US Black Farmworkers Say They Lost Jobs to Foreigners Who Were Paid More

Seems like a clear case of displacement of long-term farmworkers by temporary foreign workers, ironically and disgracefully African Americans replaced by white South Africans:

For more than a quarter-century, Richard Strong worked the fertile farmland of the Mississippi Delta, just as his father and his grandfather did, a family lineage of punishing labor and meager earnings that stretched back to his enslaved ancestors brought from Africa.

He tilled the soil, fertilized crops and irrigated the fields, nurturing an annual bounty of cotton, soybeans and corn for a prominent farming family. “I’ve been around farming all my life,” Mr. Strong said. “It’s all we knew.”

Black families with deep connections to the Delta have historically been the ones to perform fieldwork. That began to change about a decade ago, when the first of dozens of young, white workers flew in from South Africa on special guest worker visas. Mr. Strong and his co-workers trained the men, who by last year were being lured across the globe with wages of more than $11 an hour, compared with the $7.25 an hour that Mr. Strong and other Black local workers were paid.

Growers brought in more South Africans with each passing year, and they are now employed at more than 100 farms across the Delta. Mr. Strong, 50, and several other longtime workers said they were told their services were no longer needed.

“I never did imagine that it would come to the point where they would be hiring foreigners, instead of people like me,” Mr. Strong said.

From the wheat farms in the Midwest to the citrus groves in California’s Central Valley, growers have increasingly turned to foreign workers as aging farmworkers exit the fields and low-skilled workers opt for jobs in construction, hospitality and warehouses, which offer higher pay, year-round work and, sometimes, benefits.

The agricultural guest worker program, known by the shorthand H-2A, was once shunned by farmers here and elsewhere as expensive and bureaucratic. But the continuing farm labor shortages across the country pushed H-2A visas up to 213,394 in the 2020 fiscal year, from 55,384 in 2011.

“Our choice is between importing our food or importing the work force necessary to produce domestically,” said Craig Regelbrugge, a veteran agricultural industry advocate who is an expert on the program. “That’s never been truer than it is today. Virtually all new workers entering into the agriculture work force these days are H-2A workers.”

In the Mississippi Delta, a region of high unemployment and entrenched poverty, the labor mobility that is widening the pool of fieldworkers is having a devastating effect on local workers who are often ill-equipped to compete with the new hires, frequently younger and willing to work longer hours.

The new competition is upending what for many has been a way of life in the rich farmlands of Mississippi. “It’s like being robbed of your heritage,” Mr. Strong said.

In Mississippi, where the legacy of slavery and racism has long pervaded work in the cotton fields, a federal lawsuit filed by Mr. Strong and five other displaced Black farmworkers claims that the new foreign workers were illegally paid at higher rates than local Black workers, who it said had for years been subjected to racial slurs and other demeaning treatment from a white supervisor.

Two additional plaintiffs are preparing to join the suit, which says farmers violated civil rights law by hiring only white workers from South Africa, a country with its own history of racial injustice.

“Black workers have been doing this work for generations,” said Ty Pinkins, a lawyer at the Mississippi Center for Justice, which is representing the Black farmworkers in the lawsuit. “They know the land, they know the seasons, they know the equipment.”

A vast flood plain, the Mississippi Delta boasts some of the country’s richest soil. It also is the poorest pocket of the poorest state. In Indianola, a town of almost 10,000 about 95 miles north of Jackson, the median household income is $28,941.

The hometown of the blues legend B.B. King, Indianola is the seat of Sunflower County, where empty storefronts line forlorn downtowns and children play outside crumbling shacks.

The region, which is more than 70 percent Black, remains rigidly segregated. Black children attend underfunded public schools while white students go to private academies. Black and white families bury their dead in different cemeteries.

The Delta is only one of a number of places where South Africans have been hired for agricultural work in recent years. While Mexicans accounted for the largest share of last year’s H-2A visas, or 197,908 of them, the second-largest number, 5,508, went to South Africans. Their numbers soared 441 percent between 2011 and 2020.

Garold Dungy, who until two years ago ran an agency that recruited foreign farmworkers, including for Pitt Farms, the operation that employed Mr. Strong and the other plaintiffs, said South Africans represented the bulk of his business. They are “the preferred group,” he said, because of their strong work ethic and fluency in English.

Under the program, growers can hire foreign workers for up to 10 months. They must pay them an hourly wage that is set by the Labor Department and varies from state to state, as well as their transportation and housing.

Farmers must also show that they have tried, and failed, to find Americans to perform the work and they must pay domestic workers the same rate they are paying the imported laborers.

According to the Black workers’ lawsuit, Pitt Farms paid the South Africans $9.87 an hour in 2014, a rate that reached $11.83 in 2020. The plaintiffs who worked in the fields were paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour or $8.25 on weekends, plus occasional bonuses.

Both Walter Pitts, a co-owner of Pitts Farms, and the farm’s lawyer, Timothy Threadgill, declined to discuss the farm’s hiring strategy because of the pending litigation.

The reliance on South Africans may reflect the nature of agriculture and the demographics in the Mississippi Delta, compared with places like California.

“In the Mississippi Delta, row-crop production requires fewer workers but workers who have skills to use machinery and equipment,” said Elizabeth Canales, an agricultural extension economist at Mississippi State University. “We hardly have any Latinos in this remote region. Naturally, it’s easier to hire South Africans where language will not be a barrier, especially because in this area, you have a very small Spanish-speaking population.”

The South Africans arrived in the region willing to work weeks that sometimes stretched to 75 hours or more, grueling schedules that might have been difficult for older local workers to maintain, industry analysts said.

There was initially no public controversy over the program in Indianola. Growers in the region described the South Africans as “good workers,” said Steve Rosenthal, a three-term mayor of Indianola who lost his bid for re-election in October. Until the lawsuit was filed, he did not realize that some Black workers had been let go.

“If you have a man that you’ve trained and worked with for years and he knows how to get stuff done,” he said, “how in good conscience can you bring somebody over and pay him more than a man that’s been with you five, eight, 10 years?”

The Strong family has worked for generations for the Pitts family, which has farmed in the Mississippi Delta for six decades. Richard Strong’s grandfather Henry and grandmother Isadora worked their land. So did his father and his uncle.

Mr. Strong and his brother got hired in the 1990s; he eventually operated not only tractors, but big equipment like combines and cotton pickers. He mixed chemicals to control weeds and pests. He ran irrigation pivots in 19 fields, covering some 3,000 acres. He rose to manager, driving across the farm to verify that everything was in working order.

When he first heard that Africans were coming to work on the farm, about eight years ago, “I didn’t question it. I just went along doing my job,” he said.

But when four white men showed up, they were not the Africans he had expected. Even so, Mr. Strong said, the men, a good 20 years younger than him, were “cool guys.”

He taught the men how to properly plow, how to input GPS settings into the tractors’ navigation systems, how to operate the irrigation system so just the right amount of water was sprinkled on the crops.

Over the next few years, more South Africans came, until more than half the farm’s work force was there on foreign visas.

One of them was Innes Singleton, now 28, who learned about the opportunity to work in Mississippi from a friend in 2012.

He had recently finished secondary school and did not know what to do next.

He arrived in Indianola in early 2013, and is now earning $12 an hour, making in one week what would take a month for him to earn in South Africa, where the unemployment rate now exceeds 30 percent.

“I learned a lot here,” he said, adding that he sometimes had to work up to 110 hours a week. South Africans now do the main work on the farm, he said, and four locals “help us out.”

After the 2019 season, Mr. Strong traveled to Texas to visit his ailing father-in-law. When he returned, the Pitts Farm truck that he drove had disappeared from outside the house he had rented from the grower for about a year. He was told to vacate and was not offered work for the 2020 season.

A year later, others were let go, including his brother, Gregory, who said he had devoted much of his life to Pitt Farms.

“I gave them half my life and ended up with nothing,” he said. “I know everything on that place. I even know the dirt.”

Andrew Johnson, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, is 66 and said he had worked 20 years at the farm.

“I used to work rain or shine or anything,” he said.

But before the 2021 season began, he said, one of the Pitts owners told him “he didn’t need me no more.”

Since the lawsuit was filed, other Black workers have come forward, saying they had labored in the fields and catfish farms of the Delta before unfairly losing their jobs, Mr. Pinkins, the lawyer, said.

In late October, as the harvesting season came to a close, eighteen-wheelers in Indianola rumbled down the highway, loaded with bales of cotton. Driving alongside the farm where he spent 24 years, Mr. Strong scanned the rows of neatly carved earth as far as the eye could see. “I put in all that,” he said, with a certain pride.

Then a tractor passed by, a young South African man at the wheel, and Mr. Strong looked away. “I miss working the land,” he said.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/12/us/black-farmworkers-mississippi-lawsuit.html

USA: The crisis in black university enrolment and graduation

Of note. Curious to know if there is disaggregated data for Canadian university admissions and enrolment to see whether different minority groups have been affected differently post-COVID:

Like so much else related to the COVID pandemic, the disruptions caused to important high school events such as university open houses and access to guidance counsellors has hit African American students thinking of going to college or university especially hard. 

The school shutdowns meant that these students, often the first in their families to even consider going on to higher education, had to fill out unfamiliar forms on kitchen tables. Sometimes, as was the case for those applying to Old Dominion University (ODU) in Virginia, they had the aid of online tutorials or Zoom sessions. Then there was the financial aid process and its complicated forms.

“These students don’t know what they don’t know,” says Dr Don Stansberry, vice president for student engagement and enrollment services at ODU. “This is true for many students, but it is disproportionately true for our black and African American students. 

“I think this is indicative across most college campuses, you see [this year] a drop off in the number of black and African American applicants and their numbers in this year’s intake because they didn’t follow through with the rest of the process, such as financial aid.”

Overall, there were 603,000 fewer students enrolled in colleges and universities in the spring of 2021 as compared with 2020, a decline of 3.5%. Figures released by the Virginia-based National Student Clearinghouse Research Center in early October showed that since the start of the pandemic the numbers of black freshmen have declined by 22.3%, while the overall drop was 12.3%.

Historic under-representation

Even before the COVID-caused decline in blacks going on to higher education grabbed headlines, they were faring poorly in relation to college and university. 

Prior to COVID, 55% of college and university students were white, while blacks made up 9.6% of the students in higher education, almost 4% less than their numbers in the general population. 

In the decade after 2011, the percentage of blacks in the student population declined by almost 11%, reversing a trend that had begun in 1976, which saw the percentage of black students in college and university rise by just under 40%. Over the six years ending in 2017, 55% of blacks dropped out of college as against 33% of whites.

At public colleges and universities, the figures are even more dire. According to a paper prepared by Olivia Sanchez and Meredith Kolodner for the New York-based Hechinger Report, released in early October, at public colleges and universities, a white student is 2.5 times more likely to graduate than a black peer.

Taking account of both public and private colleges and universities, according to figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, in the last cohort to graduate before COVID, 61.3% of white males graduated as compared with almost 35% of black males; the figures for women were 67.3% to 44.8%.

There are a number of reasons for this gap. One of the most often cited is college readiness. A disproportionate number of black students attend under-resourced and poorly equipped high schools that leave them underprepared in reading, writing and maths. 

In 2016, the Center for American Progress (CAP) in Washington DC, reported that more than half (56%) of blacks are placed in remediation classes in contrast to 35% of whites. Citing a number of different studies, CAP says fewer than 10% of students in remedial programmes graduate in the six-year window that is used to define successful completion of four-year degrees.

It is certain that few students placed in remedial courses know of the 2009 study by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, “Referral, enrolment, and completion in developmental education sequences in community colleges”, that shows that students who were placed directly into regular college courses stood a better chance of graduating than did those placed in remedial courses. 

Yet, they don’t have to. For, as any professor who has ever taught students who have been in remedial courses, being in them has a negative impact on a student’s academic self-perception.

When I asked Dr Wil Del Pilar, the Education Trust’s vice-president of higher education, about how these courses impacted black students in particular, he said: “You took this course in high school. Now all of a sudden you take a math or English placement test, and it places you, say, three levels below the courses you are getting college credit for. This has a significant impact on academic self-perception and self-efficacy.” 

Since taking remedial instead of credit-bearing courses takes extra time and delays a student’s graduation – in addition to making the student ask the self-defeating question, “Am I ever going to complete this credential or degree?” – it creates a financial crisis that is disproportionately experienced by black students, Del Pilar says.

The financial crisis arises from the fact that, while remedial classes do not count as credit hours (course time toward graduation), there is no reduction in tuition fees. 

In other words, a student who is taking three hours of remedial English and three of maths pays the same tuition fees as a student who is taking a full 16-hour load even though the student in remedial courses is taking only 10 credit hours. 

To accumulate the 120-130 credits that most colleges and universities require for graduation, students who take remedial courses either have to take courses during the summer to make up for the missing credits or have to stay in school an extra semester or more. 

In either case, the student has to pay extra tuition fees (and often room and board costs). As well, the student who goes to summer school or stays for extra semesters forfeits a certain amount of income. These extra semesters are one of the reasons blacks graduate on average with US$25,000 more debt than white students.

According to Del Pilar, neither Pell Grants (a federal grant given to the most financially disadvantaged students) nor most other financial aid programmes are geared to students who spend extra semesters in college or university.

“You end up using your eligibility on these courses that don’t earn you credits toward your degree. So, when you get towards the end of your course, your credential or degree, you run out of eligibility for Pell Grants or other types of aid.”

Though it is not directly related to these students’ college or university career, Del Pilar emphasised to me, it is important to understand that America’s racial wealth gap means that more black students live on a financial knife edge than do white students. A US$800 car repair bill, for example, could be too much, causing a student to drop out of school and lose eligibility for aid.

Alienation on campus

As do many Latinx and other minority students, African American students can find being on campus an alienating experience that differs from what their white peers feel. 

While formal segregation is outlawed, de facto segregation exists in many parts of the country; instead of there being separate schools for blacks and whites, housing patterns separate the races and, thus, most district schools, for example. 

Accordingly, a large proportion of blacks attend majority black schools. Save for the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) like Howard University in Washington DC and inner-city public universities in places like Newark, New Jersey, New York City and Chicago, most African Americans who go to college find themselves a member of a minority community on campus and, thus, find themselves in a more alienating environment than white freshmen do.  

At the University of San Francisco, for example, 349 of the school’s full-time enrolment of 1,738 is black. 

Even though he chose ODU because he wanted to go to a school that was not majority black, as was his high school in Highland Springs, a small town (population 16,500) that is 73% black, Montae Taylor, who graduated in 2018, told University World News that despite being friends with a number of international students, he still found the school alienating.

In part this was because Taylor and many of his black classmates were the first persons in their families to go to college. The pride they felt was in tension with the fact that their families did not understand how much work is required to succeed in university. Students who are the first in their family to go to a higher education institution commonly report that their families tell them, “If you’re in class only 16 hours a week, then you can get a job and work a full week.” 

“Nobody in our families had been this far in education before. They really don’t understand the work requirement that we’re under or anything of that nature. So, it’s hard to find somebody [in our families] that can really push you and motivate you to excel academically,” says Taylor.

In part, Taylor also felt alienated in class, a condition he told me was shared by his black peers. 

Unlike his white classmates, Taylor and the others in his pre-law courses had trouble negotiating and understanding the texts they were given to read in class. He watched as his white classmates “could just sit there and read a passage one time and right then and there they understood exactly what it meant, exactly what the person was getting at”.

As Taylor spoke, I couldn’t help thinking back on my 30 years of teaching English at college and university, and being impressed with his and the other students’ self-analysis. 

On their own, Taylor and his black classmates realised that to bridge the gap of understanding, they had to engage the texts differently. They had to take account of (what phenomenological psychologists call) their “horizon of expectations”, formed by the totality of their lived experience as young black men in America. 

Then, rather than try to bracket that experience, as if it did not exist, they judge the distance between it and what they had been told in class and knew of the white authors, before engaging in an iterative process that brought them to an understanding of the texts.

“We had to read it, talk about it to each other and have a little debate about it for us to come to a full and complete understanding because we might be looking at it from our point of view, which is a black man’s point of view,” says Taylor, who is now a businessman in Texas and Virginia, and was state president of Virginia’s Youth and College Division of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In 2018, Taylor was one of the key student organisers in establishing a chapter of Brother to Brother at ODU. It differs from other clubs and honour societies on campus that helped students attach to the university. 

“In this programme,” says Stansberry, “black and brown upperclassmen come together to support other black and brown males in their academic journey. They partner with our first-year students and help them navigate the college campus and their own journey.”

In addition to providing ODU’s black students with a place to gather and talk with people who look like them (something which became all the more important, Taylor said, after the election of Donald Trump as US president), Brother to Brother serves two other very important functions. 

According to Dr Johnny W Young, the associate vice president for student engagement and enrollment services at ODU, Brother to Brother provides a place where ODU’s black students can support each other and counteract the negative stereotypes about black men. 

One stereotype that is especially damaging for university students, Young says, is that back where the students come from, excelling academically is not necessarily a point of pride: “It’s sometimes seen, for lack of a better word, as ‘nerdy’.” Equally pernicious is the stereotype that black men are prone to violence and that where they live is violent.

Even if a student does not have direct experience with these stereotypes, they know the stereotypes from the media and, sometimes, from family stories. “Having those young men talk about things they face, that their fathers faced, that their brothers faced growing up as young men of colour,” says Young, “helps them deal with the stereotypes and reject those untrue narratives. Sharing stories can be a source of inspiration for these young men.”

Brother to Brother also serves as the base from which students form study groups. Further, the organisation acts as something of a coach. 

During the summer when Taylor was vice president of ODU chapter, they heard that a large number of black students had not completed the paperwork to return in September. Members of Brother to Brother called these students and asked if they needed help organising themselves for the upcoming school year. 

Taylor found that of the calls he made, around 85% of the students who originally said they were not coming back had changed their minds. 

“Sometimes it was as simple as helping them find the proper resources they needed that would make them feel supported in finishing the process of education,” he said.

In the last year before COVID, there were 194 students in the Brother to Brother programme; approximately one-third of ODU’s enrolment of 23,655 is black. 

According to Dr Young, the students in the Brother to Brother programme had on average a grade point average 1.5% higher than did similar students not engaged with the programme. 

Though ODU’s data does not support making predictive claims and recognising that the group is self-selected, Young was willing to hazard a few statements. 

“We think there are a couple of things going on. First, the Brothers appear to attract young men who want to be leaders, who want to excel. But we also see that some men join who perhaps needed that extra push. Being around young men who want to excel can make you want to do very well. That can rub off on them, for lack of a better word.”

To help all black students celebrate their identity and attach to the university, ODU sponsors an annual Sankofa Dinner. Sankofa comes from Akan Twi and Fante languages of Ghana and means ‘retrieve’ and is symbolised by a bird with its head turned backward; its feet face forward, and it carries a precious egg in its mouth. 

This year’s Sankofa event featured a seven-person panel of graduates among whom was Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Ernest, MD, who graduated in 1999. He was the first African American male to graduate from Eastern Virginia Medical School and is presently chief of urology and director of surgical simulation at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. 

Another panellist was Sade Seaborne, a 2010 graduate who has worked as a technical project lead for the Department of Justice and is now a product manager for the finance company Capital One.

“The attendees,” says Stansberry, “were all African American students but it was an event that was designed to be a chance for them to celebrate their own identity.” 

Other events, like homecoming, fulfil what Stansberry told me was the number one reason that students choose to come to ODU. “One of the things they are most proud of is the diversity we have on campus and the opportunities they have to interact with students that are different from themselves.”

Old Dominion University’s efforts to help black students attach to and thrive at the campus in a city, Norfolk – which is home to the largest naval base in the world and which, at the start of the Civil War, was in Confederate hands – have been successful. 

Whereas on average in public universities white students graduate at a rate 2.5 times that of black students, ODU, which is a public university, has bucked the trend: the graduation rate for African American students who started in 2015 is almost the same as the overall graduation rate. 

Forty-four percent of African American men graduated as against 45% of the school’s overall male population, while the percentage of African American women graduating was 1% less than the overall female rate of 52%.

Source: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post-nl.php?story=20211105110142162

The Black Mortality Gap, and a Document Written in 1910

Important history:

Black Americans die at higher rates than white Americans at nearly every age.

In 2019, the most recent year with available mortality data, there were about 62,000 such earlier deaths — or one out of every five African American deaths.

The age group most affected by the inequality was infants. Black babies were more than twice as likely as white babies to die before their first birthday.

The overall mortality disparity has existed for centuries. Racism drives some of the key social determinants of health, like lower levels of income and generational wealth; less access to healthy food, water and public spaces; environmental damage; overpolicing and disproportionate incarceration; and the stresses of prolonged discrimination.

But the health care system also plays a part in this disparity.

Research shows Black Americans receive less and lower-quality care for conditions like cancer, heart problems, pneumonia, pain management, prenatal and maternal health, and overall preventive health. During the pandemic, this racial longevity gap seemed to grow again after narrowing in recent years.

Some clues to why health care is failing African Americans can be found in a document written over 100 years ago: the Flexner Report.

In the early 1900s, the U.S. medical field was in disarray. Churning students through short academic terms with inadequate clinical facilities, medical schools were flooding the field with unqualified doctors — and pocketing the tuition fees. Dangerous quacks and con artists flourished.

Physicians led by the American Medical Association (A.M.A.) were pushing for reform. Abraham Flexner, an educator, was chosen to perform a nationwide survey of the state of medical schools.

He did not like what he saw.

Published in 1910, the Flexner Report blasted the unregulated state of medical education, urging professional standards to produce a force of “fewer and better doctors.”

Flexner recommended raising students’ pre-medical entry requirements and academic terms. Medical schools should partner with hospitals, invest more in faculty and facilities, and adopt Northern city training models. States should bolster regulation. Specialties should expand. Medicine should be based on science.

Source: The Black Mortality Gap, and a Document Written in 1910

Canada does not have a Juneteenth celebration — and we don’t need one

Good reminder of the differences between Canada and the USA:

After the murder of George Floyd was captured and shared around the world last summer, many white communities found themselves thrust into what can best be defined as the Great White Awakening.

Prior to the killing of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many other Black victims also lost their lives to state-sponsored violence in 2020. But the eight-minute-and-46-second video of Floyd’s demise became the catalyst for a deluge of corporate and political anti-racism declarations.

The actual follow-through on those declarations has been largely inconsistent, but organizations and governments alike are still trying to find ways to appeal to the Black community. In North America, one publicized aspect of the outreach has been the institution of federal holidays to commemorate important dates in national (Black) history.

Source: Canada does not have a Juneteenth celebration — and we don’t need one

A Century After The Race Massacre, Tulsa Confronts Its Bloody Past

Of note:

It’s been 100 years since the Tulsa Race Massacre — one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history. An armed white mob attacked Greenwood, a prosperous Black community in Tulsa, Okla., killing as many as 300 people. What was known as Black Wall Street was burned to the ground.

“Mother, I see men with guns,” said Florence Mary Parrish, a small child looking out the window on the evening of May 31, 1921, when the siege began.

“And my great-grandmother was shushing her, saying, ‘I’m reading now, don’t bother me,'” says Anneliese M. Bruner, a descendant of the Parrish family. But the child became more insistent.

“And so, my great-grandmother put down her reading and went to see what her daughter was talking about. And indeed, the street was populated with people with guns,” Bruner says. “Bullets were flying everywhere and they fled trying to reach safety at a friend’s home.”

Bruner is able to tell the harrowing story today because her great-grandmother Mary E. Jones Parrish, a teacher and journalist, survived and documented the massacre in her self-published memoir, Events of the Tulsa Disaster.

Sitting on her porch in Washington, D.C., Bruner flips through the pages of her family’s copy which she keeps carefully stored in a plastic bag.

“The book is a small red volume, hardcover, somewhat worn,” Bruner says. “The pages are a little brittle.”

In the book, Parrish described her heroic escape from the angry mob, and her risky return to Greenwood to document the truth of what happened. She included photographs and eyewitness accounts from others, and also recounted the myriad obstacles to rebuilding imposed by the city of Tulsa. In the appendix of the red hardcover, Parrish recorded the value of the property destroyed or taken, including her own two apartments, and the secretarial school she operated.

But the book is more than just a historical account. It’s also Parrish’s plea for America to live up to the promise of democracy.

“My soul cries for justice,” she wrote. “How long will you let mob violence reign supreme?”

Bruner believes her great-grandmother’s words are a message for the nation today amid the quest for a racial reckoning. She’s worked to get the memoir republished in conjunction with the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, The Nation Must Awake.

“How do you get past the trauma, the hurt, the pain, the fear, the chaos without truth?” asks Bruner, “and that is what Mary Jones Parrish brings — the truth.”

The scene was horrific a century ago when the armed white mob, fortified by law enforcement, descended on Greenwood, an all-Black district just north of downtown Tulsa. Two days of bloodshed and destruction ensued, by land and air. Despite efforts to protect their property, Black residents were outnumbered and outpowered. Eyewitnesses recalled the specter of men carrying flaming torches through the streets to set fire to homes and businesses. Then martial law, and the arrests and internment of thousands of African-Americans.

The massacre had been sparked by reports that a 19-year-old Black man had allegedly offended a 17-year-old white female elevator attendant. The murky incident got blown out of proportion by inflammatory newspaper accounts.

While events in Oklahoma over the next few weeks will seek to examine the legacy of the Tulsa Race Massacre 100 years later, it hasn’t always been that way. Historical records were mostly destroyed, and for decades it was called the Tulsa Race Riot, implying it was somehow a two-sided battle.

Tulsa — and the nation — have been slow to acknowledge the brutal reality of what happened back in 1921, and the lasting impact it’s had on Black families.

“This actually was something that was akin to an act of war where the country turned in on its own citizens,” says Tulsa descendant Annaliese Bruner.

In addition to the loss of life, there was more than $1 million in property losses which would amount to more than $20 million today. Before the massacre, the Greenwood district was considered one of the most affluent all-Black communities in the country, a mecca for African-American culture, business and prosperity.

“It was a community of self-sufficient people,” Bruner says. “They had a great sense of themselves and their place in the world — exercising their agency and full rights and responsibilities of citizenship.”

A heritage to be proud of, yet a heritage Bruner didn’t learn about until she was in her 30s, she says, when on a visit to her father in California, he gave her the little red book and revealed this part of her family’s history.

“I was speechless, stunned, amazed, proud, sad. I was grief stricken,” she says.

It helped explain some of the trauma in her family. For instance, her grandmother who escaped the massacre as a young child struggled with alcoholism.

Bruner, an editor in her early 60s, has been on coronavirus pandemic lockdown with her grown children over the last year, so they’ve had time to consider the legacy of Tulsa and the family’s heritage.

“To be the descendent of a survivor, and then for that survivor to have the presence of mind to write that down and to have the clarity of thought for it to be so detailed, so meticulously put together, is just the source of pride,” says Kevin Hurtt, Bruner’s 33-year-old son, a biologist and science teacher.

In earlier generations the story of Tulsa was rarely passed down from victims to descendants because of fear of retribution, and Bruner suspects perhaps even some shame for having endured such abuse. Hence the long-kept secret.

Bruner’s daughter, Portia Hurtt, is a 31-year-old lawyer. She finds it hard to contemplate that not only her family, but everyone who lived in Greenwood was disinherited from what their ancestors had built there.

“Looking back now, I know how the story ends,” she says, fighting back tears. “This can be a theme in African-American families where you have to do everything right. And if something comes along and derails you, that can reverberate through generations.”

Anneliese Bruner says that the country needs to be humble and acknowledge what the Tulsa Race Massacre did to African Americans, otherwise, there is no moving forward.

“There are people whose psyche is still affected generationally, trauma after trauma, after trauma just continues to build on itself,” Bruner says. “And none of it gets resolved if you’re in a system that sometimes has the unequal application of law and or opportunity.”

Bruner sees a toxic line from Tulsa to violence against Black people today, and says the same questions apply.

“Who’s going to be held accountable?” she asks. “Are reparations going to be made? Is there going to be any official admission of responsibility?”

In 1997 the state legislature created what was called the “Oklahoma Commission to study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921,” and it published its final report in 2001. It found that the city of Tulsa had conspired to destroy Greenwood.

“This Commission fully understands that it is neither judge nor jury. We have no binding legal authority to assign culpability, to determine damages, to establish a remedy, or to order either restitution or reparations,” commissioners wrote. Though the report also suggested that reparations to the Greenwood community “would be good public policy and do much to repair the emotional and physical scars of this terrible incident in our shared past.”

According to the commission’s report, the massacre destroyed some 40-square blocks in Greenwood. Nearly 10,000 people were left homeless as 1,256 homes were looted and burned down. And the thriving commercial district was destroyed — some of the finest Black-owned and operated businesses in the country, including hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, a theatre, a roller skating rink, hospitals and doctors’ offices, law firms, churches and realtors.

Commissioners suggested reparations such as direct payments to “riot survivors and descendants,” a scholarship fund and a memorial, among other things.

“When you talk about reparations, the challenge is that it means different things to different people,” Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum says.

“There is an acknowledgement that Black Tulsans have not had the same shot at success and a great life that white Tulsans have had over the last hundred years,” Bynum says.

Bynum, who is white, says while there’s public support for addressing disparities, resistance to cash reparations runs deep.

“Where does that come from?” he asks. “It would necessarily have to come from a tax levied on this generation of Tulsans and the idea of financially penalizing this generation of Tulsans for something criminals did 100 years ago, that’s a hard thing to ask.”

But survivors and their descendants are asking. A lawsuit against the city is seeking a host of reparations including financial compensation, tax abatement, mental health services, and restitution to include the redistribution of land to the families of Greenwood’s original landowners.

“We’re really trying to get solutions and justice that’s going to change these socio-economic statistics that we’ve been living with for the last 100 years,” says Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon-Simons.

He’s the founder of the Justice for Greenwood Foundation, and represents the three known living survivors of the Race Massacre, who testified before Congress last week. A House Judiciary subcommittee is revisiting legal and policy measures to compensate survivors, their descendants, and Tulsa’s greater Black community.

Solomon-Simmons believes the pushback on reparations is rooted in the country’s historical notion of race, and the view, dating to slavery, that Black citizens aren’t entitled to the same rights as white citizens.

“It is a remnant of a badge of slavery,” Solomon-Simmons says. “Anybody that does not believe in truth, justice and reparations for the people of Greenwood, then you don’t believe in truth, justice and equity — period.”

He says part of the difficulty in getting the white establishment on board in Tulsa is that their families directly benefited from the massacre, and in some cases participated in it.

“They don’t want to discuss the real aspects of it,” he says. “Because then they’re talking about their fathers, their grandfathers, their uncles.”

Earlier this month, in a controversial move, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission removed Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt from the panel after he signed legislation that would ban the teaching of certain concepts about race in state schools. Commission members were vocal in their opposition, arguing the law would undermine efforts to teach Oklahoma’s race history, including the truth about what happened in Tulsa.

For descendant Anneliese Bruner, coming to terms with that truth is the key to accountability. A belief she says was reinforced as she watched the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, happening just a few miles from her home.

“It was a frightening prospect,” she says. “Knowing what I know about what happened in Tulsa when, as my great grandmother called it, King Mob was in charge.”

Bruner says the nation, and in particular Black Americans, should not be living with that same fear 100 years after the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Source: A Century After The Race Massacre, Tulsa Confronts Its Bloody Past

In Likely First, Chicago Suburb Of Evanston Approves Reparations For Black Residents

Interesting practical and focussed approach:

The city of Evanston, Ill., will make reparations available to eligible Black residents for what it describes as harm caused by “discriminatory housing policies and practices and inaction on the city’s part.” The program is believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S. and is seen by advocates as a potential national model.

Evanston’s City Council voted 8-1 on Monday to approve the Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program, an official confirmed to NPR over email. It will grant qualifying households up to $25,000 for down payments or home repairs, according to the city, and is the first initiative of a city reparations fund that was established in 2019.

“The Program is a step towards revitalizing, preserving, and stabilizing Black/African-American owner-occupied homes in Evanston, increasing homeownership and building the wealth of Black/African-American residents, building intergenerational equity amongst Black/African-American residents, and improving the retention rate of Black/African-American homeowners in the City of Evanston,” reads a draft of the resolution.

In November 2019, the City Council established a reparations fundto support initiatives addressing historical wealth and opportunity gaps for Black residents, to be funded by the first $10 million in revenue from the city’s tax on the sale of recreational marijuana. The housing program is initially budgeted at $400,000.

Robin Rue Simmons, an alderwoman and architect of the reparations program, told NPR in 2019 that the plan aimed to solve a pair of problems facing the community: Black residents being disproportionately arrested for infractions involving marijuana possession, as well as being priced out of their homes.

“We have a large and unfortunate gap in wealth, opportunity, education, even life expectancy,” she said. “The fact that we have a $46,000 gap between census tract 8092, which is the historically red-line neighborhood that I live in and was born in, and the average white household led me to pursue a very radical solution to a problem that we have not been able to solve: reparations.”

Housing as a top priority

City officials wrote that affordable housing and economic development were the top priorities identified in a series of meetings with community members about what those reparations should look like. Historical evidence made clear the connection between the city’s actions and the suffering they caused, the officials added.

“The strongest case for reparations by the City of Evanston is in the area of housing, where there is sufficient evidence showing the City’s part in housing discrimination as a result of early City zoning ordinances in place between 1919 and 1969, when the City banned housing discrimination,” they wrote.

As part of their fact-finding effort, officials commissioned a historical report on city policies and practices affecting Black residents from 1900 to 1960 and through the present day. The 77-page report, written by Dino Robinson Jr. of the Shorefront Legacy Center and Jenny Thompson of the Evanston History Center, detailed decades of segregationist and discriminatory practices in areas including housing, employment, education and policing.

The authors wrote that in addition to impacting the daily lives and well-being of thousands of city residents, such policies dictated their occupations, wealth, education and property in ways that shaped their families for generations.

“While the policies, practices, and patterns may have evolved over the course of these generations, their impact was cumulative and permanent,” the authors wrote. “They were the means by which legacies were limited and denied.”

To qualify for the program, eligible Black residents must either have lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969 or be a direct descendant of someone who did. According to program guidelines, people who do not meet these criteria may apply if they can prove they faced housing discrimination due to city policies or practices after 1969.

City officials plan to implement the program in the early-to-mid summer and say more details will be made available before then.

The national conversation about reparations

The program has the endorsement of national racial justice organizations that advocate for reparations, including the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America and the National African American Reparations Commission, the city said.

Advocates hope it will boost similar redress efforts in other parts of the country. Ron Daniels, the president of NAARC, told The Washington Post that “right now the whole world is looking at Evanston, Illinois.”

Dreisen Heath, a racial justice advocate and researcher with Human Rights Watch, wrote in a Twitter thread that while “local remedy is not a replacement for federal action,” it is still important given the harms inflicted on Black communities by various levels of government.

“What happened in [Evanston] today is historic & will help provide a pathway for other cities,” Heath wrote. “It should be treated as such, knowing there is a long way to go for the city of Evanston and the country at large.”

Still, the program is not without its critics.

The dissenting vote on the City Council came from Cicely Fleming, an alderwoman who is Black and who traces her Evanston lineage to the early 1900s. In a lengthy statement, she said she is fully in support of reparations but denounced the initiative as “a housing plan dressed up” as such.

She said the plan allows only limited participation and does not grant enough autonomy to the community that has been harmed — unlike cash payments, for example, which she said allow people to decide what’s best for themselves. (According to the city’s website, it does not have the authority to exempt direct payments from state or federal income taxes, meaning recipients of any such stipends would be liable for the tax burden.)

Some of Fleming’s other criticisms are that the proposal is being rushed to a vote without enough time for community members’ concerns to be voiced and resolved and that its limited scope does not do enough to lay the groundwork for longer-term efforts.

“We can talk more about the program details, but I reject the very definition of this as a ‘reparations’ program,’ ” she said in her remarks. “Until the structure and terms are in the hands of the people – we have missed the mark.”

The program’s approval comes as the topic of reparations — for the harms of slavery and ensuing generations of racial discrimination — continues to gain traction and spark debate in American society.

An opinion poll released last August, following a summer marked by nationwide protests against racial injustice, found that 80% of Black Americans believed the federal government should compensate the descendants of enslaved people, compared with 21% of white Americans.

Several places across the U.S. are considering reparations initiatives of their own, including Amherst, Mass., Asheville, N.C. and Iowa City, Iowa.

Reparations are also a topic of conversation at the federal level, where HR 40, legislation proposing the creation of a commission to study and develop reparations proposals for Black Americans, has attracted renewed interest since its introduction in 2019.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said that President Biden supports the idea of studying the issue but did not say whether he would sign such a bill if passed by Congress.

Source: In Likely First, Chicago Suburb Of Evanston Approves Reparations For Black Residents

Black Microbiologists Push for Visibility Amid a Pandemic

Of note, particularly important given disparities in health and healthcare:

A few days before her fifth-grade science fair, Ariangela Kozik awoke to the overwhelming scent of poultry past its due. It was exactly what the young scientist had been hoping for.

“Whew,” she recalled thinking at the time. “There is definitely something growing in here.’”

She rushed into her kitchen, where a neat stack of glass Petri dishes awaited her, each filled with a gelatinous brown disk made of beef broth and sugar. Atop many of the cow-based concoctions was a smattering of what looked like shiny, cream-colored pimples. Each was a fast-ballooning colony, teeming with millions and millions of bacteria, including several from the swab of raw chicken juice she had dabbed on three days before.

Dr. Kozik, then just 11, had set up an experiment to determine what brand of dish soap was best at killing bacteria. (The answer: Joy dishwashing liquid.) But her results yielded an even bigger reward: a lifelong love of microbes, exquisitely small organisms with an outsize impact on the world.

“It felt like I had just discovered a new form of life,” said Dr. Kozik, who is now a researcher at the University of Michigan, where she studies microbes that live in human lungs. “It was so cool.”

Two decades later, Dr. Kozik still considers her science fair project, for which she won first place, one of her first formal forays into the field of microbiology. In the months after her experiment, she devoured every book she could find on the topic, until she had worn her parents down with endless chatter about infectious disease. About 10 years later, she was on track toward a Ph.D., which she earned in 2018. And on Monday, she kicks off Black in Microbiology Week, the latest in a series of virtual events highlighting Black scientists in a variety of disciplines, as one of its two lead organizers.

Like earlier, similar events, Black in Microbiology Week will be hosted entirely through virtual platforms like Twitter and Zoom. The event will feature seven days of talks, panels and online discussions, spanning a range of topics under the microbiology umbrella, including the coronavirus, and addressing disparities in medicine, education and career advancement. Everything is free and accessible to the public, and will be live-captioned. Registration is required to attend.

“This is really a chance to welcome new voices and amplify those that have not been heard,” said Michael D. L. Johnson, a microbiologist and immunologist at the University of Arizona who will take part in Friday’s Black in Bacteriology panel.

For Doctors of Color, Microaggressions Are All Too Familiar

Of note:

When Dr. Onyeka Otugo was doing her training in emergency medicine, in Cleveland and Chicago, she was often mistaken for a janitor or food services worker even after introducing herself as a doctor. She realized early on that her white male counterparts were not experiencing similar mix-ups.

“People ask me several times if the doctor is coming in, which can be frustrating,” said Dr. Otugo, who is now an emergency medicine attending physician and health policy fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “They ask you if you’re coming in to take the trash out — stuff they wouldn’t ask a physician who was a white male.”

After years of training in predominantly white emergency departments, Dr. Otugo has experienced many such microaggressions. The term, coined in the 1970s by Dr. Chester Pierce, a psychiatrist, refers to “subtle, stunning, often automatic, and nonverbal exchanges which are ‘put downs’” of Black people and members of other minority groups; “micro” refers to their routine frequency, not the scale of their impact. Dr. Otugo said the encounters sometimes made her wonder whether she was a qualified and competent medical practitioner, because others did not see her that way.

Other Black women doctors, across specialties, said that such experiences were all too common. Dr. Kimberly Manning, an internal medicine doctor at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, recalled countless microaggressions in clinical settings. “People might not realize you’re offended, but it’s like death by a thousand paper cuts,” Dr. Manning said. “It can cause you to shrink.”

The field of medicine has long skewed white and male. Only 5 percent of the American physician work force is African-American, and roughly 2 percent are Black women. Emergency medicine is even more predominantly white, with just 3 percent of physicians identifying as Black. The pipeline is also part of the problem; at American medical schools, just 7 percent of the student populationis now Black.

But for Black female physicians, making it into the field is only the first of many challenges. More than a dozen Black women interviewed said that they frequently heard comments from colleagues and patients questioning their credibility and undermining their authority while on the job. These experiences damaged their sense of confidence and sometimes hampered teamwork, they said, creating tensions that cost precious time during emergency procedures.

Some physicians said they found the microaggressions particularly frustrating knowing that, as Black doctors, they brought an invaluable perspective to the care they offer. A 2018 study showed that Black patients had improved outcomes when seen by Black doctors, and were more likely to agree to preventive care measures like diabetes screenings and cholesterol tests.

In May, four female physicians of color published a paper in Annals of Emergency Medicine on microaggressions. The authors, Dr. Melanie Molina, Dr. Adaira Landry, Dr. Anita Chary and Dr. Sherri-Ann Burnett-Bowie, said they hoped that, by shining a spotlight on the problem, they might reduce the sense of isolation that Black female physicians experience and compel their white colleagues to take specific steps toward eliminating conscious and unconscious bias.

Discussions about lack of diversity in medicine resurfaced in early August, when the Journal of the American Heart Association retracted a paper that argued against affirmative action initiatives in the field and said that Black and Hispanic trainees were less qualified than their white and Asian counterparts.

Dr. Phindile Chowa, 33, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Emory University, was in her second year of an emergency-medicine residency when an attending in her department mistook her for an electrocardiogram technician, even though she had previously worked with him on rotations. She approached him to give a report on her patients, and he wordlessly put out his hand, expecting her to hand over an electrocardiogram scan.

“He never apologized,” Dr. Chowa said. “He did not think he did a single thing wrong that day. I was the only Black resident in my class. How could he not know who I am?”

The derogatory encounters continued from there. Colleagues have referred to her as “sweetie” or “honey.” She recalled one patient who asked repeatedly who she was over the course of a hospital visit, while quickly learning the name of her white male attending physician. When she was first admitted to her residency, at Harvard, a medical school classmate suggested that she had had an “edge” in the selection process because of her race.

Such comments can create an environment of fear for Black women. Dr. Otugo recalled overhearing her Black female colleagues in Chicago discuss how they were going to style their hair for their clerkships. Many of them worried that if they wore their hair naturally, instead of straightening it or even changing it to lighter colors, their grades and performance evaluations from white physicians might suffer.

Dr. Sheryl Heron, a Black professor of emergency medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, who has worked in the field for more than two decades, said microaggressions can exact a long-lasting toll. “After the twelve-thousandth time, it starts to impede your ability to be successful,” she said. “You start to go into scenarios about your self-worth. It’s a head trip.”

This comes on top of the stresses that are already pervasive in emergency departments. A 2018 survey of more than 1,500 early-career doctors in emergency medicine found that 76 percent were experiencing symptoms of burnout.

But Black women doctors said they have seen how Black patients rely on their presence to get the best care. Monique Smith, a physician in Oakland, Calif., was working in the emergency room one night when a young Black man came in with injuries from a car accident. She was confused when some of her colleagues called him a “troublemaker,” so she visited the patient’s bed and asked him about his experience being admitted. He told her that he had begun to lash out when he felt he was being stereotyped by staff members because of his skin color and the neighborhood he came from.

“I was able to go into the room and say, ‘Hey dude, Black person to Black person, what’s up?’” Dr. Smith said. “Then I advocated for him and made sure he got streamlined care.”

The conversation made Dr. Smith more attuned to the degrading comments that Black patients experience at hospitals, and she now tries to intervene and identify her colleagues’ biases. She believes, for example, that physicians are sometimes quicker to order drug testing for Black patients, even if their symptoms are most likely unrelated to substance abuse.

But many Black physicians find it challenging to be advocates for themselves and their patients, particularly within the rigid hierarchies of the medical system. “You’re faced with situations where you’re going to be perceived as the angry Black woman even though you’re just being your own advocate,” said Dr. Katrina Gipson, an emergency medicine physician. “You’re constantly walking the line of how to be a consummate professional.”

Dr. Landry, an author of the recent paper and an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said that hospital and residency directors who are looking to address the deep-rooted problem should begin with hearing and validating the personal experiences of Black doctors. Continuing to diversify emergency medicine departments is also critical, she added, so that Black physicians are not working in isolation to implement cultural changes and arrange mentorship from more senior Black colleagues.

“I’m the only African-American female physician faculty member in my department, and that creates this feeling of not having a support system to speak up when something happens to you,” Dr. Landry said. “Having this paper is a validating tool for people to say, ‘See, I’m not the only one this is happening to.’”

Dr. Molina, an emergency medicine resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and one of the paper’s authors, said that spotlighting diversity in medicine was particularly important amid a pandemic that disproportionately impacts Black patients. “The Covid pandemic has served to emphasize health disparities and how they impact Black populations,” she said. “As emergency physicians, we have to present a united front recognizing racism is a public health issue.”

 

Discrimination may contribute to decline of ‘birthweight advantage’ in black immigrants

Striking and disturbing findings from Florida. Contrast between Blacks and Latinos also striking:

Black women have the highest prevalence of low birthweight babies compared to other racial and ethnic groups, but black immigrants typically have much better outcomes than their U.S.-born counterparts. Yet, little has been known about whether this “healthy immigrant” effect persists across generations.

According to a new study published by Princeton University researchers, the substantial “birthweight advantage” experienced by the foreign-born black population is lost within a single generation. In contrast, a modest advantage among foreign-born Hispanics persists across generations.

The authors suspect discrimination and inequality in the U.S. may be a contributing factor to this decline. Experiences of interpersonal discrimination, both before and during pregnancy, are likely to trigger physiological stress responses that negatively affect birth outcomes, they said.

The study, published in Epidemiology, has important public health implications given that low birthweight is a significant predictor of a broad range of health and socioeconomic outcomes throughout one’s life. The findings also underscore the potential role of discrimination in producing racial and intergenerational disparities in birth outcomes.

The research was conducted by Noreen Goldman, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of Demography and Public Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and first author Theresa Andrasfay, who received her Ph.D. from Princeton’s Program in Population Studies.

Motivated by an earlier study of a small number of black immigrants in Illinois in the 1950-1970s, the researchers felt that conclusions regarding intergenerational changes in birthweight warranted a larger sample based on recent data in a popular immigrant destination state.

The authors analyzed administrative records from 1971 to 2015 in Florida, which receives a large number of black immigrants from the Caribbean. They linked several hundred thousand birth records of daughters to those of their mothers. This allowed them to compare birthweights of daughters born to foreign-born and U.S.-born mothers with the birthweights of their granddaughters. The study provides estimates of these intergenerational changes in birthweight for white, Hispanic, and black women.

The results point to what the researchers call a large foreign-born advantage among blacks: 7.8% of daughters born to foreign-born black women are low birthweight (under 2,500 grams or 5.5 pounds) compared to 11.8% among U.S.-born black women. But, whereas foreign-born Hispanic women maintain a birthweight advantage in the next generation, black women see this advantage essentially eliminated with the birth of their granddaughters. These granddaughters are more than 50% more likely than their mothers to be low birthweight. In contrast, the increase in low birthweight prevalence between daughters and granddaughters of U.S.-born black women is only about 10%, which is more in line with national increases in low birthweight over the same time period.

Andrasfay and Goldman were surprised by the rapidity with which the foreign-born advantage among black women was lost. After only one generation spent in the U.S., the prevalence of low birthweight is almost as high among the granddaughters of foreign-born black women as among the granddaughters of U.S.-born black women (12.2% vs. 13.1%) and is considerably higher for both groups of black infants than for white and Hispanic babies.

The authors identified an equally striking finding with regard to differences in low birthweight by level of schooling. Contrary to the pattern found among all other racial and ethnic groups, foreign-born black women are about as likely to have a low birthweight daughter if they have low or high levels of schooling. However, in the next generation, the prevalence of low birthweight declines as maternal education increases. This likely reflects a difference in the context in which mothers received their education.

In the U.S., mothers with less than high school education are disadvantaged in multiple ways, but women who obtained this same level of schooling before immigrating to the U.S. were likely relatively advantaged in their origin countries.”

Theresa Andrasfay, First Author

The authors controlled for socioeconomic and health-related risk factors, including characteristics of women’s neighborhoods that varied among racial, ethnic, and nativity groups, but these factors did not account for their findings. They concluded that the high frequency of low birthweight babies among blacks, and the increase from daughters to granddaughters among black immigrants, were likely both due to exposure to discrimination and inequality. “Unfortunately,” said Goldman, “high quality measures of discrimination are notoriously difficult to obtain.”

The researchers note several limitations of the study. The study is based on birth records from only one state, Florida, and in order to observe multiple generations within the same family, the study was restricted to families in which both daughters and granddaughters were born in Florida. Though the main analysis used only female births, there is evidence that the findings extend to male births. Nevertheless, their study has important implications.

“Though black immigrants currently make up a small share of the population, their numbers are growing,” said Andrasfay. “This growth emphasizes the importance of understanding how their health evolves with time in the U.S. to better understand future disparities.”

“Foreign-born blacks may experience less prejudice than their U.S.-born peers because they have spent part of their lives in majority black countries where discrimination may be less severe than in the U.S.,” said Goldman. “In contrast, their children spend their entire lives in a more racialized social environment than found in the Caribbean, which could explain the worsening of birth outcomes between generations.”

“This study also underscores the need for more research,” said Goldman, “both to develop better measures of interpersonal discrimination and to identify epigenetic mechanisms that link social stressors to birth outcomes among black women.”

The paper, “Intergenerational change in birthweight: effects of foreign-born status and race/ethnicity,” was published online in Epidemiology on June 1 and will be featured in the September print edition.

Source: Discrimination may contribute to decline of ‘birthweight advantage’ in black immigrants

The ‘Ferociously Contested’ Story of How Blackness Became a Legal Identity

Interesting historical account:

How did Africans become “blacks” in the Americas?

Those who were forced into the ships of the infamous slave trade probably thought of themselves using ethnic and territorial terms that have been lost to us. But across the ocean, enslavers and local elites lumped Africans of many different backgrounds into a single category of debasement, “n—–s,” and sustained this category through laws that regulated freedom.

But the creation of racial identity through legal means took some surprising turns.

From the beginning, enslaved people and free people of African ancestry used those same laws to claim freedom and citizenship for themselves and their loved ones. They created spaces for communities where “blackness” and freedom were not only possible, but foundational.

Although free people of color were few in number compared to enslaved people, and lived on the margins of plantation societies in many ways, the contests over their identities, status, and rights were the terrain on which race was made. Legal contests over freedom determined whether and how it was possible to move from slave to free status, and whether claims of citizenship would be tied to racial identity.

By the early 18th century, Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana (all colonies themselves, of the Spanish, British, and French Empires, respectively), had legal regimes that constituted blackness as a debased category equivalent to enslavement. But 150 years later, by the mid-19th century, the social implications of blackness in each of these regions were fundamentally different.

In Cuba in the 1850s, a free man of color could marry a white woman, attend public school, and participate in a religious association that gave him opportunities to be part of public life. But, in 1850s Louisiana or Virginia, a free man of color saw his churches and schools being shut down, faced prosecution for marrying across the color line, and ran the risk of being kidnapped, imprisoned, and even re-enslaved for remaining in the state in which he was born.

In Louisiana or Virginia, when a person sought to prove in court that he was not a person of color, he would bring evidence of civic acts, because citizenship and whiteness were so closely linked in political thought and legal doctrine that a citizen must be a white man, and only a white man could be a citizen. In Cuba, similar conduct was not necessarily incompatible with blackness.

The key to understanding these divergent trajectories lies in the law of freedom. Different approaches to freedom were rooted in various legal traditions. The right to manumission, for example, was firmly entrenched in the Spanish law of slavery, and so in Cuba manumission, or release from slavery, was not tied to race, a crucial difference from both Louisiana and Virginia.

One turning point in this story was the Age of Revolution. The populations of free people of color, who claimed freedom in rising numbers, exploded in all three jurisdictions, and the example of the Haitian Revolution inspired the enslaved as it struck fear in the hearts of enslavers.

In Cuba in the 1850s, a free man of color could marry a white woman, attend public school, and participate in a religious association that gave him opportunities to be part of public life. But, in 1850s Louisiana or Virginia, a free man of color saw his churches and schools being shut down, faced prosecution for marrying across the color line, and ran the risk of being kidnapped, imprisoned, and even re-enslaved for remaining in the state in which he was born.

But the expansion of freedom meant different things in the Spanish empire and in the U.S. republic. Communities of people of color in Cuba and Spanish Louisiana owed their existence to legal understandings and customary practices anchored in traditions of the ancien regime. Enslaved people who managed to purchase their freedom or, more rarely, obtained manumission through other means, became members of highly stratified societies. Black freedom did not imply social equality and republican rights.

By contrast, in Virginia during the Age of Revolution, the expansion of manumission, and the increase in freedom lawsuits, were tied to questions of citizenship, and of black participation in the new political order under conditions of equality. Enslaved and free people of color alike infused these questions with a sense of urgency, as they made use of every available legal loophole to purchase or make claims for their own freedom. Their actions produced dramatic results: by the early 19th century, the proportion of free people of color in Virginia had increased significantly.

Virginia’s white citizens witnessed these trends with horror and petitioned to outlaw manumissions. It was, literally, a reactionary request: to restore the colonial law of freedom. The 1806 law requiring freed slaves to leave the state fell short of that goal, but marked the first step towards a social order in which blacks could only exist as slaves.

After Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831, whites’ political will to exclude free blacks intensified. Slaveholding states in the U.S. South responded to threats of rebellion, and to Northern abolitionists’ demands for immediate emancipation, with a defense of slavery as a positive good: the best possible condition for debased “Negroes.” To galvanize the support of non-slaveholding whites, Southerners cemented white solidarity by defining citizenship and voting rights along racial lines.

This movement created a paradox: egalitarian democracy would go hand-in-hand with the expansion of racist practices and ideologies. As slaveholders appealed to non-slaveholders with the promise of broad citizenship rights for all white men, free people of color became increasingly anomalous, and even dangerous to the polity. That is why colonization efforts that sought to remove free blacks to a distant location in Africa prospered in 19th-century Virginia and Louisiana (which changed hands to the United States in 1803), but not in Cuba.

That is also why Virginia and Louisiana acted in the 19th century, especially in the 1850s, to end the possibility of manumission, self-purchase, or freedom suits. By 1860, free people of color in Virginia and Louisiana were increasingly forced to leave the state upon emancipation or to live under threat of prosecution. A few even chose “voluntary” re-enslavement in order to remain with their families.

Free people of color continued to claim freedom in court, and fought tenaciously for the basic rights to a homeland, to remain close to friends and kin, and to live in their communities of origin. Yet they saw their militia and schools shut down, and their churches survived only under white leadership. Increasingly contested battles in court over racial identity attested to the growing anxiety over black citizenship and the need to prove whiteness in order to claim basic rights.

By 1860, Cuba had diverged significantly from Louisiana and Virginia—not in its legal regime of slavery, but rather in its regime of race. Enslaved people in Cuba took advantage of legal reforms that were not intended for their benefit to carve out greater freedoms for themselves. But in Virginia and Louisiana, where the status of communities of color was reduced to something closer to slavery. Race rather than enslavement became the true “impassable barrier,” in the words of Justice Roger B. Taney. In Cuba, where free people of color could be rights-bearing subjects, enslavement was the dividing line.

Laws regulating free people of color also served as a template for post-emancipation societies seeking ways to keep black people in their place. Slavery laws did not translate forward in the same way that regulations based on race did. When Southerners sought to restore the antebellum order after the Civil War, they could not re-impose slavery, but they passed Black Codes whose language echoed the laws regarding free people of color almost exactly. Under the Black Codes, freedmen could enter into contracts, own property, and appear in court on their own behalf. But in myriad other ways, their lives were constricted, just as they would have been if emancipated before 1861.

In the U.S., laws limiting the immigration of free people of color from one state into the other were the first immigration restrictions. These statutes echo into the 20th century—and to the present day—in limitations on the right to immigrate into the U.S. based on racial and national identity. In Cuba, on the other hand, legal racial barriers came under increasing attack even before final emancipation in 1886. In the 1880s, limitations on interracial marriages were eliminated and racial segregation in public services and education was outlawed. These changes were an imperial imperative. As the colonial state of Spain sought to retain control over its restive colony of Cuba, it had to cultivate the political support of the free black population. By 1898, the island’s short-lived political regime of “autonomy” recognized black males as voting subjects with equal rights.

The transition from black slavery to black citizenship was neither linear nor preordained. It was as contentious and ferociously contested a process in Cuba as it was in Virginia and Louisiana. But the new struggles for standing and citizenship took place against the backdrop of significantly different legal regimes of race. From being enslaved to being a citizen, the connecting tissue before and after emancipation for black people was not “from slave to citizen,” but from black to black.

Source: The ‘Ferociously Contested’ Story of How Blackness Became a Legal Identity