Roundtable: Gulf Coast Aid, Kanye West as Jesus
ED GORDON, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.
On today's roundtable: the federal government commits big money to the Gulf Coast region, and black versus brown, a new kind of racial discrimination. Joining us today to discuss the topics, from our New York bureau, Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition; and from Washington DC, at our NPR headquarters, economist and author Julianne Malveaux who is president and CEO of Last Word Productions; and Yvonne Bynoe, author of the book Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and the Hip-Hop Culture.
Folks, we had Alfonso Jackson on the program with us last week. We talked about the doings and goings on at HUD. Here this week, an announcement of $11.5 billion dollars to give to the states that were hit by Hurricane Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. The emergency fund comes from HUD's community development block grant program.
Julianne, when you take a look at that, there are those who are concerned now that because this number is so big, the federal government may indeed disperse this money and then walk away from the states. Any concern there?
Dr. JULIANNE MALVEAUX (Economist, Author and President and CEO, Last Word Productions, Inc.): Well, Ed, my concern is that the money so small, not that it's so big. When you're looking in Louisiana, and they're talking about a $12 billion need for rebuilding there, and they get half of that, when you're looking at estimates that range from - you just talked to Barbara Lee - from 30, you know, $30 billion to $80 billion coming from the legislators in the affected areas. You're looking at a fraction of that.
We spend $6 billion a month in Iraq, and we are not prepared to make any number of Americans whole. We have a region that's devastated, and we're going to hit it and quit it, essentially, with $11.5 billion. I think that's insufficient, and I think that many people feel that it's insufficient. The Congressional Black Caucus has significant legislation in HR 4197 that's a comprehensive bill to deal with the reunion of families and the recovery of this region.
I mean, we've all had big fun talking about Ray Nagin, who spoke at the US Conference of Mayors yesterday, but the fact is that this brother has got to be frustrated at the way his state and his city has been treated by the federal government.
Mr. MICHAEL MYERS (President and Executive Director, New York Civil Rights Coalition): I agree with Julianne Malveaux.
Dr. MALVEAUX: Oh, wow.
Mr. MYERS: $12 billion dollars is a HUD start, but it's not a head start on eliminating poverty. As Barbara Lee was suggesting - although I don't think that you can abolish poverty through a statute or through a series of statutes - but poverty in America is a major problem, and $12 billion is just a drop in the bucket. But when you talk about abolishing poverty and, particularly, targeting money for affordable housing and for the displaced and the homeless, that your history of block grants has been that there's been too much local discretion and not enough federal regulation to make sure that the money is spent in the ways that are appropriate to give relief to the people who need it.
Moreover, poverty is about a lack of education, about a lack of living wage jobs, it's about getting people and moving people to areas where there are jobs and affordable housing, and when you look at just New Orleans and the Gulf States, you have a devastated region, and you're going to need a lot more than $12 billion.
GORDON: Well, Yvonne, isn't the key here something I asked Barbara Lee, and that's the idea of keeping this on the front burner. HUD is not suggesting that this is the only money that they're going to give, but one has to believe that if politically this isn't kept in the fore, it may in fact dwindle in terms of the dollars siphoned down there.
Ms. YVONNE BYNOE (Author): Well, I think that's certainly the case, but I think, as has already been stated, this is not enough money, but more importantly, as, we're talking about these block grants, but I don't think that the intent is to resolve any poverty issues. I think that these moneys are being put forward, and again, they're giving the states the discretion to make the decisions that feel best for their interests. That might be alleviating poverty, it might be turned towards business interests, so I think to assume that this is about alleviating poverty is missing the point.
I think as we all know that this is not enough money and also, too, particularly in Louisiana, there is no plan afoot. They are still in the talking, deliberating stages, trying to figure out what's going to work, so you're giving this money, but to do what?
So I'm not clear, in the absence of some real strategic planning and some development ideas, solid ideas, that this money is going to really service the people who need the help.
GORDON: Well, let's be clear, though. Let's be clear here, though, that this money, the administration would tell you and HUD would tell you, is not their move to eradicate poverty. It's their move to rebuild the Gulf region by providing disaster relief.
Ms. BYNOE: Certainly.
Dr. MALVEAUX: You know what, Ed? The thing that, I find the comment from the young lady quite absurd here in that there are two recovery agencies as well as comprehensive legislation. It's not that money is being thrown into a vacuum. Indeed, plans have been made. Programs have been built up. I was on the phone yesterday with a member of the Louisiana Recovery Authority. This group has met several times and continues to meet.
There was a piece in the New York Times last week about the hospital capacity being cut by 80% so that there's nowhere to go if you're hurt. You can't say this money's just being thrown into the wind.
Ms. BYNOE: I don't believe that's...
Dr. MALVEAUX: The fact is, just a minute, I'm talking, just a moment please. The fact is that, the fact is that there are plans for this money. People have developed plans for this money, and the government has come up short. Not only Democrats, but Republicans from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, have come together to talk about programs, but the federal government is too entwined in Iraq to deal with it.
GORDON: All right, Yvonne, pick up.
Ms. BYNOE: Well, I think that we can all disagree and be civil in doing it. The point...
Dr. MALVEAUX: Try it then.
Ms. BYNOE: The point that I was talking about is to say that when you're talking about putting out money and there's still no solid plan on the table as is in Louisiana. They're still having town meetings. They're still trying to find people who are living or who had left the area. So I think certainly when no one's suggesting that the money is just being thrown in a pit, but I think that in the absence, again, but in the absence of being clear about where the state is going to put these resources, it's pure folly at this point.
GORDON: All right. Let's turn our attention so I can keep some civility going here.
Mr. MEYERS: Absolutely. (Unintelligble)
(Soundbite of laughter)
GORDON: To a new wave of racial discrimination cases appearing in the workplace, and the EEOC has suggested they've seen a rise in these cases, Yvonne Bynoe, and it's something that African Americans and Hispanics have talked about being careful about, and that is, not pitting one against another, but we're seeing a rise in discrimination cases from African-Americans who are feeling that they're being passed over for jobs for Hispanics. This is something that has been talked about for, quite frankly, years and suggested that we need to be careful not to fight over the spoils of jobs, and we're starting to see it now.
Ms. BYNOE: Well, I think that certainly we should not get into the divide and conquer mentality, but there is a reality on the ground that employers do have their biases, and for some employers, they would prefer to hire Latino workers, some because they feel that these people will, are more exploitable than black citizens who might have more of a handle on what their rights are, sometimes because they feel they can exploit their undocumented status and hire them for cheaper wages with no benefits. And also, too, there is the idea amongst some people that they will work harder because of they're here, they're part of that immigrant mentality.
I think that we have to be clear that when people are asserting their rights, they have, they should be doing so, and if that affects another person of another race, I think we need to move forward with that. If they have a real case, that will be ferreted out. If it's specious, than that will be ferreted out as well.
Mr. MEYERS: Well, discrimination...
GORDON: Michael Myers?
Mr. MEYERS: Discrimination in the work place is more than just a feeling. It's more than just a perception. It's an actuality, and it's fact, and it's fact-based. There's nothing that shouts discrimination louder in the workplace than a workforce that has all, like, one race or one ethnic group, where you have qualified, even better qualified applicants, particularly from other minorities, who are not in the workplace because they've been passed over, discriminated against or excluded. And Title XII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is designed to fight discrimination against anyone because of their ethnicity or their race.
So where you have a preference for Hispanics on the part of employers, it puts the spotlight on the often told lie that blacks don't apply for low-wage jobs, mail-room jobs, factory jobs, heavy lifting service jobs. They do. And the stereotype is exactly what Yvonne said. It's the stereotype about the Hispanics working harder than the blacks, and that stereotype fuels discrimination in the workplace.
GORDON: Lest we think, though, Julianne Malveaux, that this is only happening on the low-end of the wage scale, that is not the case. We are also starting to hear these grumblings from economic, or I should say, the suites of corporate America as well.
Dr. MALVEAUX: Well, you know, the backdrop, of course, to all of this is the fact that the Latino population is growing more rapidly than the African American population. They now are, of course, the largest minority, although by just a few hundred thousand. And so, in corporate America, you know, corporate America is about the flavor of the month. You've got a lot of people who do ethnic marketing, and they've seen the shift of money from African American marketing to Latino marketing. You've seen a fair amount of that in corporate America.
We have to do two things. One is to resist the notion of having some kind of people of color warfare. There was a moment, Ed, in 2001, when George Wells(ph) was on This Week with George, I think at that time, whoever was the anchor. Anyway, he literally was salivating when he said, oh African American are no longer the largest minority, and if Hispanics are lined with whites, then we don't have to think about blacks anymore. I think that's what a lot of white people are thinking, so we've got to resist that. I mean, that moment just kind of stays in my mind because he said it.
Mr. MYERS: A lot of Hispanics are white.
Ms. MALVEAUX: Hey. And a lot of them are black, you know? And talk to the black Hispanics. But the other piece of this is that this thing is real. There was a piece in the Los Angeles Times about four years ago where a person who was hiring temporary help described Hispanics as just black people but without the attitude. That speaks to the stereotype that, you know, they'll work harder, hustle more, and perhaps take lower wages. But when people are taking lower wages, that is to all of our detriment. And so these EEOC cases are real cases, but we almost can't discuss this without having a backdrop of what's happening socially...
Ms. MALVEAUX: ..and as you say, in the suites. But also, too, I...
GORDON: All right, let me take this, let me take this very quickly because we've got to get this in. We've got an abbreviated Roundtable today and that is Reverend Al Sharpton coming out against the Cartoon Network and Aaron McGruder, the creator of The Boondocks cartoon, that featured on the Cartoon Network and the animated series The Boondocks, Reverend Martin Luther King saying the N word.
The backdrop was that King had come out of a coma and was railing against, and venting against, sexually implicit hip-hop videos, among other things, and uttered the N word. That's a quick thumbnail of the episode. Yvonne, when we see people taking pushes at icons, we've been here before with Rosa Parks and others, fair game. Sharpton and others have really been the, the keepers of the gate here to say there are some untouchables.
Ms. BYNOE: Well, look, Ed, I think the fact that the use of the N word on this show is somewhat ridiculous, is really excessive. I also too think that Al Sharpton, Reverend Al Sharpton, has the right to voice his displeasure. But frankly, in my opinion, I'd be more interested in him dealing with some substantive issues, as opposed to talking about this. We should be respectful of civil rights icons, but in a free society where we purport to have freedom of speech, they have the right to do this.
And the people who watch this show and watch this network certainly support that. So, again, I think that his efforts should be towards things that he can really control, that we can get behind, on economic issues, on some political issues and we should move beyond having these conversations over and over.
Ms. BYNOE: We saw this in Barbershop. It went nowhere and I don't think this is going anywhere either.
Mr. MYERS: My view is, to Al Sharpton, and I cannot use that word on NPR, but negro, please. It's a satirical, political cartoon on a cable channel. You don't ban words on a cable channel. If you did, look at Curb Your Enthusiasm. They use the N word, they use the F word, they use the C word, imagine what that is, all the time. I think it's ironic, quite frankly, (unintelligible)...
GORDON: His suggestion, though, let's be careful, his suggestion is not to ban the N word. But he wants an apology because it was uttered...
Mr. MYERS: You are banning (unintelligible).
GORDON: ...because it was uttered from a King in this.
Mr. MYERS: No. Al Sharpton's history...
Ms. MALVEAUX: But you know what? Al Sharpton's needs to...
Mr. MYERS: Al Sharpton's history with respect to the use of certain words, he's written to the FCC before on other issues. I think it's ironic that the biggest verbal offender, like Al Sharpton, is always demanding that others apologize for their racial barbs and he never apologizes for his own.
Ms. MALVEAUX: Well, I would disagree with you on that but agree with you largely in substance. I find this all amusing. I mean, I obviously would not like to see the N word uttered, and certainly not out of Dr. King's mouth, but Aaron McGruder has made an industry out of poking it at folks and being at the very cutting edge, almost over the edge.
Mr. MYERS: And Chris Rock.
Ms. MALVEAUX: And I think that at some level he is funny and he's irreverent and it's okay. My challenge with Brother Sharpton is that he needs to get a life. I mean, that literally is the challenge with him. You had a dynamic movement that you turned into a one-person crusade where you decided to run for president, not to, as the Reverend Jackson did, empower a generation of political activists, but instead to get yourself a cable show.
Mr. MYERS: Mmm.
Ms. MALVEAUX: Called get a job or something like that. (unintelligible).
GORDON: Now, Julianne, we don't know that that was the impetus of his to just run for the White House.
Ms. MALVEAUX: Well, this is my interpretation.
Ms. MALVEAUX: This is commentary, right?
GORDON: Okay, let's, well, you'll have to wait 'til you get that (unintelligible).
Mr. MYERS: Somebody said amen.
GORDON: But go ahead, go ahead, go ahead, about a minute left, Julianne.
Ms. MALVEAUX: There's some truth to that.
Ms. BYNOE: (unintelligible).
Ms. MALVEAUX: There's some truth to that. He was on Virginia doing his loan commercial, then he's trying to get his own sitcom, and now he's on another program, The Barbershop, or something or other, so I'm not sure that although his intent...
Mr. MYERS: Sharp talk.
Ms. BYNOE: (soundbite of laughter) (unintelligible).
Ms. MALVEAUX: ...and the fact that (unintelligible) ...the loan commercial thing, the loan commercial thing was egregious. It was absolutely egregious.
GORDON: No, but this does go back to, Michael Myers, literally, with 30 seconds left, Michael Myers, doesn't this go back to the idea that unlike white candidates who step away and are gobbled up by corporate boards and the like, African American candidates that run for the White House often have nowhere to go.
Ms. MALVEAUX: But, but, but...
Mr. MYERS: Al Sharpton, they didn't have, Al Sharpton couldn't go to the White House. Neither could Jesse Jackson.
Ms. MALVEAUX: (unintelligible).
Mr. MYERS: Al Sharpton ran because he wanted to be in the public eye. He's a buffoon.
Ms. MALVEAUX: No, he ran because Jesse did. That, let, let's be clear, that the primary motivation of much of Sharpton's organization's been, Jesse did it, so can I.
GORDON: All right, all right guys. I gotta stop you there.
Mr. MYERS: I agree with, I agree...
GORDON: I don't know how we got from Aaron McGruder to beating up on Reverend Al Sharpton, but Michael Myers, Julianne Malveaux, Yvonne Bynoe, thanks so much, greatly appreciate it.
Ms. BYNOE: Thank you.
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