NewBlackMan (in Exile): Higher Education in Mitt Romney’s America

Higher Education in Mitt Romney’s America

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

The media focus on student debt, on congressional battles over student loans, and the scarcity of jobs for college graduates obscures the racial and class dynamics that define America’s colleges and universities. With the public discourse surrounding the unfairness of affirmative action for Whites, the threat that Ethnic Studies represents to (White) America, and the absence of “White student unions” in college campuses, public discussions re-imagine Whiteness as precarious, and Whites as victim and at the frontlines of a changing educational landscape. Despite the daily lamenting of the state and future of America’s White students, particularly those with middle and upper-middle incomes, college campuses are still White. In fact, Whites, particularly those whose parents are part of the top 5% of the income distribution, continue to reap the benefits of privilege in (1) admittance, (2) scholarship, and (3) treatment. Let’s not get things twisted here; these colleges and universities are in America, so yes the rules of the game (racism, sexism, classism) do apply.

In 2005, less than one in eight youth from the poorest 25% of society would enroll at a 4-year college university within 2 years of high school graduation. According to Peter Schmidt, author of The Color of Money, “a rich child has about 25 times as much a chance as a poor one of someday enrolling in a college rated as highly selective or better.” Colleges’ overreliance on SAT scores, heightens cultural bias, and the unequal advantages resulting from SAT prep classes, which have proven to benefit Whites and the middle-class. In addition, because admissions give credence to a school’s reputation (which cannot be seen apart from segregation, and racial and class inequality), the rules and the game of college are set up to advantage Mitt Romney’s America: the already privileged. Worse yet, the hegemony of the narratives of meritocracy and the illusion of diversity—which Lani Guiner describes as “a leaf to camouflage privilege”—obscure the endless privileges afforded to the members of middle and upper middle class White America, before they ever step foot on a college campus.

This is evident as we look at the racial and class stratification of student loans and other forms of aid. The Chronicle of Higher Education found that “colleges with more than $500 million in their endowments…served disproportionately few students from families with incomes low enough to qualify for federal Pell Grants.” In other words, the money that makes college a possibility is funneled to those whose families often have the requisite dollars to make college a reality. Schmidt tells us that “[j]ust 40 percent of the financial aid money being distributed by public colleges is going to students with documented financial need,” adding that “[m]ost such money is being used to offer merit-based scholarships or tuition discounts to potential recruits who can enhance a college’s reputation, or appear likely to cover the rest of their tuition tab and to donate down the road.” Despite the widely circulated, albeit factually false ideas about students of color and scholarships, the vast majority of scholarship money finds its way into the pocket of White students.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan (in Exile): Higher Education in Mitt Romney’s America.

Dr. David J. Leonard: White Denial and Black Middle-Class Realities (Part 1)

White Denial and Black Middle-Class Realities (Part 1)

The denial of racism is an obsession of white America. In what has become a holy trinity of sorts – accusing others of playing the “race card;” noting the election of Barack Obama; and citing the success of the black middle class and/or the black elite – the denial of racism and the demonization of those who demand that America fulfill its creed of equality plagues contemporary racial discussions. It is a rarity to witness a conversation about race, whereupon this holy trinity isn’t deployed, derailing the conversation before it even begins. Whether highlighting segregation or inequality in access to education, health care, or countless institutions, whether noting the realities of stop-and-frisk or daily confrontations with American racism, the response is often the same: denial, denial, denial.

In an effort to have an honest conversation and to push the conversation beyond this myopic fantasy, I thought I would give the denial crowd some facts. This is for those who like to cite the black middle class as evidence of a post-racial America; this is for those who cite the black middle class (likely never having a meaningful conversation with a person of color of any class status) as evidence that poverty rates, incarceration rates, educational inequality or health disparities is the result of faulty values or a poor work ethic. This is my response to those who dismiss the injustice and inequality endured by poor communities of color – the working poor – by noting the purported American Dream experienced by the black middle-class. For all of them, here is a little dose of reality.


Despite the continued invoking of the black middle-class, the realities of inequality and persistent wealth disparities within the middle-class reveal a different reality. In other words, the wealth on the ground reveals a reality rather entirely different from this white fantasy. According to a 2011 study from Pew Research Center, whites possess 20 times more wealth than African Americans and 18 times that of Latinos. More succinctly, whereas the average white family had $113,149 dollars of wealth, “the typical black household had just $5,677 in wealth (assets minus debts) in 2009, and the typical Hispanic household had $6,325 in wealth.” As of 1999, whites and blacks similarly situated within the “educational middle class” live in distinct wealth words. Whereas whites possessed $111,000 in median net worth, black families had only $33,5000 dollars; in terms of assets the disparity with $56,000 to $15,000 (Shapiro, 2004, p. 90-91). If we look at “the occupational middle-class” an equally pronounced gap is visible: whites had only $123,000 in median net worth and $60,000 in median net financial assets compare to $26,500 and $11,200 for African Americans. Across the various categories that comprise the middle class, white families possess “between three and five times as much wealth as equally achieving black middle class families.” (Shapiro 2004, p. 90-91)

While persistent wealth disparities stratified along racial lines are nothing new, the Great Recession has worsened this divide. According to Algernon Austin, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy, “In 2009, for every dollar of wealth the average white household had, black households only had two cents.” Wealth is not only transferable from generation to generation, but wealth is what allows people to generate more wealth, to invest, to borrow money for education, to pay for gymnastics or swimming lessons at some elite school, or to otherwise invest in the future. And the ongoing history of discrimination is systematically destroying the black middle-class. “History is going to say that the black middle class was decimated” during the first half of the twenty-first century, notes Maya Wiley, director of the Center for Social Inclusion. “But we’re not done writing history.” One reason we are not done writing this history is because for too many Americans, this history and this reality is both denied and obscured.

Continue reading @  Dr. David J. Leonard: White Denial and Black Middle-Class Realities (Part 1).

Dr. David J. Leonard: Whiteness Matters

Whiteness Matters

Between the racist comments, the constant use of the race denial card (this country’s most frequently used “race card”), and the absurd claims of White victimhood, our conversations about race need to change. The failed responses, at a rhetorical and a policy level in the aftermath of Katrina and post-Trayvon highlights a persistent failure to account for American racism. As Richard Wright reminded us decades ago, “There isn’t any Negro problem; there is only a white problem.” In other words, there isn’t a race card, but the injustices of persistent racism, one that not only erects obstacles but also provides unearned advantages for White America. Whiteness matters and it is time to account for American racism.

Sure, we got teary during The Blind Side and Antoine Fisher; we maybe even gave money to KONY2012 and after Hurricane Katrina; we maybe even donned a hoodie to protest the murder of Trayvon Martin. Sympathy and apologies are in great supply. As James Baldwin once said, “People can cry much easier than they can change.” I don’t even doubt there are individuals out there who are genuinely concerned about racism and injustice; I don’t doubt that there are many Whites that marched with Dr. King and whose “best friends” might be Black. None of this matters if African Americans continue to die at the hands of guns held by security guards and police officers all without justice

During the last few months, I have heard over and over again: “we are all Trayvon Martin.” Yet we are not Trayvon Martin – and we never could be. White America is never suspicious. Is it White America who is stopped and frisked in cities like New York? Can you imagine if Whites in Salt Lake City were stopped daily in search of guns, even though only .2% of those stops would result in finding a weapon? We can already hear the outrage!

Is it White America who must show their papers when stopped in places Arizona? Is it White America who endures “driving while black,” “shopping while black,” or “walking while black.” Driving or shopping while White is not an issue insomuch as Whites are able to engage in the practices without being seen as problem. White America can walk to the store without fear of being hunted down. White America can count on justice and a nation grieving at the loss of White life. We aren’t Trayvon Martin, we are George Zimmerman; we aren’t Rekia Boyd or Marisa Alexander: we are presumed innocent until proven innocent. We are seen as victims worthy of protection and mourning. The cover of People Magazine features three victims of Aurora and not the many victims of extrajudicial violence and the daily realities of guv violence.

I want you to close your eyes for a second, and imagine that your son or daughter, sister or brother, granddaughter or grandson, ventured to the corner store for some Skittles and tea but never returned? Can you imagine if Peter or Jan were gunned down right around the corner from your house and the police didn’t notify you right away? Can you imagine if little Cindy or Bobby sat in the morgue for days as you searched to find out what happened them? Can you even imagine the police letting the perpetrator go or the news media remaining silent? Can you even fathom learning about background and drug tests on your child? Can you imagine the news media demonizing your child, blaming your child for his own death?

Can you imagine the outcry if seven White youths had been gunned down by police and security guards in a matter of months? What about more than 110 in 6 months? Can you imagine the extensive political interest, the media stories that would saturate the airwaves? If the recent coverage of shooting in Aurora is any indication, there would be little else on the national media landscape. Can you imagine Fox News or any number of newspapers reporting about a school suspension for one of the victims or doctoring pictures in an attempt to make these victims less sympathetic? Can you imagine a person holding up a sign calling these victims “thugs” and “hoodlums.” Can you imagine pundits blaming White youth for wearing “thug wear” or citing THC in their system as explanation for why our sons and daughters are gunned down with unfathomable frequency. Just think about the media frenzy, the concern from politicians, and the national horror every time a school shooting happens in Suburbia or every time a White woman goes missing … can you imagine if women routinely went missing from your community and the news and police department simply couldn’t be bothered?

Continue reading @ Dr. David J. Leonard: Whiteness Matters.

NewBlackMan (in Exile): Olympic Inequalities

Olympic Inequalities

by David J. Leonard | HuffPost Sports

In a recent blog post on The Huffington Post, Kelli Goff dared to ask the unthinkable: “Why Are Some Olympic Sports Whiter Than Others?” Noting the obvious and seeking to understand the absence of people of color from many Olympic sports, Goff attempts to answer why Gabby Douglas, Lia Neal, Jordan Burroughs, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Justin Lester, John Orozco, and Cullen Jones are unusual in the white world of sports. While noting class, environment, differential opportunities (I explore this aspect here), and countless other factors, Goff stays clear of racism:

Before the eye rolling begins, this is not a column about rampant racism in sports. But it is an attempt to understand why some sports end up predominated by one racial group versus others, and the long-term social and cultural implications of such segregation on the field, court, or gymnastics mat.

Despite her attempt to push the conversation away from racism in sports (and beyond), there has been ample resistance from readers. The truth is hard to hear. The reason why America’s Olympic team is overwhelmingly white, the reason why there are so few athletes of color within many Olympics sports, is the persistent impact of racism, segregation, and institutional violence.

Embodying class inequalities, a history of discrimination, and the realities of residential segregation, many Olympic sports are dominated by whites because the spaces, the neighborhoods, the schools and the very institutions that produce those recreational and elite athletes are racially segregated. Whether swimming, diving, or gymnastics, the pipeline to the Olympics is one where youth of color find difficult entry, if not outright exclusion.

We see the consequences of inequality and segregation as it relates to our high school sports, our recreation, leisure, and play. Research has shown that people of color and particularly lower-income communities have fewer opportunities for physical activity. For example, several studies published within the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM) found “that unsafe neighborhoods, poor design and a lack of open spaces and well constructed parks make it difficult for children and families in low-income and minority communities to be physically active.”

Likewise, citing the study from Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) entitled “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010” Angela Glover Blackwell focuses on the structural impediments to a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise. “As the report illustrates, where we live, learn, work and play has absolutely everything to do with how we live. Low-income families of color are too often disconnected from the very amenities conducive to leading healthier lives, such as clean air, safe parks, grocery stores with fresh fruits and vegetables, and affordable, reliable transportation options that offer access to those parks and supermarkets.” Communities of color, and America’s poor, are disconnected from the very facilities and resources necessary to become a great champion. Access to pools, coaches, gyms, and healthy foods, remains a dream deferred for communities of color, meaning the dreams of an Olympic birth are all too distant as well.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan (in Exile): Olympic Inequalities.

NewBlackMan (in Exile): Serena Williams: “Ain’t I a Champion?”

Serena Williams: “Ain’t I a Champion?”

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

On Saturday, Serena Williams captured her 5th Wimbledon title (later in the day, she and Venus would secure a double’s title as well). Since 1999, the Williams sisters have captured 10 titles at the all-England club. Yet, for each of them, this success has not come without trials and tribulations. Over the last few years, Serena has suffered countless injures, including a blood clot in her lungs. Battling insomnia, depression, physical ailments, and the tragedy of her sister’s murder, Serena has overcome obstacles far more challenging than a Sharapova backhand. “I definitely have not been happy,” Williams announced in 2011. “Especially when I had that second surgery (on my foot), I was definitely depressed. I cried all the time. I was miserable to be around.” In other words, Serena Williams has secured greatness on and off the court, thriving in spite of tremendous hardship.

Within a culture that thrives on stories of redemption, that celebrates resilience and determination, the career of Serena Williams reads like a Hollywood screenplay. Yet, her career has been one marred by the politics of hate, the politics of racism and sexism. Last year I wrote about the treatment she has faced from fans and media alike:

What is striking about the comments and several of the commentaries as well, is the demonization of Serena Williams. Focusing on her body (reinforced by the many pictures that sexualize Williams), her attitude, and her shortcomings as a player, the responses pathologize Williams. “The Williams sisters have been criticized for lacking ‘commitment’ by refusing to conform to the Spartan training regime of professional tennis, restricting their playing schedules, having too many ‘off-court interests’ in acting, music, product endorsements, fashion and interior design, and their Jehovah’s Witness religion” (McKay and Johnson).…

“The Williams sisters also have been subjected to the carping critical gaze that both structures and is a key discursive theme of ‘pornographic eroticism’,” writes James McKay and Helen Johnson. Similarly, Delia Douglas argues, a “particular version of blackness” is advanced within the representations of the Williams sisters. We see the “essentialist logic of racial difference, which has long sought to mark the black body as inherently different from other bodies. Characterizations of their style of play rely on ‘a very ancient grammar’ of black physicality to explain their athletic success”

This monumental victory also didn’t lead to a celebration, a coronation of the greatest player of her generation (and maybe in history), but instead more of the same. The story of redemption and the beauty of her game isn’t the story found throughout the cyber world, from twitter to the comment section of various sports websites.

Her victory prompted tweets referring to her by the “N Word” and several more about her body and sexuality. Reflecting an atmosphere of racist and sexist violence, of dehumanizing rhetoric, tweets referring to her as a gorilla flowed throughout cyberspace with great frequency (some of the below appeared over the last week).

  • ·      Today a giant gorilla escaped the zoo and won the womens title at Wimbledon… oh that was Serena Williams? My mistake.
  • ·      Serena Williams is a gorilla
  • ·      Watching tennis and listening to dad talk about how Serena Williams looks like gorilla from the mist
  • ·      I don’t see how in the hell men find Serena Williams attractive?! She looks like a male gorilla in a dress, just saying!
  • ·      You might as well just bang a gorilla if you’re going to bang Serena Williams
  • ·      Earlier this week I said that all female tennis players were good looking. I was clearly mistaken: The Gorilla aka Serena Williams.
  • ·      serena williams looks like a gorilla
  • ·      Serena Williams is half man, half gorilla! I’m sure of it.
  • ·      Serena Williams look like a man with tits, its only when she wears weave she looks female tbh, what a HENCH BOLD GORILLA!
  • ·      Serena Williams is a gorilla in a skirt playing tennis #Wimbledon
  • ·      My god Serena Williams is ugly! She’s built like a silver backed gorilla
  • ·      I would hate to come across Serena Williams in a dark alley #nightmare#gorilla#notracist
  • ·      Serena williams is one of the ugliest human beings i’ve ever seen #Gorilla
  • YouTube posts offered similar responses to her victory:
  • ·      A man? look at her body, more like a silver back gorilla. I can easily imagine her charging through the jungle breaking trees while flexing those muscles. Doesn’t help that her nose looks like a gorillas as well. I keep expecting to see her zoo handlers to chain her up after the match before she can escape.
  • ·      Monkey business
  • ·      i ddnt know apes wer allowed in women tennis O_O

It would be a mistake to dismiss these comments as the work of trolls or extremists whose racism and sexism put them outside the mainstream.  Just as the Obamas, just as Dr. Christian Head, just as Mario Balotelli was depicted as King Kong in a recent cartoon, and just as just as soccer andhockey players from throughout the Diaspora face banana peels and monkey chants, the racism raining down on Serena’s victory parade highlights the nature of white supremacy.  It embodies the ways that white supremacy demonizes and imagines blackness as subhuman, as savagery.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan (in Exile): Serena Williams: “Ain’t I a Champion?”.

CHANGING LANES: What if NASCAR was Black? – News & Views – EBONY


By David Leonard

Can you imagine if NASCAR was Black?

In 2010, scholar Tim Wise and rapper-activist Jasiri X called upon their readers and listeners to imagine “If the Tea Party was Black”—how might their perception, reach and behavior be received if the race of the people involved changed?

Two years later, I think we should play this game again, but with NASCAR. Like the Tea Party, NASCAR is overwhelmingly White (there have been 5 Black drivers in its 64 year history), male, and tied to a particular set of reactionary politics. Can you imagine if NASCAR was Black?

Can you imagine the reaction to fans in “Black Power” shirts lining racetracks, as red, black and green flags and Black Panther Party imagery blanked NASCAR events? Whereas the Confederate flag—a symbol of secession and White supremacy—are commonplace at NASCAR events, symbols of Black pride would surely bring about major criticism and attacks.

What if it was an African-American driver who purposely crashed into another driver’s car, sending him airborne as Carl Edwards did to Brad Keselowski in 2010? Can you imagine if Barry Bonds, Metta World Peace, or Terrell Owens was a race car driver and how the public might respond at the sight of intentional crashes, trash talking, fist fights, and helmet throwing? Would it be “boys will be boys” or “that’s just NASCAR”? Or would the talk to turn to criminality, thugs, and “gangstas?” One has to wonder if hip-hop would take the blame, even though nobody blames country music for this type of behavior from White NASCAR drivers.

Take a recent incident involving Kyle Busch and Ron Hornaday during a Camping World Truck Series race. After bumping each other, Busch proceeded to rear-end Hornaday’s truck into the wall, ostensibly wrecking his car. While Busch received a 1-race suspension and a 50,000 fine, can you imagine the outrage, moral posturing and punishments had the driver not been White?

Although a recent study highlighted the connection between NASCAR viewing and “aggressive driving,” with no such study on the impact of watching hard fouls, one has to wonder what people are actually scared about. If an elbow from Metta World Peace and a hard foul from Udonis Haslem prompts national outrage that focus on how the foul could have killed someone or that if someone did on the street would have been in jail, a Black NASCAR driver would lead to similar statements about “cars being weapons” and “out-of-control” drivers who are obviously crazy and therefore unsafe and off the track.

If the U.S. military gave $136 Million to a Black NASCAR driver as it did to Dale Earnhardt Jr., would people see it as advertisement or maybe a handout, welfare, or affirmative action?

Can you imagine if NASCAR fans that were overwhelmingly (if not entirely) Black booed the First Lady of the United States, what might the reaction be? Whereas White fans can boo Michelle Obama and Jill Biden during an appearance at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which it is hard to imagine Laura Bush and Lynne Cheney receiving similar treatment at a Black NASCAR event; certainly such disrespect would elicit national outrage and condemnation. Can you imagine the reaction from Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, who actually thought the incident to be justifiable given the Obamas’ “uppity-ism?”

That sort of disrespect wouldn’t fly if NASCAR were Black, nor would a group of drivers refusing to meet with the president. Just this year, several White NASCAR drivers passed on an invitation to the White House, citing scheduling conflicts. We don’t have to guess what might happen given the experiences of Craig Hodges, who in 1992 while visiting the Bush White House not only wore a dashiki, but also “handed the President a letter that asked him to do more to end injustice toward the African-American community.” He was soundly denounced in the media and shortly thereafter he was out of the league.

Continue reading @ CHANGING LANES: What if NASCAR was Black? – News & Views – EBONY.

Metta World Peace and the Stigma of Criminalized Bodies Pt. 2 | Urban Cusp


Metta World Peace and the Stigma of Criminalized Bodies Pt. 2

By David J. Leonard

The elbow seen around the world and the media fallout continues to bother me. Over the last five weeks, I have found myself debating others online, yelling angrily at the television and otherwise struggling to make sense of Metta World Peace’s elbow of James Harden. As I noted in part 1, my concern stems from a media narrative that too often invokes the language and frames reserved for “criminal justice” matters (the courts). It also reflects a narrative that refuses to let MWP live in the moment, to be defined by his actions in our present. Instead, he is defined now (and as he has been since 2004) by his actions and the meaning of those actions within our racialized society. Having paid his debt to the NBA, and society, he continues to be dogged by the past, an unfair constraint of America’s criminalizing culture.

The efforts to criminalize MWP, to depict him as pathological and dangerous, as a constant threat to those on the court is illustrated in language usage but also in the constant references to his past. The constant reference to the Palace Brawl and to past suspensions without any acknowledgement of the specifics of each instance (and the differences), the timeframe involved, or the changes MWP has shown is telling. For example, many commentators continue to reference his “past,” his “history” and the fact that he has been suspended “13 times in his NBA career for a total of 111 games.”

However, few provide any specifics, as if they don’t matter. Three of those suspensions (4 games) were for exceeding the maximum allowable flagrant foul points, with another coming from his leaving the bench during an altercation that he was not involved with. Even his first suspension in the league (4 games – “With the Pacers, four games for confronting and making physical contact with Miami Heat coach Pat Riley, for taunting the Miami bench, for committing a flagrant foul-2 on Caron Butler (pushing him into the stands) and making an obscene gesture toward fans”) or two of his more recent suspensions, both of which were clearly impacted by his involvement with the Palace Brawl, points to the problems of imagining MWP as some “habitual” offender.

None of this is to excuse MWP for the elbow or even past actions (including a plea of “nolo contender” in a case where involving infliction of injury his wife, clearly his most troubling offense yet one that received much less media outrage that the elbow or the Palace). Rather, I call for specifics and reflection as a way to caution against the continued merging of the criminal justice system and public culture, between the criminal court and the basketball court. The normalization of the language of the criminal justice system and the criminalizing of “bad” bodies gives life to America’s prison culture, to America’s new Jim Crow.

This leads me to why the media coverage regarding the elbow gives me pause – why it troubles me more than the elbow itself. The intrusion of the language of the criminal justice system, the ubiquitous references to Metta’s past, and inability of others to allow MWP to move forward without the past shackling, defining, and controlling him reflects a larger injustice: the stigmas, life-sentence, and 2nd-class citizenship “afforded” to criminalized communities. “A criminal record today authorizes precisely the forms of discrimination we supposedly left behind,” writes Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness:

Continue reading @ Metta World Peace and the Stigma of Criminalized Bodies Pt. 2 | Urban Cusp.