Greater Boston Anti-Racism Media Watch

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"A 'Smoking Gun' on Race, subprime loans" (03/17/07) -- Boston Globe asks "Why?" and gives an unconsciously racist answer.

In this article, Kimberly Blanton, Globe staff, writes that “…it is well known that subprime loans are prevalent in minority communities in Boston and surrounding communities. What is much less clear is why.” She gives the following reasons: “…blacks and Latinos have lower incomes, on average, and fewer assets such as savings, investments, and real estate…lack of a down payment is the biggest issue for the black community. Black households…have accumulated one-tenth the wealth available to white households.” Blanton explains this racial wealth disparity by quoting Tom Shapiro, a Brandeis University sociology professor who says “blacks are more likely the first generation to attend college or get a professional job. Blacks and Latinos also earn about half as much as whites in Massachusetts…” Readers are led to believe that lack of college education explains why Blacks have accumulated one tenth the wealth of whites and thus must resort to subprime loans if they are to purchase homes.

Lack of college education leading to low paying jobs is indeed a contributing factor to the racial wealth gap. However, offering this fact as the sole explanation is misleading, unconsciously racist, and damaging to all of us. If we look at the history of the racial wealth gap, which this article fails to do, we see that the root causes of this disparity lie clearly with white institutions. Between 1934 and 1968, the Federal Housing Administration gave 120 billion dollars in loans for home ownership, 98% of which went to whites. Blatantly discriminatory policies gave whites the opportunity to build wealth through home equity while making it very difficult if not impossible for people of color to purchase their own homes. This has been a major factor creating today’s wealth gap of $116,000 between white and black families. Further, because property taxes support public education, these policies have also contributed to the disparities in the resources and thus the quality of schools between white neighborhoods and urban neighborhoods of color (see The Racial Wealth Divide Project: http://www.RacialWealthDivide.org/ for a detailed history and analysis). These interlocking systems of institutional racism are largely invisible to the white community. Because our mainstream media consistently fail to provide the historical background of institutional racism, injustice and inequality, readers are left to supply their own explanations for present day racial disparities. Most frequently, unless they are given other information, readers of mainstream press fall back on the myth of the American Dream, where equal opportunity is available to all, regardless of race, class, and gender. Clearly the American Dream to own your own home still applies mostly to those privileged enough to benefit from institutions, such as the FHA, which were designed by white people for the benefit white people, at the expense of people of color.

On 12/18/06 a Boston Globe editorial reflected on the McCormack Diversity Study, declaring that “Race Still Matters” and that “hardly a day goes by without further evidence that skepticism from minorities is justified – in housing, jobs, income, education, incarceration rates, and many other indicators. The Boston Diversity Project can perform a considerable service if it triggers real remediation.” The Boston Globe could perform a considerable service if it insisted that its writers provide the historical landscape of present day inequality and injustice.

If you want to read the article “A ‘Smoking Gun’ on Race,” visit the Boston Globe online (http://www.boston.com/news/globe) and register an account to view all their articles on the web.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"Race Still Matters" (12/18/06) Boston Globe Editorial on McCormack Diversity Study Takes a Crucial Step Forward But Needs to Go Further

“Race Still Matters” (12/18/06), Boston Globe Editorial on McCormack Diversity Study Takes a Crucial Step Forward But Needs to Go Further

The newly released (Dec 18, 2006) McCormack Diversity Study (UMass Boston) contains significant data on Black, White, Latino, and Asian experience in Boston. This data highlights important issues surrounding race in Boston including the disturbing but not surprising evidence that Blacks are more skeptical about institutional fairness in Massachusetts than whites. Reflecting on this study, the Boston Globe editorial (December 18, 2006) declares that “Race Still Matters” and that “hardly a day goes by without further evidence that skepticism from minorities is justified – in housing, jobs, income, education, incarceration rates, and many other indicators. " Given that it is usually very difficult for whites to see institutional racism, this Globe editorial has taken a crucial step forward by acknowledging that people of color suffer from structural racism in ways that do not fit the prototype image of personal discrimination based on race.

The Diversity Study gives evidence that over all, whites have significantly more confidence in the institutions under consideration (State & Local Governments, Police, Public Schools, News Media, Court System) than blacks. While in general, both whites and blacks lost confidence in these institutions between 1998 abd 2006, blacks had less confidence to begin with and lost more confidence than whites. A disturbing exception is confidence in the police, where whites actually gained confidence since 1998 while black confidence, lower to begin with, fell by 9 percentage points. The Globe editorial ignores this comparison data.

By comparing confidence in institutions between whites and people of color, the Diversity Study may be interpreted as suggesting that our institutions need to be understood from the perspective of a collective; thus implying that the good of the whole society is undercut if part of the society benefits more from the institutions that, in a healthy society, should benefit all fairly and justly. By ignoring the comparison data, the Globe obscures the perspective of society as a collective; it suggests that although disparities in institutional benefits penalize people of color, the well being of whites and people of color are separate, discrete, and unrelated. Our mainstream media need to make it clear that until our police act in ways that inspire equal confidence from all our neighborhoods and all our residents, no one is safe. Until all our institutions inspire robust confidence from all our residents, regardless of race, no one is treated fairly, and our society, as a collective, loses.

To read the McCormack Diversity Study, go to: http://www.umb.edu/news/2006news/releases/december/report_121406.pdf

If you want to read the December 18, 2006 Boston Globe editorial “Race Still Matters.” visit the Boston Globe online (http://www.boston.com/news/globe) and register an account to view all their articles on the web.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Kerry Healey's TV Ads are Extremely Racist

The Healey campaign has run a series of advertisements on TV that are meant to appeal to the gut racism of white folks. She invokes images of Deval Patrick, a black man, as someone who is soft on crime and who believes in protecting rapists, not victims of violent crimes.

Healey's most recent ad features a white woman walking through a deserted parking lot with a voice over that says:
“Here’s a question, if a teacher at your kid’s school, or a friend, or a co-worker; if anyone you knew actually praised a convicted rapist… what would you think? Deval Patrick did. Here’s what he said about brutal rapist Ben LaGuer, “He is eloquent and he is thoughtful, there’s no doubt about that.” Here’s another question; have you ever heard a woman compliment a rapist? Deval Patrick, he should be ashamed, not governor.”

It is Kerry Healey who should be ashamed for running this horrifying ad. She is invoking racial stereotypes of black men being violent, hyper-sexualized and wanting to hurt white women. By appealing to these media driven fears she is hoping to take white women's votes away from Deval Patrick.

I hope that the women of Massachusetts are more intelligent then to fall for this ridiculous and racist ad. It is Kerry Healey who is soft on crime. It is Kerry Healey who took police off the street while she was Lieutenant Governor. It is Kerry Healey who failed to implement the sex offender’s registry. It is Kerry Healey who does not want to protect women of any race from violent crime.

Although appealing to white people's racism is very effective, it should not be a way to run campaigns. If the only think that Kerry Healey has against Deval Patrick is that he's a black man, she should stop running negative campaign ads and start talking about her own record.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Weekly Dig Caters to a White Audience

After carefully reading the 9.13.06-9.20.06 edition of Boston's Weekly Dig, I am disappointed to discover that this, "hip, young, alternative news source" caters exclusively to a white audience. There are three features in the Dig that are most concerning to me; I will outline them below:

This edition of the Dig is focused on welcoming newcomers (primarily students) to Boston. They have 20 pages of articles in this section outlining the basics of Boston, as well as places to eat, go out, shop, live, etc. Chapter 3 of this section is called "The 'Hoods: What they are, where they are, and how to get killed in them" (pg 34). The author, Lissa Harris, breaks Boston down by neighborhood and outlines the pros and cons of each area, the cost of living, things to do and "how to get killed."

In Roxbury, Harris writes that the way to get killed is to, "Coach youth basketball. Live in the PJs. Hang out in the waiting room of Boston Medical Center. Be in Roxbury" (pg 36). I find this description, geared primarily to white, college students, to be appalling. Roxbury is a vibrant community where many of Boston's residents of color live. To write that living in the "PJs" (why she thinks it is okay for her to use this slang is also beyond me) and being in Roxbury are ways to get killed completely ignores the socio-economic struggles that many Roxbury residents face. Instead of providing an analysis of an extremely segregated city, Harris chooses to play into stereotypes of urban communities of color and writes them off as dangerous by nature. As a side note, the way to die in the Back Bay/Beacon Hill is to "trip over a stray Saks bag and impale yourself on a dowager" (pg 36).

This edition of the Dig also outlines the Democratic Gubernatorial Primary candidates. They rate candidates based on their stance on "Sodomy (gay rights), Stem Cells, Income tax cuts, the death penalty, the cape wind project, tuition, a T fare hike, economic development, the environment, legalizing casinos, and health care" (pgs 12, 13, 14). The concerns of communities of color and immigrants are completely ignored by this article. Although the immigrants’ rights struggle has been one of the hottest political issues this year, the Dig chooses not to address it in their analysis of gubernatorial candidates. To me, this implies that the Dig does not think its readers care about immigrant’s rights; that they don't expect immigrants, or their friends and families to be reading the paper.

Finally, the Dig has a weekly calendar of events. As always, these events are geared toward young, mostly white, indie rock folks. Ads are for bands that cater to white folks, featured artists are almost exclusively white with a white following.

If the Weekly Dig is the most widely read, hippest, progressive, alternative newspaper in Boston, and it caters exclusively to hip, progressive, alternative white folks, then where do their counter parts of color go to get their news?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Boston Globe Coverage of Healey"s "Soft on Crime" Attack on Patrick Misinforms Readers about CORI Again!

Boston Globe Coverage of Healey’s “Soft on Crime” Attack on Patrick Misinforms Readers about CORI Again!

The Sunday (9/24) front page Boston Globe story “Scrutiny of Criminals Heats up Race: Healey Presses Patrick on Background Checks” does readers a diservice by not providing accurate background information on the Criminal Offenders Record Information (CORI). This seems to be a pattern in the Boston Globe; I had the same complaint about the Boston Globe coverage of CORI Education Day in my posting dated Thursday May 4, 2006 on this blog. As I wrote then, the CORI was developed in the early ‘70’s to make criminal records available to police, prosecutors, probation officers, and judges. The current CORI laws contain regulations intended to protect the privacy and integrity of people with CORIs, including those with minor misdemeanors and cases where no conviction resulted. In the past 30 years and especially since 9/11 and the passage of the Patriot’s Act, this information has been made readily and widely available to potential employers, schools, landlords, etc. It has sometimes been misunderstood and misapplied. Currently 2.8 million people in Massachusetts have CORIs and 1.5 million new CORIs are produced per year affecting people of all races, ages, and backgrounds. Because their CORIs can be misunderstood or abused, many individuals are shut out of jobs, housing, entrance to college, loans, and other opportunities. Because our criminal justice system disproportionately affects men of color, misapplication of the CORI adds to the already high unemployment rate in communities of color and keeps many of those who have been accused of, or who have made and paid for mistakes in their past, from achieving the education, skills, and employment needed to change their lives.

Rather than providing an accurate history and background of the CORI legislation, the Globe lables all those with CORIs as “criminals try(ing) to re enter society…” This does not cover the variety of information contained in the CORI, including minor misdemeanors and no-convictions, nor how CORIs can be misunderstood and misapplied by potential employers, landlords, etc. The current controversy surrounding the CORI legislation is described in this story as “the fight to water down the CORI”. However, a careful reading of paragraphs 9-10 and 16-19 of the story idicates that the democratic candidate does not want to "water down" the CORI laws, but to make sure they are just and that they are fairly applied. The Globe should supply readers with accurate background and history of these controversial issues so voters can make their own informed and reasoned choices in the November election.

If you want to read the September 24, 2006 Boston Globe story “Scrutiny of Criminals Heats Up Race: Healey Presses Patrick on Background Checks,” visit the Boston Globe online (http://www.boston.com/news/globe) and register an account to view all their articles on the web.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Articles on individuals make systemic racism invisible

Two articles in the July 24 Boston Globe exemplify its tendency to gloss over the extent of institutionalized racism in our society. The articles “From Addict to Counselor, a Hard Road” and “A Black Athlete Changed the Gears of Cycling’s World” describe, respectively, Iliana Ojeda-Rivera, a researcher in New England, and Major Taylor, a turn-of-the-century Worcester athlete in whose honor a street was recently renamed. It is clear that Ojeda-Rivera and Taylor are both well-accomplished people whose stories most certainly deserve coverage. But the Globe’s limited look at their personal stories of overcoming barriers and its lack of attention to the broader conditions that make their respective successes so extraordinary – the barriers that still remain despite their individual successes – help perpetuate, rather than challenge, common skewed perceptions of race and racism.

The story of rising up to prosperity has become almost a mantra in the U.S. But generation after generation of people of color and those living in poverty in this country understand quite clearly that the “American dream” is simply a story, a myth. Sure, there are individuals who make the increasingly large leap from rags to riches; overall, though, some people (e.g. those with skin privilege, gender privilege) have a head start on it.

The Globe’s coverage of these two little-picture triumphs fails to address the continuing presence of systemic oppression in the U.S. Ojeda-Rivera’s rise from addiction, for instance, could be a useful jumping-off point for a socio-historical discussion of drug use. What are the social circumstances contributing to drug addiction? Who is most likely to be incarcerated for use and to be able to afford rehab, and how might this impact trends? How is drug use related to sexism, classism, racism and other contributing factors? Instead of bringing up questions of causation or historical discrimination for readers to examine, the article is simply written as a feel-good public interest story. Though Ojeda-Rivera’s work is specifically with mothers, the social context of this is never addressed. There is a brief mention of her research “on alcoholism and the Latino population in Providence;” with just a sentence or two more on her chosen topic, the article could have provided a big-picture framework for interrogating the social circumstances that she lives and works within.

In the article on 1899 record-setting bicyclist Major Taylor, the journalist again focuses on an individual success story, completely ignoring its social backdrop. The article repeatedly describes Taylor as an individual “who broke the color barrier in sports,” but never expounds on this barrier, or on who put it in place (white males). When it does provide details about the obstacles he overcame, it refers to them, too, as individuals: “white riders, who... conspired against him.” It even frames the racism he survived in Massachusetts, where “he was attacked... and choked until he fell unconscious” as the exception “in a more racially tolerant climate,” rather than as a common symptom of a systemically racist environment. These kinds of descriptions remove attention entirely from the American social structure at the time, which was consistently racist: politicians, the heads of athletic organizations, and most others in positions of power were European-American men, and their respective regulations systematically benefited people who looked like them.

Today, despite the great advances made by the Civil Rights movement since Taylor’s time, a system of unequal opportunity remains in place, and too often is ignored. The two Globe articles are part of a large-scale pattern in the media of emphasizing individuals’ triumphs and failings and rarely addressing the broader social context in which they occur. Among other misconceptions, this promotes the Horatio Alger myth of success in the U.S. and the false notion that racism is an interpersonal, as opposed to systemic, problem (or that it doesn’t exist at all). Focusing on exceptional individuals of color without describing the pervasive inequities that make their stories stand out is negligent.


If you would like to read the Globe stories “A Black Athlete Changed the Gears of Cycling’s World” by Peter Schworm and “From Addict to Counselor, a Hard Road” by Andrew Rimas, visit the Boston Globe online at http://www.boston.com/news/globe and register an account to view all their articles on the web.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Boston Metro dehumanizes blacks with racist photos, articles.

On Monday, May 8, 2006, the front page headline of the Boston Metro reads, "People have to understand." It is an article about the trial of the tour manager for the band Great White, at whose show 100 fans died in 2003, and about the pain the victims' families have endured.

On page two of the same Metro a headline reads, "5 shot, 3 dead in weekend violence." This article proceeds to outline the facts of the weekend shootings in Dorchester and Roxbury and asks people with tips to call a police hotline. No mention is made that one of the victims is Alex Mendes, a local black peace activist whose older brother was murdered 11 years prior.

So, (white) Metro readers have to understand the pain of mostly white families whose loved ones died in a fire at a rock show 3 years ago, but no one has to understand the pain of a black mother and peace activist who has lost both her sons to random street violence. Instead, the loss of her son is reported like a roll call.

This portrayal of loss implies that the loss of a white child is more significant than the loss of his black counterpart. While the loss of 100 people at the Great White concert was a horrific tragedy, the Metro should choose to focus on the more current issues affecting black Bostonians. The homicide rate last year (and thus far this year) is higher then it has been since the early 1990s. I hope that the Metro understands the devastation this violence is causing the family members and communities of current victims.

There were two photos of criminals on page two of this same Boston Metro, one white and one black. The white man, Mark (who did not want his full name used) had illegally planted two sequoia trees in the Boston Common. In the photo he looks like a hero, face at an angle, crouched down with his elbow on his knee. The black man, Darrell Smith, is shown being arrested for allegedly committing a bank robbery. He is portrayed shirtless, pressed to the ground by three police officers in full riot gear, with his face smashed into the concrete.

The contrast in these photos is astounding: a white man appearing statuesque, a black man animalistic. That the Metro would specifically choose this photo of Darrell Smith, when he looks completely dehumanized, half naked, face to the ground, is very telling. This photo implies that black men are not as human as white men. Images like this one make it seem OK that the percentage of black men in jail is significantly higher than that of their white counterparts.

With this analysis I am not implying that the crime of planting a tree comes close to the crime of robbing a bank at gun point. I am saying, however, that it is completely racist for the Metro to dehumanize black men with degrading reporting and photos.

The article about Mark, the tree planter, ends with a quote by his roommate. In it his roommate talks about the fear he felt when a police officer turned his lights on the Common as they were planting the trees. "But he was just busting a bum," the roommate said. I do not doubt that if the tree planters had been black men the police officer would have busted them too.