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Latina Lista: News from the Latinx perspective > Columns & Features > Guest Voz > Guest Voz: Writing the Next Chapter on Race

Guest Voz: Writing the Next Chapter on Race

By Judith Browne-Dianis
LatinaLista — Judith Browne-Dianis is co-director of the Advancement Project. The Advancement Project is a policy, communications and legal action group committed to racial justice. It was founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1998.

Judith Browne-Dianis
In the following Guest Voz post, Ms. Browne-Dianis points out the racial realities that exist in the United States today and the role the Obama Administration must take to rectify a pattern of federal negligence that has only escalated racial disparities.

For several months, the media has been pushing the fairy tale that the United States moved beyond racism with the election of President Obama. As untrue as that is, there are people who started acting on their post-racial fantasies years ago, eight years in fact, as the Bush Administration used that excuse to essentially stop enforcing the civil rights laws we already have.
President Obama and his administration have the opportunity to take dramatic steps towards dismantling institutional racism and inequality by simply enforcing the laws that are already on the books. Rather than blindness or silence, taking this action requires us to live in reality so that we can change that reality.
On November 5th, 2008, we woke up in a nation where people of color are nearly twice as likely as Whites to live near toxic waste dumps. We woke up in a nation where healthcare inequities mean that a Black child is more than twice as likely as a White child to die before age one. We woke up in a nation where Black and Latino students are more than 20 percent less likely to graduate from school than their White classmates and more than twice as likely to be arrested when they are at school.
All of these disparities exist with government support or permission.

Despite these glaring inequalities, for the past eight years the federal government did nothing, living in the comfort of the post-racial fairytale. Thus, our government largely pursued a “hear no evil, see no evil” approach to structural racism and injustice.
The Supreme Court has refused to “hear” the evil of discrimination through decades of narrowing discrimination protections and taking away citizens’ rights to bring their complaints to the ears of the courts
In complicity with the Court, the Bush Administration willfully refused to “see” the discrimination around the country. Although the executive branch has broad power to intervene against structural racism and injustice, it turned a blind eye and stood idly as though nothing were wrong.
There is hope, however. As the Obama Administration opens its eyes and ears, we have a chance to reverse some of these terrible trends by enforcing laws we already have on the books. Let’s start with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which authorizes federal agencies to prevent discrimination by recipients of federal funding. That discrimination can be proven either by pointing to bad intentions or by revealing disparate outcomes.
This potent statute laid dormant for eight long years during which the Environmental Protection Agency could have stopped the disproportionate placement of toxic waste dumps in communities of color or construction of major highways through these communities.
The Department of Education could have ended the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately affects children of color through racially discriminatory school discipline policies or discredited the academic tracking that puts youth of color on the road to dropping out rather than to college.
The Department of Health and Human Services could have done its part to end health disparities by halting the closure of hospitals that serve communities of color. The list could go on for pages.
We didn’t achieve this new direction in the last decade for two reasons.
First, the Supreme Court stripped citizens of the right to enforce this law, leaving it to the federal government to do the job. In turn, the Bush Administration shirked the federal government’s obligation to weed out such discrimination. Thus, significant structural racism did not stand a chance of being eradicated.
President Obama has a chance to restore public faith in the government, and he can take no stronger step in that direction than by eliminating racial inequities and barriers to opportunity through enforcement of existing civil rights laws and regulations.
Simply enforcing the law will no more end racism than the election did. However, it can put us on a path toward eliminating structures that perpetuate mass inequities that contradict America’s promise.
Just as Title VI would have prohibited funding of racially segregated schools and public swimming pools with our tax dollars decades ago, it should be used to weed out today’s federally-funded injustices.
In 1970, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights wrote that the enforcement of “Title VI had failed to match the law’s promise.” The time has come to write a new script. President Obama can initiate another chapter of history by vigorously enforcing Title VI and ensuring that government is no longer part of the disease but rather part of the cure.
We have come too far to stop our progress toward equality for all.

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Comment(17)

  • Avatar
    Idler
    April 6, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    I continue to be amazed that people repeat this utterly illogical kind of thinking:
    On November 5th, 2008, we woke up in a nation where people of color are nearly twice as likely as Whites to live near toxic waste dumps. We woke up in a nation where healthcare inequities mean that a Black child is more than twice as likely as a White child to die before age one. We woke up in a nation where Black and Latino students are more than 20 percent less likely to graduate from school than their White classmates and more than twice as likely to be arrested when they are at school.
    All of these disparities exist with government support or permission
    The first point I would make is that bad weather continues to exist with the same “government support or permission.”
    There are inequalities that have nothing to do with justice or injustice. To assume that any given example of inequality is a logically illegitimate leap.
    I don’t know what the statistics are but I’m sure that a much larger percentage of Koreans are likely to graduate from high school, move away from toxic waste-dump neighborhoods and take better care of their children than are “people of other colors,” and it has nothing to do with fantasy racists helping or hurting them; it has everything to do with Koreans valuing education and hard work more than people from other minority groups.
    Perhaps even more importantly, Korean men are less likely to abandon their children or simply be unaware of their existence (illegitimacy being one of the highest correlating factors to poverty).

  • Avatar
    Karen
    April 10, 2009 at 3:27 am

    Re: “it has everything to do with Koreans valuing education and hard work more than people from other minority groups.”
    I don’t think so. Whites have not colonized Korea, so their culture is intact. Other minority groups have to unlearn all the racist brainwashing they have been fed over hundreds of years. It’s happening though, so don’t worry.

  • Avatar
    Idler
    April 11, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Karen, what is your evidence for this bizarre interpretation? It’s clear how your mind works: you begin with the simple assumption that white people are responsible for everything that is bad, then you work out the rationale for any given problem.
    What you don’t do is actually think about real things in the world, such as cultural differences that do or do not tend toward certain outcomes.
    What’s amusing, however, is that the position you so uncritically assume is actually highly unflattering to the people you style yourself as being sympathetic to: these are just helpless morons, incapable of helping themselves, unlike the Koreans.
    Karen’s message to the minorities of all formerly colonized countries: “You’ll never amount to anything because you have no culture since we took it away from you. If it’s any consolation, the fact that you’re underachieving slobs isn’t your fault, it’s Whitey’s.”
    I’ll say this: “brainwashing” people with your interpretation is only going to discourage them from making something of themselves.
    Thankfully, there are plenty of people in the world whose countries were colonized (including that of my forbears, by the way) who simply get on with life and pay no attention to such ridiculous theories.
    If you really cared about people you would work toward spurring their greater accomplishment rather than making excuses for their under-achievement as a way of congratulating yourself at your superior morality. Truly, you have a twisted outlook on the world.

  • Avatar
    Karen
    April 14, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    It’s not a bizarre interpretation. Maybe I should have worded it more delicately. I hate to break this to you, but colonialism still affects people today.
    When Mexico was still a colony of Spain, the Pope declared that the indigenous Mexicans had “souls, but not reason.”
    Can you imagine that? The Pope, who claims to be an emissary of God, declared that a certain group of people had no ability to reason. In other words, they were like animals. That declaration fueled the justification for denying education to indigenous people and for exploiting them as nothing but cheap labor. And they used religion to justify it. Be humble, know your place, don’t be competitive, money is evil, don’t use birth control, etc.–all recipes for poverty and ignorance.
    In addition, Mexican history and language has been virtually wiped out and the people led to believe that nothing much existed there before 1492 except for people who committed sacrifice, which isn’t even true. If you wipe out people’s history, they think that the colonizer is right, that they have always been degraded. The reality is that the indigenous Mexicans were an advanced civilization. That’s what they want them to forget. There is a statue in the Yucatan of an Indian bent over with a Spaniard’s boot on the back of his neck. It says, “Time stops here.”
    So when you make a simple statement that certain groups just don’t value education, as if that’s just the way they are, you have to put it into context.
    As I said before, people have to get rid of the colonial culture of the Spaniards. They have to unlearn the lies they have been told about who they are. And they have to stop giving so much power to the Catholic Church.
    I do not think this point of view is twisted. In fact, I am advocating education.

  • Avatar
    Panchito
    April 14, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Idler,
    If you don’t know the statistics how can you make all sorts of assertions concerning Koreans valuing education and hard work more than people from other minority groups?
    Most of the Korean’s I’ve met were U.S. military wives and many of them were not the type you describe on your post. Yet, I will not judge all Korean people because of them.
    There are good Koreans and bad Koreans just like all other people. In fact, one of the problems we have in the “bible belt” is the rapid growth of massage parlors. Police frequently raid these parlors because many of them are just a cover for prostitution houses. According to local news reports, the majority of the women that work in these parlors are “Asian” and between you and me – I do not think they’re from Japan.

  • Avatar
    Idler
    April 15, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    People have to decide whether they’re going to make something of themselves. If they don’t even realize what’s wrong with their outlook, then they’ll benefit from being told. That will help them to see their way toward making a success of themselves rather than being told they have excuses for being such losers, since a pope in the 16th century said something unflattering, or whatever other historical reference that has nothing to do with their lives today.
    Seriously, what kind of excuse is it for someone to say they’re a failure because the Spanish invaded Mexico anymore than someone else saying that they just haven’t been the same since the English invaded Ireland, or the Normans or Romans invaded Britain? What relevance does any of that have to whether someone decides to crack a book or not?
    It’s pathetic stuff, and it helps no one.
    Panchito, I’m really not sure what point you’re trying to make. Do you not think that a culture that values study will prove an advantage? Do you dispute that some cultures, and some families, do in fact have different attitudes toward work and study that make all the difference?

  • Avatar
    Horace
    April 15, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    “between you and me – I do not think they’re from Japan.”
    Could they be Filipinos, Panchito, because there are a lot of prostitutes in the Philippines? Filipinos are Asians. Oh, that couldn’t be possible be, because, horror of horrors, they’d be Hispanics!
    I’ve lived in Korea, and my wife is a Korean-American, and I can tell you that they are very education oriented. They have a great education system and a 98% literacy rate. How does Mexico fare? How else could the Koreans have built their nation out of ashes after the Korean war? Unlike Mexico, which hasn’t been at war since 1848, a period of over 150 years, the Koreans have become an Asian powerhouse just 50-years after being destroyed. This is why Korea has gained the respect of the world and why Mexico, a land with great natural resources and promise, is still the joke of Latin America.

  • Avatar
    Karen
    April 16, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Horace: “Mexico…is still the joke of Latin America.”
    You fool. Mexico is the second largest economy in Latin America, and its per capita income is the highest in Latin America. Mexico’s problem is that its a quasi-dictatorship with profits going to the top.
    The Korean economy is in free fall and their currency has fallen by 31%. It’s not an economic powerhouse.
    Your posts are lies. lol

  • Avatar
    Horace
    April 17, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    “You fool. Mexico is the second largest economy in Latin America, and its per capita income is the highest in Latin America. Mexico’s problem is that its a quasi-dictatorship with profits going to the top.”
    “The Korean economy is in free fall and their currency has fallen by 31%. It’s not an economic powerhouse.”
    I’ve lived in Korea and have seen with my very eyes its economic miracle. Every nation is suffering from the economic crisis, so it isn’t surprising that it too has experienced monetary devaluation.
    Korea has a literacy rate of 99 percent, on par with the U.S. while Mexico’s is 91.6 Korea has very little poverty, having a rate of 2% while Mexico has a poverty rate of 20%.
    As far as per capita income is concerned, I’m not impressed that a big pie as represented by the wealth of Mexico is in the hands of so few. That fact is enough to make Mexico the tragic joke of Latin America.

  • Avatar
    Panchito
    April 17, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    Horace,
    I’ve met many honorable and well educated Koreans and I’m sure your wife is one of them. The only point I was trying to make is that every culture has “good” and “bad” people. It is wrong to judge an entire culture because of statistics or lack there of. You have to treat everyone as individuals based on their own merits not based on statistics.
    In many countries, the problem is with their governments – not individual citizens. This explains how individuals who emigrate to the U.S. excel but were struggling in their native countries.

  • Avatar
    Karen
    April 18, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Horace blames all his problems in life on Mexicans. No matter what the topic is he starts whining about immigration as if the people on this website control the border. It’s his own people who opened the borders and who would rather hire immigrants than him. That fact causes him cognitive dissonance, so he comes in here and throws a tantrum.
    He needs to get over himself because Mexicans are here to stay.

  • Avatar
    Horace
    April 18, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    Panchito said: “In many countries, the problem is with their governments – not individual citizens. This explains how individuals who emigrate to the U.S. excel but were struggling in their native countries.”
    Governments are generated by the citizens of a country. Citizens by their actions or inaction tolerate or overthrow government. I’ve read Latin American critics of Mexico say that it is the culture of corruption and the nature of the Mexican people to accept subjugation by the elite. It’s only when Mexicans come under the influence of American culture that they tend to prosper. If it were in the nature of Mexicans to rise up against their oppressors, there would be no government to conspire with the ruling plutocrats and keep them in the economic circumstances in which the find themselves. Who makes America what it is, the citizens who elect their government or the government which they elect? Mexico is a democracy. If Mexicans really wanted progress, they’d change their government to effect it. Instead, Mexicans would rather permit their government to blame the U.S. for all their problems.

  • Avatar
    Horace
    April 18, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Karen said: “I don’t think so. Whites have not colonized Korea, so their culture is intact.”
    You’re so ignorant Karen! The Korean peninsula has been a bone of contention between China and Japan for centuries, with armies marching the length of the country. In 1910, the Japanese took the country over and stayed until the end of the Second World War. And at the end of WWII, the Russians occupied North Korea and the U.S. occupied South Korea. In spite of all this, Korean culture has survived intact and the country has overcome abject poverty and is now an economic powerhouse. The per capita income is high and poverty is low. Their literacy rate is almost 100 percent and their education system is outstanding. They have advanced telecommunications and transportation systems. Few people leave for economic reasons. Compare that with Mexico, that poster child for mass exodus in the North America. South Korea tops Mexico in just about every socioeconomic category. You people might just as well drop comparisons between Latin American countries, because none of them come close to topping a culture that’s conducive to promoting education, and equality and well-being of its people. Mexico is a joke by comparison. If you advocates weren’t so centered on Latin culture, maybe you’d spend some time reading about the rest of the world and avoid having egg on your faces.

  • Avatar
    Panchito
    April 19, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    Horace,
    I don’t share your optimistic view of Korea but they are not the reason why I post here.
    I hate to remind you of the obvious but this is a Latin website.
    Imagine a preacher who goes to a bar and is angered that the clientele there are drinking whiskey and wine.
    Instead of trying to convince the clients that they should join him at church, the preacher insults them, calls them drunks and sentences them to hell.
    How many souls do you think the preacher is going to win?
    You and some of your friends are like that preacher.
    Your confrontational and demeaning attitude detracts from the serious and civilized discussions that could be taking place in this post.

  • Avatar
    Alessandra
    April 20, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Horace, Korea is an interesting case in that the disparity between South Korean and North Korea is very pronounced.
    Being that both the North and the South are made up of the same ethnic demographic, wouldn’t you say that their respective economic and political systems have a lot to do with those differences?
    I’ve heard that when one flies over the Korean peninsula at night, the South is lit up like a Christmas tree whereas the North is in complete darkness.
    What amazes me is that with so, so much evidence that collectivism and Marxist principles do not make for a prosperous society, so many continue to this day to try to incorporate these principles into our society. Why don’t they get it?
    Maybe our system is now not working as it was meant to and needs adjusted, but Socialism just doesn’t seem to be a viable alternative to me based on so much evidence of its failure in the past.

  • Avatar
    Karen
    April 20, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    Re: “And at the end of WWII, the Russians occupied North Korea and the U.S. occupied South Korea.”
    Whites did not exterminate the majority of their population. Whites did not unleash smallpox on them. Whites did not kill them for speaking their native language and whites did not take over their land, erase their history and rename them. Whites did not outlaw their native religion and torture them until they accepted the oppressor’s religion. I repeat they have not been colonized by white people, but they were occupied for a while. I will say, though, that in the 20th century our government did many horrific things in Asia. And they have survived, and prospered. I argue that it’s because they did not lose their culture which is thousands of years old. I admire them.
    We did lose our culture and in its place we have the Catholic Church (yuck). I’m not going to argue with you anymore because you don’t know enough about the history of this hemisphere. Read “The Open Veins of Latin America” by E. Galeano.

  • Avatar
    Horace
    April 21, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    “And they have survived, and prospered. I argue that it’s because they did not lose their culture which is thousands of years old. I admire them.”
    And I view them as backward peoples who would probably be working with stone age tools today, if it were not for contact with Europeans. Far from being totally evil, Europeans gave American Indians modern tools and opened their lives up to great possibilities. By they way, American Indians, to include Aztecs were exterminating themselves in tribal warfare long before Europeans arrived on the seen. Torture and slavery were included in the normal modus operandi, so don’t give us all that crap that American Indians and Aztecs were humble innocents before the Europeans came. It’s well known that the Aztecs allied themselves with the Spanish against a common enemy, until they themselves were subjugated. Left by themselves, they might have exterminated themselves, it would only have taken just a bit longer. Your romantic ideas about American Indians of the 15th through the 19th century is just silly girl naivete.

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