Thursday, February 17, 2022

Disastrous Concentration of Services for Troubled People in Three South Bronx Neighborhoods

Yesterday, I was taken on a walking tour of a beautiful Bronx park- St Mary's - that was littered with needles and needle caps from addicts who shoot up in and near the park and which contains three boxes where people can discard their used drug works I do not pretend to have a solution to problems of addiction, homelessness and care for the mentally ill. What I do know is that is extremely damaging to concentrate treatment centers and residences for people suffering addiction, mental illness or just leaving prison in three Bronx neighborhoods which already have a high concentration of low income families-Mott Haven, Morrisania and Melrose. Even though these neighborhoods have been substantially been rebuilt since the fires of the 1970's, they suffer greatly from the extraordinary concentration of facilities that middle class neighborhoods refuse to allow in their midst. In my view, this is a form of environmental racism as damaging as the concentration of waste transfer stations along the South Bronx Waterfront and the four huge expressways, filled with truck traffic, that surround these communities on all sides Worse yet, it appears that the gentrification of Bronx neighborhoods along the Harlem and East Rivers is making matters worse, as addicts and the homeless are being pushed out of those areas into places like The Hub and St Mary's Park. I do not have a long term strategy to care for the victims of economic policies in this country which have impoverished many while concentrating wealth at the top, but it is profoundly unfair to warehouse these victims in already struggling communities, filled with children and families. That is what I saw yesterday in St Mary's Park. It was devastating to think of children playing basketball , handball, and kickball or jumping double dutch, while addicts shoot up on benches and rocks adjoining the places where they play

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Thoughts on the Harvard Case: Why Discrimination Against Asians in Admission Cannot Be Attributed to Race Based Affirmative Action

Given what I have learned about college admissions, it is astonishing that a law firm would argue that the primary cause of discrimination against Asians in admissions at Harvard is admissions preferences given underrepresented minorities at that school As Daniel Golden has argued in his 2007 book "The Price of Admissions". preferences given to children from wealthy families,, the vast majority of them white, through legacy admissions, developmental admissions, and athletic admissions dwarf those given African American, Native American and LatinX applicants In the short presentation that follows, I will discuss the historic moment when race based admissions first arose, explain how it evolved and then briefly discuss the forces which sharply restrained it, allowing wealth based admissions to gradually return to the prominence it once held in the early 1940's and 1950's,. In particular I will discuss how athletic admissions emerged as one of the most important vehicles for wealthy whites to regain preferential access to the nation's top colleges, using personal experience as well as research to document this. As an Ivy League athlete in the early and mid Sixties, with two children who were Ivy League athletes in the late 1990's and early 2000's, I can give first hand testimony as to how athletic admissions evolved in a way that undermined democratic forces transforming the nation’s elite institutions and reinforced privileges of wealth First let me go back in time to the period when elite universities first opened their doors to large numbers of underrepresented groups. In historicizing race based affirmative action, which was adopted with striking rapidity by universities in the late 1960's, there are two important things to keep in mind. First we need to recognize that the massive enrollment of Black students was one part of the response of white elites to the riots and uprisings that took place in American cities from 1964-1968. As documented by sociologist John Skerntny in his important book "The Ironies of Affirmative Action" massive enrollment of Black students in elite universities, along with recruitment of Blacks to work in previously all white occupations in corporate America and basic industry, was a strategy to restore order to a riot torn nation by giving Blacks a stake in the intermediate and top levels of management of the nation's major institutions. However, a second stage in this development took place when large numbers of Black students arrived in these institutions and launched mass movements to change University admissions practices as well as incorporate Black history and culture into school curricula The result of this was that by the early 70's, universities faced fierce pressures from inside their student bodies to engage in massive recruitment of black students and faculty, a pressure which, in some places, was also applied to increase LatinX representation. As a result, the nation's elite universities, already forced to democratize their student populations in the 50's and 60 by enrolling more Jewish and Catholic students, were now under pressure to guarantee admissions to large numbers of Black and LatinX students. By the mid 1970's, according to Bowen and Shapiro in their book "The Game of Life, "race based admission had twice the potency of admission preferences for children of alumni However, the Bakke case would soon change that dynamic. Not only did the the opinion written by Lewis Powell, which still has the force of law in shaping how race can be used in admissions, ban universities from using numerical targets for admission based on race, it also banned universities form using racially preferential admissions to to integrate the professions or compensate historically disadvantaged groups for societal discrimination-- which were the two most important rationales used for race based admissions. The only legitimate criteria for using race in admissions was to create a diversity of views and experiences on campus, and it could only be used as a "plus factor" in an admissions system which evaluated all students together Over time, this limit on both the methods and rationale for race based admissions would have the effect of weakening University's efforts to recruit racially and economically disadvantaged populations. While the percentage of historically disadvantaged racial groups did not fall, it stopped rising and over time, the groups that benefited the most from the resulting changes in admissions practices were not economically marginalized whites or Asian-Americans, but children of the wealthy, and one of the ways they did this is through athletic admissions. Although Bowen and Shapiro have documented the academic and social consequences of giving athletic admissions unusual weight in the nation’s most prestigious schools, no one has satisfactorily explained the most disturbing part of this story—namely how elite universities and the very wealthy, whether intentionally or not, transformed athletic admissions into a vehicle to undermine much of the progress made in democratizing their student populations. Giving athletic admissions preferences, much of it extended to men and women's sports like crew, lacrosse, and tennis, which were concentrated in affluent neighborhoods, occurred slowly and incrementally at a time when Black Protest on and off campus was declining and the concentration of wealth at the top layers of US society was accelerating. By the late 1990’s, although the general public had no knowledge of this, athletic admission had far overtaken race based admission as the most potent preference at the nation’s top college I encountered this relatively obscure practice, which has now become widely publicized as a result of the Varsity Blues scandall, through the experience of my daughter, a nationally ranked tennis player, who was told by Harvard, in writing, in 1994 that 1100 was her target SAT score for admission! This was on top of an experience where every Ivy League school called the house once a week and offered her paid visits. This was then paralleled through the experience of my son, a left handed pitcher who threw 85 miles an hour, who was told by Princeton that 1200 was the score he needed to get into that school Both ended up going to Yale, where they had four year varsity careers as athletes. Upon graduation, both went into finance, an outcome that was hardly accidental since being an Ivy League athlete may be the single most prized attribute for a career in investment banking. Two years ago, to give a more example, 9 graduating Princeton lacrosse players took entry level jobs at JP Morgan What makes all of this even more astonishing in the number of people involved and the demographics of the group. At every Ivy League school, 20 percent of the student population consists of recruited athletes a cohort in which the percentage of whites is far higher and the percentage of Asians far lower than in the student population as a whole Given this development, I find it appalling that the law firm who mounted this suit, tried to link the legitimate question of whether Asians are discriminated against in admission, to an effort to eliminate race based affirmative action, which they hope the US Supreme Court will ultimately rule against. If you are looking for unfairness in elite school admissions, your main focus should be the wide variety of admissions preferences for wealthy whites, who lock up far more places at elite universities. Not since the early 1950’s have our elite universities been less democratic. Undermining race based affirmative action would only accelerate that process, as it was the Bakke decision limiting redistributive elements in race based admissions that set in motion the gradual transformation of our elite universities into places which reinforce the intergenerational transfer of wealth and cement plutocratic rule.

When Our Best Young People Become Collateral Damage to the Nation's Obsession With Guns

This morning, as I read short portraits of the four young people who died in the Oxford High School mass shooting, each of them a leader in their school and community, I thought of not only of the devastating impact of their murder on their family and friends, but of all we as a society were losing by not having them grow into adulthood. Mass murders like this not only create an atmosphere of terror in our schools, they deprive the nation of leaders we need to take us to a brighter future. Some would say the answer to this tragedy is better mental health services in our schools, and of course I agree with them But the major factor making events like this predictable, perhaps even inevitable, is the widespread availability of automatic weapons to people of all ages, in all walks of life, including those with serious mental health issues The young person who killed his classmates at Oxford High School was deeply troubled- he and his parents had been called into a disciplinary meeting at the school hours before his shooting rampage. And some will say that the school didn't do enough to identify and treat his mental health issues or address the rage inside him But as I wrote regarding the young man who murdered his classmates at Sherman Douglas High School in Florida- there are some young people even the best teachers and counselors can't reach, even with the best training and the best intentions Young people with that level of rage, unreachable by teachers and counselors, will wreak havoc wherever they are, but if you put automatic weapons in their hands, they can morph into mass murderers So long as we continue to defend possession of automatic weapons as a key marker of personal freedom, making it easy for teenagers to to acquire them, we are going to have more and more incidents of school terror and mass murder such as took place in Oxford Michigan on Monday That, my friends, is not only a national tragedy, it is a national disgrace

What West Side Story Meant to Me Growing Up

Our family entertainment on Christmas Eve is going to be watching West Side Story. I am looking forward to this with great anticipation I have read the critiques of the original production and the most recent version in terms of portrayal of Puerto Ricans and am not about to contest those viewpoints. But I have a profound emotional attachment to the songs in West Side Story that go back to my childhood and I am looking forward to revisiting them 60 years later Because what touched me about West Side Story, then, and probably will still touch me now, was the idea that love was possible amidst violence and conflict. At the dawn of my teenage years, songs like "There's a Place for Us" and "One Hand One Heart" allowed me to dream that the tense atmosphere in my family, and the fights that I faced almost every day in school and in my neighborhood, would fade into the background and I could find love and peace in a world where both of those seemed to be in short supply The soundtrack to West Side Story was something I cherished privately, along with songs by the Everly Brothers and the Drifters, because it gave me hope that I could someday escape the Crown Heights of my youth, where bullying and conflict was literally around every corner It also affirmed the possibility that people growing up in the grittiest and toughest New York neighborhoods were not doomed by the prejudices that surrounded them and could find beauty where others only saw pain These are my memories of this legendary musical. Let's see if the new version has the same emotional impact as the old one did

Reflections on January 6, 2021

When Donald Trump ascended to the Presidency, I argued that the greatest danger he posed was not in the policy positions he took, but in his propensity to incite his followers to attack neighbors, co workers, and people in government they viewed as enemies, whether because of their racial/ethnic/gender identities, or their political views Nothing I saw during the four years of his Presidency suggested I was wrong. During his first two years in office, we saw a huge uptick in hate crimes against Latinos, Asian Americans, Blacks, Jews and Muslims, in every part of the country, symbolized by the violent "Unite the Right" gathering in Charlottesville Virginia. However, after Democrats took back the House and the Senate in the 2018 elections, the focus of this communal violence began to shift to elected officials. Violent attacks on state legislatures, such as the one that took place in Michigan in April 2020, began to create a toxic atmosphere surrounding state and local governments, with death threats over policy disagreements becoming the norm in all too many communities Then after Trump lost the Presidential election, threats of violence shifted to the national stage, as Trump sought to use every means at his disposal, from invalidation of election results by his own Justice Department, to armed insurrection within law enforcement and the military, to keep him in power. When those measures failed, Trump organized a mass protest, which turned into a violent occupation of the US Capital, to try to force the Vice President to refuse to certify the Biden Victory. Given how Trump's most extreme followers conducted themselves during the four years of his Presidency, no one should have been surprised that the January 6 event turned ugly and violent, with scores of police officers injured, some killed, and members of Congress having to flee or hide for their safety Donald Trump's demagoguery and incitement of violence were visible during his Presidential campaign, and during the entire four years of his Presidency That Presidency ended with one of the ugliest and most frightening events in the entire history of the United States. January 6 showed us who Donald Trump really is. Let us hope it doesn't show where we as a nation are heading.

An Unspoken Racial Subtext for the Rage of the US Right-- TV Advertising

In trying to make sense of the depth of the rage on the American Right, and its growing disillusionment with democratic institutions, it is easy to look to Fox News, conservative talk show hosts and social media figures as major instigators, but I am increasingly convinced that something most people are exposed to every day- television advertising- also plays a role As someone who regularly watches sports on television, one of the things that strikes me, on a daily basis, is how prominent interracial couples, and multi-racial families are in TV ads, especially those for automobiles, vacation rentals, insurance and other "big ticket" items. While as someone who is part of a multi-racial family, I find this gratifying and reassuring, I can only imagine how jarring this must feel to people who grew up thinking being white was the gold standard of American identity, and that "marrying white" was necessary to preserving their social status, already threatened by changes in the US and global economy If you grew up thinking that way, only socialize with people who think that way, and live in communities where multiracial families are rare, these ads could very well make you feel that the country has been taken over by people who despise everything you have grown up believing. When you couple the impact of those ads- which show a shrewd appreciation by major corporations of the multiracial, and global, audience they are targeting with their ads- with fast food advertisements where the majority of actors are people of color, along with the actual sports events being televised, where whites are a minority, and a shrinking one at that, you can get a sense of how what used to be a form of escape, for many white people, is now something that makes them feel angry and vulnerable If there is an expression that best describes their state of mind, it is this " When you grow up in a privileged position, equality seems like a demotion" If you've grown up thinking that being white, dating white, socializing white, and marrying white were not only the norm, but a precondition for keeping the country strong and secure, then watching TV ads, especially during sports events, might well have you thinking that the country has been taken over by alien forces. If you think I am wrong, imagine yourself as a fly on the wall in a bar in Breezy Point, an American Legion Hall in rural Ohio, or in living rooms in small towns across the US, when an NFL game comes on and you see an interracial couple, or a gay couple, in a TV ad The changes taking place in the country's race and gender patterns have far outpaced the ability of many people to embrace or accept them, even though they have liberated many others from age old patterns of subordination and exclusion. Unfortunately, what we have is a prescription for a culture war that is on the verge of evolving into a civil war

R.I.P Ronnie Spector

R.I.P Ronnie Spector, lead singer of the Ronettes, a romantic figure for a generation of young people who had begun to challenge racial boundaries, but who still believed in love and marriage, at least until the Vietnam War and the Counter Culture started to shatter traditional gender roles Ronnie Spector, from a bi-racial family in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, projected a unique combination of innocence and sexiness that broke the hearts of millions of men, and quite a few women, of different racial and cultural backgrounds. She also had an amazing voice and inserted a rhythmic chant in the middle of her vocals " Wo Ho Oh Oh, " that was so distinctive that everyone my age who listened to her, which basically means everyone my age, still remembers Her voice and stage persona was so unique and powerful that she had great career as a solo artist after she left the Ronettes, and her brilliant but abusive husband, Phil Spector. She also did some amazing duets with other artists, including my favorite "Take Me Home Tonight" which she did with Eddie Money I can't think of my life in the early and mid 60's, especially all the times I fell in love, whether it was reciprocated or not, without thinking of songs like "I Can Hear Music" "Baby I Love You" and "Walking in the Rain." The Ronettes' harmonies, coupled with her lead vocals gave me hope of a future of love, joy and harmony, that all the cruelties and injustices of subsequent years couldn't erase. Ronnie Spector embodies the spirit of Sixties Optimism, a spirit we still need to draw upon to take on the challenges of today. She may be gone, but she is not forgotten, at least by me, because her music lives inside my head, and will be with me until it is my turn to leave.

Eugenics and Ethnic Cleansing Are a Global Threat

Two weeks ago, I was privileged to be part of an oral history interview with Jose Francisco Avila, a writer and activist who has helped organize a global movement highlighting the history and culture of the Garifuna people, a group of mixed African and indigenous ancestry exiled from Caribbean Islands to coastal Honduras, Guatemala and Belize several centuries ago who now have a sizable presence in several US cities. One of the issues Mr Avila raised was the discrimination that Garifuna people faced in central American countries who prided themselves on their mixed race population. "Mestizaje," the dominant ideology of these societies, Mr Avila insisted, was infused with "anti-blackness" and until this anti blackness was openly confronted, Garifuna people, would remain second class citizens in Central American societies and vulnerable to discrimination and displacement. When Mr. Avila made this powerful statement, I immediately started thinking about several current trends in US society, especially the attempt to build a border wall to halt Latin American and Caribbean immigration and the effort to purge school curricula of materials exploring systematic racism in US History. Both of these movements were driven by an effort to preserve white/European dominance in a society becoming more racially mixed. Combined with what Mr Avila described, they showed the global character of movements to which promote ethnic cleansing and a striving for group dominance defined along ethnic and racial lines Then, only a week ago, when Whoopi Goldberg got in trouble for arguing that the Holocaust was not "racial" because both the executioners and victims were "white," another bell went off in my head, made louder by communications from my friend educator/activist Jeff Canady. Canady pointed to articles from the European press showing how anti-vaccine protesters in Europe were blaming vaccine and mask mandates on Jewish scientists and financiers ( led by the omnipresent George Soros!), using racialized images of Jews straight out of the Nazi playbook. The point here is that ALL ideologies and political movements which base their policies on purifying populations on the basis of race or nationality, and demonizing, discriminating against, and murdering other populations based on those same criteria, are rooted in the same flawed concepts of human identity, and are profoundly dangerous. In the long run, those who tolerate and endorse anti-blacknessthose who tolerate and endorse anti-Semitism, those who promote forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples, and whose who promote division of nation states along ethnic and racial lines, are creating a world which pits neighbor against neighbor, divides families and communities and puts us all at risk It is time for us to take a stand against all political ideologies rooted in Eugenics. These world views are as much a danger to our safety as Climate Change and the Pandemic

TBS New Directions Bold New Approach to Reducing Youth Violence in the Bronx

For many years, I have been telling anyone willing to listen that the worst thing that ever happened to the young people of the Bronx, and New York City, was the closing of the night centers that were fixtures in New York City Public Schools until they were shut down during the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970's. I grew up in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood going to those centers, which were open 7-9 PM 5 nights a week, and person after person I interviewed for the Bronx African American History Project, which I founded 20 years ago, mentioned their profound impact on their lives and futures No one I interviewed spoke more eloquently about this subject than Howie Evans, a legendary coach, educator and former sports editor of the Amsterdam News, whose described how a night center director named Vincent Tibbs saved his life during a gang conflict in the mid 1950's. This short article I wrote in 2013 describes his experience. ( I find it devastating that young people growing up today in the Bronx have fewer opportunities to find relief from challenging street and family situations, and find mentors to guide and support them, than Mr Evans and I had more than 60 years ago. Well yesterday, I had an opportunity to spend time with five individuals from a remarkable organization called TBS New Directions who not only knew exactly what I was talking about, but had a plan to adapt my plan to special challenges facing Bronx Youth Today. These remarkable men, former members of a legendary gang called the Black Spades, work tirelessly to try to reach young people in the Bronx caught up in devastating cycles of violence, and they see opening gymnasiums in local schools and churches as a key element in making Bronx communities safer for all their members But in our conversations on this subject, they emphasized over and over again that opening gyms and community centers were not enough. Communities needed to make sure that young people felt safe going to and from such facilities, especially if they were located on a different block or in a different housing project, than the one they lived in. Why? Because according to members of TBS New Directions, who have an intimate knowledge of gang life because they lived it themselves, the Bronx today is minutely divided between different gangs and crews that make it unsafe for young people, from early adolescence on, to leave their apartment houses, their blocks, even the schools they attend, if it means walking through areas controlled by a different group. What TBS New Directions suggests is that when gyms and centers are re-opened, communities hire auxiliary police, or security guards, to stand on street corners and other locations during the hours the centers are open, so young people feel safe to attend them. Otherwise, they warn, the centers and gyms will be empty even if they offer programs and mentorship young people need, and actually crave When listening to these individuals talk, especially Marion "Tiny" Frampton, leader of TBS New Directions, I felt that for the first time, there was an actual organization, working with Bronx youth today, that was determined to implement changes that people like Howie Evans had been calling for years, and to adapt them to current conditions. Not only were they in regular conversations with young people in the Bronx, both those involved in gangs and crews and those who weren't, they were working closely with educators and religious leaders like Sheikh Musa Drammeh who were trying to bring some measure of safety and security to residents of hard pressed Bronx communities. I urge everyone who loves the Bronx, and everyone who believes in the potential of young people in New York City to support TBS New Directions in their efforts, financially, politically, and, if possible, to their outreach to young people in schools and streets If we want to have safe communities for essential workers and their children, for senior citizens, for immigrants, for everyone who use public transportation and whose children attend public schools, we need to open all the gyms and community centers whose doors are currently shut and make sure young people can safely walk to them when they do open This is a matter of the highest priority for the future of our city. Please support TBS New Directions in any way you can to help them in this noble cause