There’s something about Paul Ryan that scares the bejeezus out of some black people.
A recent NBC/Wall Street poll confirmed zero percent black support for Mitt Romney and his vice presidential pick (A Washington
Post poll found that 4 percent of registered African Americans would vote for the GOP ticket). Romney was already scary all by himself with his “corporations are people, too” mindset. But when he tapped Ryan, who crafted a draconian budget to target social services and education, many people - black and white - let out a collective gasp.
A self-professed defense hawk, Ryan plans to dump more money into defense spending and give “job creators” money taken from already poor and debt-ridden Americans. University of California-Berkeley Professor Robert Reich simplifies the warped logic that undergirds the Ryan-Romney budget in this video
Ryan-Romney plans to cut Pell Grants by $850 per studental almost nixing President Barack Obama’s increase of $1,000. Decreased Pell Grants equal more student loans with high interest rates. That means most people will have more debt load while unemployed. If unemployed more than one year, you can’t pay bills, which prompts a decrease in credit scores. Employers could deny you a job because of long-term unemployment and bad credit scores. To date, the Romney-Ryan team has no jobs plan for the educated and unemployed, just economic prosperity for the one percent.
For the rest of us, there is a hint of danger lurking behind Ryan’s Cheshire smile and hyper-conservative rhetoric. The gnawing feeling was deep enough to signal that a Romney-Ryan team in the White House means deep and dire distress.
Parse Ryan’s acceptance speech about his party’s plan for prosperity, and you’ll find many clues. One of his most pertinent proclamations came two weeks after President Obama signed an Executive Order to improve outcomes and advance educational opportunities for blacks.
Flanked by black leaders who have championed quality education for all, Obama recently signed another promissory note that acknowledged “substantial obstacles to equal educational opportunity still remain in America’s educational systems” despite incremental progress since the 1954, Brown v. Board of Education. The Order, similar to one signed by former presidents, George Bush and Bill Clinton, for Hispanics, states that improving education would significantly improve educational outcomes for blacks and will deliver economic benefits for America by increasing college rates and productivity.
Two weeks after this Order, Ryan in a speech said: “We will give equal opportunity but not equal outcome.”
Pause. Wasn’t that memo sent out more than two centuries ago?
It seems Vice President Joe Biden was not far-fetched in his assessment that the Romney-Ryan ticket wants to put black folk in chains again.
That’s because Ryan echoed the same sentiment enmeshed in the Declaration of Independence and many other noble plans for prosperity in this country. America’s promise of equality, justice and the pursuit of happiness was a hallowed one for many poor and enslaved during the eighteenth century. And so many Americans could not pursue their happiness because they were, well, um, in chains.
Another memo was sent out in 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation. It prohibited forced free labor. But during the second half of the nineteenth century, peonage was slavery by another name. In the first half of the twentieth century, Jim Crow was its cousin. So in 1954, America gave us another memo that told us separate was not equal and that it was just another barrier in the pursuit of happiness for many Americans. And just last month, Obama added yet another memo, so that our school system can ensure equitable access to a quality education to all because in 2012 the road for many black and Latino children is from schools to prisons.
Because of the contradictions and constraints facing the ideal of American democracy, there’s a constant need to stress equal access, which means having the same level of quality educational services offered to most in the dominant group. Obama’s executive order is to ensure there are no man-made barriers based on prejudice, xenophobia, nativism, or racism.
And unless you’ve been living under a proverbial rock, you will know that road to prosperity has always been laden with higher hurdles for people of color. So Ryan’s promise of equal opportunity, but not equal outcome, hints at many more hurdles to come.
Obama’s July 26 Order delineates the existing hurdles: Blacks lack quality access to highly effective teachers and principals, safe schools and challenging college-preparatory classes. They also disproportionately experience school discipline and referrals to special education. Additionally, many blacks do not graduate with a regular high school diploma. But they experience disproportionate rates of incarceration.
So a quality education, despite news to the contrary for many unemployed blacks today, is still a ticket to social mobility. Obama’s executive order, albeit in an election year, inches along the path to fulfilling a long-held covenant to provide quality education to all.
To the NAACP and other community-based organizations nationwide, the order was a move towards “intentional focus” on serving students of color well and meeting the millennium goal of producing more college graduates to compete globally, said Beth Glenn, NAACP’s Director of Education.
“This sends a strong signal to community based organizations that [Obama] wants to work with communities most impacted,” Glenn said.
While Glenn and others are working on that goal, we must equip ourselves for a possible Romney-Ryan administration and their plan for education because you can’t have prosperity without an educated and skilled populace. And we definitely don’t need extra hurdles in our path toward equal outcomes.
Ann-Marie Adams is a race and education contributor to The RootDC. She is the founder of a hyper-local news site The Hartford Guardian, which builds urban communities through civic journalism. Follow her on twitter at @annmarieadams.
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