On the 7th Anniversary of Katrina, many Gulf Coast residents find themselves in an eerily familiar place. Today is August 29th, and we are in the middle of a hurricane. The irony of a storm on this day does not go unnoticed. While the storm was entering the Gulf, all residents of the region faced the decision to either ride out the storm or evacuate. I would like to believe I am brave enough to stay for a storm larger than a category 1, but those gusts of wind out my window act as a real time reality check.
Generational residents of the Gulf Coast are people who know how to live with storms. And August was always the month to watch- even before Katrina. Exactly seven years later, extraordinary gusts of wind and rising water once again have our attention. It is in these moments that we are reminded what absolute power feels like.
A long, loud silence acts as space for actual contemplation of life and death. But as a bayou girl, I am reminded also that even the most terrible storms can create strangely beautiful moments. Hurricane parties aside, people really are different in the midst of storm. In the preparation before a big storm, all residents gear up for a fight against a common enemy. We forget that the winds riding on big storms are strong enough to blur even the most delineated race lines. Helping hands of all colors go wherever they are needed. On my street in Slidell, Louisiana, today’s hurricane makes it is clear that even after a recovery full of social shifts, we are still a community that believes that life is precious and no one has to be lost.
Over the past seven years, we have had to face the hard truth thatKatrina was nothing compared to the horrors of a man-made storm that followed her receding waters. As of today, thousands of mostly African American residents have not gotten any financial assistance to rebuild their lives or their homes- while private companies -contracted to administer federal dollars-have received millions of dollars in bonuses. People’s lives, mental health and social advancement opportunities have been gutted- not during a fair fight- but while the Gulf Coast struggled to get itself up off the ground.
These seven years have also yielded systemic acts of terror on some of this nation’s most unique land and people. The United Houma Nation goes into its third generation of fighting for its right to be recognized by the federal government. Black and Brown men are being served-up on a silver platter to the world’s largest prison population through a system used to maintain social power and break the human spirit. The duty to educate the next generation of leaders is up for the highest bidder and the fight for leveling the playing fields has reverted back to a fight of the “haves” versus the “have nots”. All this while wealth disparities in the nation’s poorest states grow to levels not seen since the times of reconstruction.
While some healing and repair have occurred, practices and systems that maintain the unfair balance of power in this region returned through windows of recovery and opportunity. The Gulf region has reclaimed its title of being a leader in civil rights violations. Racial profiling resurrected from its pre-Katrina life with patrolling cops and has been morphed into a tool that legislators and elected officials use to privatize public education, health care, environmental clean-up and disaster recovery. And this latest round of Redistricting, voter roll purging and voter intimidation is likely the final nail in the coffin of human rights that floated out to sea in the waters of Katrina. There is no doubt about it- we are still in the midst of a storm.
It would be wise to resist attempts of well-funded marketing to prop up this region’s cosmetic changes as the “roadmap for success”. Those are false claims of success- or at best, incomplete ones. The inequities that have led to real disparities in the Katrina recovery should never be the standard for a country that prides itself on being the best. Even with all of the innovation and good will offered during the last seven years, this region continues to endure the brazen theft of social power by leaders who choose to maintain the systemic oppression that has existed in the Deep South for generations. And political gain has been the main culprit for what has not happened in seven years.
In these seven years of recovery, there have been many wrong turns. But today, in the middle of a storm- I see a type of Gulf Coast courage return and slowly replace the fear that many of us have been carrying around- some for generations. In this revealed courage, there is a safe place to house our fear as we remember what it is to have reverence for things greater than ourselves. It is this courage that gives me hope that tomorrow we will see each other as neighbors and take responsibility for the community that we all have part in maintaining.
Generations of history assure me that storms come and storms go- and that beautiful moment after the winds calm- is soon to come. These 75 mph winds act as an impressive reminder that each of us has small yet vital roles in the grand scheme of life. At present, my sole job is praying that the great oak in my front yard earns her title and stand strong against the hurricane forces. And I look forward to that moment after the storm and before the power returns. I want to cherish that point in time when Gulf Coast neighbors will see each other as humans with a shared history and the fortitude to make it through a storm. People of all races will inquire after each other’s family. And we will see courage manifest into action as we make sure that everyone is alright and as the Gulf Coast’s once again declares it survival from another storm.
COLUMBUS, OH – Today a national Coalition of Black Male Achievement Initiatives (BMI) filed an amicus (“friend of the Court”) brief at the United States Supreme Court in Fisher v. University of Texas, a high profile college admissions case to be heard by the Court next term.
The BMI brief urges the Supreme Court to examine the low numbers of African American males currently enrolled at selective colleges and universities before deciding whether to prevent admissions officers from considering race along with other aspects of an applicant’s biography when putting together a diverse entering class. Studies of college diversity rarely uncouple information about a student’s race or ethnicity from his gender, the BMI brief notes. This obscures the fact that—even with the use of holistic race-conscious review—the numbers of African American males currently enrolled at selective universities are already distressingly low.
“As a percentage of the student bodies at selective flagship universities,” the brief states, a 2006 survey revealed, “the average black male enrollment rate at these institutions was a stunning 2.8%.”
The BMI brief urges the Supreme Court to uphold the admissions procedures of the University of Texas at Austin (UT), which permit admissions officials to consider race along with a number of other factors when putting together a diverse entering class. Abigail Fisher challenged the constitutionality of those procedures after being denied admission, claiming she was rejected due to her race (Fisher is white).The BMI brief was filed along with dozens of others, making the case one of the most heavily briefed cases in Supreme Court history.
The BMI brief notes that, in Fall 2009, “only 1.79% of UT’s full-time first-time undergraduates were Black males (129 Black male freshmen out of 7,199).” The elimination of race-conscious admissions procedures will make this crisis even worse, the BMIs argue.
Beyond UT’s interest in student body diversity, the brief also urges the Supreme Court to recognize that states have an interest in addressing the harmful effects of racial isolation and the severely disadvantaged social conditions that surround and negatively impact the lives of many of their African American residents. African Americans continue to be disproportionately isolated from educational, economic and social opportunity to a degree not experienced by any other racial or ethnic group, the BMI brief argues, and states have a compelling interest in reducing conditions that impair the equal opportunity for advancement of their residents. Failure to address such social conditions imperils the well being of all of a state’s residents, the BMIs assert.
“Decades of isolation in the nation’s most disadvantaged communities have fueled, grave White/Black health disparities, negative educational outcomes and enormous income and wealth gaps for African Americans,” said Shawn Mooring, Network Manager of the 2025 Network for Black Men and Boys, which led the effort to file the brief.
“These enduring patterns of social inequality will worsen if pathways to academic opportunity for Black youth are blocked,” the brief argues.
For more information, contact Shawn Mooring, Network Manager/Member of the 2025 Network for Black Men and Boys, at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit http://www.2025bmb.org/; Sharon Davies, Executive Director of the Kirwan Institute, at (614) 688-5429 or email@example.com and visit www.kirwaninstitute.osu.edu.
About the National 2025 Network for Black Men and Boys
The mission of the 2025 Network for Black Men and Boys is to collaboratively further the educational, social, emotional, physical, spiritual, political and economic development and empowerment of African descendant men and boys in the United States.
About the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity
The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity is an interdisciplinary, engaged-research center founded in 2003 at The Ohio State University. The Kirwan Institute works to create a just and inclusive society where all people and communities have the opportunity to succeed.
New Orleans, Louisiana- The Black Men & Boys Initiative (BMBI) at Moving Forward Gulf Coast, Inc. is helping to shape a new future for Black Men and Boys in New Orleans. And Executive Director, Trupania Bonner has been invited to speak on a panel with nationally known advocates, to talk about how racial profiling impacts Black Men and Boys.
The Faces of Profiling call will take place on June 29, 2012 at 12pm CNT. For more information visit: http://www.rightsworkinggroup.org As a part of Racial Profiling: Gender and LGBTQ Awareness Week, the Racial Profiling: Face the Truth campaign is hosting a conference call to explore the intersections of race, gender, and sexual orientation as they correlate to racial and religious profiling in our communities. Speakers will discuss the impact of racial profiling on immigrant women, women and men of color and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of color across the country. Don’t miss this exciting call where we connect more dots to recognize the inherent commonalities in our movement to end racial profiling.
Pabitra Benjamin, Rights Working Group (Moderator)
Rights Working Group (RWG) formed in the aftermath of September 11th to promote and protect the human rights of all people in the United States. A coalition of more than 330 local, state and national organizations, RWG works collaboratively to advocate for the civil liberties and human rights of everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, citizenship or immigration status.
This national group identified Racial and religious profiling as a pervasive problem that affects many communities across the country. RWG public statements assert that:
In addition to targeting the African American community, racial and religious profiling also affect a broad range of communities, including Native American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities. Not only is racial profiling humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, it is unconstitutional, it is an ineffective law enforcement practice, and it damages community security.
RWG’s Racial Profiling: Face the Truth Campaign seeks to win reforms in local, state and federal policies to end the practice of racial profiling by law enforcement. Racial profiling is an ineffective law enforcement practice and it is often the entry point into a broad range of other human rights violations. RWG sees the fight against racial profiling as a part of a broader struggle to achieve racial justice and human rights for everyone in the United States.
Moving Forward’s Black Men and Boys Initiative multi-year initiative is composed of strategic community and national campaigns that focus on issues of critical impact on the ability of Black Men & Boys to live their best lives. Programs and campaigns of this initiative work toward one shared vision of helping to make the greater New Orleans a place where Black Men & Boys can thrive. For more information visit: www.movingforwardgc.org
A CITY’S population size is more than just a number: it determines how many representatives it can send to the state legislature and Congress, and it often determines how much money it receives from state and federal programs. Bigger cities, and faster-growing cities, tend to attract more business investment, professional sports teams and public attention.
Not surprisingly, cities pay a lot of attention to the Census Bureau’s annual population estimates, which take place between the decennial censuses. And when these come in lower than expected, many will fight hard to revise them upward — 39 cities and towns successfully challenged their 2008 estimates alone.
But, because the process is so politicized, it often results in significant overestimates. While local governments and civic boosters might cheer such an outcome, population overestimates can ultimately lead to a dangerous misallocation of scarce public resources.
Such overestimates have been especially problematic for New Orleans. According to the original census estimates for 2007, the city’s population stood at 239,124, which independent sources, like voter turnout and death records, indicate was a reasonable guess. But after heavy lobbying from then-Mayor Ray Nagin’s office — claiming the bureau’s methods missed large numbers of poor residents — the number was revised upward by about 20 percent, to 288,113.
A similarly successful challenge to the 2008 initial estimate led to yet another substantial uptick; combined, these revised estimates put the city on pace to recover almost all the residents it had lost after Hurricane Katrina within a few years.
Several of us living in the city, who were monitoring its repopulation rates, knew these figures were implausible. And yet city hall cheered the results.
Until, that is, the 2010 census count was released this year, showing the actual population size was almost 100,000 people smaller than what the revised numbers implied it should be — a psychological bucket of cold water thrown on a still-fragile city. The inflated estimates misled government, businesses and residents as they made life-altering decisions about where, when and how much to invest in the city’s recovery, and they diverted attention from some of the most serious problems that New Orleans was facing — and still faces — after the disaster.
Take, for example, the homicide rate. The revised estimates of population size diluted the city’s murder rate, since a larger population results in fewer murders per capita. The lower rate may have stemmed some damage to tourism and investment; certainly the numbers allowed the government to spend its precious resources on items other than public safety. But in reality, they obscured the fact that in the years after Katrina, New Orleans had not only the nation’s highest murder rate, but a rate never before recorded for any American city.
Had the Census Bureau held firm on its original estimates, the singularity of our murder morass would have been apparent, and we would have been better positioned to marshal the local, state and national resources required to fight it. An inability to effectively monitor our city’s population has likewise hampered New Orleans’s efforts to plan for our future health care needs, education needs and other essential services. Consultants have found, for example, that a hospital under construction is larger than needed for the number of people who actually live there.
Such over-adjustments are not limited to New Orleans. Of the 38 other successful challenges to census estimates in 2008, 78 percent resulted in a figure that now appears to have been too high.
No one should fault a city for cheering its own recovery, and cities should be free to challenge estimates that they suspect are too low — indeed, many challenges are initially correct. But the process has become politicized in a way that favors short-term interests: cities are often less concerned about getting the number right than in getting the number higher, leaving the resulting problems to subsequent administrations to sort out. Moreover, the Census Bureau is led by appointees without fixed terms, making them vulnerable to political pressure.
One immediate solution, then, would be to appoint bureau directors for five-year terms, which would help ensure that population figures are based on scientific evidence and would help limit political influence from elected officials, their constituents and special-interest groups.
Doing otherwise is no favor to the local jurisdiction requesting an uptick. The day of reckoning always comes, and in the meantime, cities like New Orleans are left without the data needed to direct scarce resources toward their most pressing problems.
Mark J. VanLandingham is a professor of sociology and demography at Tulane University.
by Census Director Robert Groves
Posted on July 15, 2011
I have devoted much of this blog over the last two years to discussions about how the taxpayers who finance federal statistical findings can evaluate the quality of our work. Federal statistics play a critical role in our democracy, providing objective and documented measures of our economy and society. We often take these measures for granted, assuming that the federal statistical system will continue to provide timely, reliable, and relevant current measures of our economy and society as well as periodic benchmark measures.
Each year the Congress and the Executive Branch work to formulate a budget for the Federal government, including the Census Bureau. Given our nonpartisan mission, we are careful both to avoid any appearance of partisan views, and to be straight about the statistical and scientific consequences of budgetary decisions. To do otherwise would erode public confidence in the statistics themselves.
As the country continues to debate about its fiscal future, the budget spotlight this week came to focus on the Census Bureau. We began developing our Fiscal Year 2012 budget last spring. In formulating that budget, we reviewed our existing economic and demographic statistics programs and determined that we needed to terminate a number of existing programs such as the Current Industrial Reports program, the Statistical Abstract, and our foreign demographic analysis program to mention a few, in order to fund higher priority programs. In anticipation of tight spending limits, we have been making numerous cost efficiency moves throughout the Census Bureau. Last month we announced a decision to close six of our twelve regional offices. We have delayed filling hundreds of vacancies at our Suitland, Maryland headquarters, and have taken steps to achieve long term savings through consolidation of IT resources and innovative business processes. I have tortured readers of this blog by repeated notes about my beliefs that we must become more efficient to survive.
The President presented a Census Bureau budget to Congress that was a real 11% cut from our funding the previous year. The Appropriations Committee in the House of Representatives has taken the first official action on that proposal, and cut that proposed budget further by 16.5 percent; our periodic programs request was cut 21 percent. The next steps for our funding bill are to be considered and then passed by the full House, then sent to the Senate.
A cut of this magnitude in our periodic programs account means we cannot do all the work the Congress has asked us to do. Our ability to provide high quality and comprehensive statistical data will be severely diminished if we sustain such a large budget cut and we will be forced to cancel major programs that provide critical benchmark measures. This reduction also will force the layoffs of up to 700 employees from our headquarters workforce of almost 4,600. In addition to the personal hardships that would cause the hard working, dedicated employees of the Census Bureau, the loss of scientific, technical, and professional expertise that would result from losing such a high percentage of our workforce would have programmatic and data quality repercussions for years to come.
If you are reading this blog, you probably already know how the data provided by the Census Bureau underlies much about what we know about our economy and our people. For example, the Bureau of Economic Analysis uses the statistics from the Economic Census to benchmark Gross Domestic Product (GDP) estimates and prepare input-output tables – the fundamental tool for national and regional economic planning. During benchmark years such as 2012, about 90% of the data used in calculating GDP comes from the Census Bureau. The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses Census Bureau statistics to benchmark producer price indexes and prepare productivity statistics. The Federal Reserve Board uses our statistics to prepare indexes of industrial production.
Businesses use our statistics for site location, industry and market analysis, to make investment and production decisions, to gauge competitiveness, and to identify entrepreneurial opportunities. Detailed industry information for small geographic areas permits state and local agencies to forecast economic conditions, plan economic development, transportation, and social services. Using our statistics, national and local news media report back to investors and the general public their personal evaluations of how well the economy is doing and how our society is changing.
We too are taxpayers, and we greatly appreciate these are difficult fiscal times. That is why we took steps to shrink our budget and find efficiencies that would not put our major, key surveys at risk. I will be writing more here as our funding legislation works its way through Congress.
The U.S. Department of Justice has pre-cleared state legislative Redistricting maps submitted by the Louisiana Legislature for the Louisiana State Senate. As you all know a coalition of neighborhood associations, non-profits, and officials over three parishes consisting of over 2,000 residents have been fighting to maintain their “Community of Interest” and attempting to protect the right to fair representation guaranteed by the Voting Rights Act.
Moving Forward Gulf Coast, ENONAC, the Northshore Citizens Alliance, VOTE, neighborhood and civic organizations, social justice advocates, advocates for fair representation in our nation’s democratic system of governance and concerned citizens are all extremely disappointed that the U.S. Department of Justice has given its stamp of approval to redistricting plans for the State House of Representatives and State Senate that clearly violate both the standards and intent of the Voting Rights Act by unnecessarily weakening the ability of racial minorities to elect candidates of their choice and to preserve their communities of interest.
SB 33 “The People’s Plan”, preserved 4 out 5 majority-minority districts in the metro area, while Chassions’ “octopus” map retrogressed from 5 to 3. We graded two out of three better in compact and contiguity testes, while dividing fewer subdivisions. The People came together and contributed to its development and went on record to offer this alternative plan, but were completely ignored by the Senate committee.
Community residents, clergy and lay leaders, and elected officials who previously expressed their concern about the plans to the Justice Department will now be looking closely at all legal options, including the possibility of a court challenge to the plans, to help ensure that the redistricting process is not abused to divide and conquer communities of color and undermine fair representation. We are puzzled that the Justice Department has chosen to ignore a viable alternative to the map the Louisiana Senate adopted, one that would have maintained four out of five majority minority Senate districts in theNew Orleans metropolitan area and preserved fair representation for communities across the city, and the citizens of eastern New Orleans and the Lower Ninth Ward in particular.
Please continue to stand with us as we move forward in the pursuit of justice for all.
Nearly six years ago, the African American community in Greater New Orleans suffered a devastating and disproportionate blow from Hurricane Katrina, as the storm’s wrath and subsequent failures of relief and recovery programs drove thousands of minority residents from their neighborhoods and delayed their timely return to the only homes and livelihoods many had ever known. Now the state’s legislators want to punish these long-suffering but resilient Louisiana citizens once again, by approving a redistricting plan for the State Senate that weakens the political clout of these residents in the halls of power, thereby diminishing even further any chance for a full and fair recovery for all communities.
The magnitude of the region’s population loss in the wake of Katrina became clear with results from the 2010 Census. The enumeration recorded a population of roughly 344,000 for New Orleans, down almost 30 percent from its pre-storm level. New Orleans lost roughly 140,000 residents overall, 118,000 were African American. Yet the minority population across the State grew. With political representation constitutionally tied to population shifts among and within states, the loss cost Louisiana a seat in the U.S. Congress and threatened The Big Easy’s political influence in Baton Rouge, and alas, this Redistricting process is the nail in the coffin to a fair and just recovery for New Orleans post-Katrina.
With off-year elections forcing the legislature to follow a tight timetable for redistricting based on the new census data, the Senate moved quickly and, perhaps not surprisingly, stealthily to consider a plan put forth by chamber President Joel T. Chaisson II (D-Destrehan) that would reduce the number of majority-minority Senate districts in New Orleans from five to three. The Senate did little to inform Louisianans of their right to submit alternative plans for consideration and ignored testimony gathered from residents around the state about the cultural and economic characteristics that bind them together, a key factor for consideration in drawing district boundaries. Instead, Sen. Chaisson bemoaned the alleged lack of options when he pushed his plan through the chamber by a vote of 27-12 in late March.
It is just this sort of disregard for the rights of minority citizens that has subjected Louisiana to heightened scrutiny of its redistricting plans (both federal and state) under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice are examining both the process and results of Senate Bill 1, to determine if lawmakers followed rules that promote meaningful community involvement and protect minority voters from plans that unnecessarily weaken their ability to elect candidates who best represent their interests.
There’s a reason that no member of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus supported the bill: By abolishing the current District 2 (Eastern New Orleans, Lower 9th Ward), and spreading its population among three districts covering as many parishes (Orleans, Jefferson, St Bernard), the new map clearly diminishes and dilutes the votes of minority residents and all but eradicates their opportunity to elect representatives of their choice.
Supporting an alternative solution offered by her constituency and advisors, Sen. Cynthia Willard-Lewis (D-Orleans) proposed an alternative redistricting map as evidence that the Senate could comply with requirements of the Voting Rights Act and save a majority-minority Senate seat in Louisiana. Dubbed “The People’s Plan”, Senate Bill 33 would preserve four out of five majority-minority districts in New Orleans. Notably, the Willard-Lewis proposal would keep the current 2nd District — which the census showed is growing faster than surrounding areas — intact, avoiding the obvious “cracking” of communities of interest in the Chaisson plan; the latter’s treatment of eastern New Orleans’ would so blatantly marginalize minority voters that Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, for whom the infamous practice of political “gerrymandering” was named, would have been proud to call this “octopus-shaped” district his own.
Lawmakers who supported Senate Bill 1 have chosen to draw districts that best protect their political futures instead of creating a map that maximizes the ability of all communities, especially those that have been marginalized historically, to elect representatives of their choice. Fair-minded residents of Greater New Orleans and all Louisiana communities should let their elected officials know that a full and just recovery from the 2005 catastrophe depends substantially on redistricting plans that put people — not politicians — first.
Trupania Bonner is Executive Director of Moving Forward Gulf Coast, Inc., a community-based, advocacy organization with a mission to build stronger communities of Color with sustained civic engagement around the protection of human rights.
A truly educated man is he who has learned in school how to study and in life what to study.
—W. E. B. DuBois
I am a native New Orleanian. The eldest child of a teen mother and a heroin-addicted father. Born in a public hospital, raised in public housing, and educated in the public school system, I am a product of all the decaying public systems we are now working to dismantle or rebuild post-Katrina.
My father’s struggle with addiction and habitual incarceration had a profound influence on my life. And in spite of his shortcomings, he was a good daddy. He epitomized the culture of New Orleans, family, food, friends, and festivities. He would always take me and my younger siblings to second line events, and boy could he kick it (dance)!
He was well-read and articulate. He was a “street intellectual.” Everyone in the neighborhood knew him, because he was charismatic and kept a newspaper rolled up in his back pocket. The Today Show was the morning mandate in our household, and we were always quizzed about current events. He was always very honest with me about the “ways of the street,” and it is from him that I received my most important lessons about being a young woman.
Despite the warm memories, there are also many difficult ones. Like knowing that when the housing inspector came around, there were two things that we were not to acknowledge that were a part of our household: my father and our dog. Memories of my father being in and out of jail all of my life are profound. I remember the trips my mother, sisters, brother, and I made to Angola State Penitentiary to visit my dad. I was so ashamed and confused. My sister a year younger than me was angry. And my youngest sister and brother, who at the time were little more than babies, would cry that they wanted their daddy back after each visit.
Throughout all these life experiences I always wanted to understand why. I remember saying as a little girl around eight years old that I would never marry or have children, because I thought that the reason that poor women could not get ahead was because they were in dysfunctional relationships and had too many children. What I did not understand was that there were so many other external forces that created the social order and reality that I and others were experiencing.
As the determined little “womanish” girl that my father, family, and neighbors labeled me, I set out to learn and understand the truth about my community. I vigorously pursued my studies, but I came to realize that I also had a truth to be told: a truth that there are too many people outside of poor communities who define who we are and what we need. I saw through my graduate education and professional experience the powerful role that research has in defining how poor African American families are viewed. This research has a profound impact on many of the policies and programs that exist today affecting black families and communities.
In my studies, I also found that there is a major disjuncture in the literature on the attachment, role, and contributions of low-income men to family and community. As a result, I suggest that these men are both the heart and demise of many of the families and children that we propose to support through our programs and policies. These men who are our sons, uncles, brothers, cousins, and fathers can both contribute to—and pull on—the resources of already fragile families.
Two years into my graduate studies, my dad returned to prison as a very ill man and died there on Labor Day 2000, despite my efforts to have him released while in hospice care. However, he assured me he was at peace; and today his legacy lives on through my work to use research and social justice to empower and aid traditionally marginalized and oppressed people.
by Lucas Diaz, Executive Director-Puentes New Orleans
A little over two weeks ago we held a press conference in New Orleans, with support from many leading social justice minded organizations, to denounce Senator David Vitter’s use of racist images of Latinos in his campaign ads. We asked that he take the ads off the air, refrain from using them again, and open a dialogue with Louisiana’s Latino community so that he can engage with us in a more meaningful manner. Did he respond? No. Was Louisiana troubled by this? Apparently not, as it had no negative effect on Vitter’s bid for re-election.
Unfortunately, this experience should highlight the deep vulnerability that the Latino community faces in a state such as Louisiana at this time in history. Is it a stretch to make such a statement? I don’t think so. Despite the state’s rich history and heritage of Spanish and Latin American culture, we cannot with confidence rely on this heritage to offer up a positive influence over our elected officials. When a United States Senator chooses to offend one group of people in his state for the purposes of gaining political points with another group, and he does so with impunity, it is hard to ignore the message this sends. Clearly, to Senator Vitter, and other legislators in this state who intend to follow his strategy, Latinos are fair game for any number of stereotyping, prejudice, bias, discrimination, bigotry and intolerance that can be used to appeal to people’s unrealistic fears and poorly informed anger.
Add to this that we have already seen a number of attempts within the State Legislature to install Arizona-like laws, as well as the fact that our state has a majority Republican delegation in the House of Representatives and a Republic Governor that is touted as a potential Republican Presidential candidate, and it becomes clear that more of the same is to come on the issue of immigration. What can the Latino community do about this? How do we mobilize and fight any future messages or policies that disparage our community? Well, to be honest, we have already been proven insignificant by Senator Vitter’s campaign ads. Why is this the case? Because we don’t naturalize, and if we do, we don’t register to vote, and if we do that, we don’t vote. Add it all up and we are, unfortunately, unimportant to elected officials.
Now, look around nationally at the rhetoric used in immigration messages and how it impacts the Latino community. You will notice, as you may have in our own community, how the messaging intentionally dehumanizes Latino immigrants. The result? Suspicion of all Latinos. Misinformation about the Latino community. Fear that the Latino community is in your town to take your jobs, take your women and maybe even take your life. Any good student of U.S. history, specifically Reconstruction Era and the Jim Crow laws that emerged in the South, will tell you that similar messages were used to dehumanize blacks in the eyes of white voters. Candidates during that era were disparaged for being too friendly to blacks, for wanting to give black people the power of the vote. Sound familiar? It should. In campaign ads from those days, blacks were the reason white people were losing their jobs, fearing for their lives, and concerned about their women. How does that strike you?
Add to what I’ve just written the information from the following report from NPR. In this report, NPR highlights the connection between prison business interests and the Arizona immigration laws. Is this a coincidence? Listen to the report and you will hear legislators claim that it certainly is a coincidence. Really? At what point did the rest of us suddenly turn dumb? Now add to this piece of information the real economic fact that detention centers are big business. They equal construction jobs initially and sustainable public safety jobs in rural communities over the long-term. Can a connection be made among dehumanizing immigrants, specifically Latino immigrants in political rhetoric, a push for more detention centers by legislators, and a growing jail industrial complex? My imagination says yes. My ability to reason says yes. Connections can easily be made. Can they be proven? I don’t know that it matters. The State of Louisiana already has among the largest collection of local, state and federal prison complexes per capita in the United States. It’s a vital economic component of Louisiana life, but at what expense?
So what have we learned? Well, first that we are relatively powerless, because of our small number of eligible voters, to combat ongoing efforts to further dehumanize our community for ulterior motives. Second, that we can expect the trend to continue, at least for the next two to four years, of a growing negative rhetoric towards Latino immigrants across our state.
What can we do? Well, the very first thing is to register to vote and actually vote. We have to demonstrate our viability as a community by actually voting. It’s not good enough to just register. It’s not good enough to just become a citizen. We have to naturalize, register to vote, and actually vote. And we have to vote consistently, every year, to begin to show up on the record books. This is the single most important way to begin to demonstrate that we matter. There are other means, of course, from organizing community to advocate groups, going on radio, on TV, etc. But if we don’t begin to participate in the democratic process by voting, we continue to run the risk of experiencing more of the same of what we received from Senator Vitter. Do we really want to continue to live through that? I don’t want to, and I hope more Latinos agree.
Our work in New Orleans poses a particularly challenging, yet motivating, question: What does success look like for black men and boys when we consider the mountain of inequities and injustices they have historically faced here?
Discrimination has produced staggering negative outcomes for black men and boys in the areas of education, work, and incarceration, to name a few. Fortunately, there is a treasure chest of hope found in communities throughout New Orleans and in the advocates and leaders who possess a “mountain-be-moved spirit” that enables them to envision progress five years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the floods.
We asked some of these leaders to define their vision for black men and boys in New Orleans.
In 2008, the 21st Century Foundation, with support from Open Society Foundations Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA), expanded its Black Men and Boys Initiative to New Orleans. There, they support coalition-building and leadership development activities of groups seeking to improve the life outcomes of black men and boys. Trap Bonner, executive director of Moving Forward Gulf Coast, the 21st Century Foundation’s lead organization in the region:
When our organizing and advocacy efforts are successful, our New Orleans Black Men and Boys Coalition will have contributed to creating an atmosphere and environment where our men and boys can thrive. On the state and federal policy level, black men and boys will be the creators, not merely the recipients, of public policies and programs that address the whole needs of our community. We will have de-railed the school-to-prison pipeline in New Orleans and will have won victories for higher quality, culturally competent public education for our boys.
Patrice Sams-Abiodun, a board member of Women In Fatherhood Incorporated—a CBMA grantee—and the executive director of the New Orleans Fatherhood Consortium, believes in strengthening support for responsible fatherhood policies and programs:
By addressing and supporting black men as fathers we can improve the well-being of children, families and communities. The New Orleans Fatherhood Consortium, a collaborative of government and nonprofit social service organizations, fatherhood providers, researchers, funders and fathers envisions a New Orleans where the role of fathers is reclaimed in families and healthy lifestyles are created, so that neighborhoods are strong.
Remembering the events of five years ago, a win for black men and boys in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast would be for them to have the tools and ability to create better opportunities and structures than those that existed pre-Katrina. The tragedy has given black men and boys in the Gulf Coast the opportunity to reinvent the structures and opportunities available to them from the ground up!
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In the five years since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the levees broke, residents have developed innovative approaches to tackling some of the city’s—and the nation’s—most persistent problems: criminal justice reform, unresponsive government, and racial and economic inequality. In recognition of these efforts, during the month of August the Open Society Blog shines a light on people and organizations in New Orleans bringing change from within one of the country’s most important cities. Read more posts in this series.
By Colette Pichon Battle
On the 7th Anniversary of Katrina, many Gulf Coast residents find themselves in an eerily familiar place. Today is August 29th, and we are in the middle of a hurricane. The irony of a storm on this day does not go unnoticed. While the storm was entering the Gulf, all residents of the region faced the decision to either ride out the storm or evacuate. I would like ... Read More