I received an e-mail message that was forwarded to me, having been forwarded several times previously from sources unknown containing the transcript of an interview of Barack Obama from 2004 on his religious views.
Instead of forwarding the e-mail yet again, I googled it to confirm its authenticity (as all dutiful netizens should do!). Lo' and behold, it was legit, making this uniquely rich interview of then-State Senator Barack Obama that much more fascinating -- particularly in light of today's news that he has asked controversial mega-church founder and best-selling author, Rev. Rick Warren, to perform the invocation at President-Elect Obama's inauguration on January 20, 2009.
I found the interview in whole at Beliefnet (a great site on all things spiritual and religious, whose editor-in-chief, Steven Waldman, was my very affable skybox-mate at the Democratic convention in Denver the night of Michelle Obama's powerful and historic speech praising the blessings of her working-class values).
Many of us self-identified progressives were incredulous and crest-fallen. I, however, was neither surprised, nor demoralized.
I am not a fan of Mr. Warren's politics, to put it lightly. However, if you know Barack Obama -- the public figure -- we should expect his not-so-rare curve balls.
He leads from the center -- at least rhetorically. He's not an ideologue. He does not appear to be petty or spiteful. He's thoughtful, analytical and a highly strategic thinker. He knows the political game and how to play it.
He is neither macho, nor effete.
He is a scalpel-wielding incrementalist -- not a hatchet-gripping revolutionary. Obama's a compromiser -- not an agitator.
If we take the time to look closely at his measured words and revealing deeds over time, there should be very few surprises for us over the next four to eight years. Really.
He is a complex man who is both methodical and caring.
All of this is to say that when I read the Chicago Sun-Times interview with Obama on his religious beliefs, I was genuinely moved. I was also reminded of the Obama I have come to understand from afar: this is a man whose political instinct is to unite disparate groups of people despite the odds or the consequences. Case in point: Rev. Rick Warren is about as popular among liberals, progressives and Leftists as George W. Bush is at an Iraqi shoe store.
I'm not suggesting that I think his decision to invite Warren was the right thing to do -- because I don't. But the choice was his to make, and ultimately, what I care most about is what our 44th president does for our nation's under-served communities, our economy, environment, international standing, and our education and health care systems.
Would I support protests against the hate-mongering and intolerance that Rev. Warren has supported related to women's reproductive rights and the human rights of the LGBT community? Absolutely. However, I'm already envisioning Obama seated at his desk in the Oval Office (and I can finally take down my Obama lawn sign) and channeling the inner-Gandhi that he will so desperately need to summon in order to help lead our country down the righteous path.
An anonymous source has leaked to Afro-Netizen information from the FBI sting on embattled Illinois governor, Rod R. Blagojevich (D) that confirms the recently arrested governor sought to become Obama's "Victory Plate Czar", a position Blagojevich believed could be the dark-horse position in the incoming administration to revitalize the national economy currently mired in a historic recession.
Transcripts obtained by Afro-Netizen reveal that Blagojevich believed that in exchange for appointing whomever President-Elect Obama wanted for his vacated senate seat, the governor could secure what he was confident would be the most coveted Executive Branch position outside of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
According to a transcript of an exchange between Blagojevich and an unnamed advisor, the governor was caught exclaiming:
When reached for comment on this unsuccessful scheme, Telebrands founder and infomercial king, AJ Khubani, whose company markets the Obama "victory plates" stated, "That's the most stupid [email protected]*#in' idea I've ever heard. And trust me, if there's anyone who knows about stupid [email protected]#*in' ideas, it's me."
As we come closer to the "post-racial age" of a Barack Obama presidency, I am intrigued to find that post-racial racism is already being propagated in the pages of the Washington Post. In "An Enduring Crisis for the Black Family," Kay Hymowitz blames the economic disfranchisement of African Americans upon the personal behavior of Black people and the silence of Black leaders concerning this behavior. Ms. Hymowitz portrays the massive national growth of single parent homes as a Black pathology. She uses the real challenge of the breakdown in the traditional family to further stereotype and lay blame on African Americans for racial inequality in this country.
As one who studies racial inequality and the African American condition in particular, I have often been told to ignore the studies that show there is still racial prejudice in employment, homeownership, and predatory lending, and to instead look at the rapid decline of two parent households for African Americans. In the report "40 Years Later: The Unrealized American," I looked at the decline of the two parent household for Blacks and whites and found some surprising results.
Using data from the 2007 State of Our Unions report, I discovered that the share of Black children living in a single parent home increased by 155% between 1960 to 2006. The share of white children living in single parent homes increased by 229% during this same time period. The white two-parent family has declined at a faster rate than the Black family. Yet, Ms. Hymowitz never once mentions that the increase of single parent Black families exist in a context of an even greater rate of increase in single parent white families. Ms. Hymowitz attacks Black leaders for not addressing this issue yet as a white woman she never sees fit to mention this issue as it relates to white Americans.
Was Ms. Hymowitz so concerned about the African American community that she failed to consider that Blacks were part of a national social trend that was cutting across racial lines? I do not know. What I do know is that she is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, an organization with a history of concluding that the "deficiencies" of African Americans are the primary cause of inequality. Charles Murray, formerly of the Manhattan Institute, is the most renown example of this tradition. In 1994 he co-wrote the book "The Bell Curve". This best selling book argued that Black/white inequality could be explained by the inferior intelligence of African Americans.
Ms. Hymowitz's charge that civil rights leaders historically and today remain silent on the topic of Black family and single parent households is as misleading as her portrayal of the break up of the family. Growing up in the 1980's, I remember listening to Rev. Jackson as he urged Black men to stand up to their responsibilities as fathers. In 1995 I was proud to participate in the Million Man March, the largest Black gathering this country has ever seen. Over a million Black men came together to pledge greater responsibility for their families and to atone for their sins. The Black community and its leaders have always engaged the issue of greater self-responsibility. One can look back to Garvey, DuBois, Fredrick Douglass and Harriet Tubman for this tradition.
In his book "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community," Dr. King stated "History continues to mock the Negro today, because just as he needs ever greater family integrity, severe strains are assailing family life in the white community." Someone seriously concerned about the decline of the two-parent family would not racialize a serious national problem. They would, instead, challenge the nation to address this problem in unity.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, who grew up in a single parent home, stated in 1988 that "Protecting America's families is not simply a problem of the poor. It is a challenge to the entire society, a practical as well as moral challenge." Jackson proposed a Family Investment Initiative, an initiative that would go beyond talking about family values and instead place societies' resources behind valuing families. As we approach the inauguration of Barack Obama, we look to the President-Elect to enact legislation and inspire a national commitment to strengthen all American families, and to bridge the racial divide that for too long has divided this nation.
Valerie Jarrett, co-chair of the Obama-Biden Transition Project, addressed over 2,000 community organizers at the event.
"Community organizers got kind of a bad name in the general election," Jarrett said during her remarks. By addressing the organization, the Obama administration reasserts its commitment to continuing dialogue with average citizens.
Mr. Obama "has run his campaign with the spirit of a community organizer understanding that ordinary people, when they come together around a common vision, with common goals, and common belief can do extraordinary things," said Jarrett.
Building an Inclusive Government
Melody Barnes, tapped to lead the Domestic Policy Council for President-elect Obama, told the organizers that they have elected a different kind of president who is eager to deliver on campaign promises.
"We recognize that this is a partnership – there is a difference between someone saying we're going to help each other and people saying we are partners in this together," noted Barnes. "During the election we had over 16,000 house parties around the platform. We took those ideas and made them part of our platform."
The audience cheered with head nods and hand waves, more reminiscent of a call and response religious gathering than a typical staid policy briefing.
Barnes touted the relationship between the organizer turned highest elected U.S. official and the grassroots activists in the audience.
"What we have now is a President-elect who understands that we are inter-connected, that each of us has a common set of problems and the solutions to those problems are also commonly linked," said Ms. Barnes.
Community organizers, who have built careers amplifying local voices, are eager to realize the promise of an Obama administration.
Legislative Support Required
An ally in the White House, however, does not ensure Congressional support for the issues that matter to convention attendees. The recent election cycle boosted the House of Representatives democratic majority. Yet, the Democrats failed to secure a filibuster proof Senate in last week's runoff contest in Georgia with the re-election of Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).
Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD) advised attendees to remain persistent, "Don't let up! Keep the expectations high," she said.
"Starting in January my colleagues and I will have to work on a stimulus package that will create jobs not just in the short term but make investments that are about the 21st century economy," added Congresswoman Edwards.
Conference attendees held a recent people's lobby day visit to Capitol Hill. As the recent election demonstrated, organizers have struggled to be taken seriously by traditional powerbrokers. Mr. Obama was an organizer in Chicago and lends credibility to the work.
"Finally after eight years we will have a president in the White House who is prepared to sign off on legislation that will make a difference in the lives of working people," said Congresswoman Edwards.
Melody Barnes noted that President-elect Obama recognizes that organizers have valuable community connections that are needed to create sound domestic policy.
"We are counting on you to talk to us and we have already started that process of listening to people," said Barnes.
Malaika I. Robinson, a Spelman College alumna, is an Afro-Netizen contributor and Washington, DC–based writer.
"The sky is the limit for me.... As a black person, you are probably one of the most highly sought out people coming out of college.” — DeVaris Brown, Microsoft Corporation “My attitude (during the dot-com boom) was, if there is a profession where certain groups are underrepresented, it would be good to get them in there. But are we doing them a favor?” — Norman Matloff, Ph.D., University of California at Davis
“When I advise students, I tell them the job market is not the same anymore.… I don’t think the black parents know that.” — Felix Njeh, Bowie State University
On its face, the news is great: After years of being labeled an “underrepresented minority” in computer science, Blacks in the U.S. are on the brink of leaving that category, with bachelor’s degrees in hand.
Since 1996–97, according to the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics, the number of black students receiving baccalaureates in the field has more than doubled, from 2,463 to 5,875. Just as significant, the percentage of blacks among computer science bachelor’s degree-holders has been rising since 1998, and in 2006, blacks made up 12.4 percent of the candidates receiving those degrees, a proportion almost equal to that of Blacks in the U.S. population (12.8 percent).
To use the national lexicon of diversity, blacks have nearly achieved “parity” in computer science at the bachelor’s degree level, a remarkable achievement, especially when one considers the continuing lack of diversity in engineering, where blacks are getting significantly fewer bachelor’s degrees — 3,355 in 2006 — and make up a significantly smaller percentage of the graduates: only 5 percent of the bachelor’s degree recipients that year.
But beneath the skin of Blacks’ success in comp sci, there are signs of deep trouble. The number of students receiving degrees in the field, including all races and ethnicities, has shrunk by more than 12,000 over the past two years for which the federal government has figures: from 59,488 in 2003–04 to 47,480 in 2005–06. The number for blacks also fell, from 6,945 to 5,875 over the period.
The bottom line under the big picture: As comp-sci seems to be losing its attractiveness for U.S. students in general, the field is becoming more Black. And the causes of these two trends are open to debate.
“Blacks have been underrepresented in most (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, so the fact that they’re up in computer science is good,” says demographer B. Lindsay Lowell, Ph.D., director of policy studies for the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University. . But in a May 2008 article titled “Making the Grade,” published in the science journal Nature, Dr. Lowell and Hal Salzman, Ph.D., senior faculty Fellow at Rutgers University’s Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, said students have been steering away from computer science for good reason
“When the IT industry was growing, the number of graduates in computer science kept pace, doubling over six years,” they wrote. “Following the collapse of the IT industry bubble, the number of graduates fell by 17 percent between 2003 and 2005. Employment in this field is just now reaching the levels of the boom years but, with little prospect of rapid growth, students seem to be wise in choosing other fields.”
Many demographers, including Dr. Salzman and Dr. Lowell, predict that near-term growth in information technology will be slow. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says salaries in IT, which are much lower than they were before the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, will not grow as quickly as those in medicine, law or business.
Computer science and engineering are not the high-paying professions they used to be, Dr. Salzman tells NSBE Magazine/Career Engineer.
“People who are just looking for a high-paying occupation are less likely to go into science and engineering than they were in the past,” he says. If students “want to go into an area that is secure and high-paying, it’s probably medicine. I don’t know many people who would say computer science and engineering are going to hold as many opportunities.”
While these experts looking at the big picture predict a somewhat bleak future for computer science degree-holders, the young graduates we spoke with expressed job satisfaction and optimism.
“I think computer science is an open area right now,” says Joshua Meduoye, a sophomore computer science major at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md., and a member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). “It’s the bedrock to various technologies that are going to come out in the future.... Various electrical engineers have told me I should switch to electrical engineering, as more companies are looking for that degree.”
Meduoye, who was born in Nigeria, had an internship this summer at Cummins Inc. in Columbus, Indiana. He is one of the 970 of NSBE’s 15,499 collegiate members who have or are pursuing computer science degrees. He says he chose computer science over computer engineering.
“I know myself to be a good thinker, a good problem-solver. I believe there’s good potential (in this field),” he says. “I see myself in 10 years’ time being an employer, not an employee.”
DeVaris Brown, 24, also a member of NSBE, is also bullish on the future of computer scientists. The Detroit resident earned a bachelor of science degree in math and computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2006 and is an academic relations manager for Microsoft Corporation. He loves his job.
“This job is an extension of what I’ve always wanted to do: educate the masses about technology,” he says.
He has observed that the IT jobs being sent off shore tend to require “manual” work, while “the jobs that require critical thinking stayed.” He believes computer scientists who can script, program and integrate what they do into the needs of the business have job security. While still in college, he did research and had multiple internships. And when he graduated, he says, he received several offers.
“The sky is the limit for me,” Brown says. “I’m one of those people who can determine what the business needs. I have insight as to how to make things work and how to better the company’s bottom line.... As a black person, you are probably one of the most highly sought out people coming out of college.”
But what’s down the road for these 20-something computer scientists? According to Dr. Salzman, of Rutgers University, most mid-career engineers and computer scientists are pessimistic.
“There are very few who would recommend that their son or daughter go into engineering or computer science,” he says. “Few of them see it as a high-growth field.”
In addition, says Norman Matloff, Ph.D., professor of computer science at the University of California at Davis, the offshoring of jobs, and the H-1B visa program — which allows non-U.S. citizens in IT, engineering and certain other high-skill professions to live in the U.S. as temporary workers — are contributing to salary stagnation.
“My attitude (during the dot-com boom) was, if there is a profession where certain groups are underrepresented, it would be good to get them in there. But are we doing them a favor?” Dr. Matloff asks. Even in 1998 and 1999, he says, “people with Ph.D.s weren’t getting jobs. The H-1B (visa) is about age: Older people cost more. And by older I mean 35 and up. The H-1B program gives employers an outlet, so they don’t have to hire the older Americans.
“If you’re a programmer…over the age of 35, you are really at risk of losing your job to an H-1B worker,” Dr. Matloff continues. “Are we doing black people a favor by encouraging them to major in this field, when at age 35 they’re going to suffer age discrimination along with anyone else, as well as racial discrimination?”
“Computers were very hot (in the late ’90s),” says NSBE member Felix Njeh, 40, a computer sciences doctoral candidate and an adjunct professor in the Computer Science department at Bowie State University in Bowie, Md. “…Some parents thought computers were the way to go. When I advise students, I tell them the job market is not the same anymore.… I don’t think the black parents know that.” ‘Plenty of Jobs’
Electrical engineer Mitch Duncan, 44, a senior technical writer for Microsoft Corporation, has a decidedly different take on aging in his field. He is happy with his job and optimistic about his future and that of others, as long as they take charge of their careers, constantly learn new skills and look for different and challenging opportunities.
There will always be work for those who are passionate and who keep abreast of changes in the industry, says Duncan, a NSBE member who held a workshop at this year’s NSBE Annual National Convention. He’s done several different jobs in the 20 years he’s been at Microsoft, working in the corporate headquarters, in the field and now as a technical writer. Along the way, he’s read books, taught himself or been mentored to learn new skills. He is working on a master of computer science degree at Arizona State University.
Having the degree “gets you to the table,” he says. But to get hired and succeed, “You have to show you’re a geek. I’m a hobbyist. I live it. I breathe it.”
Darlene Fox, who earned a degree in computer science, has 28 years with The Boeing Company, where she is now a manager of noise, weight and scientific computing. “I honestly feel there are going to be plenty of jobs in this field,” she says. But you can’t get stagnant, even if you are doing a good job, she says: “You really have to manage your career.”
Comp Sci v. Engineering
So why the difference in degree numbers for blacks in computer science and engineering? Some say the reason lies in black students’ familiarity and level of comfort with the subject matter.
“In my generation, (working with) computers is something you just know how to do,” says NSBE National Chair Stevenson A. Dunn Jr., 23, a junior majoring in civil engineering at Polytechnic Institute of New York University in Brooklyn, N.Y. “It becomes fundamental to a child’s development, even in lower income households.”
Black students, many argue, do not get such early exposure to engineering, especially not through black role models in the field.
When black, college-bound students consider careers, they draw from what they know and see, says Makola Abdullah, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering Sciences, Technology and Agriculture at historically black Florida A&M University. They choose majors in areas they think will help their community, he says, such as law, education, law enforcement, social work, media, psychology and entertainment. They don’t pick engineering as much, he continues, because black engineers are not visible enough.
“We need to do a better a job of educating our community,” says Dr. Abdullah, a former NSBE chapter advisor. “It’s ultimately the responsibility of black engineers and computer scientists to make sure that we’re relevant in the community.”
NSBE Executive Director Carl B. Mack couldn’t agree more. That’s why NSBE had a summer camp program that reached 600 third, fourth and fifth graders in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio, this year, he says. Through the Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK) Camp, 70 black engineering students led the campers in hands-on engineering experiments. With corporate grants, he says, NSBE hopes to expand the free camp to tens of thousands of kids within three years.
“That’s what we have to do to get to these kids,” Mack says. “When they see hundreds of black engineers, they say, ‘I’m going to be one, too.’ ”
But even among black students who know what engineers do, computer science has more appeal to some.
NSBE member Hortense Burt is an engineer and manager of Education Projects at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. But after years of saying he was going to major in engineering, her son, a recent high school graduate, decided to major in computer science.
“He thinks it’s an easier major,” she says.
Dr. Lowell of Georgetown University puts it another way: “(Computer science) is much more open. The requirements for getting into it are much broader. To get into engineering, students have to have calculus and trigonometry…. Programming doesn’t require the math skills.”
“Math is one area where black students are not as well-prepared when they come to the university,” Felix Njeh of Bowie State says. “You have to have a very sound background in math to do well in engineering.... If you don’t have a good background in math and physics, you will not survive. In computer science, you might get away with it.”
But just as in engineering, succeeding in computer science requires a good long-term career plan, Dr. Matloff says. He cites a Nov. 1, 2004 article from IEEE Spectrum titled “Electrical Engineering’s Identity Crisis”. The article said roughly one-third of electrical engineering and computer science majors at MIT view their bachelor’s degrees as “a sort of technical liberal arts degree that prepares them for a wide range of technical and nontechnical jobs. Indeed, after earning their undergraduate degrees, about a quarter of MIT students go directly into jobs in finance or management consulting.”
“I think that’s very shrewd of them,” he says.
Theresa Sullivan Barger is a freelance business writer and a former editor and business writer at The Hartford Courant. Eric Addison is editor of NSBE Magazine/Career Engineer.