Sunday, November 23, 2014

Repressed Memories Are Not Real

I was very disappointed to see the Marilyn vos Savant column in today's Parade magazine. Yes, yes, I know Parade is old-school, but it's still read by millions of people, and vos Savant's column is usually good for a little bit of reality. Not this time.


E.P., the writer from Colorado Springs, is mostly asking why hypnosis can't be used to help people get over traumatic memories, and that's the part that vos Savant answers. But she ignores the writer's premise -- that "we all know" that hypnosis can retrieve suppressed memories.

That part is completely untrue, and the common belief to the contrary is harmful, as shown in a recent article in Pacific Standard magazine, titled The Most Dangerous Idea in Mental Health. Back in the days of the satanic cult "recovered" memory craze of the 1980s, researchers like Elizabeth Loftus debunked the idea.

It's too bad vos Savant couldn't spare a few lines of her response to remind everyone that what "we all know" about recovered memories is, in fact, not known at all.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Has Been

Comedian W. Kamau Bell recently tweeted this:

"I woulda done it better, if I had done it, but I don't do things, but if I did do things, I'd do that one better." – Most internet criticism
It reminded me of the song "Has Been," performed by William Shatner on an album produced by Ben Folds. (Cowritten by Shatner and Folds.)
Has Been

Has been, has been, has been
You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?
You callin' me "has been"?
What'd you say your name is?

Jack — never done Jack
Glad to meet you
Who's your friend?
Dick — don't say Dick
What do you know?
And you friend, what's your handle?
Don — Two Thumbs Don

Riding on their armchairs
They dream of wealth and fame
Fear is their companion
Nintendo is their game

Never done Jack and Two Thumbs Don
And sidekick don't say Dick
We'll laugh at others failures
Though we have not done shit

{I've heard of you, the ready-made connecting with the ever-ready, yeah
The never-was talking about still trying. I got it.
Forever-bitter gossiping about never-say-die
May I inquire what you've been doing, mister?}

Jack, never done Jack
And you partner, what's the news of the world, Dick?
I don't say Dick
Don, of all the people you must be The Tattler
Two Thumbs up
What are you afraid of, failure?
So am I

Has been implies failure
Not so
Has been is history
Has been was
Has been might again
It's from the album also called Has Been, which includes some other favorite songs of mine, especially "Common People."

Friday, November 21, 2014

Wage Theft and More

Wage theft. It's a fairly recent obsession of mine, filling a bunch of tabs awaiting a coherent bit of writing. I'm not sure I can be coherent, but here are the tabs.


An Epidemic of Wage Theft Is Costing Workers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars a Year. This report from the Economic Policy Institute provides the working definition of the problem:

Millions of Americans struggle to get by on low wages, often without any benefits such as paid sick leave, a pension, or even health insurance. Their difficult lives are made immeasurably harder when they do the work they have been hired to do, but their employers refuse to pay, pay for some hours but not others, or fail to pay overtime premiums when employees’ hours exceed 40 in a week.
The EPI authors explain,
Survey evidence suggests that wage theft is widespread and costs workers billions of dollars a year, a transfer from low-income employees to business owners that worsens income inequality, hurts workers and their families, and damages the sense of fairness and justice that a democracy needs to survive. A three-city study of workers in low-wage industries found that in any given week, two-thirds experienced at least one pay-related violation
The total stolen from workers through wage theft is -- get this -- three times as much as the amount taken in every robbery, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft in the U.S. each year. And that's just the proven wage theft, the wage theft where someone complains. It doesn't count the many times when an employee doesn't report or can't report (probably very common when a worker is undocumented).

But which type of crime do you hear about on the evening news or in crime statistics?

Here's just one of many stories where a large employer was found to be stealing from its employees: Shell and Motiva Enterprises Pay Millions In Back Wages After Investigation:
...eight Shell Oil and Motiva refineries failed to pay workers for time spent attending mandatory pre-shift meetings. The companies required the workers to come to the meetings before the start of their 12-hour shift. Because the companies failed to consider time spent at mandatory pre-shift meetings as compensable, employees were not paid for all hours worked and did not receive all of the overtime pay of time and one-half their regular rate of pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek. Additionally, the refineries did not keep accurate time records.
This tendency to not pay for time that's required for a job but not directly part of what might be considered productive labor is common in wage theft cases. Amazon's warehouse workers are currently suing because they are required to spend 25 minutes -- uncompensated -- every day (!) in a security checkout line to make sure they haven't stolen anything. The warehouse says that's not work, and clearly it's not, but it's also not something the workers have any choice about so they should be paid for the time.

A couple more: Chipotle makes workers stay late 'off the clock' without pay, New York attorney general to sue Papa John's franchisee for shorting wages. Remember, these are often the workers who are making minimum wage or just above it, and so can least afford to have their wages taken.

The relationship of wage theft to the institution of franchising can't be ignored. Franchising is basically a way for a large corporation to decrease its risk and responsibility for how it treats its workers by creating secondary companies that legally employ the workers. This whole fiction was recently unmasked in a decision by the National Labor Relations Board.

[It's worth noting that the franchisees themselves are not always happy about their relationship to their corporate overlords. Two stories: Disenfranchised: Why Are Americans Still Buying Into the Franchise Dream? from Pacific Standard magazine and Behind Big Macs, a drama over business control from Associate Press.]

Another way that corporations and their franchisees routinely steal from low-wage workers is by making them assistant managers or even managers. Because a manager supposedly has more discretion in work, they are exempt from the hourly wage rules of the Fair Labor Standards Act. So fast food companies, for instance, promote a worker to assistant manager and suddenly don't have to pay her overtime. The big dollar store chains, like Dollar General, are well known for this:
Each week, the company allotted [Dollar General Manager] Hughey around 125 hours to assign to the four workers in her charge, most of whom were earning close to minimum wage... But...the hours...allowed...rarely cover the work that needs to be done. The stores operate on something close to a skeleton staff, workers say.

Pressured to keep payroll down, Hughey spent most of her time unloading trucks, stocking shelves and manning the cash register, often logging 12-hour days, six days a week, to keep the store operating. She said she felt less like a manager than a manual laborer.

Dollar General saved a bundle by having Hughey do much of the grunt work. As a salaried manager, she was exempt from overtime protections and didn't get paid for extra work. Given that she often worked 70 hours a week, at an annual salary of $34,700, her pay sometimes broke down to less than $10 per hour -- hardly a managerial haul.
Managers supposedly get paid vacations, but if they can't find staff to cover their time off, they don't take it. If someone calls in sick for the early store-opening shift, it's the assistant manager or the manager who covers it, unpaid beyond their 40-hour check.

Part of the problem with the FLSA's regulation of these exempt workers is that the minimum weekly wage that controls whether they can be considered exempt or not has not been increased since 2004: you can make as little as $455 a week and be considered salaried. When that dollar amount was written into the bill by Congress, it was worth $28,874 a year in 2013 dollars, but now it's $23,660. As with too many laws that control wages, the amount is not indexed to inflation.

This weakness in the FLSA is by design:
As originally written in the 1940s, the Fair Labor Standards Act limited the percentage of the day that an employee could spend on non-managerial duties and still be exempt from overtime, which over the years came to be understood as no more than 50 percent [of their time].

But in 2004, President George W. Bush’s Department of Labor overhauled the rules, which accomplished two things: First, it raised the salary threshold below which all workers are entitled to overtime, from $250 per week to $455 per week. And second, it reorganized all the exemptions in such a way that more employees wouldn’t qualify because of what they did on the job. Under the new rules, people could be defined as managers exempt from overtime, for example, while doing grunt work and supervisory work simultaneously.
Current Secretary of Labor Tom Perez hopes to introduce an increase in that minimum, to about $50,000 a year, which seems only fair to me when paying a person who is supposed to be a manager of a business. That's not even the median wage for a family of four. And it's what the basic exempt wage limit from 1975 would have become by now, if it had been adjusted for inflation.

Exempt employees are supposed to be doing jobs that are "executive," "professional," or "administrative." I'm not sure where unloading trucks and running a cash register fits into those categories. But all of this messing with the FLSA indicates that our labor laws need to be overhauled to fit the way our current service economy works, instead of the manufacturing economy we used to have.

____

Related thoughts....

Another way that companies undermine their workers is by using just-in-time scheduling. I've written before about workers in this situation, who are often called the precariat (a clever combination of precarious and proletariat). More recent stories on these practices cover Walmart, Popeyes, and Urban Outfitters. Schedules are completely unpredictable, making it impossible for people to get child care, work a second job, or get more education. It's almost as if these employers don't want their employees to better themselves so they can get a better job some day.

San Francisco recently responded to all of these employer practices by introducing a retail workers' bill of rights. "The proposed legislation would require that chain retailers provide schedules to workers at least two weeks in advance. Workers would also be entitled to additional pay if their schedules change at the last minute."

Here's a story that gives a clear idea of what it's like to work for a large sporting goods retailer. The pay ($10 an hour) sounds good relative to minimum wage, but his overtime goes unpaid altogether. Once he got a pair of socks.

And of course, I recommend reading Barbara Ehrenreich's classic book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Good News, Dumb News from the Star Tribune

First the good news: Minnesota's trial run of specialty courts for chronic drunk drivers has resulted in substantially lower recidivism rates, saving both money and lives. Offenders who go through the experimental court underwent an intensive program, and were more likely to complete the programs than DWI courts nationally.

Then the weird news: people in the inner-ring, expensive suburb Edina (located on the southwest corner of Minneapolis) are opposed to adding sidewalks to their fair town. Not only that, they're said to be "up in arms" about it. What are they afraid of? Well, shoveling, I suppose. But it sounds like Edina is even planning to clear the sidewalks of snow in some areas. (Which makes me wonder why that isn't a thing everywhere. What message does it send to pedestrians that roads are important enough to clear with tax money, but sidewalks aren't?)

And then there's this, which isn't exactly weird, but isn't good either: A DFL member of the State Legislature wants to increase the sentences for people who assault nurses while they're on the job, mirroring the penalties for assaulting a police officer. Supposedly there has been an increased number of assaults on nurses lately. I doubt that, from a statistical standpoint, or if it's true, whether it's not just a random blip. And I also doubt that increasing sentences would have any deterrent effect. People who assault nurses are not in their right minds, obviously. In this age of over-incarceration, any move to increase sentences is the wrong direction, in my opinion.

The example given in the story makes my case:

On Nov. 2, an el­der­ly pa­tient at St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood attacked and in­jured four nurses with a metal bar. The pa­tient, who suf­fered from de­lu­sions, died as po­lice officers worked to hand­cuff him three blocks from the hos­pi­tal, officials said.
How would increasing the penalty have prevented that attack? The bigger question is, why is violence increasing (if it is), and how do we prevent it?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Huddled Masses Yearning, 2014

In which the Daily Show's Al Madrigal -- broadcasting from Austin, Texas, a few weeks ago -- manages to give the lie to almost every stereotype about Mexican immigrants in a single five-minute video:

"They're not leaving until they get what they came for: A life as boring as yours."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Keeping Jews Out of Yale

It's common knowledge that elite colleges (and even high schools) in recent years have struggled to stem the wave of Asian-American students with top-flight qualifications who want to get into their schools. Our student body needs balance, they say. We can't have too many of the same group of people. They only study, they don't participate in student life. The implication: They're all the same.

But fewer people know that this has happened before, except the "over-represented" group wasn't Asians -- it was Jews.
 
Thanks to Maggie Koerth-Baker's enewsletter, The Fellowship of Three Things, I just found out about Jerome Karabel's book The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. You can read his chapter on how Yale tried to exclude Jews in the 1920s, thanks to Google Books. Here are some of the ways Yale's admissions men described the "Hebraic problem," which sound eerily familiar.

"Qualities of personality and character" should become allowable, not just passing the rigorous entrance exam. The admissions process should carry out "Personal Inspection of all Doubtful Candidates" and target scholarships to the "cultured, salaried class of native stock."

The chairman of admissions wrote: "it would give better publicity if we should speak of selection and of the rigid enforcement of high standards rather than of the limitation of numbers."

In October 1921, data revealed that "while Jews outperformed their non-Jewish classmates academically, they were relegated to the margins of Yale's dense extracurricular life and were totally excluded from the senior societies." Orchestra, debate, and the Socialism club were exceptions.

Jews were thought to be an "alien and unwashed element" who graduated "into the world as naked of all the attributes of refinement and honor as when born into it." They were "Alien in morals and manners" and lacking the "ethical code" of their fellow students, "taking…all that is offered or available and giving little or nothing in return." They lack "manliness, uprightness, cleanliness, native refinement, etc."

Not surprisingly, Jews weren't the only ones on Yale's list of undesirables. As one admissions officer wrote to another: "How many Jews among [the freshmen]? And are there any Coons? …Don't let any colored transfer get rooms in College."

By 1926, the school's daily newspaper had weighed in as well. Yale's new policy -- to give up on being a meritocracy of "abnormal brain specimens" -- should be based on "more consideration of the character, personality, promise and background of the individual in question." And: "Survival of the fittest should yield men who are equipped to do more than pass scholastic examinations or earn money."

Part of the new requirements included submission of a photo of the applicant, and the paper called on admissions to require photos of the applicants' fathers as well. Gee, I wonder what the point of that was?

By 1930, the percent of Jews in the freshmen class had fallen to 8.2 (after topping out in the mid-teens). The admissions men were proud they accomplished the decrease "without hue and cry and without any attempt on the part of those chiefly affected to prove that Yale had organized a pogrom." This ethnic cleansing language and thought continues: "…if we could have an Armenian massacre confined to the New Haven district, with occasional incursions into Bridgeport and Hartford, we might protect our Nordic stock almost completely."

Wow.

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Subscribe to Maggie Koerth-Baker's Fellowship of Three Things here.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Or Does It Explode?

Today is the day Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency, even though the Darren Wilson grand jury hasn't finished its work. Saint Louise has stocked up on $200,000 worth of tear gas and plastic handcuffs. They've mobilized a thousand National Guard members.

It's four days after our local ABC affiliate, KSTP channel 5, insisted it was right to air a story saying the mayor of Minneapolis was flashing gang signs because she was pointing at a young black guy.

It's three days after the city of Saint Paul's police civilian review board decided there were no procedural errors, let alone crimes, by the cops who tased Chris Lollie for sitting in a public skyway.

Add just those three things up and it's hard to claim black people are full citizens in this country.

A state of emergency means Nixon can ban public gatherings, that police don't need probable cause, that journalists can be excluded from anywhere the government or police decide they shouldn't be.

Even without a state of emergency, Saint Paul's mayor and police stripped citizens of their rights during the 2008 Republican National Convention, carried out raids on people they thought might dare to block an intersection, limited our marches to places where convention attendees had no chance of seeing them, and kettled law-abiding protesters until they could be arrested. And all of that happened despite the fact that protest organizers met with local police for over six months to make sure things went in a way that preserved First Amendment rights, and where the protesters were mostly white and middle class.

What will a major protest -- made up largely of black people -- look like when police or soldiers empowered by a state of emergency try to control it? It'll either be complete repression, with a Boston-bomber-style house lock-in, or a military action that makes the armored personnel carriers and tear gas of Ferguson in August look like a gentle warning.

How hard would it be for the grand jury (and the prosecutor) to treat this case as if the life of the kid who died mattered? That's all anyone is asking.

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In case the title of this post is not familiar, here is the source.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Got Conflicting Billboards?

Driving along the highway the other week between Oshkosh and Appleton, Wisconsin, I came upon a string of consecutive billboards. This was the beginning:


That one at the right, which reads Got God?...


...is followed by another six or eight billboards for the same Lion's Den adult super store advertised in the first billboard, plus two more adult superstores.

Whoa, what a part of the country.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Album Art

There's nothing quite like old record album jackets.

















They're particularly beautiful to me, since I grew up with them, but I think they're legitimately notable even if you've never seen them before.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Finding Common Ground on the True Free Riders

The first thing I read this morning was Kevin Drum's essay on why members of the white working class mostly don't vote for Democrats anymore.

...when the economy stagnates and life gets harder, people get meaner. That's just human nature. And the economy has been stagnating for the working class for well over a decade—and then practically collapsing ever since 2008.

So who does the [white working class] take out its anger on? Largely, the answer is the poor. In particular, the undeserving poor. Liberals may hate this distinction, but it doesn't matter if we hate it. Lots of ordinary people make this distinction as a matter of simple common sense, and the WWC makes it more than any. That's because they're closer to it. For them, the poor aren't merely a set of statistics or a cause to be championed. They're the folks next door who don't do a lick of work but somehow keep getting government checks paid for by their tax dollars. For a lot of members of the WWC, this is personal in a way it just isn't for the kind of people who read this blog.

And who is it that's responsible for this infuriating flow of government money to the shiftless? Democrats. We fight to save food stamps. We fight for WIC. We fight for Medicaid expansion. We fight for Obamacare. We fight to move poor families into nearby housing.
I have the feeling Frank Luntz is lurking somewhere in the background of this successful framing by the Right, but I can't deny that there's true resonance in it for working-class people, based on the fairness principle. Fairness is one of the six key areas of morality identified by researcher Jonathan Haidt. As Haidt has said, [and here I'm quoting myself from the earlier post linked in the previous sentence]:
What a liberal and a conservative mean by the terms can differ. For instance, conservatives think of fairness in terms of self-sufficiency and free riders. Everyone needs to contribute, and no one should get anything for "free."
Drum's essay genuflects to the role of race in this tendency of white, working-class people to see the poor as free riders. I think it's more central than he does, but acknowledge that my working class friends and relatives aren't crazy about white people they know and perceive as slackers, either.

Given the moral underpinning of their feelings, let alone the possible racism that underlies it, I think it's unlikely anyone can get anti-Democrat members of the white working class to realize the small amount of true free-riding is worth it in return for the greater benefit that reaches the many people who need help (which is how I feel about it, and have said before).

So, instead, I think we should find common ground on a different type of free-riding and build political power on that: so-called corporate welfare.

Yesterday, a conservative friend shared this from Bernie Sanders (of all people!) on Facebook:


Her post was met by a chorus of agreement from her usual conservative friends, and me, saying, "That's something we can agree on."

Here are some other meme graphics that get across the point:










It's a place to start, right?

___

Past posts that came to mind while writing this:

Disability for Me, But Not Thee

Dean Baker and Economic Realities

These Problems Are About Policy

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Making the Case for Government Programs

Bonuses and Bolling

Is Your Grandma a Welfare Queen?


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Skews of the World

Thanks to Jason Kottke at kottke.org, I just heard about the Ipsos/Mori quiz, which asks you to choose from among three answers to a range of demographic-oriented questions about your country.

Take the quiz here, if you want to, before reading further.

People in all the countries are woefully under-informed, but the U.S. was second worst on the index of stupidity (after Italy, huh). Believe it or not, most of us gave these answers:

  • the teen birth rate is 8 times higher than it is (24 vs. 3 percent in reality... jeepers, how could anyone think a quarter of teenage girls have babies every year?)
  • the number of immigrants is 2.5 times higher than it is (32 vs. 13 percent)
  • the number of Muslims is 15 times higher than it is and the number of Christians is about 50 percent lower than it is (15 vs. 1 percent for Muslims, 56 vs. 78 percent for Christians... hence the "War on Christmas" and all the other perceived assaults on victimized Christianity)
  • the unemployment rate is more than 5 times higher than it is (32 vs. 6 percent)
  • and, finally, 70 percent of us think the murder rate is going up, even though it's been going down since 1992.
As Kottke put it, "Then again, what do Americans hear about constantly on the news? Unemployment, Muslims and immigration, murder, and teen pregnancy. It's little wonder the guesses on those are so high."

I would add one caveat about the incorrect unemployment guess: people may be thinking of friends who are underemployed, or who have dropped out of the workforce and are not counted in the official 6 percent number at all. When those are included, according to Forbes, the percentage is over 12 percent. And in some communities, say, I don't know... maybe among black men in some parts of the country... 32 percent isn't far off the actual unemployment rate.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Condemnation of Blackness

I don't think it's an overstatement to say Americans have little recollection of history, whether recent or long-term. The frenetic pace of 24-hour news means even the most recent crisis is soon forgotten (Ebola, anyone?). Trends that have existed over time are often unknown, so that each moment seems to arise from nothing, without warning.

The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, is not quite as forgotten nationally as some recent news stories. His death -- following those of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and many others whose names are not as well known -- finally spurred me to read The Condemnation of Blackness by Khalil Gibran Muhammad. In it, Muhammad gives a scholarly, historical account of how black people, post-Reconstruction, came to be criminalized just for existing.

Some writers thought blacks were criminals because of inherent racial inferiority, while others thought it was because of their cultural inferiority (sound familiar?) -- but almost anyone with access to publishing wrote that blacks were more prone to breaking the law than whites.

Only W.E.B Du Bois, with newly minted degrees from Harvard, saw that unequal treatment based on race could lead to the statistics found in the 1890 census: that blacks made up 30 percent of the prison and jail population, while only making up 12 percent of the population. But even Du Bois didn't recognize the over-policing of black neighborhoods, and the use of vague laws like loitering, disorderly conduct, and "suspicious character" to prosecute blacks more than whites. (Just as today, blacks are much more likely to be arrested and convicted for marijuana possession even though they use it at about the same rate as whites.)

The most enlightening point Muhammad makes, for me, is the way he contrasts treatment of white European immigrants with black emigrants from the South in northern cities. Both were vastly overrepresented in the crime statistics. Yet the settlement house movement -- such as Jane Addams' Hull House in Chicago -- was focused almost exclusively on white immigrants. White progressives like Addams saw themselves in opposition to nativist conservatives who thought immigrants were naturally immoral (just like black people, ahem). The progressives built infrastructure to rescue immigrant youth from the streets at the same time they ignored the needs of blacks, who, if anything, needed even more help than white immigrants.

Addams -- despite her involvement with the founding of the NAACP and work against lynching -- did "not include blacks in her repeated calls for public recreation, which she argued was a silver bullet against 'the number of arrests among juvenile delinquents'" (page 124).

On the next page of the book, Muhammad writes a passage describing one of the most illogical ways of thinking I believe I have ever encountered:
The problem...was that black male ignorance and inefficiency, like black female ignorance and immorality, were defined in relation to slavery and to white civilizationist discourses that already ranked all blacks at the bottom. Therefore black reform...ought to be separate and distinct since blacks, as the logic dictated, could rise to a higher plane only through their own struggle following emancipation. All whites of whatever nationality were, by definition (through centuries of struggle in the wilderness of Europe and colonial American), already on a higher plane capable of being saved by others (page 125, emphasis added).
So get that: If you're already part way up the mountain, you can be helped to the top, but if you're at the bottom, you have to do it yourself.

"Too often," Muhammad writes, "white reformers settled for indexing racial injustice rather than fighting it. For example, Jane Addams could point out the perilous consequences of residential segregation for black families without ending the practice of segregated activities at her own Hull House" (pages 125-126).

Facing housing and job discrimination at every turn, black people in general became the permanent underclass we still have today. White progressives did nothing to end either practice, if they even acknowledged that they existed.

Muhammad also documents the corruption of police and their too-frequent involvement in supporting anti-black violence from white mobs. That's when they themselves weren't killing black men:
...the 1929 Illinois Crime Survey found that African Americans made up 30 percent of the recorded killings by police in 1926-1927, though they represented only 5 percent of the population.... In the manhunt for a sixteen-year-old accused of breaking a restaurant window, [Ida B. Wells] reported, the police entered his home without a warrant, guns blazing. He died in a hail of thirty-five bullets (page 249).
Ida B. Wells features in several chapters of the book. My god, what a woman. Driven out of her native Memphis for her anti-lynching campaigns, she moved from city to city in the North, trying to find a home and funding for her work to uplift and protect her people. At one point in 1910, she was in Chicago and had secured funding for a Negro Fellowship League from a rich white woman, but it ended in 1912 when the woman died and her husband "withdrew funding, insisting that [the League] should have been 'self-supporting by that time'" (page 131).

A few years before that, also in Chicago, Wells helped open the Frederick Douglass Center with support from another wealthy white woman. Wells assumed that she herself would be the director of the new center, but to her surprise, a rich, white suffragist was chosen instead, with Wells as vice president. The organization soon fell apart over disagreements about its purpose and direction.

This pattern of black intellectuals and activists always being placed second to whites becomes a pattern repeated in history. Another example is the case of James Stemons, who spent years working in a post office while he wrote and spoke about the treatment of blacks and their supposedly natural criminality. When he finally managed to build and fund an organization, he found himself the vice president, rather than the president (pages 182-183). All of this underlies current sensitivities about tokenism in organizations and sidekicks in media.

The Condemnation of Blackness is a thorough examination of a 40-year period of American history, seen through a lens I never encountered in my history education. It makes me ache with the sheer stupidity of my liberal/progressive white ancestors. As the NAACP's Crisis magazine put it, "It is senseless to regard crime as racial or characteristic of certain individuals. Crime is one of the best indices of social conditions" (page 244).

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If you'd like to check out a short version of the book, here's a five-minute video of Muhammad explaining his main points.