Interview conducted by Jaime Ortega.
Dr. Carol M. Swain
Professor of political science and professor of law at Vanderbilt University. She is passionate about empowering others to raise their voices in the public square. She has authored award-winning books.
1) Has Obama helped black communities like he promised to do? Has he divided Americans?
President Obama has used the politics of race and class to divide Americans. He has done this by politicizing interactions with the police and by ignoring the crime rates in many African-American communities. His policies have not improved the economic well-being of low-income, low-wage Americans.
2) What is your opinion of the BLM movement?
Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a loose collection of organizations with no central leadership. It has proven itself to be a destructive force in some cities because of the inflammatory messages and actions of some of its leaders and followers attracted to the slogan. Its initial website and demands read like a page from a Marxist handbook with its condemnation of the State for all manner of atrocity. In the last few months, BLM has improved its website and image by toning down the rhetoric.
I don’t see BLM as a logical outgrowth of the black civil rights movement of the 1960s. It is more anti-American and pro-violence. It is a Marxist movement that depends on financial support from leftist organizations such as Democracy Alliance and Freedom Road Socialist Organization.
By ignoring the excessively high black abortion rates in black communities and the shocking levels of black-on-black crime, BLM has missed an opportunity to give meaning to its name. Surely, BLM should be concerned about crime rates, the murder of the unborn, and the cycle of poverty and hopelessness in black communities. Engaging in anarchy, blocking traffic, advocating violence against law enforcement officers creates a destructive force in society and it drives away potential allies.
While politicians and university administrators publicly court the group, I suspect this is being done out of fear rather than respect for what the organization purports to represent. For the organization to become a positive society force, it would have to put forth policy alternatives that don’t involve advancing Marxist goals. It would also have distance itself from the agendas or organizations such as Occupy Wall Street and factions that attack American values as it relates to law and order, capitalism, free markets, and traditional values, morals, and family structures.
3) Is its correct to categorize blacks in America as ‘African-American’, since they were not born in Africa?
I usually refer to myself as black. African American should apply to individuals, white or black, who were born in Africa and emigrated to the United States.
4) Do blacks suffer discrimination from their own community?
Blacks suffer from intragroup and well as intergroup discrimination. Discrimination within the group can be based on skin color (light skin v. dark skin), social class (middle class v. underclass), and partisanship (democrat v. Republican).
– Are blacks afraid to report crime inside black communities fearing to be identified’ as a “snitch” or a “traitor” for complying with law enforcement?
I have no independent means of knowing if blacks are more fearful than other inner-city groups to report crimes.
– Blacks who don’t follow the democratic narrative are called Uncle Toms and coons by their own ethnicity. Do you think that is bad?
Of course, it is bad for a group to use intimidation and epithets to silence others.
5) Spike Lee once said that racism is an institution, therefore assessing that blacks could never be racist, but only elites could. Do you agree with his point of view? Or do you believe racism depends on the individual?
I totally disagree. Any racial or ethnic group can practice racism. America has had a black president, two black attorney generals, numerous state and federal office holders who exert power over millions of Americans. Individuals and organizations can be racist to the core.
6) Rap music has several genres, but the most popular one is gangster rap. The lyrics of some of the songs offer a very violent approach to society. When people dance to music that calls women “hoes and bitches” glorify “drugs”, “criminal activity” and “violence” has society not shifted to its own moral deprivation? Has rap helped black communities thrive, or has it harm the moral standard of a once family oriented and morally integrated group? Is rap a gateway to violence for black communities?
These songs degrade and demean black men and women. Plus, it has a corrupting influence on society that extends beyond the black community.
7) A lot of blacks believe Caucasians owe them something in return for the slavery days. Are blacks today morally entitled to put themselves in the shoes of black men and women who passed through slavery? Do Caucasians today owe blacks anything?
I can’t speak for all black Americans. When I look at the history of America, I see a nation that has spent billions of dollars trying unsuccessfully to eradicate the past and present effects of discrimination.
8) Is it fair to compare the generation of the Civil Rights movement guided by Martin Luther King Jr. with what some call today the ‘Thug generation’? Would Martin Luther King Jr. advocate in favor of black gangs, criminal behavior, drug exchange, degradation of women values, broken parenthood, dependency on government programs and violent rap lyrics that seem to exist today in most black neighborhoods across America but did not exist during the civil rights movement?
I have no way of knowing what Dr. King would do or say if he were alive today. I would imagine he would be deeply disappointed with the people who purport to represent blacks and some of the nonsense emerging from America’s colleges and universities.
10) There is no doubt that Americans are among the highest drug users in the world. Have drugs crippled black communities and Americans in general? Are drugs responsible for all the troubles in the African American community?
The crippling effects of drugs are not confined to any one community.
11) The Harvest of Shame was a powerful documentary filmed in the 1960’s that showed how hard working blacks, Caucasians and Mexicans struggled to survive in the agricultural farmlands of America to earn a modest living. It showed a strong black working class prevalent before in blue collar sectors raging from construction and fishing, to mining jobs. Unlike in the past, today the black working class has been replaced by Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorians and Hondurans who have no problems finding jobs. Does the present generation of uneducated blacks work as hard as the generation of the 60’s and bellow? Are Americans in general lax about acquiring new opportunities, and feel entitled to high paid jobs without earning the skills or rights to move forward? Simply put, are many Americans today lazy people who want the whole world at their feet without working hard for it?
I think this question conflates too many things. There are plenty of hard working, low-skilled blacks who work several jobs. If America would address illegal immigration and the surplus of cheap labor, it might result in higher wages for blacks and low-skilled Hispanics.
-The Harvest of Shame documentary also shows how black children were eager to get an education to escape poverty, but had a hard time doing so. It is clear in the documentary that it was tough for black children to settle in school because families traveled from state to state trying to find work in the agricultural fields of America. In contrast, the generation of blacks today, having significantly greater opportunities than blacks in the past, show the complete opposite behavior while claiming that the government is not supportive. Do you think that the newer generation of blacks is akin the generation of the 60’s who seem to have worked much harder having less access to educational programs?
Do black kids of this generation really have an excuse to fail having it easier to succeed as compared to the past?
I have not seen the film, so I cannot comment on its depiction of blacks.
12) Africans that come to the United States start in low income areas and work hard to get an education. Many Africans become lawyers and doctors among other college degrees and end up moving to higher income areas; the same is true with other ethnic groups from Vietnam, Laos, and China among others countries. In contrast, black Americans per-capita are significantly less successful overall than their African counterparts. Are blacks taking real advantage of the educational system? And are they more likely to buy a brand new pair of Jordan’s instead of purchasing a $3 dollar math or history book in Goodwill? Are they more likely to dropout from school and engage in crime, than attend a free local public library and spend time lifting a solid education? What is the difference between the African migrant mindset as opposed to the black American mindset?
Immigrants who come to America tend to have higher education and more resources. They start from a higher vantage point than many black descendants of slaves.
13) Many teachers across the nation complain that they find it almost impossible to teach elementary schools in many black communities. They are many recorded cases and documentaries that support those claims, including students who abuse their teachers and record it. On the contrary, many activist like BLM, and other community activist like Rev Al-Sharpton, and Jessie Jackson campaign against the government for lack of funding. Do you detect any hypocrisy?
This is too complicated to address in a few sentences. What you are describing are two different things. The teachers are complaining about disciplinary problems and the activists are focusing on the achievement gap and attributing this to a lack of resources. Resources will not fix the disciplinary problems that often stem from broken homes and absent fathers.
14) The terminology behind the word ‘racism’ is disputed among academic theologians. But the overwhelming majority believe it means “the belief to be superior” to another ethnic group. Do you believe America is racist or xenophobic? When whites or other minorities have a negative stereotype against black Americans, is that ‘racist’ or ‘xenophobic’ in origin? Is the word racism being used correctly now days?
The word racism is overused by liberals. Nowadays, it is used to silence people who hold opposing views on any number of topics.
-There is only one race, and that is the human race, so the terminology of ‘racism’ makes little sense. When we talk about ‘racism’ are we really taking about ‘ethnic intolerance’? In your opinion is ethnic intolerance the same as racism?
I don’t think it matters what you call it. Cultural differences often result in situations where one group or the other see themselves as victims of racism or unfair discrimination.
15) In the Daily Journalist we conducted a survey a few years ago on different shops and restaurants in Las Vegas owned by foreigners and new American ethnic groups. To our surprise we discovered that Asian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Indian, Easter European, Pakistani, Latinos and surprisingly Africans distrusted black-Americans out of every other ethnic group. In almost all instances criminal behavior was the ‘main concern’ and they encouraged police to inflict harsher surveillance laws to protect their business. In the study, we excluded surveying Caucasians just to understand what other ethnicities felt about other minority groups in America. In your opinion, is racism among other minorities towards blacks caused not by skin color but by crime? Or are these minorities inherently racist?
I didn’t conduct the survey so I have no independent means of assessing what was going on in the heads of the respondents. It strikes me as a typical case of stereotyping.
–The media covers a lot of cop vs black related issues to portray white racism against blacks and create public outrage, but fails to cover the racial war taking place in many cities like Los Angeles, where Mexicans overthrow —- and sometimes kill blacks in many neighborhoods — the opposite is also true in heavily black populated neighborhoods. Such wars have taken the lives of many innocent people from both sides and its growing –especially in gang related communities. Why do you think the media focuses on whites killing blacks, but it doesn’t focus on blacks killing Mexicans, or Mexicans killing blacks?
The media has been conditioned to focus on whites killing blacks because these cases tend to be sensationalized more by vocal black activists who are quite adept at holding press conferences and creating a frenzy among bystanders. While this is happening stories of minorities killing each other gets short shrift. These include Mexican gangs singling out and killing blacks in communities that were once historically black and the crimes that take place within and across minority groups. Blacks and Hispanics compete for jobs, housing, and educational opportunities. This creates a measure of resentment because blacks believe other groups are favored. Of course, this deserves more media attention than it gets.
-In another study (which still needs revision) minorities and American Caucasians were asked several questions regarding racism targeted against blacks. For our surprise, the minorities were more vocal about blacks than Caucasians, who seemed less vocal and passive on their response. The minorities surveyed above described how they view a large percentage of blacks as “lazy thugs”, “gang affiliated” “criminals”, “thieves”, “violence instigators”, “problematic” and “dangerous”. Others minorities complained that they “should have laws where blacks wearing a certain dress code should not be allowed to shop or dine inn” especially the shops closest to black communities. It seems akin Jim Crow laws. Minorities are growing rapidly and the Latino and Asian population is expected to boom by 2025. What is your opinion? Do you have any concerns? Are the black stereotypes an issue?
Of course, I have concerns about actual and perceived racism, as well as the impact of stereotyping on blacks and other dark-skinned people. It is a reality that needs to be monitored and addressed whenever it creeps into a situation.
16) Gang violence has proliferated in cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix, Chicago, Detroit, Newark, Houston, Atlantic City, Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Albuquerque among many other cities. Criminal activity is very high among inner-city districts and things are getting worse especially in black neighborhoods. Most of crime violence per-capita is topped by African Americans and Latinos, but Latinos are involved in organized crime especially in the southwest and west coast; whereas, blacks are mostly active on individual crime and smaller gang violence related cases. Are minorities who stereotype blacks as violent instigators exemplifying a problem that is seems to be getting worse over time? Why are gangs and violence proliferating? Gangs might be proliferating because we have tied the hands of many police officers and created a disincentive for them to engage with individuals displaying suspicious behavior.
– Do black communities have a real problem with criminal activity in their neighborhoods compared to other ethnicities? True or false and why?
Crime rates are higher in predominantly black inner-city neighborhoods.
17) Are people in general confusing racism with stereotyping criminal behavior? Are blacks aware that the stereotype might be why racism might be growing in America? If criminality significantly went down in black communities will the black stereotype finally vanish?
I don’t know if the average black American is aware of how the crime rates in their communities compare with crime rates in non-black communities.
– Many people stereotype blonde women as non intelligent, loudly and easy; others stereotype Mexicans as dish washers, illegals and alcoholics. Many people stereotype blacks in America as chicken eaters, criminals and thugs; others stereotype Asians as bad drivers, midgets with a small male reproduction organ; the list goes on and on… Are stereotypes racist? Or do people who give stereotypes not be categorized as racist or ethnic intolerant?
Stereotypes exist because they often contain a kernel of truth. Stereotyping is harmful when people make snap decisions based on someone’s outward experience. Non-discrimination laws offer a modicum of protection against certain forms of harmful stereotypes. Stereotypes can work to the advantage of some groups when they are positive. For example, stereotypes of Asians being smart, blacks being talented and gifted in sports, and women being better caretakers and cooks than men.
18) Law enforcement has been under a lot of criticism by black communities after the few incidents that involved the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. They point out that “blacks are not treated like whites on judicial cases and indictments” do you believe this to be true?
It depends on the circumstances. Blacks will have a higher rate of violent encounters with police if they are more likely to resist arrest or fail to comply with officer commands.
-Many of the police killings that targeted Blacks were caused by Latino law enforcement officers. Is this concept of white cops versus black suspects handled properly by the media or are white cops responsible for how law enforcement is conducted?
It does not matter when the offending officer is black, white, or Latino. People who are concerned about police brutality and aggression paint with a brush that tarnishes all officers.
– Cops killed nearly twice as many whites in 2015. More whites and Hispanics die from police homicides than blacks according to the McDonald report conducted by The Washington Post. According to McDonald, 12 percent of white and Hispanic homicide deaths were due to police officers, while only four percent of black homicide deaths were the result of police officers. Why has the mainstream media concentrated most of its powers in reporting black homicide from police officers instead of Latinos and whites? Why is the media so focused on blacks when Hispanics triple the cop death statistics? Do you think it’s wrong that the media reports black- death by the hands of cops and not Latinos or whites?
-They are about 317 million Americans, over 1 million police officers, and over one thousand killings committed by Police officers per year. They are about 9,225,197 crimes committed in 2015. Is one thousand cop kills compared to the overall population and the crimes committed per year a small number? What you think is the percentage of the 1 thousand police killings that involve the death of innocent people?
I don’t have this information. Given your statistics, you seem well positioned to answer your own question here.
19) Is the liberal media racist against Latinos (predominantly Mexicans) and against Caucasians for only biasing cops killing blacks?
The media clearly operates with a double standard when it comes to police shootings and hate crimes. Hate crimes involving minority attacks on whites, Hispanics, and Asians are rarely covered.
20) With the rise of the internet, crime is reported and uploaded by citizen journalist on a daily basis outside the radar of mainstream media networks and their selective filter of news. Youtube, Liveleak, reddit among other online sites have become the visual and viral hall-mark of cases were criminal incidents are likely to be published for their visual impact. These range from burglary, stabbing, death, gang shootouts, theft and violence; these also includes cops killing blacks, whites and Latinos for resisting officers. The mainstream media on the other hand focuses more on bashing law enforcement, than on crime itself. Many claim that mainstream media networks have started a race war between Americans. The idea is to focus less on crime itself, and more on cop versus black incidents to stirrup greater controversy and gain greater television ratings that help sponsors set more TV ads. What is your thought on this? Why are mainstream media networks likely focused on reporting cop-on-black cases, than reporting the hundreds violent criminal incidents published daily on social media networks? Are mainstream media networks purposely making local news, national headlines —– if it comes down to police related cases — but avoid virulent crime to not make national headlines? Is mainstream media fair on their coverage?
Mainstream media operates as if it doesn’t have a clue about what fair coverage would look like. It really makes one wonder what is being taught in schools of journalism and about the messages that come from the heads of media organization. There is no pretense of being fair.
21) New Orleans is now the murder capital of America, with Detroit not far behind and Chicago well on its way. Should the black issues that affect New Orleans be the issues of black communities in New York City, or Seattle? Is it fair that people in Boston protest the problems of people in St Louis? Should local issues stay local? And if not, should all local crime be reported in national news and not just cops vs black issues?
It is important for all Americans to know which cities and towns have the highest murder rates. Local crimes and gang violence can have national consequences, especially if they are related to drugs and gang warfare.
22) In your opinion is the problem going to get worse before it gets any better? What is your biggest hope and biggest fear regarding the black community in America?
I think America is headed for unprecedented levels of racial and ethnic conflict. I wrote about this in a 2002 book titled, The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration (Cambridge University Press). The conditions I outlined more than a decade ago are converging to create a devil’s brew for heightened racial and ethnic conflict.