Behind the Headlines – March 2, 2018

Behind the Headlines – March 2, 2018


– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by: the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – A look at the progress
and the shortfalls in the 50 years since
the assassination of Martin Luther King. Tonight on Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I am joined tonight
by Terri Freeman, president of the National
Civil Right Museum. – Hi, how are you? – (Eric)
Good, and Elena de la Vega is associate professor
of social work at the University of Memphis.
– Hello. – Thank you for being here. Along with Bill
Dries, senior reporter with the Memphis Daily News. We’re here to talk
today about a study that the National Civil
Rights Museum, that Elena, that you did on behalf of
the Civil Rights Museum as part of the
MLK50 commemoration. Talk, maybe, I’ll just say,
you’ll do it better than me. What was the purpose
of this study, the background of the study, and then we’ll walk through
many of the findings. – (Terri)
Sure. So when we decided that the
commemoration would have the theme of where
do we go from here, it was important for us to
kinda know where here was, and to then take a
look at the 50 years that had transpired since
this data was being developed. So having been a
fan, if you will, of the annual poverty fact sheet that Professor De la
Vega actually does, I thought it would be great
to look at the current data and then take it back 50 years so we have,
basically, a baseline on which to move forward,
where do we go from here. So that was the premise. And I also believe
that, you know, it’s easy for us to have
anecdotes and stories about what we
think is happening. It’s important, though,
for us to have data, hard data, real numbers, that
frankly you can’t argue with. You have to take them at their
face value and move forward. – And Elena, maybe I’ll ask you, we’ll walk through as much
as we can in this time, but some of the key
findings from the report. – Well I think that the findings that are most important
to me, beyond the poverty, I have been looking
at poverty since 2011, so I wasn’t very
surprised at the findings and I wasn’t very surprised
at the differentials. The education I had also
kinda looked at before, but it was very rewarding to
see the gains in education, particularly since 1950. And I decided to start
in 1950 to have a nice starting point
before we even had Brown v. Board of Education
and the bus boycott and really the important moments in
the Civil Rights Movement. So it was really important
to have a baseline, for me. What really surprised
me, what really struck me is that African-Americans
have made tremendous gains in education, taking advantage of every
opportunity afforded to them by, you know, all the
legislation that passed since, but the median wage has remained
about half that of whites pretty consistently
through the decades, regardless of what
else is happening in the economy or
in civil rights. – We’ll talk about
some of the high, you start with the education
and the high point. I think I have this right, that high school, back in 1960, only 6% of African-Americans
in Shelby County were graduating from high
school or going beyond that. Now it’s 85%, so it’s
an extremely high number. I would’ve, I actually was
sort of surprised by that. I mean the popular
perception is that maybe that number wouldn’t
have been so high, I think. Which is probably a reflection
on the media if nothing else. And then college
back in 1960 was barely 1% of African-Americans were completing a
bachelor’s degree. It’s now closer to 20%. – And I think what’s important
about that number is, if I’m correct, the national
average for college completion is only around 20% to 25%. So when you look at going
from 1.2% to 20%, that’s right there with
the national average. That’s a pretty significant
gain in baccalaureate, or post, let me
say post-secondary. – But then the
numbers, as you said, in terms of median income,
that is still 50% of comparable whites
across the board. And that was, I don’t know,
I guess I’m a naive optimist. I had known from other
data, and you see that it’s gonna be less,
women make less than men, I mean all that
data is out there. But 50% was certainly striking. – Fifty percent regardless
of what else is happening. You can have changes
in everything else, and you’re not having
changes in income. So what is going on? – And I think if it were 50% having moved from
10%… 25%… 40% to 50%, but it has been
consistently at 50%. So there is no, the
gap is not decreasing. – Yeah. Let’s bring Bill in. – And so, now we
have the numbers, and we have the numbers over a long period of
time to look at. Why has the gap persisted? – I believe there are
a number of reasons. I think that we have to
look at our internal biases, and they may not be intentional, but one of the things
that research has shown is that when we have
publicly available salaries, when we have salaries and wages that are set by a
rubric or by a level, so government jobs
or public school jobs that tend to not have
a lot of flexibility, you enter at this rank
with this experience and this education, this is
the salary and it’s published, that has almost closed the
gap between black and white. But when we look
at private industry and private corporations,
the gap remains. And it’s, so that’s part of it. And when we think
about, we can think, a starting salary that is a
couple thousand dollars less is not very great and it
might not even be intentional, it might just be some
internal bias operating. When we look 20
years down the road, because all salary
increases are going to be a percent
of initial salary, the gap is going to
be tremendously high. – So the percentage
comes into play here, and it starts with
an initial bias, it may be intentional
or maybe unintentional, but the percentage
perpetuates it. – (Terri)
Right, and I do think that it’s very natural for people to hire
people who are like them. I think that that is just
a very natural thing that, it certainly takes into
consideration some bias, but sometimes it is unconscious,
the bias that exists, so that women hire more
women, men hire more men, whites hire more whites, African-Americans hire
more African-Americans. It’s just what is
similar to you, and I think that that has
something to do with it as well. But I also agree that, you know, if you’re hired in
low, you stay low. The wage does not usually
jump up unless there’s a promotion, and then,
in a promotion situation, if you’re promoted low,
you continue to stay low. – So Terri, what do you
do with this information? Do you have employers
at the table? Do you have people who make
these decisions at the table? And how does that
discussion begin? – Well I think what
happens with the data is, first, get it out there. So being able to put it out
there into the public view, that people can’t
say, I’m not aware. We are actually going
to be getting this in front of business leaders at a breakfast that we’re having in partnership with the chamber. And we’re gonna make sure that everybody leaves with a report. While it’s not,
the breakfast isn’t about this report specifically, they will leave with the report, and I think we get it in front
of public officials as well. And they begin to
kinda look at this data and say, where are
we going to start? You can’t start everywhere, but you can begin to create
a plan and a path forward that begins to chip
away at some of this. And it’s not a
public sector issue or a private sector issue or
a non-profit sector issue, it’s an entire community issue, and we have to deal with
it from that perspective. – Elena, we are in an era where, because of the tax
reform that has passed, a number of corporations
are repatriating their income that is
out of the country, and as a result,
they’re giving bonuses, they’re giving pay raises. Is this an opportunity,
in that kind of an environment,
to make corrections? – We have the opportunity
to make those corrections every single day,
every single one of us. – I’m a little bit hesitant to say what’s gonna happen
with the tax reform, and I would like to
get more evidence. One case is not evidence, so I think we have
to wait and see, maybe even a couple of years, whether that money
actually was repatriated and whether those bonuses came. Here is the problem
with bonuses. They are probably even more
subject to unconscious bias than salaries and
things like that, because we also appraise a
performance of those we supervise, perhaps based on
whether we like them, and we, as humans,
tend to like our tribe. And this has been
studied tremendously. So we know that we are going to, and I’m not saying
this is conscious, that we’re doing it
consciously at all, but we tend to like
those who look like us, that we feel we have
something in common with. And as a result, we
tend to asses their work perhaps a little bit
more favorably than we would otherwise. And the difference at the
moment of making the decision doesn’t have to be very great. In fact, what I
would ask anybody who has any power, any ability to make those hiring and
salary and bonus decisions, is to look at their biases
very, very critically, because perhaps
they’re not aware. In fact I think that most of us are not aware of
having those biases, and we have to be
very conscious, very deliberate in
making those decisions to make sure that we are
treating everybody fairly and that we’re accounting
for everything. – I just wanted to
add that I do think that there is a way
that you can get around that a little
bit in bonuses if you create a
formula-based bonus, right? And so, that is formula-based, everybody gets whatever
the formula is. Now obviously it’s based on
the number that they start at. But I wanted to also
make the statement with regard to, there
are more and more companies going to bonus
versus an increase in salary. Well, what that does is that
gives you a bump in that year, but it doesn’t help if
you’re building a retirement, it doesn’t build your
salary over time. And so, what you end
up transferring with is again, a deflated
salary, because it hasn’t moved over the course of time. – Let me, a couple more
statistics from here that are relevant to what
you’re talking about. From 1960 to 2016,
in Shelby County, the percentage of
African-Americans who were in white
collar professions went from 8% to 52%,
so that’s some sort of progress, I mean, back to some of the
years where there are progress. The percent back in 1960, 85% of African-Americans
were in blue collar jobs, now it’s down to 47%. But the study also pointed out that a white collar job,
which maybe back in the ’60s was associated with advancement, with being in the middle
class, white and black, now, you can have
a white collar job and be in poverty,
white or black. Is that a fair assessment? – That’s absolutely right. If you think of the
blue collar jobs in the ’60s and the ’70s, you’re talking
heavy manufacturing, you’re talking labor unions, you’re talking a really
really good wage. I mean, I think of
the City of Detroit, and black wealth was created
in the car industry, right? They were able to send
their kids to college, they were able to go on
annual vacations, buy homes, and that was on a blue
collar manufacturing salary. – I mean isn’t, Bill
would know better than me, isn’t Firestone an
example in Memphis? Firestone in the
Frayser neighborhood and Harvester were the backbone of that blue collar but solidly, you know, more American
Dream oriented, to whatever degree that’s true. And the decimation of
Frayser, a lot of people would link to those
blue collar jobs. – And to North
Memphis too, which was the industrial belt of the city. – Also, one other
statistic in here is, and I’ll try not to
do too many of these, but they are fascinating,
as we talk about this, the percentage of whites who are in managerial or
professional occupations, which gets back to the
kind of potential bias you’re talking about and the
people who give the bonuses, Forty-seven percent
of whites are in those jobs, Twenty-six percent of
African-Americans are in those jobs. It’s a huge increase from
where it was in 1960, in 50 years,
it went from 5% to 26%, but it’s still a smaller number. How much of all of this,
probably 10 minutes left here, is, the study focused
on Shelby County, study done, issues in Memphis, these issues aren’t necessarily, or are they necessarily,
specific to Memphis. I mean, and how do you balance that conversation
about the progress? Martin Luther King
was not in Memphis just because there was
a problem in Memphis, it was a national, obviously a
national civil rights museum. But there is a way
in which, in Memphis, part of what I’m getting to is we pick on ourselves,
we’re harder on ourselves. Angela Rye, the commentator
who spoke at the event recently and was very critical
specifically of Memphis not making the progress
it should have. So how do you balance that? – I think, honestly,
I think you could go to almost every urban
center in America and you will find some
iteration of this data. I don’t think that this
is specific to Memphis. Now, I do think that
the child poverty rate for African-American
children is very high. I don’t think you’ll find
that in every urban center. But these numbers should not, these numbers are, in my
estimation, more an indictment of America than an indictment
of Memphis, Tennessee. – And I will say, just
from the numbers here, and then we’ll go to you Elena, the percent of
children in poverty in Shelby County overall is
35%, which is shocking. Eleven percent
of white children, Fifty percent,
48% of black children. However, nationally,
you’ve got 30% of African-America
children in poverty. So it’s not exactly that that’s a great number
nationally by comparison, but it is much, much worse here. But to your point. – Well, and part of
the problem is that a few years ago, a
couple of years ago, we saw a decrease in poverty and in child poverty nationwide, and yet we went in the
opposite direction. So I think that is
much more concerning, the direction in
which we are moving. But I think it’s very
very important to clarify that when we’re
talking about Memphis as the poorest area,
we’re talking about the poorest large
metropolitan area with more than a million people. So when we look at
smaller metropolitan areas or smaller cities,
we’re not number one. In fact, Detroit
and the McAllen area are much greater
poverty than we are. And then the other thing that
is important to point out, as I’d like to
second what you said, as goes Memphis,
so goes the nation. We are really just…
maybe emblematic of the greater problems,
but certainly not unique. – (Eric)
Bill. – You also looked at
incarceration rates and exposure to the
criminal justice system. Basically, your findings
there, which again, we’ve seen plenty of
anecdotal evidence of this, but what did your study
find in that regard? – Well we, in 1980,
the percent of African-Americans
and whites in prisons or institutionalized
was very, very similar. And, okay, you could
say it’s not great, but there appears to
be some parity here. And now, there is
much greater percent of African-Americans that
have been institutionalized. I did look at national
data, and if you look at what I did here in Memphis
in the national data, the graphs are almost identical. They reflect each other. And so that’s,
again, to your point of what’s happening
in Memphis is really a reflection of what’s happening
in the rest of the country. And yes, we have a
lot of work to do in Memphis and in Shelby County, and certainly we are
interested in this area because this is where we live and this is what we care about, but this is something that
is a national conversation, should be a national
conversation. These are problems that are
affecting the entire nation. – In our local
conversations, the term “disproportionate
minority contact” has come to be associated
with juvenile court. – (Elena)
Yes. – Is there disproportionate
minority contact in the adult
incarceration system? – (Elena)
Oh absolutely. – (Terri)
Yes, it does appear so based on the data. And it
appears to me that there were policy decisions that
were made that impacted the number of times
people came into contact with the criminal justice system because of the
consistency between the local data and
the national data. There were some
decisions that were made that have impacted
how we deal with criminal justice in our country, and I believe that
there are some policy decisions
that could be made that could also begin to
help us decrease that number. – Decisions around
mandatory minimum sentences? – (Terri)
Yes, absolutely. Mandatory minimums,
really rethinking what we do around the possession of small amounts of
illegal substances. Is that a crime that you think is necessary to actually
put somebody in jail? Are there other
opportunities for us to figure out how we have
people pay, if you will, restitution for those
types of crimes? – (Eric)
Go ahead Elena. – I would like to point
out that this doesn’t start with the criminal justice
system, it starts in schools. And I did some research that
the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute published in the
Hooks Policy Papers. And what I found is that
the rate of punishment and expulsion and suspension
for African-American children, both in former
Memphis city schools, Shelby County schools, but also when Shelby County
was independent, was up to 700 times higher for African-American
male students as for white students
and other students. So we’re not beginning at
the criminal justice system. We are taking children,
and I am using the word in its traditional
sense, small little boys, who are being harassed
at a young age for behaviors that may
not have anything to do– – I don’t think
it’s helpful at all to remove children
who are having difficulty in
school from school. I think there’s a
different way, that maybe they don’t need to be in
that particular classroom. But the idea of restorative
justice opportunities where we can, we need to
keep children in school, that’s where they should be. – There’s so much to do on
this, and it’s interesting, we actually, ’cause of just
some scheduling things, we pre-taped a conversation
with the U.S. attorney, newly appointed in
September, who talks, I will say, a very, very
different perspective on, we didn’t talk about race but we did talk about
mandatory minimum sentencing and who should be, so that
show is coming up soon and there’ll be a very
different point of view expressed, you know,
from the, coming from the Trump
Administration on down. With just three,
four minutes left, we can talk more
and more about this, the study is on the
Civil Rights Museum site? – (Terri)
It is. – It is, so you
can get it there. I wanna talk a little
bit about MLK 50, moving towards April. What all is going on? What events should
people look for? – Well, where we’re
headed right now is into the first week of April, second, third and fourth. The second and
third we will have a two day symposium on
where do we go from here. We’ve partnered with the
University of Memphis’ Cecil C. Humphreys Law School, and the law school will
host that first day with several panels
throughout the day. They’ll have a keynote with Eric Holder on
Monday the second. And then on the third, the
National Civil Rights Museum will host the second day of
the symposium on the campus of, the main campus of the
University of Memphis, and focusing on labor
issues in Memphis, the past, the
present, the future, economic equity and education
and the promise of education, which will be interesting
based on this study what the promise of
education actually is. And we have a keynote that
day with Taylor Branch. And then on the fourth, which is the actual 50th anniversary, we’ll have a day of remembrance that will be in the courtyard of the National Civil
Rights Museum. We’ll have a variety of
speakers and entertainment and speeches that will
be delivered there, organizations that
worked with King or were a part of King’s makeup as well as other organizations that are doing
the hard work now, and we’ll have a
commemoration in the courtyard beginning at 3:30,
ending at 6:01 with a bell tolling across,
actually, the globe. We’ve even found
that there’s some international interest
in ringing bells. And then at the end
of the day we’ll have an evening of
storytelling with icons from the 20th Century
Civil Rights Movement and new movement makers
of the 21st Century. So conversations with
these groups of people. – And, not to put
you in a bad spot, but I do wanna come
back to Angela Rye and her comments recently at
a forum that was part of this, and she was very
critical specifically of things that were
going on in Memphis. Do you think this spotlight,
this growing spotlight that you’ve just articulated
that’s gonna be on Memphis, is it, does Memphis look
good under that light? – I think that Memphis
addressing the issues of the past, where we are presently,
and where we’re headed, is the best picture
that we can present. I think the fact that
people are thinking about where do we go from here
is a very positive thing. And what we want people to do when they come for the symposium is really talk about
how the nation looks right now at this point and how the nation
needs to move forward, and within that, how
Memphis should move forward. So again, this is not at all
an indictment of Memphis. I think the worst
thing that we could do would be to sugarcoat
where we are. I think it’s important for us to be honest about where we are and optimistic about
where we’re headed. – Alright, we will
leave it there. Thank you for being here, thank
you Elena, thank you Bill. And thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. [acoustic guitar chords]

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