“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. 

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.

Are African Americans a “Captured Voter”?

As the 2022 midterm elections approach, African Americans find themselves in a familiar quandary. Despite one of the largest political protests in United States history taking place in the summer of 2020, many African Americans feel that neither major party represents their interest. Over the past 60 years, the Republican Party has been openly hostile to the interests of black people, but there is also a growing resentment towards a Democratic Party, which many African Americans feel has taken their support for granted. 

Paul Frymer, a Professor of Political Science at Princeton University, argued that it is not a coincidence that the Democratic Party has increasingly ignored the plights of African Americans. In his book, Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America, Frymer categorized communities of color as “captured” voters, meaning that there is no viable alternative for black voters in the United States outside of the Democratic National Committee. African Americans are not the only “captive” voting group in the United States, other scholars have argued that the LGBTQ community is another example of “captive” voters within the Democratic Party and the religious right has been categorized as “captive” within the Republican Party umbrella. Understanding that the Republican Party has little-to-nothing to offer black voters from a policy perspective, the Democratic Party has scaled back their own support for measures designed to help communities of color as a way to garner support from other voting blocs who are more likely to switch Republican. Through their loyal support of the Democratic Party in past elections, African Americans have contributed to the idea that they no longer need to be enticed to join the Democratic coalition. Instead, the Democratic Party routinely chooses to woo perceived “swing groups.”  

As race continues to be central to national politics in the United States, the Democratic Party is increasingly joining their conservative colleagues in disfavoring policies designed to help communities of color. But this is an issue that cannot be solved easily. Without another viable mainstream party to turn to, ignoring the Democratic Party amounts to additional voter disenfranchisement for African Americans. In the long term, black voters must decide between supporting a non-mainstream party which better aligns with their beliefs and needs, or continuing to support and (hopefully) transform the priorities of the Democratic platform.  

The First Step Implementation Act Would Drastically Reduce Incarceration Rates for People of Color

Currently before the United States Senate is a criminal justice reform bill that will drastically reduce the number of African Americans incarcerated in the United States. A bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (IL) and Chuck Grassley (IA), the bill would extend the First Step Act of 2018 and provide relief to persons facing sentences for federal drug offenses or who were sentenced to lengthy sentences for crimes committed before they reached the age of 18. The bill has been introduced in the Senate, but must be passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives before it can be presented to President Biden.  

On December 21, 2018, the First Step Act of 2018 was signed into law. This Act lowered mandatory minimum sentences for drug traffickers with prior drug convictions, and made it so currently incarcerated offenders who received longer sentences for possession of crack cocaine than they would have if sentenced after the Fair Sentencing Act, can petition to have their sentences reduced. 

A current proposal, the First Step Implementation Act, would build off of these reforms. The 2018 Act mostly excluded people who committed crimes before December, 2018, but this new law would extend its provisions to retroactive sentences. This includes people who were sentenced under enhanced mandatory minimum sentences because of prior drug convictions, or who received stacked mandatory minimum sentences for using a firearm during a violent or drug-related crimes.  

In addition, the Implementation Act allows for reduced sentences to those who were convicted under the age of 18 if they have served at least 20 years and are not an immediate danger to anyone. It also gives judges greater leeway to issue sentences below the mandatory minimum, and requires the Attorney General’s office to periodically check the accuracy of criminal records used for employment.  

Please join Brilliant Minds in supporting this bill, and help to reform a U.S. criminal justice system which has historically targeted poor communities of color.