TIME politics

Presidential Candidates Who Ignore Race Are Making a Mistake

Race-neutral solutions won't address the root of economic problems

Earlier this month, presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley were booed and heckled by liberal activists at a town hall discussion at the Netroots Nation annual conference.

Why would attendees at a gathering of left-leaning progressives commandeer the microphone on stage and shout down Democratic White House contenders? Because Sanders and O’Malley, like the rest of the candidates, have built political platforms that largely ignore race.

The activists at the Netroots meeting were angry because Sanders and O’Malley have failed to respond to racial criminal justice issues, largely ignoring recent high-profile cases – such as the death in police custody of Sandra Bland – and police misconduct involving blacks. Instead, the candidates have focused on economic reforms. But those platforms ignore race, too.

Sanders eventually denounced the circumstances surrounding the Sandra Bland arrest and has called for police reforms, and Hillary Clinton now appears to have embraced the Black Lives Matter movement.

Still, none of the White House hopefuls has publicly discussed the role that demographics – particularly race – play in determining who will thrive, and who will struggle, in today’s economy.

Cookie-cutter platforms

Sanders, who is a socialist and the most progressive candidate in the presidential race, has characterized the well-documented wealth and income gaps as “grotesquely” unfair. His proposed solutions, though, are generic and race-neutral ones, like raising the minimum wage or creating jobs in low-income neighborhoods.

Likewise, Hillary Clinton’s recently announced economic policy platform largely steers clear of race and instead focuses on stagnating middle-class wages.

Few Republicans have discussed racial justice issues either, and Jeb Bush has now dismissed the Black Lives Matter movement as merely a “slogan.”

But, about eight months before he launched his presidential campaign, Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian-leaning Republican, wrote an op-ed that discusses the racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The opinion, written in response to the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police shooting death of Michael Brown, argues that “[a]nyone who thinks race does not skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention.”

Since announcing his candidacy for president, though, Rand has largely avoided discussing racial criminal justice issues. While his official Web page refers to an “unjust criminal justice system,” his campaign has not focused on how the criminal justice system disproportionately harms black Americans.

Likewise, rather than focusing on police misconduct as a cause for the recent riots in Baltimore, he instead suggested that they resulted from a breakdown in family structure, a lack of fathers and the lack of a moral code in society.

While Republican candidate Rick Perry mentioned black poverty in a recent speech, his response was also a race-neutral one that focused on giving people at the bottom of the economic ladder a chance to climb.

For the most part, the candidates’ proposals to address income and wage inequality are generic and nonracial: raise the minimum wage, expand social security, tax the ultra-rich or increase the earned income tax credit. None of the proposals acknowledges that, because of the widening wealth gap, race and ethnicity have now become almost decisive factors in determining whether a family will thrive or struggle financially.

Who thrives and who struggles

The authors of a series of essays recently issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis show that race remains a powerful, if not conclusive, predictor of whether you will be a financial “thriver” or “struggler.”

After analyzing data collected in the Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances from 1989 to 2013, the authors found that about a quarter of American families are financially thriving, while the other 75% are struggling.

Thriving families are middle-aged, white or Asian college graduates who have above-average incomes and have amassed enormous amounts of wealth. In contrast, strugglers are young, black or Hispanic, are less educated, have little or no wealth and work in low-wage jobs. The essays reveal that income – and particularly wealth – gaps among whites, blacks and Hispanics are staggering.

Average income for blacks and Hispanics is 40% lower than for whites. Even worse, average wealth held by Hispanic and black families is 90% lower. While the presidential candidates’ proposals to increase the minimum wage might help close the income gap, a little more take-home pay would do little to close the staggering wealth gap.

The essays also reveal that wealth patterns for racial groups have changed little over the last 25 years and, except for Asian families, may now be permanent. For example, from 1989 to 2013, white families have consistently held the greatest amount of wealth, followed by Asian, then Hispanic, and finally black families. Although Asian family wealth has steadily increased over the 25-year period because of higher college completion rates for young Asians, financial patterns have remained virtually unchanged for whites, Hispanics and blacks.

Race-neutral solutions won’t address the roots

Increasing college graduate rates for blacks and Latinos or making colleges free (as Sanders has proposed) are race-neutral solutions that could ostensibly close the wealth gap. But, even if more young blacks and Latinos receive college degrees, the wealth gaps won’t go away.

The Fed researchers considered whether education, rather than race, was the main cause for the wealth gap. They found that age and education play only small roles in explaining the gaps. Racial and ethnic differences in financial well-being remain even after accounting for the age and educational attainment of the head of the family.

In the last decade, the U.S. population became more racially and ethnically diverse than it has ever been. If political leaders continue to ignore widening wealth inequality, the gaps may become permanent, and that could be destabilizing both politically and economically. It will be harder to boost the economy in the future if blacks and Latinos are permanently relegated to an economic underclass that has little wealth.

It is not particularly surprising that the presidential hopefuls shy away from saying that race may determine a family’s financial well-being. Though a recent New York Times poll now shows that most Americans think race relations in this country are generally bad, making such a statement in a political climate that purports to be colorblind might quickly end the candidate’s presidential aspirations.

Until politicians are willing to admit that whether you thrive or struggle financially may be influenced by your race, however, the United States will remain racially split into groups of a few haves – and a lot of have-nots.

This article originally appeared on The ConversationThe Conversation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: White People Gets It Right About Being White

When it comes to discussing racism, every word can be explosive

The most shocking revelation to come out of Jose Antonio Vargas’s MTV documentary White People is that according to the film, 4 out of 5 young white people feel uncomfortable discussing race issues. I want to know who that one person is who doesn’t feel uncomfortable, because he or she is lying. In my completely unscientific survey that I’ve just pulled out of my nether regions, 5 out of 5 people—white or black—feel uncomfortable discussing race in mixed-race company, which is where most of these discussions need to take place. The reason for this discomfort is that one always has to be on guard about inadvertently saying something offensive and being labeled a racist, a radical, or a “thug.” This fear chokes off the open discourse necessary to actually change minds and make serious inroads against racism.

Fortunately, Vargas is excellent at creating a non-threatening atmosphere that encourages these young people, mostly teenagers, to openly express their thoughts—even when not politically correct—about race. As he travels around the country, from small towns to a Lakota reservation to Bensonhurst in New York, he gently prods these kids from various ethnic backgrounds to open up about their fears and frustrations with the issue of race in America. As one might expect from young adults, race is often expressed in very personal terms rather than in the bigger social and historical context of American culture, politics, sociology, and blah, blah, blah. Instead, the most effective and moving moments are the small revelations that surprise and touch both the participants and the audience.

One white young man from the South, who deliberately chose to attend a predominantly black college, brings his two black female friends home for dinner. During the lively discussion of race, the word “ghetto” is used, and one of his friends begins to cry because the word is so derogatory to her. The white friend is clearly surprised and embarrassed that he unintentionally hurt her. The other black friend doesn’t respond negatively to the word at all.

That’s part of the complicated aspect of these discussions: Everyone feels like they’re being forced to dismantle a ticking bomb by deciding whether to cut the red or green wire, knowing the wrong snip will result in the bomb blowing up in their face. When it comes to discussing racism, every word could be explosive.

In another surprising moment, a young man confesses to his conservative stepfather that he often chooses not to disagree with him about race because he fears the man’s impassioned reaction. The look of shock and shame on the man’s face is truly moving. The stepfather’s opinions about race likely don’t suddenly change, but it’s clear that he would be much more open to listening to his stepson in the future.

Considering that the film is less than an hour long, it does a pretty thorough job of touching on variations of teenage angst amplified through race. The standout segment is about white perception of reverse discrimination. According to the film, nearly 50% of young white Americans believe discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against blacks. Clearly influenced by parental opinions based on fear rather than facts, several white students complain about their inability to get scholarships because they are white. “White folks aren’t getting the same opportunities,” one student says.

Vargas then presents statistics that contradict this myth: Whites are 40% more likely than blacks to receive scholarships; 62% of college undergraduates are white, yet they receive a disproportionate 69% of those scholarships. One white student, responding to a classroom exercise in which students are asked to list the disadvantages of being white, expresses the reality of reverse discrimination perfectly: “It’s like asking a rich person, tell me how hard it is being rich.”

To their credit, these young men and women respond with openness and graciousness that would elude many more defensive adults. They are willing to acknowledge that they may have been wrong in their assessment. The film doesn’t really explore why that perception is so prevalent in the first place, but it’s implication that reverse discrimination is a default excuse for some whites when they don’t get what they want is clear.

Hopefully, a sequel will follow exploring how politicians profit from creating this perception to avoid taking responsibility for inaction. In one of my favorite scenes, the Lakota Indians refer to white people as wasichu, meaning, “he who takes the best meat.” It’s the cynical adults who exploit the children for their own gain—taking the best meat—that are the real enemies, though they never are mentioned in the film.

In the end, this film is not about prompting guilt, self-loathing, or blame. These white kids don’t deserve to feel any of those emotions because they aren’t responsible for the current situation in race relations nor for the past atrocities that have created it. But it’s good that they do experience some of these reactions because that will create empathy for the millions of black kids who feel guilt, self-loathing or blame without the pay-off of better education, jobs, housing, and other opportunities. That empathy is what brings the races together to make things better.

The film is about kids struggling to overcome preconceived and inaccurate notions about races handed down from their parents and the infrastructure of racism around them. Philip Larkin forcefully describes the generator of the problem in his infamous poem, “This Be the Verse,” in which he states that parents routinely screw up their kids: “They may not mean to, but they do. / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you.”

This documentary burns brightly with heat and illumination. But does it burn bright enough among the MTV viewers to illuminate in their hearts the fears, concerns, and hopes about race to take us a step closer to racial harmony? Or is this a case of no matter how brightly it shines, racial harmony just another distant star in a never-to-be-reached galaxy? I’m betting it’s the former, and that its compassionate and intelligent approach will encourage those young people who are at a crossroads, wondering whether to follow their parents’ status quo or strike out on their own, to have the courage to move on down their own road.


Majority of Americans Now Say Race Relations Are Bad

Confederate Flag Columbia South Carolina
John Moore—Getty Images A man holds a Confederate flag on the state house grounds in Columbia, S.C. on July 18, 2015.

A significant reversal since President Obama's election

When Americans elected the first black president in 2008, two-thirds thought race relations were generally good. But that’s not the case anymore.

According to a new New York Times/CBS poll, six in 10 Americans now think race relations are poor, and four in 10 think they are getting worse. The reversal comes in the wake of the June killing of nine black people in a historically black church in South Carolina and amidst ongoing, racially charged protests concerning police killings of black people around the country.

Blacks in particular have had a dramatic shift in their view of race relations during the Obama era. Six in 10 said race relations were bad in 2008, but that figure dropped to around 30% just after President Obama was elected. Today more than two-thirds of blacks say race relations are poor, which is close to the figures seen in the aftermath of Rodney King’s beating by police officers in the early 1990s.

A majority of white respondents also said race relations were poor, but for them it was the first acknowledgement of that fact in a long time. In 2008, before Obama’s election, nearly 60% of whites said race relations were good in the U.S.



How Minority Job Seekers Battle Bias in the Hiring Process

The job search process plays an important role in shaping, reinforcing and sometimes counteracting inequality in the labor market

Discrimination in the hiring process has limited the opportunities available to both racial minorities – such as African Americans – and women, with important consequences for their well-being and careers.

For example, research has shown that white job applicants receive 50% more callbacks for interviews than equally qualified African American applicants. And, in the low-wage labor market, scholars have found that African American men without criminal records receive similar callback rates for interviews as white men just released from prison. Researchers have also documented discrimination in hiring against women, with particularly strong penalties against mothers.

But how does this reality affect these groups – African Americans and women – as they hunt for jobs? Do they tailor their searches narrowly to help them avoid discrimination, sticking to job opportunities deemed “appropriate” for them? Or do they cast a wider net with the hopes of maximizing their chances of finding a job that does not discriminate?

Until now, we have known little about this issue, largely because no existing data source has closely followed individuals through their job search.

New research that we recently published in the American Journal of Sociology attempts to address this limitation by drawing on two original datasets that track job seekers and the positions to which they apply.

The results of our study point to three general conclusions about the job search process:

  1. African Americans cast a wider net than whites while searching for work.
  2. Women tend to apply to a narrower set of job types than men, often targeting roles that have historically been dominated by women.
  3. Past experiences of discrimination appear to drive, at least in part, the broader job search patterns of African Americans.

On an important side note, these racial differences exist for both men and women and these gender differences exist for both whites and African Americans.

Let’s go into a little more detail on these three main findings.

Casting a wide net

Our analysis shows that African Americans apply to a greater range of job types with a broader range of occupational characteristics than similar whites.

For example, one of our survey respondents was previously employed as a “material moving worker.” Over the course of the survey, this respondent applied for jobs consistent with his prior work experience, such as “material handler” and “warehouse worker.”

However, the respondent also reported applying for jobs in retail sales, as an IT technician, a delivery driver, a security guard, a mail-room clerk and a short order cook. This respondent applied to jobs in a total of seven distinct occupations over the course of the survey, which represents a fairly broad approach to job search.

While this is just one example, it was typical. In both of the datasets we examined, African Americans systematically applied to a larger number of distinct job types than whites with similar levels of education and work experience.

Women and self-selection

Our study demonstrates that women pursued a search strategy very different than that of African Americans.

Women appeared to self-select into distinctive occupational categories consistent with historically gendered job types, such as office and administrative support positions.

During their job search, women also applied to a narrower range of occupations than men with similar education and work experience.

For example, women wanting to work in retail sales were more likely to apply strictly for that type of position during their job search. Men with similar aspirations, on the other hand, were more likely to branch out and apply to adjacent job types, such as wholesale, advertising or insurance sales.

Past discrimination drives blacks’ behavior

So what accounts for these race and gender differences in how people search for a job?

For African American job seekers, we found that perceptions of or experiences with racial discrimination played an important role in explaining their greater search breadth.

In one of the surveys we conducted, we asked job seekers about their experiences with racial discrimination at work. In our analysis, we found that individuals who reported that they had previously observed or experienced racial discrimination in the workplace were more likely to cast a wide net in their job search compared with those without such experience.

A gender-segregated workforce

But if discrimination, in part, drives the search behavior of African Americans, why do we not see similar adaptations by women, who also undoubtedly face employment discrimination?

We suspect the answer is related to the deeper and more explicit nature of gender inequality in the labor market. Occupations remain highly segregated by gender, and individuals from an early age can identify male- and female-typed jobs.

This reality affects women’s occupational aspirations as well as perceptions of the constraints they may encounter when deviating from gendered patterns. In either scenario, women’s self-selection into female-typed occupations may allow them to avoid jobs where they are more likely to experience discrimination. At the same time, this strategy likely reproduces gender segregation at work, which is an important source of gender inequality.

For African Americans, things are quite different. There are far fewer readily identifiable “black” or “white” jobs. The barriers facing African American job seekers can pop up across the labor market. Thus, it is more difficult for African Americans to target jobs where they will be able to avoid discrimination.

But a broad job search allows black job seekers to reach otherwise difficult-to-identify job opportunities in which racial discrimination is less prevalent. Given the challenges of anticipating where and when discrimination is likely to occur, applying to a broad set of job types raises the probability that an African American job seeker will apply to a job that does not discriminate.

Key consequences and takeaways

Job search strategies matter and can make a big difference in everything from lifetime earnings to potential career opportunities.

We find that broad search is associated with being more likely to receive a job offer, but also with receiving lower wage offers. Thus, job seekers appear to face a trade-off between the goals of finding any job and finding a good job. The broader search patterns among African Americans, therefore, may reduce some of the employment gap but contribute to the long-standing racial disparity in wages.

Second, to the extent that broad search leads job seekers to occupations that are different from their past work experiences, this strategy may limit African Americans’ ability to build coherent careers that are consistent with their experience and aspirations. Given significant racial differences in search breadth, these dynamics are likely to contribute to persistent racial inequalities in labor market outcomes.

In the case of women, limiting the scope of their search likely reinforces existing patterns of occupational segregation, which has consequences for the gender earnings gap and implications for other forms of persistent gender inequality.

Where does this leave us?

Together, the findings from our study suggest that the job search process plays an important role in shaping, reinforcing and sometimes counteracting inequality in the labor market.

At the same time, discrimination and other barriers to employment must be considered to fully understand how labor market inequality is generated.

And, as the comparison of race and gender suggests, how individuals adapt to workplace barriers can take different forms and have distinct consequences.

Our research points to the importance of systematically examining both job search processes as well as discriminatory behavior and other constraints in the workplace if we hope to fully understand and rectify persistent racial and gender inequalities in the labor market.

This article originally appeared on The ConversationThe Conversation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.


Sandra Bland’s Not the First Black Woman to Experience Police Violence

What about Natasha McKenna, Janisha Fonville, and Tanisha Anderson?

Sandra Bland was found dead in a jail cell, apparently by suicide, after her arrest during a traffic stop. Now she’s joining a long list of now-familiar names of black people whose deaths have ignited a movement for change: Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Walter Scott. Until recently, that list of much-repeated names included few women.

Last week was the one-year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of police officers, while next month is the anniversary of Mike Brown’s. And as the #BlackLivesMatter movement continues its push for social justice, a counter-narrative is emerging. Some women within the movement are accusing the media and even their own peers of focusing on violence against black men, but ignoring police violence against black women. When footage of Bland’s violent (and possibly illegal) arrest was released Tuesday, she emerged as the both the latest example of how black people experience police violence, and a powerful reminder that the violence is not only directed at black men.

Bland, originally from Illinois, was pulled over for a minor traffic violation in Prairie View, Texas and arrested after refusing to put out her cigarette. A newly released police dashcam video of Bland’s arrest shows her repeatedly demanding to know why she’s being arrested, and ends with her screaming, “you just slammed my head into the ground.” Three days after her July 10th arrest, Bland was found hanged to death in her cell. Officials say she hung herself with a plastic bag, and video released from jail cameras appears to show no activity outside her cell for the 90 minutes around her death. But her family claims she would never kill herself — especially since she was about to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University. Investigators from the Texas Rangers and the FBI are investigating her death as if it was a homicide.

The issue was bubbling even before the release of the footage. Over the weekend, protestors chanting #SayHerName at a Netroots Nation conference demanded Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley address questions of racial inequality and police violence. #SayHerName is a corollary to #BlackLivesMatter– it’s about reminding America that black women can also be victims of police violence.

Organizers say the it’s the media, not the movement, that focuses on the deaths of black men. “I often hear reporters say: ‘this movement is because black men have been killed at the hands of law enforcement,’ but we’ve never said that,” says Patrisse Marie Cullors, director of truth and reinvestment at Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and one of the three black women who originally founded #BlackLivesMatter. “That’s never how we characterized this movement.”

Last Friday, the African American Policy Forum released a stunning report shedding light on black women who have been killed by police. “When you ask people to name victims of police brutality, for the most part nobody will give you a woman’s name,” says Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a professor at Columbia Law School who co-authored the report. But if black women’s stories have been ignored, that’s ultimately a failure of media coverage– so perhaps the best way to combat that is by telling some of their stories:

Natasha McKenna: McKenna died after she was tased by police while she was shackled in a Virginia jail in February. McKenna, who had a 7-year old daughter and suffered from schizophrenia, had allegedly punched a cop in January and was jailed on charges of assaulting a police officer (she was originally held in a mental health facility, then transferred to County Jail.) She was kept in jail for over a week as officials tried to get her the mental health care she needed, but they ultimately realized they would have to move her to a different jurisdiction in order to get her psychiatric care. According to incident reports obtained by the Washington Post, McKenna became agitated after jailers handcuffed her to prepare her for the move, and started yelling “You promised you wouldn’t hurt me.” It took response team 20 minutes to subdue McKenna, according to the report, and they shackled her legs and hands behind her back and put a spit mask on her face. When they still couldn’t get her under control (even though McKenna was only about 130 lbs,) they tased her multiple times with a stun gun. Her heart stopped, and she died in the hospital five days later. Her mother took photos of her body, which showed black eyes, bruises, and a missing or amputated finger.

Janisha Fonville: Fonville was shot and killed in March when Charlotte, NC police officers responded to a domestic dispute between Fonville and her girlfriend of two years. Her girlfriend says she had warned the officers that Fonville had a knife and might hurt herself. Officers came into a darkened room and fired shots when Fonville took one step towards them. Later, Charlotte police said Fonville was holding a 6-8 inch knife, and had lunged at the officers after being ordered to drop her weapon. Fonville’s girlfriend said she did not have the knife in her hands and was at least six feet away from the police. When the lights came on, Fonville was shot in the head and neck. The officer who fired the shots had been involved in two previous shootings, the Charlotte Observer reports. He won’t be charged in Fonsville’s death.

Tanisha Anderson: Cleveland woman Tanisha Anderson, 37, died last November after police restrained her in a prone position. Her family called the police after Anderson, who suffered from bipolar disorder, started behaving erratically– they hoped police would take her to a mental health facility. After she broke out of the police cruiser, officers retrained her on the ground in a prone position, which led to her death. According to the AAPF report, Anderson’s family was not allowed to approach her or comfort her as she lay dying in the cold outside her home. The medical examiner ruled her death a homicide.




Ferguson Chooses Black Interim Police Chief

Andre Anderson ferguson missouri
Jeff Roberson—AP Andre Anderson leaves at the end of a news conference announcing him as the interim chief of the Ferguson Police Department on July 22, 2015, in Ferguson, Mo.

Andre Anderson says his first priority is "simply to build trust" in the city where Michael Brown was killed last summer

The city of Ferguson, Mo., where the fatal police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown sparked days of unrest last summer, named a black interim police chief on Wednesday.

Andre Anderson, 50, told reporters that his first priority is “simply to build trust, to develop community policing in this area,” USA Today reports. Anderson previously was a police commander in Glendale, Ariz., where Ferguson interim city manager Ed Beasley once worked, and he grew up in an area of South Philadelphia he describes as similar to Ferguson.

The previous police chief, Tom Jackson, resigned after a report from the Department of Justice found that Ferguson police routinely engaged in racially discriminatory policing practices.

Anderson said he would use the Justice Department’s recommendations to help “cultivate relationships that we know and hope will reshape our direction in the city of Ferguson.” He also plans to attract and hire more black police officers and institute more de-escalation and “bias awareness” training.

“The city of Ferguson and our Police Department have endured a tremendous amount of distrust during the past nine months,” Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said in a statement. “We understand that it will take time to once again gain the trust of everyone. We believe that Cmdr. Anderson can make recommendations to the Police Department that will be innovative and will have long-standing improvements for our citizens and to the entire community.”

TIME Economy

More U.S. Children Live In Poverty Now Than During the Recession

MARK RALSTON--AFP/Getty Images Three year old Saria Amaya (L) waits with her mother after receiving shoes and school supplies during a charity event to help more than 4,000 underprivileged children at the Fred Jordan Mission in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles on October 2, 2014.

African-American, American Indian and Latino children are particularly hard hit

In mid-September 2010, almost exactly two years to the date since the monumental collapse of Lehman Brothers, the New York Times published a bleak statistic: the ongoing Great Recession had driven the U.S. poverty rates to their highest in a decade and a half.

Five years of fitful economic recovery have not yet bettered this situation. According to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, more than one in five American children, about 22%, were living in poverty in 2013. Data for 2014 are not yet available, but the report anticipates that the child poverty rate remains at an “unacceptably high [level].”

The figure for 2008 was 18%.

General terms are insufficient when explaining the economy’s post-recession rebound. There are a number of conflicting statistics — the fall in unemployment versus the rise in poverty, for instance — but even efforts to compare and assess these inconsistencies do not successfully capture the nuances at hand, most of which are dictated by demographic cleavages built on racial lines.

Noting only a “few exceptions,” the report states that “on nearly all of the measures that [it] track[s], African-American, American Indian and Latino children continued to experience negative outcomes at rates that were higher than the national average. Overall unemployment rates have fallen, but the unemployment rate for African-Americans is currently 11 percent — 2.4 percentage points higher than where it was prior to the economic crisis. Nearly 40 percent of African-American children live in poverty, compared to 14 percent of white children.

“The fact that it’s happening is disturbing on lots of levels,” Laura Speer, the Casey Foundation’s associate director for policy reform, told USA Today. “Those kids often don’t have access to the things they need to thrive.”

The Casey Foundation is a philanthropic group that seeks to enable underprivileged children to overcome hardships in pursuit of a brighter future. The foundation is based in Baltimore, a city where systematic inequities contributed in part to a series of protests and demonstrations this past spring.

Read next: Why America is Falling Behind the Rest of the World

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Body Shaming Black Female Athletes Is Not Just About Race

Serena Williams celebrates after winning the Final of the Ladies Singles against Garbine Muguruza of Spain during the day 12 of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London, England on July 11, 2015.
Julian Finney—Getty Images Serena Williams celebrates after winning the Final of the Ladies Singles against Garbine Muguruza of Spain during the day 12 of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London, England on July 11, 2015.

TIME columnist Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. He is also a celebrated author, filmmaker and education ambassador.

We need to rethink our ideals of female beauty

Serena Williams won her 21st Grand Slam title at Wimbledon this month. This marks the 17th time in a row that she has defeated Maria Sharapova. Yet Williams, who has earned more prize money than any female player in tennis history, is continually overshadowed by the woman whom she consistently beats. In 2013, Sharapova earned $29 million, $23 million of that from endorsements. That same year, Williams earned $20.5 million, only $12 million of that from endorsements. How’s that possible? Because endorsements don’t always reward the best athlete. They often reward the most presentable according to the Western cultural ideal of beauty.

I know, you think this article is about racism. It’s not.

Misty Copeland just became the first African-American woman to be named principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. But when she was 13, she was rejected from a ballet academy for having the wrong body type. As an ad featuring Ms. Copeland put it, summarizing the responses she received early in her career: “Dear candidate, Thank you for your application to our ballet academy. Unfortunately, you have not been accepted. You lack the right feet, Achilles tendons, turnout, torso length, and bust.” At 13? That criticism of her body being too muscular and “mature” has followed her throughout her career. “There are people who say that I don’t have the body to be a dancer, that my legs are too muscular, that I shouldn’t be wearing a tutu, that I don’t fit in,” Copeland said in response.

What do these two highly successful athletic women have in common? They seem to endure more body shaming than their white, less successful counterparts.

(Still not about racism.)

In her novel, The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison writes, “Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another—physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought.” Morrison’s assessment of social ideals for physical beauty as destructive is harshly accurate. We have established a definition of beauty so narrow that almost no one can live up to it. Women struggle to fit within the constrictions of social expectations of thin, youthful, sexuality as constricting as a Victorian corset. We display these paragons of beauty from billboards and magazine covers and Victoria Secret ads with the full knowledge that because of the use of photo-enhancing, lighting, makeup, and other morphing techniques, the women shown are as real as the CGI-created Hulk in the Avengers movies.

There’s plenty of evidence showing how harmful this beauty standard is to society. The typical American woman spends about $15,000 on makeup over a lifetime (if that same money were invested into a retirement plan, it would give her about $100,000 at age 70). Even though Americans spend the most on cosmetics in the world, we are ranked only 23rd in one list of “satisfaction with life.” In a futile effort to fit this mythical ideal of beauty, millions of American women torture their feet with high heels, undergo unnecessary cosmetic surgeries, starve themselves, and make themselves physically and mentally miserable—all over an imaginary ideal they didn’t even create.

OK, I lied: Some of the body shaming of athletic black women is definitely a racist rejection of black women’s bodies that don’t conform to the traditional body shapes of white athletes and dancers. No one questions the beauty of black actresses such as Kerry Washington (Scandal) or Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) because they fit the lithe image perpetuated by women’s fashion magazines. The body shaming of Williams and Copeland is partly because they don’t fit the Western ideal of femininity. But another cause is our disrespectful ideal of the feminine body in general.

The bigger issue here is the public pressure regarding femininity, especially among our athletes. It’s a misogynist idea that is detrimental to professional women athletes and to all the young girls who look up to these women as role models because it can stifle their drive to excellence, not only on the playing field, but in other aspects of life.

The problem became even more evident in 2014 when the Russian Tennis Federation President Shamil Tarpischev called Venus and Serena Williams “the Williams Brothers,” a statement for which he was fined $25,000. As a result of this widespread attitude, whenever Serena Williams wants to go out incognito, she says she wears long sleeves to cover up her signature muscular arms. Outside the fanboy world of Xena: Princess Warrior and Wonder Woman, a muscular woman is generally not the ideal.

Why not?

I suspect because our ideal woman continues to be the vulnerable woman unable to defend herself against a man. On one hand, this conforms to the social norms of the man as the strong protector and the woman as the childlike, weak dependent. (Hence, all the “romantic” portrayals of men swooping up women in their arms and carrying them to safety or bed.)

On the other hand, it discourages those men and women who don’t want to follow that traditional but narrow definition. I’m reminded of that powerful scene in the second season of True Detective when detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) explains why she carries so many weapons: “Could you do this job if everyone you encountered could overpower you? I mean, forget police work. No man could walk around like that without going nuts. The fundamental difference between the sexes is that one of them can kill the other with their bare hands.” Perhaps the muscular, athletic woman symbolizes physical and mental self-sufficiency, which threatens the cozy ideal of beauty as soft, fragile, and weak.

This beauty standard translates in sports to women being more concerned with a marketable image than athletic ability. Tennis pro Agnieszka Radwanska is 5 feet 8 but only 123 pounds. This is a conscious decision by her coach “to keep her as the smallest player in the top 10,” he told the New York Times. “Because, first of all she’s a woman, and she wants to be a woman.” Tennis pro Andrea Petkovic, ranked 14th, said she hated seeing photos of her bulging arms whenever she hit a two-handed backhands. “I just feel unfeminine,” she said. “I don’t know — it’s probably that I’m self-conscious about what people might say. It’s stupid, but it’s insecurities that every woman has, I think … I would love to be a confident player that is proud of her body. Women, when we grow up we’ve been judged more, our physicality is judged more, and it makes us self-conscious.”

This reluctance to push themselves physically because they reduce their marketability as women results in some women athletes never striving to be the fully realized athletes they could be. This same mentality of holding back to fit the social mold of a “lady” makes women less competitive in the job marketplace, too.

Sharapova, at 6 feet 2 and 130 pounds (Williams is 5 feet 9 and weighs 150 pounds), admits that that she wishes she could be even thinner: “I always want to be skinnier with less cellulite; I think that’s every girl’s wish.” (Is it? Should it be?) She says she does no weight training. “I can’t handle lifting more than five pounds. It’s just annoying, and it’s just too much hard work. And for my sport, I just feel like it’s unnecessary.” Yet she’s been beaten 17 times in a row by someone who has added that muscle necessary to excel. Does she want to be the highest-paid female athlete or the best one?

“I sing the body electric,” Walt Whitman wrote in a poem from Leaves of Grass. In it, he expresses Renaissance delight over the physical body as a source of pleasure, spirituality, and achievement. If Americans are to similarly celebrate the body, we must questions our ideals of physical beauty and overcome the brainwashing to make sure they are healthy, not just convenient marketing tools to create insecurity to sell products. The fact that these ideals of what constitutes beauty have changed throughout history tells us that they aren’t all hardwired into our brains. By broadening our ideals of beauty, we can encourage females of all ages to confidently strive to reach their full potential. We can, and shall, overcome.

Read next: Jennifer Lawrence on Why Hollywood Has Finally Shut Up About Her Body

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.


Rachel Dolezal Says Her Black Identity Is ‘Not a Costume’

Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, poses for a photo in her Spokane, Wash., home on March 2, 2015.
Colin Mulvany—The Spokesman-Review/AP Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, poses for a photo in her Spokane, Wash., home on March 2, 2015.

"I’m not confused about that any longer”

The white NAACP official who made national headlines in June after revelations she had passed herself off as black for years defended her racial identity in a new interview published Sunday.

“It’s not a costume,” Rachel Dolezal told Vanity Fair. “I don’t know spiritually and metaphysically how this goes, but I do know that from my earliest memories I have awareness and connection with the black experience, and that’s never left me. It’s not something that I can put on and take off anymore.”

Dolezal resigned as head of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Wash., after her parents, both of whom are white, said she was lying about being black. The controversy led to a debate about racial identity in America.

“I’ve had my years of confusion and wondering who I really [was] and why and how do I live my life and make sense of it all, but I’m not confused about that any longer,” Dolezal said. “I think the world might be — but I’m not.”

Read more at Vanity Fair

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