Will Obama be Arrested in Arizona?

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A law enforcement officer, without a warrant, may arrest a person if the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.
--State of Arizona, Senate Bill 1070

Come August, in Arizona, anyone who doesn't look “American” can be subject to arrest if they do not have papers indicating that they have permission to be in the United States.

Do black Americans look “American”?

Twenty percent of Americans think Barack Obama was born in another country, and, presumably, that his birth certificate from Hawaii is fraudulent. If someone believes these things then she could also believe that Obama is an illegal immigrant, since in her eyes, Obama is not a citizen but is pretending to be one.

Do any of these “birthers” work for Arizona law enforcement? Would they try to arrest Obama if he enters the state? The movement seems to have people crazy enough to attempt it.

The Arizona law, “SB 1070,” could be applied to blacks generally and not just to Obama. There are black immigrants in the United States. Many of them are here legally, some are not. Does this mean that any and all blacks in Arizona are subject to arrest until their legal residence in the United States can be established?

Yes, there are white immigrants too, but I’m doubtful that Arizona law enforcement will expend too much energy chasing after illegal white immigrants. I’m not sure what they will do about blacks with atypical names, dress or accents. Will they assume that these blacks are illegal until proven otherwise as SB 1070 seems to encourage?

Blacks in Arizona should keep track of whether this travesty of legislation is being applied to blacks. If it is, there should be protests and lawsuits. (Of course, even if it isn’t applied to blacks, it should be repealed.)

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--Algernon Austin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2005-2010 by Algernon Austin. All Rights Reserved.


Thora Institute Re-Engineering

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Take from the Poor, Give to the Rich

We have “reformed” our welfare system based on the assumption that everyone who wants to obtain a job that can lift themselves and their family out of poverty can obtain one. These are flawed assumptions. In 2007, when we had a moderately strong economy, more than one-in-four people with jobs did not earn enough to keep a family out of poverty.

The current economy is extremely weak. We have an unemployment rate of 9.7 percent. There are over 5 job seekers for every job opening. No matter how hard people try to find work, there simply are not enough jobs. As Timothy M. Smeeding has remarked, today “we have a work-based safety net without any work.”

But this reality has not stopped the engines of “welfare reform.” The New York Times reports that “Rhode Island has the nation’s third-highest unemployment rate, but the welfare rolls here continue to decline because of the time limits and stringent work requirements.” Nationally, “Since the start of the recession in December 2007, the number of Americans receiving benefits under the main federal-state welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, has increased less than 10 percent, even though unemployment has nearly doubled and the number of people receiving food stamps has grown more than 40 percent, to 39 million.”

The authors of Battered by the Storm report:
The percentage of poor children receiving temporary assistance under the main federal “welfare” program has fallen from 62 percent in 1995 to 22 percent in 2008. TANF benefits in 2008 averaged only 29 percent of the money needed to reach the official poverty line.
We should not be surprised to see further declines in aid to poor families.

Not everyone is suffering however. The Economic Policy Institute reports that the richest 400 families have seen their tax rate decline by 10 percentage points and their income has quadrupled since 1992. These families have a median income of $345 million. In a separate Economic Snapshot, the Institute states:

In 1979, the top 10% of families received 67.0% of all income generated by assets such as stocks, bonds and real estate. By 2006, that share had risen to 81.3%. By contrast, the share of capital income that went to the other 90% of families has fallen from 33.0% in 1979 to 18.7% in 2006. The portion of capital income going to the top 1% of families has gradually increased from 38.0% in 1979, so that by 2006 this small group received more than half – 57.7% -- of all capital income.

So, the poor are getting poorer, and the rich are getting richer.

--Algernon Austin, Ph.D.

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Copyright © 2005-2010 by Algernon Austin. All Rights Reserved.


The Fluidity of Racial Classification

Algernon Austin presents an excellent, concise, and wonderfully read scholarly examination of the complicated landscape of race, class and popular perception. Besides the prison industrial complex, black strides in education, poverty rates, crime and other indices contradict claims that blacks are “moving backward.”
--Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, Director, Institute for African American Studies, University of Connecticut and author of Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity (The Johns Hopkins University Press), 2004 and Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap (University Press of Kansas), 2007.

Purchase Getting It Wrong: How Black Public Intellectuals
Are Failing Black America
by Algernon Austin
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Many people are upset with the Census Bureau over the race question. Although 50,000 people told the Census Bureau that they wished to be identified as "Negro" on the 2000 Census, some other blacks are upset that "Negro" is on the 2010 Census.

Many Latinos and non-Latinos think being Latino is a race, but it is not a race according to the Census Bureau definition. Latinos who look "white" are supposed to check "white." Those who look "black" are supposed to check "black." Those who identify as American Indian are supposed to check "American Indian." Latinos, like everyone else, also have the option of checking "white" AND "black" AND "American Indian" or any other racial combination that works for them.

Some Arabs are upset that there is no Arab race and that they will in many cases be compelled to check "white." They are calling for Arabs to write-in "Arab."

And, then there are other folks who are upset that there even is a race question. They say we are all human beings, so why don't we just stop talking and thinking and classifying based on race.

What a mess.

What all of this confusion indicates is that race is not biology in any simple, direct or definitive way. It is not skin color--no matter how many times people say "skin color" to mean race. If it were skin color then Latinos and Arabs would have no problem classifying themselves as white if they were light complexioned. And the many Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who have a darker skin complexion than Barack Obama would classify themselves as black and not as Asian.

Race is sociological, cultural, psychological and political, much more than it is biological. Take the example of Barack Obama. What race is he? Well, it depends to a degree on who is answering the question. The Pew Research Center finds that 53 percent of whites say he is "mixed race" while 55 percent of blacks say he is black. Hispanics are even more likely than whites to say the Obama is mixed race with 61 percent classifying him so. So, the perception of Obama's race varies by sociological, cultural, psychological and political factors while his biology, of course, remains the same.

Obama classifies himself as black, though he clearly could say that he is biracial or mixed race. His decision on his race is due to sociological, cultural, psychological or political factors.

Obama is not unusual. On the same Pew Research Center survey about perceptions of Obama's race only 1 percent of the people surveyed identified racially as mixed, yet 16 percent say that they are, in fact, racially mixed.

There is a difference between one's identity and one's ancestry. Obama's ancestry based on the race of his parents is black and white. But his identity is black. Similarly there are lots of people who have parents, grandparents and great-grandparents with racial identities that differ from their own. From an ancestry standpoint they are mixed, but in their day-to-day lives they may not interact with people based on the racial identities of all of their known ancestors. So, for example, a black person can claim to be racially mixed because of an American Indian grandparent, but still identify only as black on the Census.

Race is a complex and continually changing phenomenon. Because society changes, race changes. Because people can change psychologically over their life-span, individuals' racial identities can change over their lives also. Obama may one day decide that he should identify as biracial and not as black, for example.

U.S.-born Americans are not culturally uniform in their thinking about race. The foreign-born population brings even more radically different thinking about race. The Census Bureau has to reduce this complex issue and all of these conflicting ideas into one single multiple choice question. It can't be done. Since we probably don't want them asking us 20 questions about the meaning of race in our lives, we should probably cut them a little slack.

(For a more detailed discussion of the meaning of race, see my book Achieving Blackness.)

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--Algernon Austin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2005-2010 by Algernon Austin. All Rights Reserved.