness and linked fate
  • Structures, policies, institutions actively
    disconnect us whereas they could proactively
    connect us

Coalition Building and Collaboration
  • Action-linked intervention should focus on
    multi-racial and multi-ethnic coalitions
  • Leadership and coalition building will be vital
    to creating the political momentum for change
  • Regional actors must have an inclusive series of
    conversations that foregrounds equity
  • The capacity to coordinate and move various
    initiatives forward must be developed
  • Residents can help build public support for
    policy reforms

Importance of community organizations MOSES
  • Community organizations play an essential role
    especially with an administration that is likely
    to be more receptive
  • MOSES is geared toward the community and its
    mission is conducive to coalition-based
    grass-roots activism
  • Faith serves as important anchor
  • Broad engagement in a number of social issues
    including employment, healthcare, immigration,
    land banks, civil rights

MOSES Initiatives and Greening
  • Efforts to enrich and expand the mass transit
    system in Southeastern Michigan
  • Pushing for wider availability of high quality,
    healthy, and affordable foods
  • These initiatives are critical in terms of
    community building and going green
  • Pressure on Detroit automakers provides an
    opportunity for groups like MOSES to push for
    new, more environmentally friendly car product

  • Let us rise up tonight with a greater
    readiness. Let us stand with a greater
    determination. And let us move on in these
    powerful days, these days of challenge to make
    America what it ought to be. We have an
    opportunity to make America a better nation.
  • -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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