the long view: quiet reflections (4 August 2015)

Imagine looking white, but not being white. It is an experience that exposes the limitations of racial perception, while reinforcing its power. As a child, the experience unfolds through the whispers of a community’s rejection. Hurried words and sudden glances as adults explain to each other – “he’s not really what he looks like.” It is the loss of unspoken opportunities, the isolation from an elite social circle, glimpsed but never joined. It is a daily pain and a forced passage into a marginal status where racial meaning constantly shifted regardless of ancestry.

Imagine the child of such a person, a child representing the first generation after the Loving decision. This “unwhite” person might seek refuge in a community color-struck with admiration for lighter complexions. A darker-skinned family of social status might perceive an opportunity to open doors for children who would not experience the depths of anti-black attitudes in the United States – if they were light enough, if their hair was good enough. Such a marriage, such a family, might come to represent both an affirmation and a denial of the racial politics at the end of the twentieth century. This child could pick from a variety of cultures and identities – but somehow, he could never become white.

In the African American community, there is a long record of reflection on the proximity of anti-black behaviors and attitudes contrasted against every person’s positive self-image of capability and confidence. W.E.B. DuBois’ described this experience as “double consciousness.” Scholars of European-American identity have asked if this concept had spread throughout the American population in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement. Was an aggressively racist, “white consciousness” replaced by a variety of ethnic public perceptions that manifested in the proliferation of media like “The Godfather,” “All in the Family,” and “Gangs of New York”? Had the children of European immigrants abandoned the tactics and strategies of assimilation into a broader “white” American identity after 1968?

The answers require more complexity than a simple yes or no. Ethnic identification persists across the shifting patterns of racial perception. Much of this confusion occurs when arguing that Nigerian, Egyptian, or Somalian immigrants have become African Americans, especially when their families in their countries of origin came from Denmark, Belgium, Germany, or the United Kingdom. The creation of the ethnic identifier – “Descendants of Africans Enslaved in North America (Daena)” – responds to these linguistic tactics in seeking advantages in college admissions, government contracting, and private sector employment. These tricks seek to preserve a special status for white identity that American law always defends without ever acknowledging. They are the pervasive defenses of racial elitism that prevent our hypothetical “unwhite” person and his children from participating in the lie of American liberty. Until the self-perceptions and public uses of “white” identity are abandoned by the institutions and individuals who use them to preserve economic, political, and cultural dominance, freedom will remain illusory for all people.

Dr. Walter Greason founded the International Center for Metropolitan Growth (www.icmetrogrowth.com), teaches economic history at Monmouth University (www.monmouth.edu), and is the author of the award-winning historical monograph, Suburban Erasure. His work is available on Twitter (@worldprofessor / @icmgrowth), Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (wgreason@monmouth.edu).

If someone could be white, but chose not to, what would they lose? If someone wanted to be black, but could not, what would it cost them?If someone could be white, but chose not to, what would they lose? If someone wanted to be black, but could not, what would it cost them?

the long view: seize the day (28 july 2015)

Villanova alumnus Steve Dow wrote a powerful and searching reflection on his need to discuss the last three years of racial terrorism that African Americans have experienced. In his essay, his constant frustration at his lack of knowledge about the horrors of daily oppression informs nearly every paragraph. Titled “A Different White Power,” Dow suggests that white Americans duplicate the effort he put into his writing in order to end the reflexive denial of the importance of antiblackness in human society. He calls for continuous reading, reflection, and conversation – both among white Americans privately and in the wider social context of diversity in world society. This task requires a long overdue reckoning with the African American and American Indian experiences in North America. In Cleveland, a coalition of activists have opened the door for Dow and everyone who shares his desire to create equal justice. The inaugural meeting of the Movement for Black Lives energized the city and the world over the last weekend. For everyone who is unfamiliar with the content, strategies, and tactics in pursuit of racial equality, this moment is your time to seize the day.

An early pioneer in the effort to make justice available to all people was Tim Wise. Wise organized to support the end of apartheid in South Africa and was a leader in the effort to defeat Neo-Nazi David Duke in his bid to become the Governor of Louisiana in 1991. Wise recognized the gross injustices on a large scale in ways that Dow did not twenty-five years ago. Yet Wise still overlooked the pervasive discrimination in New Orleans where he lived because the overwhelming majority of white Americans cannot imagine themselves complicit in a system of purposeful injustice. They cannot be the screaming, twisted, contorted faces of hatred that news footage captured during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. No, Wise and Dow represented the deeper, more troubling facets of white American resistance to equal justice – the apathy, the color blindness, the benign neglect. These evils are the focus of the current moment.

The rise of journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates to the top of the New York Times best sellers’ list for his searing work, Between the World and Me, is one of the most visible products of the nation’s hunger to do better. Coates has laid bare the core of racial violence that maintains the rift that Dow describes, that Wise has worked every day to bridge. His work appears as the nation has returned to a time when, every day, a new story about the killing of another African American dominates the headlines. Coates, Jamelle Bouie, and Stacey Patton write notices every day that place them in the lineage of T. Thomas Fortune, Ida Wells-Barnett, W.E.B. DuBois, and Charlotta Bass. These traditions of radical journalism held a marginal place in global debate as network, cable, and print news embraced the politics of racial neglect – often criticizing voices like Ralph Wiley, Jemele Hill, Stuart Scott, and Farai Chideya. Coates, Bouie, and Patton represent a new urgency to bring the suppressed research of historians, sociologists, and educators back into public view. These works formed the core of Tim Wise’s awakening to confront injustice everywhere. They are the required knowledge for newcomers like Dow to understand how to better educate their children. They are the leaders and guides for the current civil rights activists in Cleveland, Houston, Charleston, Staten Island, and every other place where black lives have not mattered – especially suburbs like Norristown, Phoenixville, King of Prussia, and Doylestown.

There is a video on YouTube titled “Justice: An Action Plan” that illustrates how to redirect resources to this present civil rights struggle. Fewer than 4 percent of white Americans have ever joined a civil rights organization or contributed financially to any of their initiatives. The percentage of white Americans that have maintained membership and financially supported organizations like the Neo-Nazis or Ku Klux Klan has held steady above 20 percent since 1970. For every 1 white American who stands for equal justice, there are 5 who resist and dismantle every advance. Worse, 3 out of 4 white Americans simply do not care one way or the other. For every 5 racists, there are 75 white Americans who are too busy to learn about the real adversity African Americans, American Indians, and, now, Mexican Americans face every day. This situation has become intolerable. Wise has pledged to come to Norristown in an effort to improve the politics and economics of inclusion locally. Organizations like the Carver Community Center and the Norristown Men of Excellence have proven their leadership, but must now grow to serve all of Montgomery County. Partners like Villanova University, Temple University, Monmouth University, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the Society for American City and Regional Planning History, and the Centennial Celebration at the Court Street School Education Community Center stand ready to join this effort.

Carpe diem.

Dr. Walter Greason founded the International Center for Metropolitan Growth (www.icmetrogrowth.com), teaches economic history at Monmouth University (www.monmouth.edu), and is the author of the award-winning historical monograph, Suburban Erasure. His work is available on Twitter (@worldprofessor / @icmgrowth), Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (wgreason@monmouth.edu).

A coalition of all people, in the US and around the world, must stand up to make the promise of freedom real.A coalition of all people, in the US and around the world, must stand up to make the promise of freedom real.

the long view: rural corridors (14 july 2015)

Many of my most successful colleagues often complain about the lack of creativity and imagination among their graduate students. Years of reading the same topics – the Civil War, World War 2, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement – rehashed endlessly along an infinite variety of timelines and thematic approaches create an ennui that robs the intellect of its vitality. To find an original topic with sufficient primary resources to support the development of a book-length work is an extraordinary accomplishment in itself. One of the keys that animated my first major research project was the recognition that other scholars focused on large, urban centers to the exclusion of communities like Norristown, Upper Darby, and Lansdale. Even more egregiously, the rural expanses of most states were completely ignored. The constant compounding error of scholarly disinterest combined with the most profound bias in research (a lack of previous studies) to limit a more complete understanding of the United States and the world. A recent issue of The Journal of Urban History praises Suburban Erasure for breaking this approach to the past, especially in the context of rapid economic development in New Jersey over the twentieth century. An ambitious group of students in Pennsylvania could duplicate this method here.

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Political operatives have often referred to the communities between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as the “Pennsylvania T.” Erie, Harrisburg, and Wilkes-Barre form the largest communities in this imagined structure, but the hundreds of smaller towns hold their own special importance. Where places like Morristown, Freehold, Rancocas, and Glassboro represented a series of specific changes in the ways suburbs grew in New Jersey, Pennsylvania counties like Chester, Berks, Westmoreland, Luzerne, and Crawford counties will be the growing regions of the twenty-first century. Despite the impressive wealth that the major metropolitan areas in the state have generated over the last two centuries, demographic growth will inspire greater residential and commercial investment beyond the boundaries of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and their suburbs. Only a fundamental readjustment in federal financial lending guidelines has any chance to slow the steady creep of sprawl beyond Lower Providence and Royersford.

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In a profound way, this pattern also operates on a national scale. Nearly all of the major metropolitan development in the United States lies on a major body of water. The Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts are the sites of almost-three quarters of the nation’s total assets. If you include the Great Lakes, then the percentage rises to nearly ninety percent. This concentration is only exceeded by the amount of media and research attention these areas have received over the last century. From this perspective, the absence of work on a national “rural corridor” becomes glaring. Small communities from the borders that Montana and Idaho share with Canada, moving southeast across the continent until one reaches the Florida panhandle, comprise a region that harkens back to the ideals of self-reliance in a rugged countryside that most still associate with the nineteenth century. Last week’s announcement from the Department of Housing and Urban Development takes essential steps to helping most Americans create more inclusive and prosperous communities. Yet, the core of socially isolated, rural poverty will not be affected by these reforms. Even important private initiatives like “The Geography of Poverty” project (presented by NBC News) overlook this region. Local historian Michael Tolle’s work on Montgomery County opens the door for valuable new insights to correct these errors. A coalition of interested citizens could follow in his footsteps and create a Truth and Reconciliation commission to document and explore the facets of history too long hidden from public view.  Fewer than twelve would be necessary to begin the work. Who has the courage to volunteer?

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Dr. Walter Greason founded the International Center for Metropolitan Growth (www.icmetrogrowth.com), teaches economic history at Monmouth University (www.monmouth.edu), and is the author of the award-winning historical monograph, Suburban Erasure.    His work is available on Twitter (@worldprofessor / @icmgrowth), Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (wgreason@monmouth.edu).
What do we study? What do we ignore? Why?What do we study? What do we ignore? Why?

the long view: movements and moments (30 june 2015)

Movements & Moments
Dr. Walter Greason
Norristown Times-Herald
30 June 2015

The soul of the United States stirred last Friday. Indeed, a shudder rocked much of humanity when President Barack Obama intoned the first lines of the transformative gospel lyric – “Amazing Grace.” It was the culmination of a horrifying week as the world confronted a terrorist attack where the Charleston 9, Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Hon. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45; Myra Thompson, 59, were killed. It was the moment of reconciliation that the movement that elected the President had envisioned leading up to his first election. The sense of joy and peace that the nation has sought since the 1964 Civil Rights Act gained its first realization during that speech. All that remained was a catalyst to take action on this unique feeling.

Bree Newsome provided it early the next morning by scaling a flagpole and removing the Confederate battle flag from the capitol grounds. It was a temporary victory, and she was immediately arrested. Still, the symbol of direct, individual action to remove a symbol of division and strife has inspired millions of people everywhere. It has also enraged a volatile few. They have started to organize in defense of the ideology that inspired the confessed killer at Mother Emanuel AME Church.

In every community, but especially fast-growing areas like Montgomery County, there are small choices everyone can make to move forward in the present moment of grace and healing. Public displays of the Confederate flag can no longer be countenanced. Detailed, educational curricula and sustained study of the poisonous ideology of white supremacy should become common knowledge in every school. Every government agency and major local business should file public, annual reports about their fair hiring, promotion, and/or lending practices. Universal voter registration must become the hallmark of every free society. Most importantly, local truth and reconciliation commissions must undertake the task of uncovering the histories of slavery and segregation, so that everyone will recognize its remaining elements and be able to uproot them.

In the long term, there must be benchmarks and goals to guide a society’s march along the long arc of moral justice. First among these is the accomplishment of integrated housing and commercial markets. The persistence of racial disparities in these two sectors will allow segregation to endure eternally. Civil rights organizations must begin an annual review of every local, county, and state office as a non-partisan actor to keep the public informed about effective solutions and intransigent problems. Finally, leading educators must work beyond their schools and universities to create a global education and employment pipeline. By coordinating students to find and create millions of new opportunities in every part of the world, the grace so many seek will be made manifest.

For most of the last six years, pundits have made extensive commentary about how the world has seen the limits of the Presidency during Barack Obama’s time in office. Over the last week, his constituency has embraced the highest responsibilities of freedom. Where the Tea Party failed to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, this worldwide coalition of determined activists now understand the daily discipline necessary to make democracy real. Bree Newsome’s moment grew out of this expanding movement. Now, the movement knows how to create an infinite array of transformative moments.

Dr. Walter Greason is available on LinkedIn, Twitter (@worldprofessor/@icmgrowth), Facebook, and by email (wgreason@monmouth.edu).

Are we courageous enough to stand against the coming tide of the violent backlash?Are we courageous enough to stand against the coming tide of the violent backlash?

Infinite Skills Create Miracles: Activism, Scholarship, & Digital Media (June 2015)

“I self, lord and master, shall bring disaster to evil factors, demonic chapters shall be captured by kings.” When Guru (of the legendary rap duo, Gangstarr) opened the song “Above the Clouds” with these words, he sparked a soul-rattling meditation on the power of self-image and its impact in reshaping the world. A decade earlier, their song “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight” transformed a young man’s imagination, inspiring him to use the energy from the music to shape programs and organizations that would inspire others. Many people find their discipline through diet, exercise, or prayer. Hip hop as an art can channel all paths to achievement. Ultimately, that student’s choice – my choice – was the combination of activism, scholarship, and digital media.

At a college fair, a student bragged to his friends that he was going to a school where there were no minorities. He didn’t say ‘minorities.’ He used slurs for Latinos and African Americans that sparked chuckles from his audience. I was then, and remain today, a child of farmers. A verbal or physical confrontation with this student would only work to my disadvantage in that context. Instead, I learned about his chosen university – one of the most prominent Catholic institutions in the United States. After winning a full academic scholarship to attend, I confronted constant harassment, discrimination, and a few death threats in the early 1990s. The goal was always to break down the institutional barriers that kept students of color outside of the institution or cowed if they managed to enroll. The best an unprecedented coalition of student leaders could do was the fundamental redesign of the student government and the creation of the nation’s first “strategic plan for cultural diversity” in higher education. Over the next decade, a larger, research institution became my home for graduate study. After a group of activists attended the Million Man March, we returned and founded a magazine dedicated to multicultural activism. Over the next four years, it reached more than 250,000 readers and shaped a series of commitments to regional economic justice that included thousands of full university scholarships and dozens of partnerships between local government and private capital to create jobs and companies throughout the region. One of the more successful organizations was the First Suburbs project. Based in two small, suburban towns, it grew to include more than 1,000,000 members and became the model for ongoing partnerships between the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration. By combining the lessons of institutional action taught by Dean Alvin Clay with the uncompromising historical integrity of Professor Maghan Keita, my standards for activist achievement made the pursuit of universal equality relentless.

Timetables, benchmarks, and assessments are not the tools that scholars prefer, however. Traditions of detachment and objectivity collided with my experiences about performance and accountability. Unlike a medical doctor, attorney, or other highly skilled professionals (even other scientists and social scientists), historians embrace a distance from the dramatic twists and turns of daily life. Balancing the urbane and the austere is one of the first tests many graduate students in history must often pass. Yet the urgency of activism was the passion that drove me to persevere in this environment. The life of Olivia Stuard Henry – the first woman ordained to pastor an African Methodist Episcopal church – showed me the risks of a meteoric rise and the resilience to withstand the inevitable pitfalls. Meeting dynamic historians like Robin D.G. Kelley in the course of organizing a conference titled “Afric’s Sons with Banner Red” illustrated different paths to use undiscovered knowledge in service to the historic mission of human liberty. I could no longer limit my writing to afrofuturist fiction like “Communion” or activist manuals like “The Ebon Flame.” For the next decade, I gathered hidden primary sources to document the lives of black working families whose communities had inspired the later civil rights work of Ella Baker, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The tragic transformation of black migrant workers’ lives as their dreams were realized and shattered simultaneously in the process of a global service economy’s emergence became the subject of my most recent two books, “The Path to Freedom” and “Suburban Erasure.” Worst of all, the criminalization of citizen activism, especially in the name of racial justice, at the end of the twentieth century required a fundamental reconsideration of both tactics and strategy.

In that moment, I returned to my first skills. Before research, before activism, before teaching, I was a computer programmer. Simple designs on early Apple machines consumed hours of my days in the 1980s. Zork and Bard’s Tale served as early inspirations, giving way to Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Killer Instinct in later years. These techniques were essential to both the activist work and the research agenda, but never at the forefront of either. Activists feared the ways governments could monitor electronic transmissions. Rightly so, as the police catalogued and documented communications prior to protests against the 1999 World Trade Organization meetings and the 2000 Republican National Convention. Historians, well, tend to prefer bound leather and parchment. 2006 marked a turning point where the struggle for LGBTQ equality began to gain national support just as elementary social media like MySpace gave way to Facebook, then Twitter, and now Instagram. Digital media provided endless opportunities to provide new content and context. It remains a greater revolution than manufacturing, literacy, or science. Where previous revolutions relied on static categories to create knowledge and greater organization, digital media destabilizes simplicity. It is not the scale of big data that threatens the conglomerate society that emerged from the Cold War – it is its dynamism. Where I created groups like “Champions Palace” or “Race and Suburbs” for thematic discussions at the start of the twenty-first century, social media offers outlets like @worldprofessor or “The Holy Bible: Dignity & Divinity” that constantly change and challenge both creators and audiences to reimagine the worlds they share.

In this intersectional, vibrating string theory of multiverses, the people who recognize the limits of mastery, humbling themselves to the realities of collaborative human accomplishment, will build the institutions that will shape future achievement. Popular movies like “Transcendence” and “Lucy” grapple with the most profound questions of becoming human in ways inspired by earlier works like “Dark City” and “The Matrix.” This patient, adaptive world manifested in the election of Barack Obama. It has begun a generational process of redefining life, liberty, and property through the crucible of the Great Recession. The remnants of the racist Massive Resistance Movement cling to relevance through fear of their cousins in ISIS or Al Qaeda. A global renaissance has begun – a Massive Acceptance Movement.

I remember how alone I felt – designing games no one else would play; writing university policies no one would read; researching forgotten people destroyed by economics. Still, somehow, I never doubted that infinite skills created miracles. I never imagined I might experience that promise beyond any limitation. I never imagined the legions of voices who shared some part of this knowledge and who now arise from Ferguson, Baltimore, Staten Island, McKinney, and Charleston.

I will never forget this moment of social change.


Dr. Walter Greason founded the International Center for Metropolitan Growth (ICMG_International Center for Metropolitan Growth) and is the author of the award-winning historical monograph, Suburban Erasure. He is also the primary instructor for the “Engines of Wealth” initiative at Monmouth University. His work is available on Twitter (@worldprofessor / @icmgrowth), Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (wgreason@monmouth.edu). For bookings (workshops and speaking engagements), contact NJ History (njhistory350@gmail.com).

Guru (left) and Premier, legendary hip hop artists.Guru (left) and Premier, legendary hip hop artists.

the long view: a peaceful, prosperous summer (23 june 2015)

Summer is officially here, and a new dawn has broken in Montgomery County. Primary elections ushered a new generation of energized officials into office. A revitalized coalition of community volunteers has opened the historic swimming pool at the Carver Community Center. These important accomplishments are merely the next steps in a long pattern of sustained efforts from local residents to end segregation and discrimination in the region. It is time to think about the rest of this year and the plans for extraordinary opportunities in 2016.

Across the nation, it has been a rougher road as individuals and communities struggle to adapt to widespread efforts at inclusiveness. Symbolic moments like the controversies surrounding Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal matter less than the systemic abuses that continued in McKinney, Texas, and Charleston, South Carolina. In McKinney, local white residents could not accept a pool party with large numbers of black teenagers. The tensions there reflected the local policies of exclusion that led to the creation of the Carver Center’s pool in Norristown. When a police officer threw an unarmed girl to the ground and drew his pistol on a young man who was horrified by his actions, in full view of a white teenager’s cell phone camera, the nation recoiled in horror – especially in the wake of endless questions about police training and procedures. Less than a month later, a racial terrorist walked into one of the most important black churches in the nation’s history. He sat through a bible study with ten prayerful African Americans who had welcomed him into their spiritual home. He then stood up and shot them, killing nine, while claiming he had to do it to protect his race. An online journal has surfaced under his name, explaining a detailed agenda for restoring global white supremacy to its fullest glory. Millions of Americans have engaged in collective hand-wringing, wondering if any action could prevent similar bloodshed in the future.

Beyond the prayers and heartfelt words intended to heal, there is basic work required from people of good faith if the nation is to avoid one of its bloodiest summers ever. The widespread denials about the continuing power of white supremacy must end. Too many communities remain divided by racism and animated by specific hostility against African Americans. Places like Shelby, South Carolina, Boyertown, Pennsylvania, and Howell, New Jersey, must face their histories of explicit hatred that have shaped their current realities of segregation and injustice. Suburban counties like Montgomery, Chester, and Bucks in the Philadelphia area must engage in pointed, thorough reviews to root out public officials, especially in law enforcement, who hold racist views against black people, immigrants, and religious minorities. Further, every jurisdiction (local, county, state, and federal) must develop a sustained, generational agenda to remedy the persistent inequalities in business ownership, housing, employment, and education that have impoverished communities like Philadelphia, Norristown, and Coatesville. Finally, every bank, realtor, and small business with more than ten employees must look to support leaders and programs like the ones growing in Montgomery County over the last month.

As new graduates begin a summer of celebration, they and their families are the keys to expanding on the important successes of local organizations like the Norristown Men of Excellence and the Carver Community Center. More importantly, families from surrounding communities like East Norriton, West Norriton, King of Prussia, Blue Bell, and Plymouth Meeting have the power to break out of their racial isolation to make the region an inclusive place for all people. This coalition is the only possibility for a peaceful and prosperous summer – in Pennsylvania and across the United States.

Dr. Walter Greason founded the International Center for Metropolitan Growth (www.icmetrogrowth.com). Contact him through Twitter (@worldprofessor) or by email (wgreason@monmouth.edu).

We must do the work to earn the celebration.We must do the work to earn the celebration.

the long view: crafting new histories (5 May 2015)

How well do you know history? From how many different perspectives can you discuss the past? These measures of evidence and analysis have transformed the lives of thousands of students around the world over the last twenty years. Too many people believe that it is enough to simply acknowledge a single narrative of human civilization. This laziness energizes a number of myths – progress being one of the most dangerous and deadly over the last century. Only in the last decade has humanity become tentatively confident enough to challenge the simplicity of history, especially in mass media. When the BBC produced an exploration of “The Islamic History of Europe,” it opened a series of doors to show the similarities between the Islamic caliphates and the feudal domains of the Catholic Church. Historian Christopher Ehret advanced these efforts with his research on early Africa. Indeed, the moment to consider an “African History of the World” is fast approaching.

While many scholars have debated the kinds of evidence that brings the African continent into the European historical narrative, few have attempted to rethink this core timeline using any of the interpretations indigenous to these societies. Such an effort lies beyond the scope of a short column, but there is a lesson that applies to small towns and suburbs across the United States. Elementary and secondary educators can break free of the limited histories of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr. that dominate local curricula. It is time to use African American history to animate teaching and learning new lessons about global citizenship.

One of the first tools in this process is Earl Lewis and Robin Kelley’s book, To Make Our World Anew. The authors effectively reinterpret African American history to emphasize popular movements for political and economic justice instead of relying on existing tropes of war and law to shape the understanding of history. This radical intervention brings ordinary people to the heart of the analysis. It makes history the province of the quotidian. More recently, historical works like The Suburban Reader, Suburban Erasure, and A World More Concrete build on this approach within the specific contexts of regions like Montgomery County. If every student in the region understood the use of the radical to understand their local community, they would be empowered to build new organizations and businesses to create a better world.

Southeastern Pennsylvania needs a sustained oral history project to tell the stories of the second half of the twentieth century to future generations. Consider the role of the Hadrick family in the local NAACP. Study the ways that the Culbreaths reshaped local and county government. Preserve the current moment when activists like Hakim Jones and Greg Scott took their first steps towards public service. An African-American history of Montgomery County (and the United States) has the power to free everyone who reads it.

Maghan Keita, author, Race and the Writing of History, Villanova UniversityMaghan Keita, author, Race and the Writing of History, Villanova University

Asset Policy 2025: Beyond Reparations, Digital Wealth for the Next Century (April 2015)

Advocates for President Barack Obama to champion a national movement for reparations have a significant struggle ahead. The entrenchment of a Congress dedicated to states’ rights and limited government may well persist deep into the twenty-first century. Even with dedicated activism over the next decade, there is little evidence that any branch of the federal government will undertake the solemn task of national reconciliation in substantive ways to repair the damage done by racial inequality over the last two centuries. However, there is a wider base of popular support for this conversation than has ever existed. More than sixty million voters chose President Obama to lead the country in 2012. The power of the coalition, especially the young, if it can avoid disillusionment, has the power to redefine the nation and the world. Humanity deserves reparations for slavery, colonialism, and, now, globalization. How do we move forward from the current political moment? Organized, popular movement is the fundamental answer.

 

In September 2014, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History issued a challenge to students of history around the world. Share your ideas about the long history of reparations. Publish your findings and conclusions. Return to the centennial meeting in 2015 to discuss the range of possibilities and organize for future action. At the heart of the preliminary discussion, a question about the form of reparations payments rose immediately. What currency would be acceptable for potential payments? Whether dollars, euros, yen, or yuan, each central banking system represented crippling and divisive contexts for any future movement towards liberation. A few months later in California, advocates for the use of crypto-currencies – digital money – to destabilize global central banking pitched proposals to eliminate the crippling debts that African and Caribbean nations have carried since their independence. Another alternative is the massive mobilization of human capital, beyond the scales that powered the civil rights and independence movements in the middle of the twentieth century. This effort would globalize the work of early twentieth century trade unions, while leveraging the unprecedented power of transnational consumption to harness trillions of dollars in capital toward a singular redefinition of sustainable ownership and management wherever families live.

 

Pioneering scholars like SalamishahTillet and Mary Frances Berry excavated the long and specific agenda regarding reparations for slavery that every person honestly concerned with freedom must address. Callie House’s effort to create a national, economic cooperative was a model not sufficiently duplicated in the decades following the accomplishment of landmark civil rights legislation. T. Thomas Fortune’s efforts to create the National Negro Business League at the end of the nineteenth century expanded on House’s initial vision by recognizing the paradigm shift toward manufacturing and industry as the basis for wealth in the United States in the early twentieth century. W.E.B. DuBois’ call for networks of economic cooperatives across the African diaspora in 1935 also failed to motivate the creation of a financial infrastructure to sustain autonomous enterprises through the era of globalization.

 

The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) has carried this legacy forward since 1987. Yet the organization has not generated sufficient interest and support, even among African Americans. Randall Robinson’s public reflection, titled The Debt, generated a brief spike in interest at the start of the twenty-first century, coinciding with a new generation’s engagement with the reparations debate through hip hop voices like KRS-One, Public Enemy, Dead Prez, and Black Star. Promising partnerships between activists and intellectuals (like the Black Radical Congress) did not create the institutions to follow in the footsteps of TransAfrica. The need to organize global political movements for economic justice only expanded in the last two decades. Worse, the breadth of the reparations agenda created a popular inertia, driving new supporters and possible allies away from the effort.

 

Ta-Nehisi Coates addressed this apathy squarely with his widely read essay – “The Case for Reparations” – in The Atlantic Monthly. Leveraging two generations of urban historical research, Coates moved the claim for repair away from the connection to enslavement in the Americas to the pervasive housing discrimination sponsored and subsidized by the federal government since 1937. Jamelle Bouie widened this opening with his short essay in Slatewhere he endorsed Coates’ claims and argued the moral imperative of reparations to heal the historic divisions in the United States. Other notable public voices to engage the topic include Melissa Harris-Perry, James Peterson, Peniel Joseph, Martha Biondi, David Freund, Nathan Connolly, Isabel Wilkerson, Michelle Alexander, William Darity,and Darrick Hamilton. Darity and Hamilton have developed a promising federal legislative initiative nicknamed ‘baby bonds’ to guarantee every child an opportunity build real assets (and avoid crippling debt) as they start adult life. Beyond the universal call to study the reasons for reparations in federal public policy, the time has come for an immediate, systemic intervention in the private sector to end the global crises of poverty and violence.

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Sir Partha Dasgupta has studied the function of social capital in developing economies for four decades. In his most recent work in conjunction with the United Nations, he has shown that the wealthiest nations distinguish themselves by the high levels of human capital that they develop. In his formula, human capital represents the monetary value of a population’s education and marketable skills. In 2012, he estimated the inclusive wealth of the United States to exceed $118 trillion USD. More than 70 trillion of that wealth came from the skills and education of the American people. As historians Walter Johnson and Ed Baptist have shown in the nineteenth century, African Americans constituted a major driver in the capital and credit markets of the pre-industrial United States. To solve the problem posed by the ASALH challenge to create real reparations, African Americans and their global allies cannot rely on the mineral or financial wealth of the G8 nations to build economic stability at the local level. The only immediate intervention is the mobilization of the total human capital held by the most marginalized populations of the African, European, Asian, and Chicano diasporas.

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One certain objection is the scale of the enterprise. How can anyone attempt to effectively organize some four billion people to thoughtfully participate in the global capital movement? It is a reasonable question. History and current events provide answers. In 2013, more than 200 million people left their homes to find new lives. This number has been stable for almost twenty years. Most of these efforts are dangerous, even deadly. A mission-oriented, multinational organization could both save lives and create greater economic stability by addressing the needs of the existing migrant pool. On a smaller scale in the United States, nearly 6 million African Americans left their homes in the South between 1910 and 1970. These Great Migrations transformed the American political economy, empowering the most inclusive governance and massive wealth generating legislation in the nation’s history. At the root of the American migrations were the editorials and advertisements in publications like Robert S. Abbott’s “Chicago Defender”. Newspapers and magazines provided popular discussion about the power and importance of working people moving. Without these courageous migrants, there would be no Harlem Renaissance, no New Deal, and no Civil Rights Movement.

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The answer is a coherent, cooperative, sustained asset policy that unites non-profit organizations, private firms, and all levels of government, based on mass family migration. This call reaches out to every household with less than 500,000 USD in net worth to participate in organizing local groups to reduce household bills, increase personal income streams, and create regional planning networks under the guidance of African-American civil rights leaders. The first goal of these networks will be to facilitate recurring patterns of regional and international migration so that families can save more income and create participatory investment funds. For a household earning 64,000 USD per year in a G8 nation, general living expenses will cost less than 20,000 USD per year in a developing region. Each household could save over 15,000 USD per year to create new investments and passive income streams. Where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement created a 70% increase in household income across the South between 1950 and 1970, this Asset Policy can create the first chance at universal economic stability in human history.

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Many of the formulations to repair historic and current injustices rely on the moral outrage that survivors and their descendants express. It is a successful technique, established between 1750 and 1870 by advocates for the abolition of racial slavery. Yet, this strategy has never been effective at generating popular support. At the peak of American abolitionism, only approximately 10 percent of Northerners favored an immediate end to slavery. A similar percentage of all Americans believed that federal legislation was necessary to end Jim Crow segregation in 1964. The Asset Policy does not rely on political popularity to move federal legislation; it is a local, individual commitment to use the framework of consumer markets to break down longstanding barriers to human equality. The greatest strength of this proposal is the economic necessity of voluntary participation in consumer capitalism. With conscientious limits on the availability of working families’ labor and consumption, the politics of institutional finance will change.

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Consider the scale of Black participation in local consumer markets. Chicago, Illinois, has an African-American population of nearly 33 percent, spending almost 6 billion USD annually, representing almost 900 billion in human capital. Los Angeles – only 10 percent Black – sees almost 35 billion USD in Black spending and relies on approximately 400 billion USD in skills and education. NYC (26% African American) receives more than 25 billion USD in Black spending and leads US cities with Black human capital worth 2 trillion USD. In contrast, Atlanta is a majority Black city that only spends 4 billion USD with a human capital value over 200 billion. Houston’s Black population makes a quarter of the total local population, spending 26 billion a year, and worth nearly half a trillion dollars in education and expertise. Across the diaspora, Black cities represent a huge driver of potential growth as partners to African nations. Nigeria and South Africa’s respective GDPs were 593 billion and 341 billion in 2013. Even smaller potential partners like Ghana (35 billion) and Jamaica (14 billion) offer the chance to substantially increase asset creation around the world for working families through sustainable, small enterprise growth. As I have taught in my classes for more than a decade, unionism and education provided upward mobility for the poor and working classes between 1936 and 1981. Over the last forty years, the exclusion of working and middle class families from the opportunities to own industrial and commercial property is the main driver of global inequality.

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A dynamic, mobile, working population across both regional and global scales is the key to a just world economy over the next century. Human capital provides the leverage that working people around the world need to correct the excesses of industrial and finance capital. Preventing the consolidation of digital enterprises as they attempt to reproduce the inequities of the last four centuries on an unprecedented scale is the immediate priority. The expansion of decentralized asset structures (and, as a result, passive income streams at the household level) is one path to economic stability for billions of people facing hunger, disease, and poverty. As a bonus, this kind of asset accumulation would create a class of global, propertied, working people whose political will would make traditional conceptions of reparations a symbolic concession. In this way, indigenous and marginal families in every nation could employ similar strategies to those used by displaced European Jews between 1897 and 1948 and interned Japanese Americans between 1970 and 1988. It is an opportunity to reset the global order in way that has not existed since the Black Death in the fourteenth century. Disaster need not be the pretext for revolution.

 

Sun City, South AfricaSun City, South Africa

the long view: losing in america (28 April 2015)

America is the greatest nation in the history of the world. Or so the lessons of countless middle school classrooms have convinced billions of people everywhere. At the root of the culture wars’ debates of the last forty years is this core argument. Is the United States exceptional among all human accomplishments, or is it just another tyrant – another empire – limiting the ways people can find peace, prosperity, and stability in their lives? From the conception of Manifest Destiny through the current global War on Terrorism, every major American engagement with the world and its people derives from these disparate perceptions of liberty and representative government. Sadly, these debates nearly always rely on the records and perspectives of the winning political coalitions. It is time to take a different look at the narrative timeline.

The Revolutionary War was fundamentally a debate about the control of property, dressed up in the philosophy of liberty. Should a divine sovereign dictate individual wealth, or should large property holders organize representative legislatures in their interests? George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin prevailed on the field of battle, constructed a temporary federation of states, and ultimately crafted the core of the U.S. Constitution that still guides legal debates today. Less famous, or losing, voices like Pennsylvania’s William Allen, New Jersey’s Colonel Tye, and New York’s David Matthews sided with the principles of negotiation, compromise, and abolition as the most stable foundation for prosperity and growth. These Loyalists either died or fled the newly independent United States after 1781. Yet many of their ideas survived in the philosophy of Federalism as the economic foundation for American liberty. Jefferson’s election in 1800 turned the Congress and Presidency away from these ideas for more than half a century, but the Supreme Court’s preservation of economic Federalism was the foundation of the Republican Party in 1854.

The sudden ascendance of the Republicans came at the direct expense of the anti-Federalist, Democratic Party that protected Jefferson’s legacy. Between 1864 and 1877, the losing Democrats were roundly condemned as traitors for instigating the Civil War. Even over the forty years that followed, the core Jeffersonian idea of a republic of small landholders, dependent on enslaving Africans, retained the stench of treason. Only with the election of Woodrow Wilson did some fundamental, national compromise take hold.

The reintroduction of the Democratic Party to national power marginalized the Republicans for more than 50 years. At the base of the nation’s rejection of Republican elitism was the failure to mobilize government to minimize the damage of the Great Depression. Where Democrats like Stephen Douglas and Andrew Johnson earned the scorn of the American public in the nineteenth century, losers like Herbert Hoover and Warren Harding remained albatrosses around the neck of the Republicans for most of the twentieth century. The irony of the Democrats adopting the aggressive use of the federal government (betraying its founding principles for many) fractured Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition and created an unthinkable political reality – a Republican Party based in the southern United States by 1968.

The geographic reorientation of the Republican Party created tensions between traditional Jeffersonians in the South and wealthy establishment bankers in the Northeast, but the contentious coalition persevered long enough to thoroughly undermine the emerging liberal coalition in American cities between 1981 and 2009. The rise of Ronald Reagan and Rudolph Giuliani came with the explicit losses of Shirley Chisholm and Ralph Nader. The American public shunned the ability of government to resolve longstanding, divisive, social and economic conflicts around gender, class, sexuality, and race. In the vacuum created by the constriction of government services, global conglomerates provided unparalleled low-cost consumer entertainment through cable television and the Internet.

Over the last year, leaders and innovators across every sector of education have noted the ebbs and flows of political fashion. Now is the time to take this accumulated knowledge from both the winners and the losers. It is time to build a range of inclusive institutions that reconcile these traditions for the good of every family and community. Norristown is an ideal place to start.

Dr. Walter Greason is available on LinkedIn, Twitter (@worldprofessor1/@icmgrowth), Facebook, and by email (wgreason@monmouth.edu).

Estamos perdedores?Estamos perdedores?

the long view: bought, sold, & jailed (14 April 15)

Bought, Sold, & Jailed

Dr. Walter Greason

Norristown Times-Herald

15 April 2015

For the first time in American history, the public has recognized the constant threat of execution that African Americans face on a daily basis. Some lament the fact that this situation has come into question, but most recoil from the reality that the core assumptions of law enforcement as a profession involve the degradation of black citizens. Police-involved killings have a long, and largely untold, history. Too much of the nation’s mythology, especially in the waning moments of broadcast television’s dominance through programming like Law & Order, relies on simple stereotypes of trustworthy, white authorities controlling dangerous, unstable communities of color.

In suburban Philadelphia, these stories play in constant repetition on the street, in the courthouses, and in the municipal halls. Norristown has suffered sustained disinvestment by private companies and the state legislature as a result of these assumptions. However, no relationship illustrates the contradictions of local governance for families of different backgrounds that a comparison of regional malls and local jails.  The King of Prussia Mall is a multi-billion dollar complex that symbolizes the affluence often associated with suburban growth. Anchored by global brands like Neiman Marcus, General Electric, and Sears, millions of visitors spend countless hours living lives of unlimited consumption with no thought of its consequences – or its fragility. Less than 10 miles away, hidden from most residents, the Montgomery County Correctional Facility controls the region’s criminals, an expanding segment of the local population with over 4500 bench warrants currently pending. Demographically, black and Chicano people are overrepresented at the jail, and underrepresented at the mall. American society neglects and ignores too many people of color in order to artificially maintain a racial sense of prosperity in prosperous, suburban locations like malls.

As suburbs spread to dominate the landscape in New Jersey, similar patterns of social segregation and racial control occur.  Seaview Square, Monmouth, and Freehold Raceway malls have all expanded over the last twenty years to serve an exploding population of middle class families. In ways that malls around the world have duplicated, these places rely on the architectural use of the “panopticon” – a structure where observation and response can unfold rapidly across multiple, complex geographies. Acute observers note that the malls obscure some hallways and doors to hidden chambers, while highlighting shops and food courts. The panopticon originated as a way for guards to better manage prisons. So when suburban malls adopt these structures to oversee and control their shoppers, they increasingly become similar to a jail like the impressive new complex for the Monmouth County (NJ) Sheriff’s Department. In both the language and architecture of consumerism and criminal justice, control has extended beyond people of color in the United States. It is now an ongoing commitment in most metropolitan areas that affects every working and middle class family.

Take a few minutes to consider the increasing investment in sites like Graterford SCI or East Jersey State Prison. Then, examine the exciting new commercial developments in Providence Town Center or the Mall at Short Hills. While these places lack the visual drama of the graphic killings seen over the last few years, their co-existence and unspoken connections reflect the evolving values of social inclusion and exclusion. They are the local government’s manifestations of the “carrot” and the “stick” for the twenty-first century. It is even more important that leaders and activists seek equal justice in these contexts. Do not wait for the next shocking video.

Dr. Walter Greason is available on LinkedIn, Twitter (@worldprofessor1/@icmgrowth), Facebook, and by email (wgreason@monmouth.edu).

 

Want a great research project? Investigate the connections between low-wage mall employees and surging arrest/incarceration rates at the county level.Want a great research project? Investigate the connections between low-wage mall employees and surging arrest/incarceration rates at the county level.