February 8, 2007 - Issue 216

Between The Lines
The State of Black California:
"Three-Fifths Compromise" Is Alive In The Sunshine State
By Anthony Asadullah Samad
BC Columnist

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The California Legislative Black Caucus released its commissioned study on the state of Black Californians last week. The brainchild of Caucus Vice Chair, Assembly Majority Leader, Karen Bass, the study is an expansion on the state of Black Los Angeles report released by the Urban League and United Way in 2005. I swear, black people have to be the most studied people in the history of the universe. It’s not like we don’t know “the state” of black people. We know all too well. What we don’t know is why “the state” continues to persist. I’m sure other folk have their reasons, and they’re not the same as what Black America believes. They’ll probably label it “self-inflicted.” Black America maintains it’s been systemic and institutional, from the very start. Black America was designed three-fifths at the constitutional convention in 1787 when they were essentially the compromise that moved the Constitution forward. They were near “three-fifths” on the equality index of the Urban League Report released in 2004. Blacks were nearly “three-fifths” in the equality index in the Los Angeles report released in 2005, and the state of Black Californians are fairing no better in 2007. The “three-fifths” compromise is alive in the “Sunshine state,” the fifth largest economy in the world.

The equality index in the State of Black California study compares the extent to which Blacks enjoy equal conditions in relation to Whites (1.00) and other ethnic groups in the areas of:

  • economics
  • housing
  • health
  • education
  • criminal justice
  • civic engagement

Anything under 1.00 means “less than equal,” and anything more than 1.00 means “more than equal.” Black equality in California stands at 0.69. Latino equality is also at 0.69. Asian equality, at 1.01, is equal to that of Whites. So, on its face, it would appear that Black equality has moved slightly closer to three fourths. But even at 0.69, Blacks in California are less equal than the national average of 0.73, the National Urban League reported three years ago. The 0.69 equality index is also misleading. With a 0.66 index score for housing, a 0.68 index score for health quality, a 0.69 index score for education, a 0.68 index score for criminal justice and a 1.30 for civic engagement, one could easily miss the most significant indicator of them all as the real basis for inequality in America. The economic index for Blacks, based on four factors; median income, employment, poverty and business ownership, is 0.59. Just under three-fifths of Whites. The sun doesn’t shine on us in Cali the way it tans others. In fact, it’s a pretty pale proposition for most of the state’s 2.2 million Blacks.

The sun isn’t shining on just Blacks alone. Latinos faired just as bad-worse in some instances—but their state is largely attributed to the large influx of poor immigrants. African American’s state is attributed to them, well…being black. I know, it sounds crazy, and certainly it's an excuse that’s been so played out in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s that people got tired of hearing it. But African Americans still have the highest racial animus of any other race, religion or culture. Society is less tolerate of African Americans’ social condition, more punitive of African Americans in the criminal justice system, more subjugated in the economic system and more discriminated in the health, housing and insurance systems. Yes, the state of Black Californians, as the state of Black America, is partly systemic.

Colorblind discrimination is the current day’s system of oppression. But our recent ancestors overcame worse systemic forms of oppression, like slavery and segregation. One generation removed from each system’s end produced massive progress. As black people’s economics improved, so did their quality of life. Racism has always been economic, as competition for jobs, housing, education and business capital (or farming subsidies) were always the basis for political and social exclusion. Public policy and social construct had always subjugated African Americans—and impacted others as well. But as the economy goes, so goes the nation.

It’s the same with Black America. Economics continues to be the area where Blacks are most disadvantaged, and most unequal. Economics dictates housing, health care, education and one’s ability to confront the criminal justice system. Competition issues still dictate these socio-economic factors as those with resources haven’t been willing to deconstruct barriers that allow for full access to equality. With the economic index of Blacks in the State of California study at 0.59, three-fifths of white’s economic status, the chance of economic disparities stand to become more deeply entrenched and the poverty question become more important than ever. All other index indicators are the residual fallout of the state of Black economics in California.

The status of the overall equality index for Blacks is collateral damage caused by the dismal economic condition in the state’s urban cores. Three solutions that the study did not recommend (though they did recommend many, both legislative and non-legislative) must occur before inequalities in California can be remedied:

1) California voters must repeal Proposition 209. For as long as California is perceived to be an “anti-affirmative action” state, contracting opportunities, educational opportunities and employment opportunities will be near zero. History has proven that socio-economic changes don’t occur by the beneficence of those whose economic interests are challenged
2) Closer regulation on check cashers, “pay-day” loan sharks and other predator lenders that now dominate poor communities, exploiting the poor and disenfranchised in ways to keep their income “hamstrung” and to keep them wealthless
3) repeal the “Three Strikes” law. Blacks are disproportionately over-represented in California’s prison, and when they are released—their conviction doesn’t allow them to find work. Recidivist behavior eventually causes them to go back to prison, and ultimately be “thrown away” in the anti-redemption system.

Until some of the systemic issues are addressed, the “compromise” will continue as the disparities will be maintained, and inequality will be perpetuated. And Blacks in California will be “three-fifths” of Whites and Asians as it relates to economic equality, which drives everything else. 

BC Columnist Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of 50 Years After Brown: The State of Black Equality In America. His website is AnthonySamad.com. Click here to contact Mr. Samad.



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