Dr. Julianne Malveaux
BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Dr. Julianne Malveaux, former president of Bennett College and author of books including “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy,” took to the podium at the 2017 Heritage Lecture Series at the Greater Mt. Zion AME Church.
At the outset of her lecture, Malveaux asked those on hand: “Are we better off because of President Obama?”
She said the answer quite frankly, is no.
“But we’re about to get worse off,” she said.
Certainly, the president ushered us through an extremely important economic recovery, she conceded, with a decrease in unemployment rates in general, but it is still high for African Americans.
“We lost in the African-American community trillions of dollars’ worth of wealth because of the housing crisis,” she said, adding that about 70 percent of whites own their homes but only 45 percent of African Americans are homeowners. “It’s down roughly two percent from 2009.”
People lost their homes due to such factors as underwater mortgages and insufficient credit, but also because the president—having passed good legislation—didn’t put the dollars into H.U.D. to implement it, Malveaux said.
“So there are people who could have gotten more favorable mortgage terms and they didn’t get them,” she said.
A former president of a historically black college, Malveaux said she was “stunned” when Obama cut funding for HBCUs. The funding was restored, but it “was a lot of fighting” and it set the tone for the relationship between HBCU presidents and President Obama.
“What we learned as HBCU presidents is that if you criticized President Obama,” she said, “you’re going to be in trouble. Your school might not get money, you might not get discretionary funds, and so people were very tepid on an issue that we should’ve been rallying people around.”
She stated that electoral politics and black liberation do not go together, as electoral politics are a necessity, but not a sufficient condition for liberation.
L-R, Dr. Gerald Horne, Dr. Wilmer Leon, Dr. Julianne Malveaux and Pastor Clarence Williams
African Americans must vote, she added, because they must have their say on resource allocation.
“However, voting will not get you liberation,” she averred. “Voting will get you participation…As long as people can purchase senators as easily as they purchase potato chips, we are not going to be liberated through the electoral process.”
Concerning economics, she noted that African Americans, which comprise 13 percent of the population, own two percent of the nation’s wealth. They earn roughly 60 percent of what whites earn.
Her terms “macroeconomic ecstasy” and “microeconomic angst” refer to the state of the country where we see economic growth and expansion while we also see people in economic distress. For a long time, African Americans “bought the hype,” that a good job was all you needed, yet now more and more of them know that they have to generate businesses, she said, and more and more of them know that they’re going to have to create jobs within their communities.
She explained that dollars were cut from the Minority Business Development Agency under Obama.
“What we saw was very little economic development in the African-American community,” Malveaux pointed out. “But we have continuously not seen economic development in our community and the challenging part of it is we have continued to wait for somebody to do it for us as opposed to doing it for ourselves.”
African Americans were so happy to have a black president, she said, that “we didn’t fuss when things went wrong.”
She made her feelings clear that she is not happy Donald Trump was elected president, calling him a “rigid racist.” How do we begin to resist?” she asked. We organize locally for local office.
“Organizing locally means making sure you have people on city councils, on school boards, in state legislatures, in the governor’s house,” she said. “That’s really important. We haven’t been doing that.”
One wake-up call, she pointed out, is for African Americans to be far more regularly engaged with the political system.
“The wake-up call is for us to stop saying stuff like, ‘Oh, the political system is crooked!’ It’s as crooked as we make it. But we can also make it less crooked with our total involvement,” she said.
Another wake-up call is for African Americans to obtain personal economic stability, in other words, “we can’t resist if we don’t have financial stability.” Malveaux explained that 12 percent of African Americans have no money or assets, and people can’t take positions unless they are financially sound.
“We can’t have stable communities if we’re not stable individuals,” she remarked, adding that sadly, many African Americans don’t believe they should regularly support and patronize black-owned businesses.
When an African American woman with a doctorate earns less than a white man with a bachelor’s degree, on average, we know we have to do something to encourage economic development in our community, she said.
The Obama years she said were important years, pointing out that we had a black president who was a person of class and dignity, and we may not see that again in our lifetime.
“But the lesson of the Obama years was that we didn’t push hard enough to get what we needed,” Malveaux said. “We didn’t ask specifically for what we needed. And now we have someone who we can ask until the cows come home and we’re not likely to get much from him.”
In terms of the transmission of intergenerational wealth, African- American people are simply behind, she said, from a wealth perspective. Part of the reason that African Americans only own such a relatively low percentage of the nation’s wealth is that that they were once considered “property” themselves, and had nothing to pass on to future generations.
“In a contemporary status,” she said, “what you see is that our young people are behind. Our young people are graduating with an average of about $50,000 worth of debt…Many young Caucasians have parents that help them with a down payment on a home or will purchase a home. Fewer African Americans have that opportunity.”
As a result, many young African Americans are still living at home and generally moving out, getting married and having children later in life. The lack of wealth also impacts African Americans from an entrepreneurial perspective, she said, because they are less likely to have the money needed to start businesses.
She underscored the importance of political activism, personal financial security and community security in changing things for the better.
To reach Frank Drouzas, email firstname.lastname@example.org