Monday, February 25, 2008

Acting White: Immigrants and Black Employment

I received an email from a fellow-blogger asking my thoughts on a Coalition of Future American Workers YouTube video making the rounds. The spot makes the point that immigrants are responsible for taking jobs away from black Americans, while also depressing wages. In one sense it is true, but more significantly it is disturbingly false.

The fact that global cost factors, driven largely by Chinese economic expansion, place downward pressure on US wages, should not be confused with the stagnant nature of black employment and wage growth. As many blacks accumulate the decades-old impact of discounting the critical link between education and success, they represent an obstacle for the US economy and more recent immigrant groups wishing to navigate up from the bottom.

New US immigrants willing to work for less represent a stop-gap competitive US response to globalization, at best. While real wages in China are going up, American consumers benefit greatly from their less expensive goods. In concert, America is relinquishing it technological lead by eroding, versus growing, its industry demand for science and engineering graduates, and this is what spells our long-term doom.

More to the point of black progress, working harder for reduced wages in America is an expedient, albeit inefficient, strategy to success for those with limited options. As a long-term strategy, dead-end jobs lead to disenfranchisement. However, if you work hard at that crappy job and mind your nickels, you can then invest in education to more efficiently lift yourself (particularly your children), before you burn out. Alternately, if you consume your precious nickels on ‘bling’, you will forever live on the bottom, alienated. With lessening help from racism, this is the behavior and resulting plight of too many blacks in the US.

So people must not be mislead by the Coalition. It is not immigrants that should worry them, but rather the low priority for going to school and getting good grades, compared to wasteful consumption of limited resources. This is not to say that the doors of this country should be wide open. Rather, the immigration debate should be about how incoming cheap labor (also uneducated) can be more expensive, via their infrastructure cost, relative to the value that their labor brings.

Blaming the plight of blacks on issues of immigration is fallacious, and does neither argument justice.

James C. Collier


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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Acting White: All Men Are Created Equal

Truer words were never misspoken – except if you are God. The problem is that these words were penned into our constitution not by the almighty, but by mortals, and as if they represented some literal fact, rather than some figurative wish.

This country’s founding fathers (FF), most notably Thomas Jefferson, made a bold declaration to the English that there would be no more of this rule-by-blood nonsense in America. And so as not to water down their argument and still justify slavery, they slipped in the blacks-as-3/5-of-a-man clause – albeit temporary.

Of course, what the FF’s did not consider was how some, no matter their originating backwater, would purposely, or inadvertently, confuse the meaning arising from their constitutional boldness. Whereas, they meant ‘equal in the eyes of God’, it was too often taken as equality of result.

The figurative ideal became the literal notion that if one man is rich, all men should be rich, or an injustice has been done. This is in place of men having a reasonably fair shot at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – but without guarantee.

Many blacks and whites look to the status of blacks, or the poor, somehow as proof of constitutional misapplication. And yes, the rules of this country have indeed been bent, folded, stapled and mutilated in order to reserve benefit for some. But even with this, the opportunity for achievement has remained for those who wanted it badly enough, whatever the promises. It remains for those with the will to sacrifice, not for others, but for themselves and their loved ones. They know there is more to success than someone handing you the win – like wanting it badly enough to take it, freely offered or not.

The chance to learn by dim light, worn books, dull pencils, challenged teachers, crumbling buildings, et cetera, was the only real promise back then, and, though updated, is the same today. The toe wedged into the door becomes passage for the legs, arms, torso and head, but only by unrelenting will. And so it is, sadly for some, truly for all.

James C. Collier


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Friday, February 08, 2008

Acting White: Formula One's Rising Star

Last fall a great friend, lawyer and former driver introduced me and my son to Formula One-style racing. Of the 50,000 or so fans at the race, we were but a handful of blacks attending, which led to a lengthy discussion on the issues facing would-be black drivers. Of course my scheming friend would love for my son to take up the sport, and is busy plotting a course.

Fast forward to the past week when Lewis Hamilton, a budding Tiger Woods-type phenom in F1 racing, experienced racist taunts at a prep-event in Spain. The treatment of the bi-racial Brit Hamilton has set the racing world abuzz. It seems that some Spanish fans showed up in blackface, while others taunted him with epithets et cetera, as a he moved about the raceway.

The F1 governing body is moving to try to spare their racing season the same havoc that racist soccer fans repeatedly heap on that sport across the EU. Spain may lose their races as a result. For their part, the Spaniards are claiming no ill intent, saying that they make fun of everyone, and being black is no different than being fat or a woman. Wow. (see for yourself)

For his part, young Lewis seems unperturbed, and I understand why. I was shocked at the speeds, between 150 and 225 mph, these drivers push on circuitous and narrow tracks. If Tiger gets distracted by hootin’ fans, he drops a stroke - if Lewis gets distracted, he dies in a ball-of-fire. All the more reason to stay focused.

So I do not expect to hear much from the hapa-black kid, other than racing strategy and stats, as he drags the F1 racing world into the present century. And like Tiger on the greens, kicking ass on the track will do more to straighten out people and silence the butt-heads, than all the press-hound Reverend’s on the planet.

James C. Collier


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Tuesday, February 05, 2008


I watched the first version of this Henry Louis Gates PBS special, with its second series installment airing Wednesday (2/6 & 2/13, PBS, 9PM EST), and found it very worthwhile. Not only did the first (and now second) showing utilize my cousin Fatimah Collier Jackson as an anthro-biologist researcher, but more importantly it made a case why evolutionary biology is so important in our lives.

The study of DNA, and its growing ability to reveal the past, is critical to our base knowledge of the factors influencing the how and why of African-Americans in this country. Yes, the slave trade was the vehicle, but in itself it tells us nothing about the ‘set up’ to those events, and how that influence is still with us.

Evolutionary biology and its high-order subset, social evolution, is the arena where we get to ask questions about why things are really the way they are. Why we feel and behave the way we do, to our benefit and detriment. In this arena, the simple answer, that everything is the white man’s fault, is no longer sufficient, or even digestible.

At one point in the current show, entertainer Chris Rock states that he would have expected more of himself had he known more about his African beginnings. I dare say that black people in general, would have higher requirements of themselves if they were more knowing. Most importantly, blacks might understand that much of the character that influences their lives reaches farther back than segregation, or slavery, or even colonial exploitation, but rather has to do with how branches of humankind have evolved physically and socially over the last ten thousand years, beginning in Africa.

I encourage everyone to watch the four-part series (aired in two groups), which attempts to help us reach back into our past, so that we can better navigate our future.

James C. Collier


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