Monday, June 18, 2018

B. Discrimination Has Many Moving Parts


My simple observation is that discrimination has many moving parts. Discrimination stems from attitudinal impediments to progress and persists due to deeply rooted systemic problems. The sum of these parts may very well be greater than their whole. They all build up to create an almost insurmountable system of discrimination that prevents rising above.


Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, and other people of color comprise an increasing proportion of this country's population. The most recent census revealed that the United States is rapidly trending to a majority minority country.  Currently, 50.5 million Latinos live in the United States and make up approximately 16 percent of the population.  This number represents a population growth of 15.2 million since the last census, which accounts for more than half of the country's population growth during the same period.  The trend also holds true for African Americans, whose numbers increased by 4.2 million since the last census, now accounting for 12.6 percent of the total United States population.  Asian Americans are unquestionably participants in this trend with one qualification: they, among the ethnic groups, are the most internally diverse with several distinct subpopulations. 


Conditions are not improved, when considering certain realities like disparate incarceration rates and education levels. African Americans and Latinos are incarcerated at a higher rate than whites. African Americans, who comprise 12.6 percent of the population, represent 37 percent of the total prison population.  Statistics also show that African-American males are incarcerated at a rate six times higher than whites.  Latinos fare just as poorly in this regard. While Latinos make up 16.3 percent of the population, they account for nearly 35 percent of prison inmates.  It is worth repeating that it is very difficult for an underrepresented group to advance in light of these statistics, which color social views on these minority groups more generally.


African-Americans and Latinos also do not achieve the same education levels as whites. Nearly 15.2 percent of African-Americans do not have a high school diploma,  and in 2011, only 20.2 percent of African-Americans aged 25 years and older held a bachelor's degree.  Latinos are more likely than any other racial group to drop out of high school.  Of those Latinos aged 25 years and older, 35.7 percent do not possess a high school diploma, compared to only 7.6 percent of whites.  Only 14.1 percent of Latinos hold a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 34 percent of whites.  Much remains to be done before we all stand on equal ground.


Surely, this educational disparity results in far-reaching ramifications. In the business world, while 38.7 percent of whites pursue a career in management or professional occupations, only 29.5 percent of African-Americans and 20.6 percent of Latinos pursue such careers.  One is left to wonder whether this "ambition gap" is the result of a lack of educational attainment or, worse yet, the result of a certain hopelessness about one's prospects. 


Yet, there is some progress. Non-profit agencies and religious institutions alike have responded to this educational disparity. College Track, a bay area non-profit, provides comprehensive college preparatory support to low-income students.  College Track's programming begins before high school and helps students develop strong academic and social skills, apply to and finance college, and thrive throughout the student's college career.  College Track actively serves over 2000 students in the San Francisco Bay Area; New Orleans; East Los Angeles; Aurora, Colorado; and Sacramento with 92% of program participants attending college. 


In Los Angeles, Verbum Dei High School, a Jesuit college preparatory high school, exclusively serves young men from low-income families from Watts and surrounding areas. Verbum Dei's student population is nearly entirely comprised of African-American and Latino young men.  Verbum Dei provides extensive support to its students in preparing, applying to, and financing college. The high school also partners with corporations operating in Los Angeles to provide internship opportunities to each of its students.  The corporations include Sony, Nike, Wells Fargo Bank, Sidley Austin LLP, and Aon Risk Solutions among others.  Each student is required to work one day a week in lieu of class and gains valuable work experience and meaningful connections.  At Verbum Dei, 100% of graduating seniors are accepted to college. 


Further, in 2012 in Marin County, north of San Francisco, Mark Talamantes was the first Latino Superior Court judge appointed to this bench in California's history.  In 2011 the U.S. Senate confirmed The Hon. Ed Davila to the Court for the Northern District of California, the only Latino judge in the district.  Despite this progress, white men continue to hold a disproportionate share of judicial seats.  For example, white males are represented on state appellate benches by a margin of nearly two-to-one. 


Against this backdrop is a new phenomenon: a correlation between income and higher education. For all the ways that top colleges have become diverse, their student bodies are shockingly affluent. Seventy percent of students at the most selective schools in the country come from the wealthiest quarter of American families.  Further, only 14 percent of students at these institutions come from the poorest half.  One commentator explained that elite colleges consistently do a poor job recruiting intelligent, low-income high school students because it is expensive.  Additionally, low-income students often do not apply to the top-tier colleges, even if they are qualified.  


If a high-income level is a prerequisite to admission at an elite school, access to higher education is unquestionably headed in the wrong direction. African Americans suffer from a 25.8 percent poverty rate.  Latinos are more likely to live in poverty than non-Latinos.  They are also more likely to be employed in low-wage jobs.  Access to elite schools becomes impossible and access to any school becomes more difficult, creating a self-perpetuating downward spiral for communities of color.


All of this combines to make a perfect storm. If a minority family faces discrimination in the work place, they end up earning less money. Less money means their children won't go to elite schools. Failure to attend elite schools creates obstacles to reaching positions of power. Even those who are able to attend elite schools face implicit discrimination in the workplace, either through failure to get promoted, or by earning a lower salary. Either way, this continually perpetuates the cycle. We are trending toward increasing minority populations and a diminishing access to higher education. If an education is a key to advancement within our society, equality and the perfect union may be little more than a quaint idea if this trend continues. 

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