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OP-ED: No, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Didn’t Call Ronald Reagan a Racist. But She Should Have

SAN ANTONIO OBSERVER — 

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By Michael Harriot

One of my earliest memories in life was the night Ronald Reagan was elected president because it was also the night I prayed harder than I ever have in life.

During the presidential campaign of 1980, I distinctly remember being terrified after I heard an adult say: “If Reagan is elected, he will send black people back in the cotton fields.” So, on the night of the election, when I heard my grandmother and mother in the next room say that he had won, I got down on my knees.

I didn’t know how to pick cotton. Would I have to give up my dream of playing point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers and my future side hustle as a tambourine player in Earth Wind & Fire to get a cotton-picking degree in picking cotton? Why would I even need to go to kindergarten if I was doomed to a life on the plantation? I had already started my tambourine lessons! I needed to talk to Jesus about this.

While I now realize that my 6-year-old self couldn’t properly understand sarcasm, the memory underscores the feelings of most black people who survived the era of trickle-down economics, the War on Drugs and the demonization of the Welfare Queen. So imagine my surprise when I learned that there are white people who didn’t know that Ronald Reagan is considered by many to be the most racist president in modern, pre-Trump history.

According to Mediaite and the Caucasian Pearl-Clutching Weekly, Rep. Ronald Reagan (D-NY) was interviewed at the South by Southwest Festival on Saturday and made comments that really rankled some Republicans. Although I’ve never personally experienced a “rankling,” I imagined it is not pleasant.

Mediaite reports:

AOC was interviewed Saturday at the festival by The Intercept Senior Politics Editor Briahna Gray, and discussed Reagan’s political exploitation of race, without explicitly calling him a racist.

“One perfect example, I think a perfect example of how special interests and the powerful have pitted white working-class Americans against brown and black working-class Americans in order to just screw over all working class Americans,” Ocasio-Cortez said, “is Reaganism in the eighties, when he started talking about Welfare Queens.”

She said that Reagan presented a “resentful vision of essentially black women who were doing nothing, that were sucks on our country,” and that Reagan gave people who were “already subconsciously trained to resent” black women “a different reason that’s not explicit racism, but still rooted in a racist caricature, it gives people a logical, a quote ‘logical’ reason to say ‘oh yeah, I know, toss out the whole social safety net.”

White people love Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan is a conservative icon even more beloved than white things like the Hallmark Channel, pumpkin patches or oversized American flags. Since 1988, Republicans have been searching for another populist GOP Messiah to return America to the glory days of unbridled capitalism and unabashed whiteness. So conservatives and right-leaning moderates were stunned to hear that not everyone has the same regard for the former champion of white fear mongering. But Ocasio-Cortez’s comments were common knowledge to others.

I was flabbergasted to learn that white America had no idea that people felt this way about Reagan. In the 1980 election, Reagan garnered 14 percent of the black vote, according to the Roper Center. But after four years of Reagan, only 9 percent of black voters cast a ballot for Reagan in the 1984 presidential race. Even more telling, in his second bid for office, 66 percent of whites voted for the Gipper. Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act, no president has won an election with a bigger gap between black and white voters.

And while many people wrongly assume that Ocasio-Cortez called Reagan “a racist,” what she really said was that his policies exploited racism, similar to our current White House Grand Dragon. Any examination of Reagan’s presidency reveals one thing to be true.

Ronald Reagan was the white man’s president.

Ronald Reagan is one of the first candidates who employed racial dog whistles to practice “identity politics.”

During his first try at the Republican nomination in 1976, he tried to vanquish then-President Gerald Ford by voicing his opposition to the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act. Coretta Scott King said she was “scared that if Ronald Reagan gets into office, we are going to see more of the Ku Klux Klan and a resurgence of the Nazi Party.”

In 1980, Reagan kicked off his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, at the Neshoba County Fair, where local Klansmen were still being protected after the white supremacist, Mississippi Burning murders of civil rights workers in 1964.Political candidates had avoided the area for years before Reagan kicked off his campaign to a raucous crowd of 10,000 white people listening to him champion “states rights.”

During Reagan’s presidency, he vetoed an anti-Apartheid bill and initially opposed making Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday. His stances against affirmative action grew stronger, leading him to direct his justice department to issue directives against hiring practices in 56 states, counties and cities.

In fact, Justin Gomer and Christopher Petrella of the Washington Post credits Reagan with inventing the Republican narrative that affirmative action equals reverse racism, writing:

More than any other modern U.S. president, it was Ronald Reagan who cultivated the concept of so-called reverse discrimination, which emerged in the 1970s as a backlash against affirmative action in public schooling as court-ordered busing grew throughout the country. During these years, a growing number of white Americans came to believe civil rights programs and policies had outstretched their original intent and had turned whites into the victims of racial discrimination.

His other strategies for dismantling civil rights protections were much more nefarious. He loaded federal courts with judges who were hostile to civil rights laws. Before he was nominated to the Supreme Court, staunch conservative Clarence Thomas was in charge of the Justice Department’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And while many assume it was her position on Roe v. Wade that earned Sandra Day O’Connor a nomination from Reagan to the Supreme Court, many forget how she played the “lead role in decisions that undid certain affirmative action policies and the cold treatment she generally gave plaintiffs of color who alleged discrimination.”

Reagan’s trickle-down economics disproportionately affected people of color, causing the biggest disparity in black and white unemployment since the repeal of segregation. After 1963, the number of children who experienced segregation in American schools decreased dramatically until the Reagan administration’s opposition to busing brought the downward trend to a standstill. In 1976, Reagan created the idea of the “welfare queen”—stoking the idea that “strapping young bucks” were somehow using government assistance to buy T-Bone steaks and Cadillacs. To this very day, the GOP perpetuates this racist, dog-whistle trope to demonize immigrants and minorities as bloodsucking parasites living off government handouts even though these programs benefit poor whites the most.

But nowhere was Reagan’s anti-black policies more evident than in his continuation of the War on Drugs. He began his “zero tolerance” drug initiative by demonizing the epidemic of crack cocaine as an inner-city problem while the data showed that whites used it more. When his administration implemented the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, he established mandatory minimums for crack cocaine that were much harsher than the penalties for powder cocaine.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, when Ronald Reagan took office, there were 50,000 people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses. By 1997, 400,000 people were imprisoned for nonviolent narcotics crimes, largely because of Reagan-era mandatory minimums. But it wasn’t whites who were being sent to jail. Despite the fact that whites and blacks used illegal drugs at about the same rate during the Reagan era, the percentage of black people arrested for illicit drugs increased dramatically while the white arrest rate stayed relatively flat.

Drug Arrest Rate By Race

 Photo: TheRoot

The furor over Ocasio-Cortez’s comments reveals the way white America mistakenly defines racism. To them, racism exists in heads and hearts alone, not in deeds. It is the notion that fuels bigots to adamantly declare that they can’t be racist because they know what’s in their hearts. It causes congressman to defend Donald Trump’s racism by parading one of his lone black employees out while ignoring his actions.

It might be true that Ronald Reagan didn’t have a speck of animus toward black people. Maybe some of his best friends were black. Even though it is impossible to know how Reagan felt about black people in his heart, it is also irrelevant.

Ronald Reagan’s heart didn’t explode the black prison population. His heart didn’t cause an explosion in wealth inequality, dismantle civil rights, demonize black people, infuse racism into politics, widen the black unemployment gap or perpetuate economic, social and political disparities at every turn.

His policies did that.

So, even though Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn’t call GOP Jesus a racist, maybe she should have. Because, if Ronald Reagan’s presidency wasn’t racist, then racism does not exist. At this very moment, black communities across America are still recovering from the Reagan era.

But at least I still have these cotton-picking tambourine skills.

This article originally appeared in The San Antonio Observer.

Barbara Lee

OPINION: Rep. Barbara Lee Urges Constituents to Take Advantage of Opportunities to Get Health Insurance

Special enrollment is underway and lasts through December 31. Any eligible Californian can sign up without needing to have a qualifying life event – for example, losing your job, recently getting married, or having a new child.

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Stethoscope on Bed; Photo courtesy of Hush Naidoo Jade Photography

The past 18 months have shown, more than ever before, the fragile, precious, and priceless nature of our health.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on our economy, our ability to educate our children and our general wellbeing.

There is an important  tool to help us stay safe and vibrant. That’s health insurance. With the pandemic far from over, having affordable, high-quality health coverage is more important than ever.

The economic stimulus package known as the American Rescue Plan (ARP), signed into law in March, is helping to lower health insurance premiums to levels never seen before.

Covered California, the agency that administers the Affordable Care Act in this state, has been working hard to get out the word about the new increase in the financial help available to ensure millions of Californians can get quality health insurance coverage.

Covered California estimates the new financial assistance available through the ARP can directly help more than 450,000 people in the Bay Area by significantly lowering their monthly premiums.

New data shows that an estimated 103,000 people in the Bay Area are uninsured and eligible for health insurance coverage through Covered California, with an additional 89,000 eligible for no-cost Medi-Cal. Under the ARP, most of those eligible for Covered California would be able to get a high-quality plan for as little as $1 per month, or a plan that offers additional benefits for less than $100 per month.

The new law is already helping about 280,000 people in the Bay Area currently enrolled through Covered California by lowering their premiums and making coverage more affordable than ever before. Covered California consumers statewide have already seen their net premiums decrease by an average of $190 per household per month.

Hush Naidoo Jade Photography

Affordable, accessible, high-quality healthcare is a fundamental human right. As chair of the Congressional Black Caucus during the drafting of the Affordable Care Act, I worked to ensure strong provisions that expand health care access, address health disparities and create incentives for people to live healthy lives.

While citizens and leaders in the greater Bay Area, including the 13th Congressional district which I represent, reacted quickly to slow the spread of the virus, our communities have still been hit hard, especially communities of color.

With the help of vaccines and ARP, we are making positive steps forward. We can hug our grandchildren again. We can go to restaurants again. We are returning to school and to work.

But the pandemic is not over. As the Delta variant continues to spread, it is now just as important as ever that we continue to get vaccinated.

Last November, I spoke on the House floor emphasizing the need for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, and the disproportionate impact the pandemic was having on Black, Brown, Latino, Asian and Indigenous people – communities that historically have been left behind in times of crisis.

We can’t allow that to happen again this time.

Vaccines are readily available, and they are proven safe and effective. Please don’t hesitate. Let’s not lose the ground we have worked so hard to gain.

Vaccinations and affordable health insurance are invaluable tools that can help us get back to normal. We must use them.

To find out how much financial assistance you can get and enroll for coverage, go to: https://www.coveredca.com/.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee represents the 13th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Bay Area

The Tragic Sports Abuse of Oakland

All 3 teams leaving?

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Spalding Basketball on a court; Photo courtesy of Sabri Tuzcu via Unsplash

Oakland is the most victimized sports city on the planet, and there is no close second.

And it’s not Oakland’s fault. Pirates, highwaymen and carpetbaggers have unified their heartless souls to rob Oakland of its championship, and fan-supported, sports existence. Under high crimes and misdemeanors, this is the highest crime in sports pilfering.

The Raiders are the only sports franchise to leave the same American city twice, despite sellout crowds before skipping off to Los Angeles, and sellout crowds again after their inglorious failure in Tinseltown. And now they’re off to Las Vegas, which, in time, might prove a worse investment than playing craps.

But, at least, the Raiders were homegrown, Oakland’s own. The Warriors came to Oakland from San Francisco, where the franchise was going broke, and built themselves up financially, with capacity attendance, as by winning three NBA championships in the short space of five years. After that, it was back across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco, where this one-time dynastic bunch has found itself in serious slippage.

And, lastly, Oakland is one fleeing franchise short of a hat trick — all three of its teams taking flight. The last team still with an Oakland zip code, the Athletics, are looking at Las Vegas or — who knows? — the moon for a new home. This is the same franchise that bottomed out in Kansas City, after burning out in Philadelphia, and now is seeking to bury Oakland among its dearly departed.

It isn’t failure on the field of play that’s driving these teams elsewhere. Despite becoming a major-league sports town in 1960, a late start in sports economics, Oakland has produced 10 national championships. The A’s and Warriors have four titles apiece, and the Raiders have won two Super Bowls.

And it isn’t disappointment at the box office that these teams can use as an alibi. The Raiders and Warriors filled their facilities despite having long stretches of losing seasons, built on horrific draft picks. Jamarcus Russell, anyone? Joe Smith? The A’s haven’t drawn nearly as well as the other two tenants at the Oakland Coliseum Complex, but when you’re constantly trying to move to Fremont, Santa Clara, and now Las Vegas, why should local fans display loyalty?

I’ve been observing the Oakland sports scene closely since 1964 after gaining employment at the Oakland Tribune, which has left Oakland, too, with no relocation, no nothing. My arrival coincided with the building of the Coliseum and adjacent Arena in 1966, which was large-scale planning since the Raiders were the only team in town back then. The A’s moved here in 1968, and the Warriors in 1974. The Coliseum and Arena, over time, would be the last of the dual sports complexes in the country, but let it be known that it was the absolute best of its kind.

First, it was built in the middle of six Bay Area counties, with Contra Costa to the North, Santa Clara to the East, San Mateo to the South, San Francisco and Marin to the West, and Alameda County where the first shovel of dirt was dug for the complex itself.

Fortuitous still, the complex would be abutted in time by rapid transit (BART), a freeway, and railroad tracks, with an airport five minutes away. The Father of the Coliseum, the late Robert Nahas, was Einstein-like in his blueprints for the complex, and for Oakland’s future as a big-league, big-time sports town.

Adding to that image were the most loyal, passionate and, well, loony crazy fans. Oakland has the most abused fans in the universe in spite of fanaticism that couldn’t be rivaled anywhere. Who gets stepped on not once, but twice, by the black-attired, blackhearted Raiders and still professes loyalty. If the Raiders fail in Las Vegas, and they might eventually, the Coliseum in Oakland would fill up again. Nobody loves a team like Raider fans, bless their ravaged souls.

You mean the Raiders could come back to Oakland for a third go-around? If the Davis family is in charge, of course. Al, the father, was a user, and Mark, the son, a loser. Neither one of them, in all this time, has stuck their nose out for Oakland. They advertised little if all, they gave to charities nil, and they expected deference regardless throughout their penuriousness. There have been traitors replete throughout the history of organized sports, but nothing like the Davises, father and son: Benedict Arnold and Benedict Arnold Junior.

But as bad as they were, Oakland’s biggest problem, sadly, is Oakland itself. Oakland’s sports owners look at Oakland as a place to run from, rather than to grow with. Being situated across the Bay from San Francisco always has been Oakland’s detriment, dating back to early last century when Oakland native Gertrude Stein said of Oakland: “There’s no there there.” She said that after returning home from Paris and finding her old neighborhood changed, but historians took it as a slight on Oakland.

So the Warriors’ new ownership of Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber began packing up right away for San Francisco, but like other sports ownerships, myopically. Because, at that same juncture, Oakland suddenly came alive as a city commercially, more so than at any other time in history. New businesses, new buildings, new daytime choices, and new nighttime adventures suddenly spurted. Oakland had become, of all things, a boomtown.

Imagine that, while the thinking of the Raiders and Warriors ownerships could go “boom” in their faces. There is no rapid transit or railroad tracks abutting the stadium in Las Vegas, and there is limited parking next to the stadium, which means most fans will tailgate a mile away and take transit to the stadium. The Warriors have no rapid transit close by, no parking to speak of, and game tickets cost high-roller prices.

What was there in Oakland has been lost in franchise-and-fan togetherness in Las Vegas and San Francisco. And if the Raiders and Warriors start losing, which is immediately possible, who will want to mortgage homes and businesses to pay those exorbitant ticket prices? And if the A’s follow the Raiders to Las Vegas, it gets costlier because the A’s will need a domed stadium. You see, you can’t play baseball in 115-degree heat, for there’s nothing cool about that.

It just might turn out, for all three Oakland teams, that “there’s no there there” in their new digs.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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City Government

A New Mayor in 2022 Must Take Major Steps in Their First 100 Days

In 2022, the voters of Oakland will have an opportunity to elect the next mayor for our city.  The Mayor of Oakland is the head of the executive branch, in charge of implementing actions and laws that have been passed by Council and community.

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Hands place ballot envelope into a ballot box/ Arnaud Jaegars via Unsplash

In 2022, the voters of Oakland will have an opportunity to elect the next mayor for our city.  The Mayor of Oakland is the head of the executive branch, in charge of implementing actions and laws that have been passed by Council and community.

The mayor also selects and hires the city administrator, appoints members of key boards and commissions and sets the direction for the administrative branch of government, thus having a major impact on what action gets taken.

In recent years, the City Council has adopted numerous laws and funded positions and projects – many of which have not been implemented, such as providing gun tracing and cracking down on illegal guns, civilianizing special events, providing pro-active illegal dumping remediation, a public lands policy to prioritize affordable housing, direction to provide healthier alternative locations to respond to homelessness, and many more.

In order to ensure that we build a safer and healthier future for Oakland, it is vitally important to ensure that we elect leadership for the executive branch with the dedication and commitment to take the actions needed to fulfill the needs of our communities.  

With serious struggles facing our communities, it is vital that the next mayor take immediate action in their first hundred days – and so, I am undertaking to provide proposals regarding what the next mayor can, and should, do in their first 100 days in office.  

These efforts will need to include recruitment and retention for the workforce, effective relationships with county government and neighboring cities to solve common problems, working with stakeholders including to expand equitable economic development and housing for all income levels, presenting and passing proposals at Council and bringing in and properly stewarding the finances needed.  

Even within the first 100 days, a mayor can accomplish a great deal, including taking action to implement vitally needed services that already have Council authorization and thus can be brought about more quickly.

This is the first installment, listing of some of the first items that the next mayor can and should do to build a healthier Oakland, and which should be factors in our decision-making in the year ahead.

 

1.     Ensure implementation of the directive to prioritize stopping the flow of illegal guns and stopping gun violence, including implementing gun tracing, tracking and shutting down sources of illegal guns, and providing immediate response to shooting notifications.

2.     Remove blight and illegal dumping, implement pro-active removal of blight rather than waiting for complaints, incorporate blight removal throughout city efforts (rewards program, summer jobs program, etc).  Clear up backlog and establish a new normal that it is not okay to dump on Oakland.

3.     Provide healthier alternatives for homeless solutions, including safe parking/managed RV sites and sanitation/dump sites, to reduce public health risks. Partner with the County and others.

4.     Implement previously approved Council direction to switch to the use of civilians (rather than sworn police) to manage parades and special events.  Help ensure community and cultural events can go forward without excess costs undermining them. Strengthen the arts and economy and equity of event permitting system and ensure that expensive police resources are directed where they are needed, rather than wasted on watching parades.

5.     Implement previously approved public lands policy to ensure using public lands for public needs, with a priority for affordable housing.

6.     Make it easier for local residents and small businesses to grow, build and expand by providing coherent and simplified permitting and by implementing the Council-funded direction to provide evening and weekend hours and easy online access, to allow people to do projects like adding Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and make other renovations and construction projects more timely.

7.     Work with stakeholders and community to advance effective and equitable revitalization of the large public properties at and around the Oakland Coliseum, including with housing for all income levels, jobs and business development, sports and entertainment, conventions and hotels.

8.     Work to speed the filling of vacancies in needed city staff positions and improve recruitment, retention and local hiring, to help provide vitally needed services, including for cleanup, parks upkeep, gun tracing, and other needs.

9.     Fire prevention and climate resiliency.  Our region is facing growing dangers from climate change and fire risk, and we must take action to reduce and remedy risk and protect our communities with a more resilient future, including by planning for and starting fire prevention and brush remediation activities earlier in the year, improving brush removal on public land as well as private, fully staffing the fire department and improving public infrastructure to protect cleaner air and reduce risks.

10.  Job training and pathways.  Some industries face challenges finding enough prepared workers while many in our community also need access to quality jobs.  Support and connect job training programs and quality job policies with growing sectors and ensure Oaklanders are prepared for vital openings in needed jobs while allowing our community to thrive.

 

 

 

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