Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Where is this post-racialism?

By Rajeev Ravisankar, Research Assistant at the Kirwan Institute

A recent study released by Northeastern University shows a disturbing rise in the number of young African-Americans involved in fatal violence. From 2002 to 2007, “the number of homicides involving black male juveniles as victims rose by 31% and as perpetrators by 43%.” (footnote #1) A cursory glance at the responses by news readers and bloggers indicates that some believe this trend is a result of the inability of families and community institutions to address the situation. The study’s authors James Alan Fox and Marc Swatt identify contributing factors such as availability of firearms, attraction to gangs, and lack of funding by the Bush administration for crime prevention and policing. Fortunately, they also consider the dire socioeconomic realities faced by communities and call for reinvestment and an “at-risk youth bailout.”

Another development receiving media attention is the fate of prominent Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). These institutions played a critical role in providing higher education opportunities for African-Americans when they were denied access due to Jim Crow era segregation. For example, the 127 year old Morris Brown College had its water supply cut off by the city of Atlanta, and needed a community fundraiser to pay the bill. Administrators at the college are in negotiations to prevent one of its buildings from being auctioned. Facing financial difficulties, a Republican state senator in Georgia introduced a controversial proposal suggesting that historically black Albany State University and Savannah State University merge with predominately white universities. (footnote #2)

These two seemingly unrelated stories are connected in some way when considered in the context of the school to prison pipeline. Many factors reinforce the pipeline such as poverty, discipline oriented education, lack of access to mental healthcare, early entry into the criminal justice system, the oppressive nature of policing, and the conditioning of youths in a patriarchal society that fetishizes violence. Education is essential in disrupting the pipeline, but without independently functioning higher education institutions that serve minorities the adverse impact is both real and symbolic.

In a sociopolitical environment that is widely (and incorrectly) viewed as post-racial, attacking such intractable problems comes with a new set of challenges. While the celebration around Barack Obama’s victory is understandable, the real work has to happen now at the grassroots level. The amount of sacrifice and effort required during the Presidential election must be sustained with the same intensity in order to alleviate the issues that continue to persist in communities across the country.

#1. Fox, James Alan and Marc Swatt. “The Recent Surge in Homicides involving Young Black Males and Guns: Time to Reinvest in Prevention and Crime Control”
Ludden, Jennifer. “Bucking Trend, Homicides Among Black Youths Rise”
#2. Green, Sadiq. “Will Black Colleges Survive Era of Obama?”

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