TONY COX, host:
This is News & Notes. I'm Tony Cox. The economic meltdown has Americans paying closer attention to their finances. Are African-Americans taking note? Plus, is the Democratic Party taking black-owned media for granted in the state of Florida? And today marks the end of our Monday's Blogger's Roundtable. Our regular contributors offer reflections on their time here at News & Notes. So joining me now is Chris Rabb, the founder and chief evangelist of Afro-Netizen, founded in 1999, he is currently a fellow at the progressive think thank Demos - you can check out his blog at bloggingwhileblack.com; Jasmyne Cannick, who blogs at JasmyneCannick.com; and Charles Robinson of Charles Black Politics Blog. Hey, everybody.
Mr. CHRIS RABB (Founder, Afro-Netizen): Hello, Tony.
Ms. JASMYNE CANNICK (JasmyneCannick.com): Hi.
COX: Hello. Let's talks about this. Jasmyne, I'm going to come to you first. Black communities across the country - and this is the follow-up to the conversation I just had with Keith Reed and Dr. Julianne Malveaux about economy literacy. Black communities across the country often turn to check cashing places and not banks. Our phone cards are often pay-as-you-go and not multiyear plans. In other words, a lower-income economy has largely defined the way poorer folks operate. Now, these folks already have a sort of financial literacy, but is it sufficient when we're in the type of national meltdown that we're in?
Ms. CANNICK: That's a very, very interesting question. You know, I was driving around Compton not too long ago, and we were counting the number check-cashing places versus banks. And it's almost to the point where the ratio is the same as it is for liquor stores, churches, and motels. And I think that says a lot. I mean, I - obviously, the country is in a economic crisis right now, but if you look at the news, if you look at who the focus is on, it's on middle-class America. The people that we're talking about right now are not middle-class America. So, I think that they're already - they've already been there. I don't necessarily know if the crisis is affecting them as much as it is affecting sort of quote, unquote Middle-Class America folks that we tend to be more focused on. So, do they need to be financially literate, you know, and all in terms of, you know, getting the bank account versus, you know, using the check-cashing place? Obviously, that will be a good thing for them to do, but I don't think that it's feasible when you're talking about a population of people who, A, get paid once a month and have to figure out a way to stretch that money from, you know, the first, second, third or fourth when they get it to the next time it goes around, and B, when you're talking about communities where even within their own communities, they don't make it accessible for them to get that literacy. They don't get that information. I mean, instead of bringing in banks into the community, we have city councils and politicians who are catering to businesses like check cashing and payday loans, and we'd rather have those in the community.
COX: Well, let me ask you, Charles. How can people who are in the lower rung move up out of that and into the middle class if they don't become more knowledgeable about the financial situation and the economy as a whole?
Mr. ROBINSON: Well, it's about financial literacy. Obviously, you know, I call those type of payday loan folks, those are short-term issues for folk who are living literally paycheck to paycheck. But I think we live in a duality, if you will. Those folks who have or had jobs, were looking to move up, those are the folks who got caught up in those mortgage deals that sounded too good to be true. In other words, you want to get out of the apartment, so somebody told you you could have a house for $300 that's worth a half a million dollars. And you said, OK, that sounds like a cool deal. And then, of course, you couldn't pay that little bit of money that you thought because your mortgage rate adjusted. And I think part of this financial literacy that needs to happen is, is that look how much money they've taken out of your little bit of check. But the bottom line is, is that, you know, banks all over the country are not establishing themselves in communities, period. I mean, I think there's a shrinkage going on, where you literally got to drive four to five miles just to get to a bank. I mean, think about the number of ATMs that are in the inner city versus the suburban areas.
COX: Well, that's an interesting point, and many of the ATMs that are in the inner city are in 7-Elevens and places like that, where they charge you a lot to use them. But Chris, the credit crisis though, it does affect these people even on the bottom rung, doesn't it?
Mr. RABB: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it impacts all Americans. Obviously, those with the least amount of income are impacted the most because they have fewer options, just like Jasmyne was saying earlier. They - you know, they got one paycheck a month and they're trying to stretch it as far as they can. But, you know, the other thing that we really have to talk about whenever we talk about black folk and money is wealth. And so, we should really be talking about wealth literacy because if you don't understand the difference between wealth and income, it doesn't matter whether you're in a bank or you're in a cash - a predatory lending operation. The reality is, even those of us who consider ourselves middle class, which is a very vague socioeconomic stratum, we don't have any wealth. We don't have any assets. For many of us, our house is our biggest asset, and our mortgage is more expensive than the value of our home. Right, so…
Mr. RABB: We don't inherit the same amount. In fact, we have one-twelfth of the wealth of our white counterparts, one-twelfth. Not half, but one-twelfth. When you - even when you control for class - quote, unquote, class, the disparity between whites and blacks based on wealth is ridiculous. But the fact of the matter is, mainstream media doesn't talk about it, our black organizations don't talk about it with the consistency and depth that they need to, and we're not educating ourselves as much as we should. But, you know, we use the Internet differently than other demographic groups. So, when black folks surf, we overwhelmingly use it for education, health and employment, and also news. You know, so that means we need to make sure that we have more independent black media.
COX: That's an interesting point that you make.
Mr. ROBINSON: Tony...
COX: Let me just ask you this before we move on, Charles, because I want to follow up on something that Chris mentioned, and that is - well, we talked about the lower economic class, but there are a lot of black folks who are in the middle class who themselves are not necessarily as financially literate as they should be. If you agree, say so, Charles, and then make your point.
Mr. ROBINSON: Yes, I agree with that. But the thing is, is that black folks have been dealing with recessions for a long time. You know, white folks just found out it was a recession; black folks known it was a recession for a long time. And they've been dealing with this, so they've been cutting back. So, they didn't buy the Lexus this go around, nor did they go out and, you know, spend their money. Those are the folks who are hoarding their money because they know that tough times are going to be around the corner, and they're not just going out and spending frivolously. They look at the fact that their friends are losing their jobs and they say, am I next?
COX: All right. I'll tell you what? Let's move on to another topic just because that was a good one, and we could talk about it the whole time. But there are some other ones that are also important that I want us to spend some time on, this being our last time together. Jasmyne, I want to come to you on this one because the California Supreme Court heard arguments earlier this month on the constitutionality of Prop 8, the initiative that overturned the legal same-sex marriage here in California. The court will issue a ruling by early June. But this has been a particularly divisive issue in the black community. I don't have to tell any of you. I actually saw, Jasmyne, a Yes on 8 poster in a neighborhood window the other day, not far from where I live. How likely are we to see the court overturning Prop 8, do you think?
Ms. CANNICK: That's a good question, too, and yes, I still see Yes on 8 signs and No on 8 signs in my neighborhood as well. And I live in one of those neighborhoods that's still black right now. I think anytime you have a decision that's overturned by the people, there's always that chance that the court - because again, this - you understand the context, this was one decision that a group of people decided they didn't like, so they put the proposition on the ballot, basically overturning what the original decision was. So, I'm under the belief that the court is going to come back and say, hey, we're going to go back to what we said originally, and it will be proven that it's unconstitutional. It could happen, could not happen. What I know for sure is that what happened November 4th can't happen again, and that they have a lot of work to do and they, meaning, the gay community. And a lot of times I separate myself because I'm a lesbian, but I'm a black lesbian, which holds a different distinction all of its own.
Ms. CANNICK: And so the white gay community has a lot of work that they need to do. Because they went a little buck wild with it after...
(Soundbite of laughter)
COX: Go ahead, Charles - let me just say for people who are tuning in, this is the Roundtable. This is News & Notes. I'm Tony Cox. We're talking with Chris Rabb, founder and chief evangelist of Afro-Netizen. We're also talking with Jasmyne Cannick, who blogs at JasmyneCannick.com, and Charles Robinson of Charles Black Politics dot...
Mr. ROBINSON: Blog.
(Soundbite of laughter)
COX: Charles Black Politics Blog. All right, Charles, take it away.
Mr. ROBINSON: Very simply, we here back on the East Coast keep wondering, is this California? We thought you guys are about free love, you know, gay marriage. We are just having a difficult time figuring out why black folk don't like gay people. Because we know in the church...
COX: Ah, man.
Mr. ROBINSON: We know in the church, you know, I'm not going to suggest that the musical minister is gay, but we know he's a little bit flamboyant. We don't understand why you all got a problem with that.
COX: I don't know what to say.
Mr. RABB: Who are you are referring to, Charles?
COX: Yeah, Charles.
Mr. ROBINSON: Well, I'm suggesting that in most black churches, and you correct me if I'm wrong, the musical minister is a tad bit flamboyant.
Mr. RABB: I'm familiar with that sentiment(ph).
Ms. CANNICK: Or the pastor, not just the choir director, but I give you amen, amen.
Mr. ROBINSON: I mean...
COX: All right, so I hear what you're...
Mr. ROBINSON: I know we're trying to figure out, well, wait a minute. We heard that California was one of the most progressive states in the country. But black folks don't want gay folks?
COX: What you're talking about is an apparent hypocrisy in the black community…
Mr. ROBINSON: Exactly.
COX: When you have people associated with the church who are either clearly homosexual or who appear to be and may not have come out. And at the same time, the church turns its back on things like gay marriage. That's the point that you're trying to make?
Mr. ROBINSON: Absolutely. And you can talk about AIDS. You know, nobody wants to admit there's AIDS going on in the black community. And we're - and I think at least some of us on the East Coast are wondering, we thought California is a little bit more progressive.
COX: Well, I guess they found out, didn't they?
Mr. RABB: Well, you know, Three Strikes started in California...
Mr. RABB: So, I don't know how progressive that is.
COX: So, Jasmyne, what it sounds like from listening to Charles and to Chris and the conversation that we're having, that there is a long way to go before this fissure can be closed.
Mr. CANNICK: Absolutely. And I'm going to do my part here in California to help make sure that we close it. I will let everyone know first that my film is almost done. It's "A White Gay's Guide on How to Deal With the Black Community: For Dummies."
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CANNICK: And it is a documentary. And I'm going to help the gay community understand where black people are coming from on this.
COX: All right, you know, we talked more about these two things, and they took up some of the time that we were going to use to talk about the media in Florida. But I want to use the last moments that we have together for this, instead, because I think that it's important. We have been doing Bloggers' Roundtable for a few years now. And Jasmyne, you were one of the very first ones who participated in this here with us at News & Notes. Just briefly, what was it like that first day, and what's been the impact on you from your participation on this?
Mr. CANNICK: Well, I will say that it was ingenious for News & Notes to include bloggers on their radio program because to my knowledge, it hadn't been done. And it also created a partnership online that was just a very smart partnership. Because each of the different bloggers that have been featured have brought their audiences to News & Notes and helped - grew that audience. And, I mean, from day one up until today, it's been fabulous. It's just been a fabulous experience. And I've heard from people all over the world who tune in to News & Notes, and it's truly, truly a loss for the community, and I'm still debating on whether or not I'll be picketing on Monday.
COX: Oh, my. Chris...
Mr. RABB: I hear you.
COX: I'm not sure how many times you have been a part of the Bloggers, but what's been your experience?
Mr. RABB: One hundred seventy-three.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. CANNICK: Wow.
COX: What's been your experience?
Mr. ROBINSON: Yeah.
Mr. RABB: Well, you know, I didn't realize we existed. You know, just the fact that News & Notes had the foresight and intelligence, quite frankly, to recognize and, you know, validate those of us who are in the net roots, because, you know, we often don't even get that attention on the political left in the blogosphere, and to have it...
COX: Well, you know...
Mr. RABB: Yeah, really. I mean, I am often a very, very small minority, statistical minority in a lot of these, quote, unquote, progressive liberal environments. And it's good to see that there's at least one program that acknowledges what we do and respects the panoply of voices and perspectives that we represent online and on land. And, you know, that's important. You know, when I first started in '99, there were white folk who were like, wait, you have a computer? You know, it's - I mean, there's a level of, you know, lack of exposure and a set of assumptions that made it very difficult to toil, you know, below the radar before blogging became sexy. And...
COX: Well, you know what? Let me bring Charles in here to say - there was discussion even here at News & Notes about whether it would be valuable to have bloggers giving just their opinions, and whether or not the people who blog are people who have credibility. Do they do their homework? Do they know what the heck they are talking about? But it seems, over the years that we have done this, Charles, that it has become clear, like anyplace else, you have really good bloggers and you have some that are, you know, not so good, but it is not just bloviating opinions.
Mr. ROBINSON: No, it isn't. In fact, you know, at the time, I was writing about a unique niche, about black politics in America, and I met this guy named Barack Obama, and I had no way to get out that I met this guy, and the blog became this - kind of my notes on the road. I also met this guy named Michael Steele. And now, these are like the political darlings of today. And part of what - you know, I was recently asked about, well, what is your blog trying to do? I always said, my blog should wow you. In other words, you should say wow at the end of it. And this program gave voice to a lot of folk who were saying things that were going on in communities across the country that needed to be said. I understand that, you know, we're not going to get invited to "Meet the Press" or "Fox and Friends" or anything like that. So, our voices were part of a paradigm that will not go away, you know. Think about all of the blogs that are out there. As I jokingly say, black blogs are nothing but a black novella that can write about anything and everything. And at the end of the day, you know, we do have something to say. And you're right, not everyone is, you know, doing the homework, but those of us who are doing the homework are glad that we got a chance to tell our stories, not just online but to a much broader audience.
COX: Well, you know, and that's the good thing I'll say as I bring this to a close and to let all of you know how much we appreciate you and the other bloggers who we have had on. News & Notes was a conduit, I suppose. You could describe it as an opportunity to begin something that, while it is ending in this form, perhaps it will pick up in another form at some point in the future. But on behalf of the staff and everyone here at News & Notes, Jasmyne, Chris, Charles, thank you very much.
Mr. RABB: Thank you, Tony.
Ms. CANNICK: Thank you.
Mr. ROBINSON: Thank you.
COX: That was Chris Rabb from the blog Afro-Netizen, he joined us from the studios of Audio Post in Philadelphia; Charles Robinson of Charles Black Politics Blog, he joined us from NPR headquarters in Washington D.C.; and Jasmyne Cannick, who blogs at JasmyneCannick.com, she joined us here in the studios of NPR West.
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