Abell Report on Baltimore Education


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



  With respect to katrina and the dispossession of the poor in new orleans, the veil has been lifted:

the white workers have no control over the government. if they had any such control,

the u.s. government’s policies in new orleans would not have been anti-worker



Abell Report on Under-Funding Baltimore Education

Demand for Career Education Especially High

On the Need to Refurbish Career and Technology Education (CTE) Programs

Conversations with Rodney, Jonathan, Miriam, Tiger, Kam


To help BCPSS explore the status of CTE in city schools and its potential role within Baltimore’s workforce development system, The Abell Foundation published the March report, “Help Wanted: Career and Technology Education [CTE] in Baltimore City Public Schools.” The report brings into stark focus CTE’s promise for Baltimore, its recent and rapid demise here, and the unambiguous reality that in its current form it is unable to provide the career orientation necessary to realize the employment prospects spelled out above. A victim of drastic funding cuts, federal policy that favors academic achievement over career skills, and management oversight, CTE in Baltimore is currently failing its students and fast becoming obsolete.

Albeit real, the funding and policy challenges posed by the No Child Left Behind Act are hardly unique to Baltimore; school districts nationwide are struggling to re-invent career programs and keep them afloat. But the high stakes, lack of intervention, and even irony characterizing CTE’s local demise may be: CTE is unraveling without any consideration by school officials of its worth or potential—in a city where high school completion rates are dismally low and increasingly specialized jobs are going unfilled.

Baltimore City needs to be in the business of workforce creation, a process that needs to start, in a meaningful way, during the high school years. This article, a synopsis of the larger Abell report, argues that BCPSS should review its CTE program and weigh whether CTE in some form has a rightful place among today’s high school reforms, rather than simply let it die—particularly if unintentionally—from neglect. . . .

For more than 30 years, the federal Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act has channeled federal dollars to CTE programs nationwide. In 2005 that pot totaled $1.3 billion—just 10 percent of vocational dollars overall, yet the single, largest source ever of federal high school spending.

Now, the Bush administration is angling to eliminate all Perkins funding from its 2006 budget and redirect it to support NCLB initiatives. While this doesn’t necessarily pose a new challenge for vocational programs—local school districts have been siphoning vocational funds to pay for high-cost NCLB mandates for years—the possible removal of Perkins money as a reliable funding stream, coupled with stepped-up pressure to produce academic results, has CTE programs across the country scrambling to remain both relevant and viable. . . .

Nowhere would that scramble seem more probable than in Baltimore, where public school system dollars are scant—recall last year’s $58 million deficit—and career programs make sense: Technical jobs abound, unemployment of able-bodied workers is disproportionately high, and less than 60 percent of entering 9th grade students make it through public high school.

According to a March 2004 article in The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore City ranks sixth from the bottom among the nation’s 100 largest cities when it comes to labor force participation:

Because some 200,000 residents 16 and older don’t have jobs, just 57 percent of the city’s working-age residents actually work.

Roughly half of all high school students drop out and nearly one-third of city adults lack a high school diploma or its equivalent, yet because many jobs require this credential there are few positions for those who do not have it.

In short, Baltimore has a labor pool; it just doesn’t have people in that pool equipped to meet current and emerging workplace demands.

Baltimore also has jobs. In its March 2004 report, the Baltimore Workforce Investment Board identified the five industry sectors with the best employment prospects for citizens of working ability and age. Within all five, demand for workers with specific skill sets—but not necessarily college degrees—is on the rise.

Healthcare/Life Sciences, Baltimore’s largest employment sector, employs 17 percent of the local workforce and was one of just three industries to grow in Baltimore City between 1990 and 2002—by 9.3 percent. Wages grew 26 percent during that time and throughout the industry vacancies and career ladder opportunities both exist, and pipeline strategies are underway.

Business Services, which employs 12 percent of the local workforce, also grew 9.3 percent during the 1990s, and statewide wages for the industry were up 51 percent.

Hospitality and Tourism employs 8 percent of the workforce, and while industry wages are characteristically low, they increased 36 percent statewide during the 1990s.

Construction Development accounts for 3 percent of total employment in the city, and average weekly wages for the industry increased 46 percent during the 1990s.

Finally, Computer, Internet and Data Services represents 5.5 percent of Baltimore’s employment—thanks to steady growth during the 1990s in which employment grew 10 percent and wages increased 47 percent—and of all Baltimore industries, it pays the highest weekly wages.

Just as jobs and potential workers exist in Baltimore, so apparently does the will and need, to work immediately after high school.

Between 1999 and 2002 some 35 percent of BCPSS graduating 12th grade students reported to the Maryland State Department of Education’s Pre-Graduation Survey that they planned to seek employment following graduation; in 2003, 6,488 of Baltimore City’s 25,543 high school students were enrolled in CTE courses, more than half of them at neighborhood schools slated for reform. Clearly what is lacking in Baltimore is the means to connect—in a strategic and significant way—these sources of supply and demand, to train Baltimore’s prospective workers to fill its jobs.

Next Steps: Concrete Actions to Strengthen CTE

Should BCPSS conclude that CTE is indeed worth preserving, there are some early and critical steps it should take.

1. Clarify CTE enrollment and programming for current 2004-05 school year.

As CTE data for this report was available only through 2003-04, prior to the dramatic 60 percent budget reduction, it is strongly recommended that the Office of Career and Technology provide enrollment figures by school, program and CTE teacher for programs offered in the current, 2004-05 school year. The Abell Foundation has offered external support for completing this process on a timely basis.

2. Align CTE planning with High School Reform Initiative.

Based on the Blueprint for Baltimore’s Neighborhood High Schools, high school reform is moving forward with little consideration for what a well supported CTE program might do to improve outcomes—despite the fact that most of the CTE enrollment is in the nine neighborhood high schools currently undergoing break-up and reform. This matter deserves the attention of the High School Steering Committee.

3. Build staffing, oversight and accountability of CTE department.

BCPSS’ CTE program reflects numerous oversight lapses that have contributed heavily to the program’s spotty system of accountability. These lapses must be addressed through increased staffing and establishment of a reliable process for identifying and tracking CTE programs outcomes. For years, CTE has functioned as an autonomous division within BCPSS. In 2001 a separate office was created to aid the High School Reform Initiative; it is strongly recommended that CTE become part of the High School Area Office to facilitate coordination and alignment of CTE programs with the creation of new high schools.

4. Conduct a program review with an eye toward consolidation.

Staffing and funding issues necessitate a rigorous review to determine essential programs and areas for expansion. Key steps in this review process would include: eliminating programs with low enrollment and high program duplication; strengthening current or adding new programs in BWIB focus areas; making BWIB a CTE planning partner; re-activating industry advisory boards, beginning with Health/Biosciences and Business Management; and ensuring that CTE funds are allocated equitably and fully provide for program needs.

Bottom Line: CTE Holds Promise

As mandated by No Child Left Behind, meeting the needs of all Baltimore City’s public high school students will require meaningful programming. Career and technology education engages students through their high school education and offers them a firm first step into the “real world.” BCPSS should fully investigate the problems and potential of its CTE program before dismantling it. On the brink of extinction, CTE may yet be a valuable strategy to meet the needs of both career-bound students and Baltimore’s workforce in the 21st Century.

Source: Abell Report (May-June 2005) —

*   *   *   *   *

Conversations with Rodney, Jonathan, Miriam, Tiger, Kam

Rodney: I hope that your holidays were happy ones. I have a question for you: I was just reading the May/June Abell Report that suggested that workforce development and high school reform ought to be done in unison. That is, vocational programs need to be expanded in urban centers like Baltimore, because there are jobs available in certain industries (the report cites 5 in Baltimore specifically), and a potential labor pool, albeit an unprepared labor pool. It seems that with the wide-spread segregation of school systems, suburban and private school students will be able to continue with a “traditional” education, while urban students are being prepared for industries needing employment immediately (and at low wages).

The report notes that 35% of Baltimore City Public school graduating seniors seek full-time employment over college, but there is no consideration on the high cost of college (which many BCPSS students can’t meet) or the fact that the BCPSS underprepares students for college to begin with. I’m probably reading too much into it. If you could take a look at the report and give me some feedback, it will be greatly appreciated.

Rudy: Rodney, I read the Abell Report. It seems excellent and on point. One cannot help but conclude that the Baltimore City Public Schools System (BCPSS) is failing the city and its residents and especially blacks.

I was struck by this figure: “Some 200,000 residents 16 and older don’t have jobs, just 57 percent of the city’s working-age residents actually work.” The city has a population slightly over 600,000 residents.

Abell considers Career and Technology Education (CTE) programs the best approach to deal with unemployment and the 50 percent drop out rate. I agree. Seemingly, BCPSS as well as the federal government has cut funding for these programs, and the federal government is contemplating new cuts in order to fund No Child Left Behind. Not only lacking funding, those schools with CTE programs suffer from lack of staffing and a high percentage of the staff is near retirement as well as out of date programs that do not meet the requirements of jobs available in the Baltimore area.

I doubt that this problem of funding and school reform will be resolved. I do not think that state and federal politicians have a real interest in resolving the crisis of urban education in Baltimore or any large city with a high black population. I do not think that BCPSS nor these politicians can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Miriam:   For any of these reform programs to work there has to be a real commitment on the part of the city school system, the business community, and local & federal governments, but I agree with you, Rudy, that there is very little real commitment to improving urban, predominantly-Black schools.  

The situation is so complex and it needs a wholistic approach, which is missing.  One component, for example, is the teachers.  Are they equipped to offer courses that prepare students for careers in medical and information technology?  Would teachers who have received a “traditional” liberal arts education be willing to retrain or to encourage the hiring of career-oriented teachers?

One institution in the D. C. area that is using the wholistic approach is SOME (So Others May Eat), I think it is.  It’s located in Anacostia, the poorest neighborhood in D. C., and operates on the philosophy that you should give people a hand rather than a hand out.  They work primarily with poor and homeless people and do the traditional things—provide clothing, food, and housing—but they also train people for the work force.  

The director did a jobs survey to see where there was the most need, and then concentrated on three programs, which I can’t remember exactly, but I think it was medical technology, hotel management, and computer sciences.  The program is offered for a modest sum (around $50) to make people feel that they’re contributing to their own development.  

They give career counseling, clothes for interviews, follow-through with the students, etc.  They have been able to place almost 100% of their graduates, some into jobs paying as much as $80,000.

The public schools should adopt some of these successful models.  Many of the charter schools in D. C. have also had great success in their programs;  they are usually small, with a good teacher-student ratio, have dedicated teachers, etc.

One thing is certain:  something has to be done because of the high drop-out rates and the high rates of unemployment.

Rudy: I am quite overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems facing blacks in Baltimore. A union friend told me last evening there is a 60 percent black male unemployment in Baltimore. A third of adults in the city lack a high school diploma or GED, and it’s probably higher among blacks, and even higher than that in some neighborhoods.

We must not consider any of this accidental or coincidental. As you saw from the Abell Report, BCPSS does not have the funds to deal with the No Child Left Behind (Bush) program. That has taken up so much focus that the CTE, an answer to the problems of dropout and unemployment, has been under-funded and understaffed. The teachers themselves seem to have no overview of the crisis and their union leaders have little or no vision of how to respond to the crises.

You may note that Abell Report had nothing to say about the State or State funding or State responses to the problems of under education and under-funding of education in Baltimore City. It leveled most of its attack against the BCPSS, which only receives funds, from the State and the Federal government and at times foundations. It did note however the federal threat to the Perkins funding. The kinds of programs you referred to are patches. There is, as you pointed out, no wholistic approach. Such an approach requires State and Federal intervention, and not merely with just accountability schemes, but overall rehauling of employment, adult education, counseling, and housing. There’s no cheap way to solve these problems.

With the state of Conservative politics in Congress and in the nation, any kind of effort to improve the conditions of blacks in urban cities will be frowned upon. It will require money that is now blown to the winds in Iraq and squandered in tax cuts to the rich. Furthermore any federal program viewed as an advancement of blacks is perceived as a threat to white privileges. If you have not done so I recommend you and others read a discussion on “policy racism” by Ron Walters in White Nationalism, Black Interests. In my view, it is necessary reading to have an overview of where we are presently and the forces now arrayed against us.

Miriam: Yes, the problems facing the Black community, not only in Baltimore but in all of the urban centers, are overwhelming and extremely complex.  The inner city schools are suffering from all of the social and economic problems that face the community as a whole:  unemployment, drugs, inadequate housing, lack of health care, disproportionate rate of HIV/AIDS, high rates of incarceration, an untrained labor force, etc.  Education alone will not solve all of these problems.  

But where to start?  There has to be state and federal support for any kind of reform of the schools, but those governments respond to the electorate, to their constituencies.  That is why I believe that we, as Black people, must use the power of the vote and of the dollar to put pressure on elected officials at all levels.

Jonathan: rod, i looked at the abell report. i also read rudy’s anlaysis which is excellent. baltimore, cleveland, detroit, d.c., new york, milwaukee, newark. . . . the numbers are basically the same. i think rudy puts it best when he says that white americans equate the reconstruction of u.s. cities with a loss of white skin privilege. how to confront this new white racism, this re-invention of white supremacy, is the question. my view is that it can be best approached from the standpoint of an attack on corporate profits. this requires the leadership of a civil rights-centered democratic party. yet the dems are going down just like the labor party in israel—they haven’t been heard from since oslo. i think the dems will perish completely within 5 years. in the meantime, the task is the same: to build a systemic alternative. this, to me, means a total withdrawal of all african americans from the democratic party. the feminists and “organized labor” are not doing it. it should be led by folk like john conyers and cynthia mckinney, barbara lee. i don’t see any alternative at this point. we need a new mississippi freedom party. the basic demands would be: (1) single-payer healthcare system; (2) 30 hour work-week for everyone, zero unemployment; (3) a moratorium on corporate profits, meaning huge progressive taxation at the state level; and (4) a national education funding system in which every district gets exactly the same money. the demands can be met by simply reforming labor law and taxing the hell out of the rich. if the rich don’t like it, we’ll charge them with treason and seize their passports.Rudy: Jonathan, Rodney, Miriam, Floyd, Herbert, Sandra, et al. I recommend that we all read Ron Walter’s White Nationalism, Black Interests, if we have not done so. I think this work might get us all on the same page. We must get beyond a lot of naivete and racial and male stereotypes now prevalent in our own communities. It is an excellent analysis of the forces now arrayed against the working class and blacks in general, including the black middle class. It is well documented and scholarly to the nth degree. As you might have noted, after the New Orleans tragedy, the view of the New Orleans elites is not merely directed against the black poor, they are also operating so that New Orleans black middle-class does not reconstitute itself and its power. Part of the problem of black middle class thinking is that there is a widespread belief that it has overcome and thus it is not fully conscious of its true position in American society. There is a White resentment of two kinds, Walters points out, 1) competition from middle class blacks and 2) forward progress of many blacks “in real and popular terms.” Conservatism in America is racially constituted: its intent is to “change the offending elements that prevent tradition from becoming prominent once again.” That “tradition” involves white dominance. Further, their “policy of racism” or “politics of resentment” is geared toward “enhanced rewards for middle-class virtues through changes in taxation and welfare programs.” I sent out a couple of days a poem “The Gift Outright” by Robert Frost and we all had trouble analyzing it. For no one wanted to say that the poem was racist, though we concluded that it was indeed from a white racial point of view, which whites do not like to discuss openly or in the media or in the history books or in English courses. What I’m saying here is that Walters has provided us a rhetoric by which to discuss this recent “White Nationalism,” which he says in essence is that what we have now replicates the reactionary forces of the first Reconstruction, about a hundred years apart. Check this passage out from Walter’s book:

“The idea that the racial/ethnic majority would dominate the state was an integral part of the context from which European ethnicities emerged to establish control over America. . . . The various white ethnicities coalesced into a ‘White’ majority group that proceeded to establish a privileged social status which has expressed its dominance over non-white groups and over the major institutions of American society.”

Now this is the reality of American life and politics. According to Rogers Brubacker,

At the heart of Anglo-Saxonism lay the conviction that the Anglo-Saxon (British) race possessed a special capacity for governing itself (and others) through a constitutional system which combined liberty, justice, and efficiency. It was a gift that could not be transferred to lesser peoples. (14)

So here we have Frost’s “gift outright.” This attitude is being globalized in the Middle East and will not be so easily undermined again as it seemingly was in the 60s and 70s when the state acted independently of the white masses. Practically, I do not think that African Americans politicians will abandon the Democratic Party for the abyss, the unknown. For there are individual and private gains still to be had. But what we can do, as Walters suggests, is to understand that the game has changed since the 60s and 70s and that the rhetoric of that era will not work today. White politicians have wised up. Our job today is to make ourselves more aware of the politics of the Democrats as well as the Republicans. We then must make use of alternative media to present a different narrative than those allied with the Democratic Party. In the first Reconstruction era we were allied since the 1860s with the Republican Party, and they gave us up to the wolves of the Southland and gave their blessings to the Plessy Decision, terror and disenfranchisement of the Negro. The Democratic Party, our allies that we allied ourselves with in the 1960s and 1970s now have given us to Conservatives of every stripe, the new wolves, and they have done it out of political expediency. For example, Clinton and his welfare initiative and state block grants. 

What has occurred in the last three decades will not be easily turned around. The last time it took us a century to restore the black vote. It might take us half that time to restore the social safety net programs now being whittled away. 

We indeed have to move beyond this blind alliance with the Democratic Party.

Floyd: Yes, I used Ron Walters’ book in courses on Black politics and the politics of racism when I taught at NCSU a few years ago.  What is also significant about his piece is the discussion of mounting right wing development in Black communities.  In my judgment, it is this trend that Tommie Shelby overlooks in his recent book, We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity.”  This conservative shift threatens to fracture Black communities in ways that we may not be able to comprehend at the present time.  Don’t forget Kalamu’s critical comment about the mayor of New Orleans.

Miriam: I’ll pick up a copy of the book as soon as I return to D. C.

Kam: Will order the book.

Tiger Davis: Rudy, This is consistent with the european critics as well.  For instance, Philip V. White, in his discussion on racism, suggested that “racism derives its significance from the differential power among racial groups such that one group is capable of consistently dominating other groups, thereby reinforcing its belief in the inferiority of other groups… Racism can not be studied outside of the configuration of power in which it is embedded.”  He concludes that this “configuration puts the European in all manner of relationships with the non-European world without ever losing the upper hand.”

Ron Walter has hit the nail on its head; however, most black leadership ignores this reality. 

Jonathan: rudy,  thank you for recommending ron walters’s book. i’m going to read it next week. i wanted to respond to the passage you quoted from his text:

The idea that the racial/ethnic majority would dominate the state was an integral part of the context from which European ethnicities emerged to establish control over America. . . . The various white ethnicities coalesced into a ‘White’ majority group that proceeded to establish a privileged social status which has expressed its dominance over non-white groups and over the major institutions of American society.

this is obviously true, but at least in this passage the onus is put on the poor and propertyless euroamericans (white workers) rather than on the anglo-american capitalist class. i have been reading closely this new discipline called “whiteness studies,” and i’ve published a few essays on it (see in particular “peculiar relations,” in socialism and democracy… it can be read on-line, and also “inside the white race corral,” in the minnesota review, and “the generalist versus the professionalist,” in politics and culture.) the problem with whiteness studies, in my opinion, is that it lets the ruling class off the hook. katznelson’s new book, which has been highlighted by rudy on chickenbones (“when affirmative action was white”) is an exception to this general pattern. i think katznelson’s thesis is excellent and i’ve read his book closely, it’s a very important book. he shows convincingly that white racial oppression has been a deliberate ruling class social policy, designed to bamboozle white workers. his focus on the new deal policies is exactly right, because it was here that the ruling class showed its hand: to avoid a mass multiracial or multiethnic working-class struggle against capital during the great depression, the capitalists bribed the poor whites with white affirmative action, on the condition that they keep blacks down and out. this same story is told by theodore allen in his great work, the invention of the white race. thus when walters says that through white nationalism “European ethnicities emerged to establish control over America,” he seems to suggest that white workers actually run the u.s. government. i will read his book to find out more. as rudy just pointed out with respect to katrina and the dispossession of the poor in new orleans, the veil has been lifted: the white workers have no control over the government. if they had any such control, the u.s. government’s policies in new orleans would not have been anti-worker, as they have been. they would have been aimed directly at solving the crisis from the standpoint of the workers in the gulf, not the capitalist employers. and this worker-centered approach would have immediately benefited the vast majority of african americans in new orleans, who are workers. “white nationalism” is a tricky term because it implies a poor white direct involvement in the government, a la german nationalism under the nazi regime. yet the socioeconomic facts contradict the white nationalism thesis. white workers have not benefited at all from u.s. imperialism in latin american and the caribbean, nor have they benefited from the u.s. destruction of iraq and its pro-israel policy in palestine. compare this with german workers under nazism. under nazism, german workers saw their wages improve as well as their standard of living. this was a classic case of racial nationalism. you can also see this with french workers and french imperialism in algeria. but in the u.s., white workers have seen their wages decline and their standard of living erode substantially. can you imagine, under german racial nationalism, berlin losing 800,000 manufacturing jobs in less than 10 years? yet this is exactly what’s happened in new york city. if you look at detroit today, this fact is painfully obvious: hundreds of thousands of jobs gone and never coming back. this is “white control over america”? if this had happened under german racial nationalism, the german workers would have overthrown the nazi regime in less than a week. everything in the u.s. is upside down. i like how langston hughes once put it in his essay “hold tight–they’re crazy white”: “it’s like alice in wonderland walking upside down.”

Rudy: Jonathan, I agree that Walters’ book needs to be supplemented. It is not however a “white studies” book. It is probably best classified as a “policy studies” book. It primarily deals with the turn around in the 80s and 90s of government policies and the action and interactions of the Democratic and Republican parties in developing policies or legislation that undermines political gains made under FDR (30s and 40s) and LBJ (60s and 70s). Most of all, it deals with how race or a “white nationalist” ideology uses blacks as a “target” as a means of passing legislation that benefits ultimately neither white workers nor the nation as a whole.

Here’s Walters’ carefully crafted definition of “White Nationalism”:

White Nationalism might be defined as that radical aspect of the Conservative movement that intends to use both unofficial power and the official power of the state to maintain White Supremacy by subordinating Blacks and other non-Whites (26).

I quite agree also that white workers have consistently voted against their economic interests by installing a Conservative Congress and Conservatives in the White House of both parties. Why have they done that? And how have they done that? And what is the policy impact of these Republican and Democratic regimes on black progress? These are the questions that Walters attempts to deal with. He does not consider, he reminds us, that every white person is a White Nationalist. And, according to Floyd, he does not let blacks off the hook for their collaboration with such policymakers.

But of course we do not need “all,” just a critical mass to achieve the same ends. White workers probably do not run the government but a substantial mass of white workers are still subject to white nationalist sentiments and thus the attraction of the Republican Party. I think this is the point that Walters is making. I am still in the process of reading the book. So I might have my own criticisms of the shortcomings of the book.

I indeed recommend that we take a look at Katznelson’s essay New Deal / Raw Deal and his books or Theodore Allen’s The Invention of the White Race. What is pressing about Walters’ book is that it deals with issues and struggles that we are all familiar with in the last two decades. I am  having the Introduction of White Nationalism, Black Interests typed to post so as to present a clearer sense of the direction of the book.

The tie of “whiteness” and government policy seems to me central to developing a movement to deal with how corporations fuel the disruption of unity among workers. You might have noted the anti-unionist and racist stance of the readers of both the Times and the Village Voice— Rudy

Rodney: Rudy, Jon: “There is really very little conflict between labor and capital. The conflict in my section, if any should come in the future, will not assume the form of labor against capital, but of race against race.” —John C. Calhoun, 1883

“The money power will endeavor to prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the people until all the wealth is aggregated into a few hands and the republic is destroyed.”—Abraham Lincoln

I think that these two quotes situate the conversation quite nicely. Jon, you know that I’ve read your criticisms of “whiteness studies” with critical interest, and by and large, we are on the same page. While there might be disagreement about whether or not this is “white nationalist ideology,” as Rudy terms it, might be debatable. However, while white workers might not benefit materially as the German racial nationalists that you cite, white workers think that they benefit from white nationalism, and this informs political behavior. Whether or not they actually do benefit from this “quasi” or “pseudo” form of racial nationalism doesn’t take from the fact that they believe that black interests are oppositional to white interests. And this belief is utilized by political strategists.

Rudy, you know about working class Dundalk, predominately white. Now, I worked out there this past summer and the racism is thick in the air. The City Paper received a letter from a white working class gent from Dundalk claiming that he voted Republican because Blacks vote Democrat en masse. This is not sound political thinking. As we’ve seen from the past two elections, winning the Presidency is about mobilizing the white vote. Kerry only gets 41% of the white vote and loses, despite having over 70% of “people of color” voting for him. 

The political realities are present in the Calhoun quote. Barbara Fields, the Columbia professor, has a problem with race being considered a social construct, her rationale being that everything is a social construct. Jon, we’ve had discussions about the political utility of race, and we find it in the Calhoun quote. I understand the need not to demonize white workers; they aren’t in control either. I find it amusing that white, middle-class suburbanites in Towson aren’t able to stop construction going on in their community. If white middle-class people are unable to affect change in their own communities, we finally realize where the true power is.

Rudy: Rodney, well said and argued. My interest in Walters’ book White Nationalism, Black Interests is that it will help raise the general discussion among all classes within the black community. There was before Katrina, at least, the naive view among many in the black middle-classes that they had overcome. Second, we need to learn a new language in how to talk about this new situation and what has to be done to indeed overcome, which I do not think is going to be quickly achieved, unless there are some outrageous objective factors, and even then we need to be solid in our rhetoric and in what programs we argue for.

The present program of black politicos is to help the Democratic Party win back the Congress and the White House. Even if every black registered voter voted for the Democratic Party, that party’s leadership still needs to deal with the question of fiscal Conservatism as well as the “disequilibrium” felt by a critical mass of white workers who feel threaten. 

In short, the Democratic Party would still have to rule from the right of center and so all the problems associated with blacks—poverty, education, welfare, etc.; all of which require redistribution of wealth and the refueling of social programs—will not suddenly breeze through Congress. The fiscal Conservatives of both parties will combine with the radical Conservatives of the Republican Party to squash those kinds of  policy changes and program spending.

So telling people to go out and vote for the Democratic Party is not going to be a political program that is going to make a whit of difference in dealing with the Conservative program for the subordination of blacks and putting a halt to black middle class progress.

According to Walters, the greatest “Black Threat” is not the black poor and inner city blacks for mere violence and incarceration can deal with that, but rather competition coming from the Black middle classes who desire to assert their equality. One of the attitudes expressed toward the strike in NY was that the nonwhites of the Transport Workers Union were overpaid. They average around $45,000 a year. The idea that these nonwhites should be making that kind of money disturbs these radical Conservatives.

So again, for me, Walters book will get rid of some of the naiveté that exists within our own communities and help us to reshape or retool our rhetoric for the 21st century. I am not for the old black cultural nationalist arguments of demonizing whites at all. As a practical program that will not work. We indeed need the white working classes in order to make the changes we all desire. The question remains what is the best way to deal with that. My impression is Walters has done yeoman work and that we should take advantage of it.

Rodney: Rudy, You are absolutely correct when you say that “telling people to go out and vote for the Democratic Party is not going to be a political program that is going to make a whit of difference in dealing with the Conservative program for the subordination of blacks and putting a halt to black middle class progress.” I

t reminds me of the Sept. Anti-War rally. There were so many signs and posters displaying people’s disgust with Bush. Granted, Bush has been very upfront and bold about his political abuses, but many of the rallyers seemed to think that if only the Democrats were in charge, everything would be okay. Only if Kerry was our leader, the world would be fine. 

While we can all blame Bush and all the other politicos for the inept Katrina response, we must also realize that New Orleans was a city ignored for decades, much like every other majority poor city in the country. Ignored not just by Bush, but all of the political higher ups. What happened with Katrina was simply endemic of the politcal and social structures of the country. We are a culture that assigns blame and anger to personalities rather than systems and structures, which diverts us from the real culprits.

Kevin Zeese, the lone independant running for U.S. Senate in MD, noted after the 2004 elections that if white labor and blacks were to organize together, it would be the end of the Dems. Of course, Zeese’s analysis doesn’t assess the politics of racism employed to keep this from occurring. Still, Zeese, who takes on many stances that should resonate well with the black community, might find that the black vote will be split between Steele and whom ever wins the Democratic primary. 

Black leadership will simply drive the black vote to the Dems, as usual. Remember how the CBC attempted to persuade Nader from running? I wrote Elijah Cummings a letter condemning them for their action: How can our leadership support a party that has been absent for so many years? Is their loyalty with us, or with the Democratic machine?

As you say Rudy, we need the assistance of the white working class as a practical means, but also, we all want a better country in general. It is clear if one looks at this country’s demographics. The question, as you have posed before, is whether our white brothers and sisters (a significant number) are willing to assist us. Now, how do we figure out this conundrum? What rhetoric, what propaganda, what grassroot actions must we employ? I suppose I’ll spend the rest of my life attempting to answer that one.

Rudy: Rodney, we are now doing that necessary work. So many don’t know what we are now learning. All of this discussion is part of the process of raising consciousness. You did all of us a great service by bringing to our attention the Abell Report and asking for feedback. This is how the work of change happens. And then we have to have a medium or media that is interested in this kind of consciousness raising and discussion. There are no instant cures or remedies and a lot of it have to be figured out in the process. Again, you have done well.

So I am still hopeful. There will be those who will stand and do the right thing. The other thing is that there will be penalties that Conservative policies will have to pay. The objective reality, the consequences of their policies, will smack them in their faces, that is, the nation will pay for this kind of mismanagement of the nation’s business. As we have seen with New Orleans and Bush’s war policy. Part of our job is getting rid of some of the naive responses to these actions and prepare people to meet this kind of Conservatism face on and avoid the okey-doke.

Jonathan: rod and rudy, it’s transparent that white workers believe they’re benefiting socially and materially from white-skin privileges, as rodney says, otherwise they would rebel against the rich folk who have conferred these anomalous privileges on them, which have not provided them with any social mobility, just a monolithic and persistent mediocrity—and a situation today that is becoming totally catastrophic. today white workers are being forced to compete against 2 billion of the world’s poorest people. in many ways, it is simply too late for them. baldwin said whiteness would come at their own peril and finally the bell has tolled. they’re going down fast and taking all americans down with them. yet this limits the question to psychology, which has been the “whiteness studies” approach, including the work of tim wise, david roediger, robert jensen, and noel ignatiev and all the race traitor people at harvard. their work is useful but it tends to go no farther than the “psychological wages of whiteness.” roediger, for example, is a big fan of dubois and claims what he’s doing is duboisian scholarship, but i disagree. dubois in black reconstruction says explicitly that whiteness is “the achilles heel of the u.s. labor movement.” so it’s not a psychological problem but rather a labor problem. if white workers believe they’re benefiting from white-skin privileges, then this is the fault of their own leadership, the so-called “white radicals.” we can expect the ruling class to be engaged all the time in the most blatant trickery and deceit, for this is the nature of their game. but what about the labor leadership? this is the question that dubois was asking constantly: when will the white left stop being so white race conscious and become class conscious? the american communist party made a major breakthrough in the early 1930s when they became for the first time militant opponents of white supremacy within the white working classes. this triggered a huge outpouring of excellent art and culture and also political organizing. but it lasted for only a few years. when the war started, they forgot about white supremacy and fought european fascism instead. langston was always talking about “hitlerism at home,” but his words fell on deaf white radical ears. i think the psychological approach is actually a re-invention of the old biological theory of race, and it produces the same gloominess. the fact is that we can always change things. all it takes is for the white left to stop being so eurocentric. this is what distinguished the american communists of the early 1930s: they started to study african american writers and learn from them. langston called this “reintegration.”

posted 30 December 2005

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posted 22 July 2008




Home Conversations with Kind Friends  

Related articles: 50 Years of Progress Since Brown  Quality Education for Black & Brown  Abell Report  The Meritocracy Myth  The Collapse of Urban Public Schooling 

Statistics on the Inequities Responses to Race as a Decoy for Class  Race in US Politics Syllabus

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