“Are We Still Talking About Redlining?”

By Maura Mulholland

In an era of city planning and zoning laws, most Americans fail to understand how much capital investment determines the viability of certain homes and neighborhoods. Money flowing into and out of neighborhoods determines how many amenities, public funding, and private interest they receive, and the futures of these places are affected by how much potential they have in terms of a profitable return on investment. When these neighborhoods are labeled as “unprofitable”, or not worth investing in, they are doomed to be cast to the sidelines of society, with retail chains, businesses, and banks largely avoiding them for fear of limited profit margins. 

In the United States, neighborhoods with a high African American population have faced discrimination in property capital investment. This process is called “redlining”, and was a legal practice in minority neighborhoods for much of the 20th century that created an economic and social barrier that made social mobility nearly impossible. In the process of redlining, neighborhoods were assigned “value”, or the potential for a return on investment, that directly correlated with the racial demographics in the area. In white neighborhoods, it was easy to procure a low-interest mortgage, regardless of the applicants’ income level. For Black neighborhoods, even those that had upper- or middle-class incomes, loans and mortgages were nearly impossible to acquire, and often had absurdly high interest rates. 

The systematic sabotage of Black neighborhoods led to dire consequences for their residents. As Black and majority-minority neighborhoods faced a deficit in investment levels, food deserts developed. Large retail chains, including supermarkets, were unwilling to open franchises in majority-minority neighborhoods due to the racial makeup of the neighborhoods and the impractically high financial cost of establishing a business there. Because these neighborhoods did not have access to affordable, nutritious food, they commonly became dependent on fast-food chains and processed food available at neighborhood convenience stores. The health of Black communities suffered immensely as a result. 

The domino effects of the practice of redlining are legion. Poor nutrition caused by food deserts led to poor health, which led to higher insurance rates for people of color, which in turn led to a disproportionate percentage of people of color who lack health insurance. This lack of health insurance also contributed to a higher rates of Covid-19 in traditionally marginalized neighborhoods. Redlining and its effects have proved incredibly detrimental for communities comprised of minorities, and have only increased the stratification that exists between white and black communities. 

Looking Back: The Black Panther Party

By Maura Mulholland

The 1960s were a time of upheaval in U.S. history. The decade seared the idea of freedom into the American psyche, with the hippies, feminist movement, and civil rights campaigns enjoying immense public attention. But many of these attempts to rectify the wrongs of the American condition failed to achieve their loftiest goals, and more extreme groups rose to spread their own truths and directly address the problems they saw in the world. 

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) emerged in 1966 in Oakland, California. It was the brain-child of Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, two students at Merritt College. The organization formed around the ideas of socialism and Black nationalism, particularly opposed to the scourge of police brutality on the Black community. The BPP had many enemies during this era, largely because of their focus on armed self-defense against oppressive figures. Many felt this outlook was extreme, but the BPP saw it as the only way to establish Black communities as an independent force, and to reverse the sidelining of Black opinions and narratives in the media and government. 

While the Black Panthers were admirable in their concern and advocacy for the Black community, there was and is a great deal of controversy surrounding the philosophies and actions of the group. One frequent accusation is that the Panthers were unfair and sexist toward the Black women in their midst, perpetuating misogynoir. While early publications of the BPP were centered on the Black male experience, by 1968 two-thirds of the Party was made up of women, and their leadership pushed a more egalitarian “womanist” narrative. Throughout the 1970s, the Panthers worked to promote women to leadership roles within the organization. 

The ideas that the Black Panthers pushed brought into the mainstream continue to power progressive activism today. Their unflinching focus on racism and police brutality in the North, which was largely ignored by traditional Civil Rights groups, inspired the formation of modern groups like Black Lives Matter. In addition, the Panthers dedication to mutual aid as the foundation of both community and organization has been copied by a wide array of modern activists. The Black Panthers’ community work has been replicated nationwide, with the installation of community fridges, mutual aid funds, and survival networks in cities all over the country. While the Black Panthers were often portrayed as violent radicals, their contributions to modern activism and neighborhood charity provide a more balanced perspective on their racial platform. 

Troubling Home Ownership Rates Continue

By Maura Mulholland

With the rapid increase in rental rates and housing prices, recent years have seen a drastic decrease in home ownership rates among younger generations. Millennials have already experienced the trials of the housing market, and with the new trend of inflation, it seems that Gen Z will have an even tougher time owning their own home. The lack of affordable housing is especially pronounced for young members of the Black community. African Americans trail thirty points behind the white community when it comes to rates of home ownership, with only forty-two percent of black families owning their own home. 

Even in eras where white ownership rates were high, African Americans still struggled to purchase and keep their own homes. After World War II, returning white soldiers moved their families from rented places in the cities to the new, expanding suburbs surrounding urban centers. While whites were able to acquire single-family homes with ease, Black families did not have these same opportunities. New suburban developments were often segregated, and white homeowners’ associations reacted violently to Black families moving into their neighborhoods. Racism also prevented many families from getting the loans they would have needed to afford a real-estate purchase. 

Black families have also been discriminated against in terms of the values of their homes. Banks and other financial institutions are infamous for appraising Black homes at a lower value than the same type of property, were it owned by a white family. The devaluation of Black homes only reinforces the racist myth that home values sink when Black people start moving into a neighborhood. The houses remain the same, but the value that the real-estate market places on the people who live in them decreases because of the color of their skin. 

One of the most recent barriers to Black homeownership is student loan debt. Forty-two percent of Black households have student loan debt, almost twice the amount of either Asian or white households. This financial obligation is compounded by the fact that half of Black renters are burdened by the cost of rent, spending thirty percent or more of their monthly income on housing alone. Thus, a system of institutional racism has emerged in which Black families are barred from owning real property, but find themselves paying exorbitant amounts in rent every month to white landlords who perpetuate the disparity in ownership rates. 

HBCU’s: Historically Black and Historically Successful

By Maura Mulholland

When it comes to Black education, HBCUs, or Historically Black Colleges and Universities, constantly emerge as pathways to success. These prestigious and historic institutions bring together Black students into a community where they can grow as both people and academics, and provide a positive environment for both social and academic aspects of student life. The success that HBCU students have at school has also translated into the workforce. Recent trends show that the average hiring rate of HBCU graduates grew 5.9% from 2016 to 2019, over four times the growth rate of the national average from non-HBCUs, which was 1.3%. 

In 2020, graduates of HBCUs faced more overall job resilience, with a hiring rate decline of 11.9%, a third less than the rate of the national LinkedIn average. This trend seems to be accompanied by higher hiring rates in general of HBCU graduates, and is especially prevalent in major companies, like Apple, Bank of America, and Estee Lauder. These companies, among many others, are recent additions to recruiting websites affiliated with HBCUs. Morgan State University, an HBCU in Baltimore, Maryland, saw a 263% increase in employer log-ins to its recruiting site between 2020 and 2021. 

Historically Black colleges and universities have also produced numerous famous alumni. In 2020, over 80% of Black judges in the United States graduated from an HBCU. While HBCU’s continue to produce graduates from its humanities programs, they have largely failed to establish pipelines to growing technological fields like robotics, computer sciences, and engineering. This is likely due to the historical emphasis on HBCUs as teacher-training institutions, pushing many of their graduates back into academia. However, HBCUs are, however, are beginning to catch up to other institutions in terms of representation in the hard sciences. As of 2019, almost 30% of STEM bachelor degrees held by Black graduates were from HBCUs. 

While experts say the recent surge in HBCU hires may level out in the short term, it is clear that these institutions have established themselves as some of the premier producers of talented workers. HBCU graduates, like alumnae of women’s colleges, have faced proportionately more success in their fields than underrepresented students at other universities, likely as a result of their unique educational experiences. Whatever the long-term ramifications, the latest increase in interest in HBCUs has allowed them to increase academic funding, extend more recruitment offers of their own to high schoolers, and continue the advancement of the Black community. 

Unequal Treatment in the “Black League”

By Maura Mulholland

The NBA is overwhelmingly comprised of Black players. Since the 1990s, the majority of NBA rosters have been filled by African American talent. Despite black leadership within organizations and the Players Union, instances or racism from fanbases and league and team executives are still a regular occurrence. These altercations have been on the rise recently, with numerous players and administrative employees speaking out against biases inherent in the sport. 

Allegations of racism have recently emerged against Robert Sarver, the owner of the Phoenix Suns. Sarver, a white man, allegedly used the n-word repeatedly when quoting a Black player. When asked to stop, he argued that as an NBA owner, he should be permitted to use the word. The incident was witnessed and reported by former head coach of the Suns, Earl Watson. Since that time, Sarver has been cited by almost seventy current and former Suns employees for fostering a hostile work environment. According to sources, he frequently makes off-color racial comments, and exhibits misogynistic and inappropriate behavior, including making inappropriate sexual comments about his wife to employees. He has also been cited for claiming to “own” someone who works within the Suns organization. 

Beyond problematic administration, fans at NBA games have recently exhibited racist behavior against Black players. LeBron James has publicly complained about fans’ racism, especially the fan base of the Boston Celtics. On his HBO show, “The Shop”, James described an incident where a beer was thrown on him while leaving a Celtics game in Boston, a situation that he believes reflects the fan bases racial prejudice. Kyrie Irving, a visiting point guard for the Brooklyn Nets, had a water bottle thrown at him at a Celtics game by Cole Buckley, a twenty-one-year-old student at the University of Rhode Island. Buckley was charged with one count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. While Buckley was not charged with a civil rights violation, it was noted by investigators that race was likely a contributing factor to his violent acts. 

These very prominent examples fail to illustrate the levels of implicit and explicit racism that NBA players face on a regular basis. Since the first non-white player took the court in 1947, African Americans in the NBA have increasingly moved to the forefront of Black celebrity. While the league, pushed by the Players Union, has actively tried to root out racism within the Association, it continues to be a problem at both an administrative and fan base level. By holding anyone involved in professional sports accountable for any racist comments or acts, we can work towards a more inclusive league that reflects the contributions of African American players, coaches, and executives to professional basketball.

The Good and Bad of Black Charter Schools

By Maura Mulholland

The controversy surrounding charter schools has existed almost since their inception. Charter schools were originally conceptualized as an alternative to public schools, where teachers could experiment with new ideas in education. They soon became predominantly Black schools, as Black families jumped at the opportunity to both put their students at the forefront of education, and remove them from rampant racism in largely white public schools. Charter schools now run on a publicly funded “business model”, where they are more responsible for their students’ outcomes than public schools, in exchange for more funding. But have charter schools truly improved the educational experiences of the mostly Black populations they serve? 

Many critics of charter schools say that they have simply reinvented segregation. Charter schools mostly serve the Black community and other racial minorities, as many such schools are located in urban areas. Racial isolation within these schools seems to be concentrated within Black and Latino populations: at a typical Black student’s charter high school, three-fourths of their classmates are also likely to be Black. Instead of being governed by a publicly accessible school board, charter schools are run by private organizations, which give community members much less say over what happens in the schools that serve their neighborhoods. 

While there is suspicion surrounding charter schools, other members of the Black community have expressed their support for some charter institutions. Schools like the Barbara A. Sizemore Academy in Chicago teach an Afro-centric curriculum in an effort to decolonize the Black students they serve. Parents of the children at Sizemore also appreciate the extra care and attention that their children receive in charter schools, as it prevents them from “slipping through the cracks”, a phenomenon that occurs frequently in larger, traditional schools in big districts. This “leveling of the playing field” is supported by state funding which is often contested by white progressives: people who Black parents say should have no place deciding the futures of schools their own children do not attend. 

Whatever the case, charter schools have very powerful supporters, especially in big, urban school districts. Billionaire Eli Broad described a $490 million plan in 2015 that plans to educate half of the student body of Los Angeles in charter schools by 2023, and former California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed legislation that would have held charter schools more accountable to the state legislature. Brown oversaw the opening of multiple charter schools while he was the Mayor of Oakland. An ongoing issue for charter schools will be a lack of transparency that engenders mistrust. There are many in the Black community who question whose interest these intercity charter schools serve.

Covid in the Black Community

By Maura Mulholland

COVID-19 has been an all-consuming and destructive presence internationally for over two years. While it has impacted everyone negatively, certain groups have experienced the virus with more intensity than others. COVID-19 has further emphasized disparities between racial, ethnic, and class groups, and this has been reflected in death tolls and case counts throughout the pandemic. 

Black Americans are especially prone to discrimination when it comes to seeking treatment from the coronavirus. This is in large part because of discrimination and inequity within the medical system. 11.7% of Black Americans are without health insurance, compared to 7.5% of white Americans. A lack of health insurance makes a person much less likely to seek the medical treatment they need. As the pandemic spread, disparities in testing also became apparent. In Kansas, as of June 2020, only 4,854 of 94,740 tests were attributable to Black people, with 50,070 tests coming from whites. This highlights a massive lack of access to testing for Black populations, who at that time accounted for almost a third of COVID deaths despite being only 12.4% of the state population. 

Medical racism plays a major role in Black medical treatment, as well. Within hospitals, Black patients are more likely to be given older and cheaper medications for the same problems white patients have, and are also more likely to be discharged early when recovering from surgery, at a stage when discharge is inappropriate. These problems stem from widespread and misinformed beliefs in the medical field, for example that Black patients feel less pain than whites, or that they are likely seeking pain medications as a result of substance problems. These biases, implicitly or explicitly, have negatively impacted the care Black Americans have received during COVID.  

Beyond the abysmal disparities in the doctor’s office, social issues surrounding the pandemic have also negatively impacted Black communities. In one survey, participants were asked whether they had experienced harassment because of the spread of COVID-19, and due to perpetrators’ conclusions that they may have the disease. 22.1% of participants from major racial groups in the United States reported discriminatory behaviors relating to the coronavirus. 42.7% of participants in the same survey reported that people acted afraid of them. While this form of discrimination was most common among Asian-American and Indigenous populations, it took place most often in Mississippi, which has the highest relative population of Black Americans among the states. 

COVID-19’s toll on the planet has been astronomical, upending the routines of people from all walks of life. But for marginalized groups, especially the Black population, the coronavirus has only increased discrimination and sharpened the impact of existing social stratification. Taking responsibility for public health means addressing all aspects of the way science and society intersect, and means addressing both the medical disparities and social disconnects of the modern world 

With Recession Looming, Black Communities are Again Reminded of the Threat Posed by Income Inequality

By Maura Mulholland

Most of the country has been dealing with high inflation rates in recent weeks, tearing through cost of living raises from last year and halting hiring opportunities for many companies. Economists continue to speculate that the United States is poised on the edge of another recession, and these fears have been reflected internationally as the euro and other foreign currencies have lost value as well. If another recession is inevitable, it will only emphasize existing patterns in income inequality, which pays the work of white men higher than the rest of the American workforce.  

According to the Pew Research Center, the two ethnic and gender groups which make the least amount of money on average are Black and Hispanic women, at thirteen and twelve dollars an hour respectively. Black men also average the lowest hourly wage of males, at around fourteen dollars an hour. All groups of women have narrowed the wage gap between themselves and white men since 1980, albeit by marginal amounts. Black women narrowed the gap by nine cents, while Hispanic women were only able to earn another nickel. Black and Hispanic men, however, have been unable to lose the racial wage gap. 

Part of this discrepancy is due to education level, but even in a group of men who all hold Bachelor’s degrees, Black men continue to earn only eighty percent of a white man’s wages. Black and Hispanic women fare poorly in these calculations as well, earning only seventy percent of the wages that white men earn. These additional gaps are often attributed to differences in industry and occupation, but some “non-concrete” figures, such as innate prejudices, also play a role. For example, racist attitudes held by a schoolteacher may have discouraged a Black student from STEM, while her white classmate was urged to enter that field. The siphoning away of African Americans from high-paying fields continues to be endemic in the United States. 

Income inequality has historically created deep stratification between racial and gender groups that only increase with generations. While education and shifts in social mindsets have helped to lessen the gap, a significant amount of progress still stands to be made. To truly eliminate the status gap in American society, we as a country must ensure that every citizen can earn a living wage, and that that those earnings are not compromised someone’s race.  

The Brittney Griner Saga Draws to an End: But Bad Feelings Continue

By Maura Mulholland

Last week, during the 2022 ESPY awards, famous athletes Megan Rapinoe and Steph Curry advocated for the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner from detention in Russia. The saga of Griner’s arrest and subsequent trial, which is still underway in Russian courts, has been a tragic showing of how black athletes are treated and has become another point of contention in already tense relations between the United States and Russia.  

Griner was arrested on February 17 in the Sheremetyevo International airport in Moscow for possession of cannabis. The cannabis in question was THC “hashish” cartridges to be used in vapes or other e-cigarette. Griner’s lawyers have argued that Griner was recommended to take medical cannabis to ease chronic pain, she was still detained by Russian authorities for several months. Griner pled guilty to possession of the drug, but remains entrenched in the trial, as Russian courts do not immediately end a trial once a guilty plea has been entered. Prior to her release, Griner faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.  

In the United States, many were frustrated in the lack of effort to bring Griner back to her home country. The continuation of her stay in Russian custody was classified as “wrongful detainment” by the U.S. State Department on May 3, indicating intention on the part of the US to take more aggressive action to retrieve her, but failed to free the star for several months. After both the statement on support of Griner at the ESPYs, and after Cherelle Griner gave an interview on her wife’s behalf with Good Morning America, a spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry has declared the State Department’s “wrongful detainment” classification of Griner’s case as “disrespectful” to Russian law. 

Griner testified on July 27 that she was not given access to a lawyer, not adequately enlightened as to what was occurring during her arrest, and told to sign papers that she could not read. Her unfair treatment by Russia and the other troubling details coming to light in her trial are only the latest in a story that continues to unfold. That same day, the Biden Administration reported that they offered a prisoner swap with Kremlin officials for the return of Griner and another American held in captivity, Paul Whelan. Many African Americans have interpreted this offer as caving to public pressure, and the continued presence of Griner in Russia as a testimony to how little American society cares for its black athletes. Brilliant Minds Collective joins the call for U.S. officials to ensure the safe return of Brittany Griner.

Jennifer Rourke Remains Strong Despite Both Physical and Political Attacks

By Maura Mulholland

On June 24, 2022, Jennifer Rourke, a Democratic candidate for the Rhode Island State Senate, was physically assaulted at an abortion-rights protest in Providence. Video evidence shows the scene unfolding as pro-choice activists surrounded an anti-abortion counter-protestor. In an attempt to diffuse the situation, Rourke escorted the counter-protester out of the crowd and into a less packed area. Moments after this occurred, a man attacks the counter-protester, the camera jostles a bit, and then focuses on Rourke, recognizable in a bright pink shirt, being punched twice by another man. 

The man who assaulted her, Jeann Lugo, was her opponent in the state Senate race. A police officer aligned with the GOP, he dropped out of the race the day after the incident. He was arrested, but released on personal recognizance. His actions are currently being investigated by the police department, and he has been placed on administrative leave. 

Lugo was only the first candidate with a questionable background to run against Rourke. The Tuesday after Lugo dropped out of the race, Michael C. Carreiro, who helms the Warwick, Rhode Island firefighters’ union, filed to oppose Rourke in the race for the District 29 State Senate seat. Some recent revelations in Carreiro’s Facebook history have revealed a troubling past. In 2009, Carreiro, a white man, attended a themed event dressed as Black singer James Brown. Pictures were posted online of him in brown face paint and a wig, an evident attempt at Blackface. In addition to this racist garb, images have emerged of Carreiro posing and smiling next to well-known conservative television host Tucker Carlson, a man who he apparently admires despite Carlson’s divisive political commentary and personal life. 

In the midst of Rourke grappling with her controversial opponents, she reached out to the Democratic committee of District 29 in an attempt to earn their endorsement and support. The committee has declined to speak regarding any of the candidates in the race, and according to Rourke, will not even return her calls. Rourke’s candidacy, and the inadequate response of Democratic leadership to her concerns for her safety, has catapulted a local Senate race to the national stage and reveals how inhospitable U.S. politics are to Black women. Women of color who seek to run for public office unfortunately face a daily double-edged combination of misogyny and racism.