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  1. Carrie Mae Weems B. 1953, Portland, Oregon. Lives and works in Syracuse, New York. From Erin Barnett, Director of Exhibitions and Collections, International Center of Photography: Carrie Mae Weems has investigated gender, family relationships, cultural identity, sexism, class, political systems, and the relationships between power and representation for over 30 years. In From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995), a multipart photographic project, Weems brackets well-known 19th- and 20th-century photographic representations of African Americans in the United States with two portraits of an African woman who laments what has happened to the African diasporic community. Weems’s accompanying text (“A Negroid Type,” “You Became a Scientific Profile”), which is etched on glass, creates distance from the original photographs, while calling out their racist intent. The International Center of Photography (ICP) owns four works from the series, which use daguerreotypes of enslaved men and women in Columbia, South Carolina; they are currently on view at the ICP Museum as part of the exhibition “Your Mirror: Portraits from the ICP Collection.”Originally taken in 1850 by Joseph T. Zealy at the behest of Swiss biologist Louis Agassiz (who had emigrated to the United States and became one of the country’s most famous scientists), these daguerreotypes were intended to show the physical differences between African blacks and European whites. Agassiz and other scientists believed that the races evolved separately and that the white race was superior, thus supporting Southern views of slavery. By using these daguerreotype images, Weems calls attention to the role of photography in promoting racism. Kehinde Wiley B. 1977, Los Angeles. Lives and works in New York. From Eugenie Tsai, John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum: Kehinde Wiley’s paintings employ seductive, vivid color and lush ornamentation, so it’s sometimes hard to recognize just how political they are. I’ve regarded his painting Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps (2005) hundreds of times, as it hangs in the Brooklyn Museum’s Rubin Pavilion. I’ve come to see the artist’s oeuvre as a radical transformation of the monumental portraiture tradition—a holdover of the European ruling classes—into a topical political genre that critiques the historical (and current) state of racial and economic inequity in this country and around the world. In these turbulent times, Wiley’s political engagement has become more pronounced. For a recent show at London’s Stephen Friedman Gallery, he addressed the issue of global migration and displacement by taking on the tradition of maritime painting for the first time. For a recent series exhibited at the Saint Louis Art Museum, based on historical portraits in its collection, he selected models from nearby Ferguson. Wiley is a connoisseur of power, and his paintings reveal his skill at deploying the visual cues and codes through which dominance and privilege are conveyed. Then there’s his presidential portrait of Barack Obama, a representation of a “man-of-the-people” kind of power, not the absolutism of a Napoleonic emperor. By affirming the continued relevance of painting, mining the political potential of portraiture, and calling out and reassigning power and privilege, Wiley’s practice is totally in step with our times. artsy.net
  2. Mickalene Thomas B. 1971, Camden, New Jersey. Lives and works in New York. From Andrea Andersson, The Helis Foundation Chief Curator of Visual Arts, Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans: In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art commissioned a photograph by Mickalene Thomas (and later exhibited it at MoMA PS1). It was staged in the museum’s sculpture garden and reimagined Édouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863). Thomas’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe: Les trois femmes noires (2010) depicts three glamorous black women dressed in high fashion, against the dramatic backdrop of the iconic museum. Thomas views herself as a painter, but all of her paintings begin with photographs and studies of her subjects—family, friends, former lovers, her partner—often set against stylized backdrops of living-room interiors like those of her childhood. Thomas’s paintings are historical interventions that trace intimate relationships between her practice, the formal radicality of modernism, and its outright plunder of Africa. In fall 2018, the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto opened its second solo exhibition by a woman of color in the museum’s history, entitled “Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires.” At the opening, extra security was called: Visitors to the exhibition, predominantly young black women, were getting too close to the canvases. They were taking selfies, forging identities, and insinuating themselves through photography into Thomas’s history of art. Kara Walker B. 1969, Stockton, California. Lives and works in New York. From Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, Associate Professor and Undergraduate Chair, History of Art, University of Pennsylvania: African American women artists and intellectuals have always had to fight hard to realize their goals, especially when their work has been politically radical or dissented from cultural norms. Kara Walker’s production over the past 25 years illustrates this challenge. It has been both irreverent and provocative. It has flaunted cultural mores and pushed the limits of community standards. In so doing, Walker has made us reconsider our relationships to and our understanding of the myths and histories that she so deftly explores in her silhouettes, drawings, films, and installations. artsy.net
  3. Lorna Simpson B. 1960, New York. Lives and works in New York. From Heidi Zuckerman, Nancy and Bob Magoon CEO and Director, Aspen Art Museum: Lorna Simpson is, without classification, one of the most outstanding humans I have ever encountered. Her extraordinary, early success led me to study her work while I was still an undergraduate (even though she’s not substantially older than I am). So I knew of her practice long before I had the honor of meeting her—and I admit to being intimidated at first! When I joined Simpson in Paris for the opening of her solo show at the Jeu de Paume in 2013, we spent time shopping for clothes and shoes. Our friendship broadened—as did my admiration for her ability to be “both/and,” instead of “either/or.” In 2012, I invited Simpson to do a residency in Aspen. She made an entirely new body of work and an exhibition (which went on view in 2013) that focused on works on paper that, though essential to her practice, were distinctive and discrete. The “Photo Collage” series (2013–18) and the “Ebony” collage series (2013) explored the complex relationship between photographic archives and processes of self-fashioning. As in Simpson’s earlier works, these new drawings and collages took the African American woman as a point of departure. They continued her long-standing examination of the ways that gender and culture shape experience in our contemporary multiracial society. In Aspen, we not only hung out together, but also made an extraordinary book. Time to think, be, talk, listen, and be heard and seen is the greatest gift. Simpson and I have encountered similar challenges—professional and personal—and I cannot overstate my gratitude for her continuously inspiring grace. Henry Taylor B. 1958, Ventura, California. Lives and works in Los Angeles. From Tiana Webb Evans, Writer and Founder, ESP Group: Henry Taylor makes radically human figurative paintings. He’s the whip-smart uncle who has been around the block and seen a few things. He is the embodiment of the African American male experience stretched through a time where the rugged seas of shifting thoughts, ideologies, and realities deposit those who make it to shore with sage-like wisdom. The stories Taylor paints oscillate between glimpses of the mundane and transient moments of our humanity. He shows us both our liberation dreams and what impedes them. The sheer act of painting—choosing to be a painter—is a revolutionary act and represents an unwavering belief in franchisement and a better America. When Taylor was included in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, it felt like the whole (metaphorical) family showed up at the museum on opening day—activists, intellectuals, musicians, artists, mechanics, nurses, cleaning ladies, doctors, lawyers, and the cousin trying to figure it out—all represented with swift and hopeful brushstrokes. A Happy Day for Us (2017)loomed lovingly on the foreboding museum wall.Taylor paints the poetics of an existence that’s both dynamic and familiar. He provides a grounded response to the angsty fade of the forgone Disney fairytale that America is just and equal. Herein lies the lasting power of his work. artsy.net
  4. Faith Ringgold B. 1930, New York. Lives and works in La Jolla, California, and Englewood, New Jersey. From Vida L. Brown, Visual Arts Curator and Program Manager, California African American Museum: Grounded and well-spoken at the age of 88, Faith Ringgold has an internal flame that is yet to be extinguished. As an artist, activist, author, and educator, Ringgold tells stories via various genres. She captures and displays the history of African Americans who continue to thrive despite years of disparaging characterizations, deplorable physical treatment, and ignored civil rights. The 1960s was a notable period in Ringgold’s art career. During that time, she commenced painting the “American People Series” (1963–67), which illustrated the Civil Rights Movement from a woman’s perspective. Over the decades, Ringgold continues to demonstrate the marginalization of women of color. Yet her relentless nature also lets viewers rejoice in the documentation of African American history. More importantly, Ringgold continues to pave the way for women artists. Her art is a voice that will not be silenced. Betye Saar B. 1926, Los Angeles. Lives and works in Los Angeles. From Elvira Dyangani Ose, Director, The Showroom, London: Betye Saar has contributed significantly to black aesthetics, from the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and ’70s through today. Her trajectory has been marked by a poetic and incisive sense of re-appropriation and agency. Political gesture is visible in all her assemblages. As she transforms everyday objects into artworks, she advocates profound shifts in economic, political, and cultural institutions. Ultimately, she hopes to instigate social change. That strong activist dimension in Saar’s work, her extraordinary freedom to articulate and claim ownership, her celebratory use of ritual and spiritual icons in the production of new epistemologies, and her pioneering approach to so-called black feminist thought are some of the fundamental aspects of an extraordinary oeuvre. artsy.net
  5. Howardena Pindell B. 1943, Philadelphia. Lives and works in New York. From Naomi Beckwith, Manilow Senior Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago: Since the 1960s, Howardena Pindell has used unconventional materials such as glitter, talcum powder, and perfume to stretch the boundaries of the rigid custom of the rectangular canvas painting. She has also infused her work with traces of her labor, obsessively affixing dots of pigment and hole-punched paper circles. Despite the effort exerted as she creates these paintings, Pindell’s rich colors and unusual materials give the finished works a sumptuous and ethereal quality. In 1967, Pindell was the only African American to receive an MFA from Yale’s prestigious painting department. Moving to New York City after graduation, she diligently submitted her portfolio to galleries, eliciting positive responses only to have her work rejected when she was interviewed and “revealed” to be a black woman. As a woman and an African American, Pindell was doubly subjected to a scopic gaze. In her work, she utilizes narrative and performance in the service of understanding her social condition, insisting that the social violence against her black body is coupled inextricably with her subjugation as a woman. An ardent feminist and founding member of the women’s cooperative A.I.R. Gallery, Pindell has organized against racism and advocated for inclusive policies in the art world. From her earliest works, Pindell has refuted the societal faith in seeing or the visual encounter, posing this question: If a person is socially constructed as a gendered or raced subject, could that invented subject be deconstructed, reconstructed, or recontextualized as an aestheticized object? Pindell’s work deprivileges the very system of seeing, and disrupts our models of how seeing, knowledge, and power operate. In her 1980s “Memory” and “Autobiography” series, she asserts that her personal experiences were neither singular nor particular to her historical moment and condition. Physical pain, existential crises, a sense of uprootedness as a descendant of enslaved people—these are collective memories and collective traumas. Pindell’s forms are to be taken literally as a chronicle of shared experiences. Pope.L B. 1955, Newark, New Jersey. Lives and works in Chicago. From Christopher Y. Lew, Nancy and Fred Poses Curator, Whitney Museum of American Art: It’s never what you expect—Pope.L’s performances, installations, drawings, and paintings often play in the edge of the absurd to tackle weighty issues in society. In one particular instance, I encountered his work in a restaurant bathroom as a voice from overhead, emanating from the ceiling and intoning that “ignorance is a virtue.” Pope.L’s Whispering Campaign (2016–17) for Documenta 14 wove itself into the fabric of Kassel and Athens with bits of language seeping from air vents, jerry-rigged PA systems, and live performers strolling the streets. His art meets us where it is needed, mixed with the everyday and without separation from life. artsy.net
  6. Kerry James Marshall B. 1955, Birmingham, Alabama. Lives and works in Chicago. From Ian Alteveer, Aaron I. Fleischman Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art: One of the great pleasures of working on the 2016 exhibition “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry” was visiting the artist’s Chicago studio with my co-curators Helen Molesworth and Dieter Roelstraete. One of these frequent trips entailed a ride down to Bronzeville in the autumn of 2014 to view the paintings that Marshall was finishing for his forthcoming exhibition with David Zwirner in London. Entering his workspace that day, the three of us gasped upon seeing his Untitled (Studio) (2014). It was near completion and resplendent on a large easel against the far wall. We noted immediately how vitally important this work was to the artist’s practice as a whole: both to his reverence for and revision of Old Master paintings, and to his desire to depict the lives of people of color (subjects all too rarely seen on museum walls). The painting also reminded me of an episode Marshall often recounts. After seventh grade, he was taking a summer course at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, and he visited the studio of his childhood idol, Charles White. It was the first time Marshall had seen an artist’s workspace in person—it was full of unfinished works, paint, and charcoal, as well as endless creative possibilities. He credits that moment as the time he first envisioned himself becoming an artist. Untitled (Studio) is, in part, about that discovery of a black artist’s atelier: a distinguished place of labor where an allegorical catalogue of the many modes of artmaking are on display. The painting is not only a majestic ode to the occupation of the artist, but also a paean to the history and endless potential of the medium. Senga Nengudi B. 1943, Chicago. Lives and works in Colorado Springs, Colorado. From Koyo Kouoh, Founding Artistic Director, RAW Material Company: Senga Nengudi’s practice has been pivotal in expanding the lexicon of Conceptual art, giving new forms to feminist thought, and navigating ways for African American artists to reclaim their blackness. Her work, emerging in Los Angeles in the 1970s, has often employed materials imbued with geopolitical charge. Throughout her practice, Nengudi reconsiders the social and economic structures that create them. To make her sculpture R.S.V.P. XI (1977/2004), for example, Nengudi used mass-produced materials: nylons, a tire inner tube, and sand. Their shapes suggest human organs, while their hues connote racial tones. Beyond the work’s formal complexity and pioneering Postminimalist aesthetic, Nengudi chose materials related to violent histories. R.S.V.P. XI unites the global reach of these materials with the forms of denatured human bodies. The work connects gendered and racialized bodies with common consumer goods. For the “R.S.V.P.” series and many other pieces, Nengudi collaborated with dancer Maren Hassinger, who used performance to activate the work. Nengudi is also a committed educator: She frequently takes her pieces outside the gallery setting, using sculpture and movement to give overlooked environments a new symbolic force. Nengudi is a pioneer of her generation, and recent reiterations of her works underscore the continued relevance and importance of her practice. artsy.net
  7. Rashid Johnson B. 1977, Chicago. Lives and works in New York. From Erin Dziedzic, Director of Curatorial Affairs, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art: Rashid Johnson’s works inspire slowly unfolding viewer experiences and express personal and complex histories through objects and mark-making, something that was palpable in his 2017 exhibition “Rashid Johnson: Hail We Now Sing Joy” at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Antoine’s Organ (2016), for example, is a massive sculpture with a network of live potted plants, books, lights, videos, Persian rugs, and mounds of shea butter built up around an upright piano at its core. Its open, modernist, gridlike framework provides accessibility, while its contents imply attention, responsibility, and care. Johnson’s diasporic matrix evokes ideas about time and history. It’s tactile and textural, deeply personal, and profoundly relevant. The work expands a network of elements related to African and African American identity and history, inspiring an opportunity to contemplate the past in the present moment. Johnson’s art inspires slow, measured reflections from the audience. This aspect of his oeuvre has always resonated with me, one of many important forces offered up in his penetrating body of work—which, among other major themes, addresses art history, literature, cultural identities, and materiality. Glenn Ligon B. 1960, New York. Lives and works in New York. From Al Miner, Associate Professor and Founding Director/Chief Curator, Maria & Alberto de la Cruz Art Gallery, Georgetown University: Glenn Ligon tackles the legacy and endurance of American racism head-on and conveys the murky complexity of African American experience. When Ligon obscures the context of appropriated imagery, as in the darkened background of Grey Hands #2 (currently on view at Georgetown University)—which is from a series of silkscreened paintings depicting the Million Man March—or the legibility of borrowed text, he offers an apt metaphor for what he describes as the “invisibility and simultaneous hypervisibility of black people in America.” This push-pull is especially evident in his text-based works that feature a delicate balance of prose and politics. To explore a peculiar phrase penned by Gertrude Stein in 1909, “negro sunshine,” Ligon painted the front of a white neon black (Warm Broad Glow, 2005); he also encrusted black oil paint in seductively shimmering coal dust against a white ground to produce his “Study for Negro Sunshine” series. Ligon has revisited this and other literary quotes in multiple media over the course of his career. Since the late 1990s, he has borrowed text from a 1953 James Baldwin essay, resulting in nearly 200 works to date (the “Stranger” and “Untitled” series). Since 2005, Ligon has created a series of neons that defamiliarize the word “America” by treating it as an object. This sustained engagement affords renewed relevance to singular points of reference as context shifts across time. artsy.net
  8. Sam Gilliam B. 1933, Tupelo, Mississippi. Lives and works in Washington, D.C. From Carrie Dedon, Assistant Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, Seattle Art Museum: Sam Gilliam’s long and distinguished career is defined by constant experimentation. He’s pushed the envelope on abstraction and the medium of painting itself. When he moved to Washington, D.C., in 1962, Gilliam diverged the Color Field Painting of the day as he innovated not just with paint and color, but with the materiality of the artwork’s surface. He began to pour paint directly onto unstretched canvases, folding or crumpling them while the paint was still wet, and leaving them to dry on the studio floor. The creases allowed the paint to pool, forming lines and patterns determined by the natural qualities of the materials—the pliability of canvas, the fluidity of paint—and by an element of chance. The resulting work blurs the line between painted image and three-dimensional object—an effect that was heightened when, in the 1960s, Gilliam took the radical step of draping his canvases on the wall, where they bunched and billowed like tapestries. The painted canvas radically subverts the academic distinctions between the sculptural, environmental, and architectural realms. Gilliam continues to experiment with his work—in the beveled edges of his stretched canvases; in the dense, stucco-like surfaces of the “Black” and “White” paintings; in the insertion of collage elements onto canvas, and in many other ways. He’s opened the door for new conversations about the possibilities of abstract painting. David Hammons B. 1943, Springfield, Illinois. Lives and works in New York. From Elena Filipovic, Director and Chief Curator, Kunsthalle Basel: Anything written on David Hammons must, perforce, begin with an admission of doubt. Because Hammons, an artist best known to the art world for his refusal to participate in its rites and rules, has made a life work of tactical evasion. Rumours, myth and hearsay about him abound—often, naturally, contradictory. Perhaps fittingly so, since some of his most significant works—Bliz-aard Ball Sale [a 1983 performance in which he sold snowballs on a New York City sidewalk] prime among them—have been unabashedly ephemeral, evanescent and unannounced. How, then, could one possibly speak of his work conclusively or factually? (Excerpt taken from David Hammons: Bliz-aard Ball Sale, 2017, with the curator’s permission.) Because Hammons knows that to be black in an art world as white as the walls of its museums, and in an America where privilege and presence and whiteness go hand in hand, is to realize that visibility is something to mess with, to disavow. […] From the late 1960s to the present, Hammons has powdered his drawings with Harlem dirt; attached deep-fried chicken wings by fish hooks to a friend’s discarded Persian rug or to cheap costume jewelry; covered stones with “nappy” hair and given them razor-cut hairstyles; lined telephone poles holding up impossibly high basketball hoops with thousands of bottle caps; hung barbecued ribs from wall sculptures made from greasy paper bags; and left upturned empty wine bottles on the branches of trees in vacant Harlem lots. (Excerpt taken from The Artist as Curator: An Anthology, 2017, with the curator’s permission.) artsy.net
  9. Charles Gaines B. 1944, Charleston, South Carolina. Lives and works in Los Angeles. From Naima J. Keith, Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Programs, California African American Museum: I had the pleasure of curating Charles Gaines’s critically acclaimed 2014 exhibition “Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974–1989.” It was the first museum survey of his early work; his career now spans four decades. The show included rare and never-before-seen works, some of which were presumed lost. It opened at the Studio Museum in Harlem and later traveled to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. As a native Angeleno, I had long admired Gaines’s position as both a leading practitioner of Conceptualism and an influential educator at the California Institute of the Arts. Beginning in the 1970s, he was one of the few African American Conceptual artists to focus on abstraction and aesthetics in order to consider perception, objectivity, and relationships. Working serially in progressive and densely layered bodies of works, Gaines examines the interplay between objectivity and interpretation, the systematic and the poetic. His groundbreaking work serves as a critical bridge between the first-generation Conceptualists of the 1960s and ’70s and those artists of later generations considering the limits of subjectivity and language. His work and our friendship have had a profound impact on me—both personally and professionally—and I am thrilled to see that his art continues to resonate with new and more diverse audiences internationally. Theaster Gates B. 1973, Chicago. Lives and works in Chicago. From Josef Helfenstein, Director, Kunstmuseum Basel: The creative practice of Theaster Gates includes urban interventions, performance, and pottery-making. His work aims to bridge the gulf between art and society; establish cultural communities; and initiate social, political, and urban change. For Gates’s 2018 show at Kunstmuseum Basel, the artist engaged with our encyclopedic museum and its extensive collection—we cover seven centuries of Western (predominantly European and North American) art history. Gates recontextualized artworks and artists that range from Joseph Beuys to Old Master paintings of Madonnas. Expanding the notion of a “museum” or a “public collection,” he challenged our museological practices and principles by transforming several museum spaces into places of production (rather than sites for contemplation or social gathering). Gates set up a temporary sound studio and a printing workshop. Inside and outside the institution, he created rehearsal and performance spaces for musicians. His own band, The Black Monks of Mississippi, used them, as did local musicians from the nearby jazz school, and gospel choir singers from the local cathedral. The cathedral, a thousand-year-old building, became a part of the project when Gates gave a musical sermon on a Sunday evening. Gates wanted to connect art and society and use the museum as a platform for social intervention. Meanwhile, he hung posters throughout the city of Basel, based on an extensive archive of fashion photographs featuring black women—that’s how the show got its title, “Black Madonna.” For the Kunstmuseum, this exhibition was an important project that led us to question and reactivate our own core values, working methods, and history. artsy.net
  10. Mark Bradford B. 1961, Los Angeles. Lives and works in Los Angeles. Mark Bradford has turned his life experiences into art that, while largely abstract, embeds messages of community, awareness, and social justice. Kingdom Day (2010), in the collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, for example, incises a map-like network into a deconstructed and collaged billboard advertising the 1992 Los Angeles Kingdom Day Parade. This absorbing composition celebrates the first time a multi-ethnic committee organized the parade, an annual event honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and his commitment to non-violent change. Yet through its raw and stratified surface, the painting also evokes the brutal violence of the 1992 riots that followed the acquittal of the police officers involved in the Rodney King beating. Like much of Bradford’s art, Kingdom Day offers a multi-layered and nuanced view of black history and the dynamics of urban life. Nick Cave B. 1959, Fulton, Missouri. Lives and works in Chicago. Nick Cave’s multifaceted performance, installation, and sculptural practice has crafted formations of black identity and community in past and present adverse times. “Nick Cave: Rescue,” an exhibition this past year at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts that was organized by curator of contemporary art Jodi Throckmorton, illuminated the dialectics of privilege and servitude surrounding such formations. With sitting dog figurines enthroned on a chaise lounge and barrel chairs throughout the American art collection, Cave upended static relationships of power. Found materials gleamed next to Thomas Eakins’s anatomical studies of dogs, which presided over a salon-style installation including Winslow Homer’s Fox Hunt (1893) and queried works of “oriental fantasy.” While walking through the galleries with Cave, multilayered conversations among the works accumulated, testifying to his sculptural ability to shape urgent communal dialogue. artsy.net
  11. There is a well-documented, persistent, and growing racial wealth gap between African American families and white families in the United States. Studies indicate the median white family in the United States holds more than ten times the wealth of the median African American family. Apart from its obvious negative impact on African American individuals, families, and communities, the racial wealth gap constrains the entire US economy. In a previous report, we projected that closing the racial wealth gap could net the US economy between $1.1 trillion and $1.5 trillion by 2028. Despite this, the racial wealth gap threatens to grow as norms, standards, and opportunities in the current US workplace change and exacerbate existing income disparities. One critical disrupter will be the adoption of automation and other digital technologies by companies worldwide. According to estimates from the McKinsey Global Institute, companies have already invested between $20 billion and $30 billion in artificial intelligence technologies and applications. End users, businesses, and economies are hoping to significantly increase their productivity and capacity for innovation through using such technologies. As determined in our previous report on the racial wealth gap, African Americans start from a deprived position in the workforce, with an unemployment rate twice that of white workers, a pattern that persists even when controlling for education, duration of unemployment, and the cause of unemployment. Our prior research also shows that African Americans could experience the disruptive forces of automation from a distinctly disadvantaged position, partially because they are often overrepresented in the “support roles” that are most likely to be affected by automation, such as truck drivers, food service workers, and office clerks. This article builds on these findings using a new and proprietary data set compiled by MGI to construct a 2030 scenario that projects the impact of automation in the national workplace and specific US counties. We reviewed this demographic and employment data in 13 distinct community archetypes across the country to test our previous findings and discover if African Americans are overrepresented in both at-risk roles and within US regions that are more likely to see job declines because of automation. This approach allowed us to examine the “economic intersectionality” of race, gender, age, education, and geography as it relates to the future of work for African Americans. Economic intersectionality can refer to the compounded effects of any combination of characteristics associated with economic disadvantage. In this article, we focus on differing levels of automation-based challenges for African American men and women of various ages and education levels in rural and urban America. We project that African Americans in the 13 community archetypes we analyzed may have a higher rate of job displacement than workers in other segments of the US population due to rising automation and gaining a smaller share of the net projected job growth between 2017 and 2030. By 2030, the employment outlook for African Americans—particularly men, younger workers (ages 18–35), and those without a college degree—may worsen dramatically. Additionally, we find that African Americans are geographically removed from future job growth centers and more likely to be concentrated in areas of job decline. These trends, if not addressed, could have a significant negative effect on the income generation, wealth, and stability of African American families. The challenges are daunting, but our research reveals opportunities for improvement within the African American workforce through strengthening local economies, shifting education profiles to align with growing sectors, engaging companies and public policy makers in developing reskilling programs, and redirecting resources to ease the transition as automation changes the landscape for African American workers. In this article, we share our findings and note some potential interventions—some of which have already begun. mckinsey.com
  12. The U.S. labor market has been expanding for almost a decade, with workers of all races benefiting from this expansion. However, the progress has not erased systematic racial differences in labor market outcomes. African Americans still face persistently higher unemployment and have less access to good jobs than whites. These systematically different experiences in the labor market exacerbate the need for more wealth for African Americans but also make it more difficult to build that wealth in the first place. Making sure that Black workers have the same access to good jobs as white workers does not only require labor market policies but also new and innovative approaches to shrinking the racial wealth gap. americanprogress.org
  13. African American families need wealth to increase access to good job opportunities. For example, wealth increases the likelihood of people being able to support education for themselves and their children, as well as being able to move to areas with more and better jobs. Yet African American families own much less wealth than whites, and the gap has only widened in recent years. On average, Black families now own about one-fifth of the total wealth, including the imputed wealth of defined benefit pensions, owned by whites. Just before the Great Recession, this gap had shrunk to one-fourth. However, African American families lost more wealth during and after the financial and economic crisis of 2007 to 2009. This resulted in a widening racial wealth gap over the past decade. Many factors will have to come together to overcome systematic obstacles that hinder African Americans’ ability to build wealth. A prolonged labor market expansion is a good start, but it is not enough, as the most recent data clearly show. More hiring has lowered the unemployment rate and created more employment opportunities, but African Americans are still more likely to be unemployed, have fewer job opportunities, get paid less, have fewer employer-sponsored benefits, and work in less stable jobs. All of these elements further widen the already large racial wealth gap. americanprogress.org
  14. African Americans also receive fewer employer-provided benefits than white workers. Only a little more than half of African Americans—55.4 percent—had private health insurance in 2018, compared with 74.8 percent of whites. Craig Copeland, a researcher at the Employee Benefits Research Institute, estimates that among full-time, year-round workers, African American workers were 14 percent less likely than white workers to have any type of retirement plan through their employer. Fewer workplace benefits make it harder for African Americans to save, since they face higher costs and less help in preparing for retirement than their white counterparts. Not only do African Americans work for less pay with fewer benefits, they also face much greater job instability than whites. African Americans often work in occupations and industries that are economically less stable, such as retail services and parts of the health care sector including home health aides and nursing home workers. Moreover, African Americans tend to feel the fallout from a recession more intensely than do whites, as discussed below, and they then tend to be out of a job longer than other unemployed workers. African Americans’ employment fluctuates more than it does for whites. The employed share of prime-age African American workers fell by 8.3 percentage points from 75 percent just before the Great Recession started in September 2007 to a low of 66.7 percent in October 2011. In comparison, the respective share of white workers dropped by only 4.5 percentage points, from 81 percent in November 2007 to 76.5 percent in July 2010. Moreover, jobs for African Americans tend to disappear sooner when the economy sours and come back later when the economy improves—a phenomenon often described as “last hired, first fired.” The decline in prime-age employment rates associated with the Great Recession started two months sooner for African Americans than whites and lasted 15 months longer than it did for white workers. Unemployed African American workers look longer for a new job than whites. From September 2018 to September 2019, the average length of unemployment for unemployed African American workers was 25.5 weeks, compared with only 20.8 weeks for unemployed white workers. americanprogress.org
  15. The hurdles that African Americans face in the labor market from discrimination, pay inequality, and occupational steering are also apparent in indicators of job quality and not just in measures of job availability. Black workers, for example, typically get paid a great deal less than white workers. The typical median weekly earnings for Black full-time employees was $727 from July 2019 to September 2019, compared with $943 for whites. Comparing wages for men and women broken down by race and age again shows that these wage differences persist among full-time workers, indicating that massive gaps in economic security persist even when the labor market is strong. Lower wages for Black workers then translate into lower savings as families have less money left over after paying their bills. americanprogress.org
  16. Importantly, the employed share of both prime-age Black and white workers was still below the peaks recorded in the late 1990s, suggesting that the labor market is not as strong as the unemployment rate shows. Moreover, there is a persistent racial gap. The employed share of prime-age Black workers stood at 75.7 percent from November 2018 to October 2019, while it averaged 80.8 percent for white workers in this age group. Even after a decade of labor market gains, Black workers face more impediments to finding work than is the case for white workers. Fewer job opportunities make it harder for people to save for their futures. americanprogress.org
  17. Black women face unique burdens in the labor market. They are more likely to work than white women: 84.4 percent of Black mothers are breadwinners, which represents a larger share than for any other racial or ethnic group. Black women also often shoulder disproportionate financial burdens due to caregiving responsibilities for children, grandchildren, and aging parents. Moreover, Black women have a much harder time finding a job than white women and white men. The employed share of Black women was 57.2 percent in September 2019, slightly higher than the 55.2 percent of white women with a job. Yet their unemployment rate was 5.1 percent in September 2019, much higher than the 2.7 percent of white women who were out of work and looking for a job during that same period. African American women also work in lower-paying jobs than Black men or white women, which translates to a particularly steep pay gap for Black women. Among those who worked full time all year in 2018, Black women earned 61.9 cents for every dollar that white men earned. In comparison, Black men earned 70.2 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and white women earned 78.6 cents. African American women are also more likely than white women to juggle caregiving responsibilities for family members such as children and grandchildren. The lack of access to jobs in general, and to good jobs in particular, further exacerbates the financial challenges of these responsibilities. In the same vein, getting more education shrinks the wage gap but doesn’t close it, indicating that Black women face systematic obstacles in getting good jobs. Therefore, it is important to note that even obtaining a job, and sometimes a good job, is still not enough for Black women because of systemic barriers—sometimes rooted in race and gender bias—that drive how the U.S. economy values different types of work and the policies available to support women’s caregiving responsibilities. americanprogress.org
  18. African American workers regularly face higher unemployment rates than whites. There are several explanations for this. Blacks often face outright discrimination in the labor market. They also are less likely to attend and graduate from college, which stems from the fact that African Americans face greater financial barriers to getting a college education, ending up with more debt than white graduates and paying more for their loans. Yet even among college graduates, African Americans often face greater job instability and higher unemployment rates, as the data below show. For a decade now, the unemployment rate has fallen, improving the labor market outlook for many groups along the way. The U.S. unemployment rate for all workers who are 16 years old and older was down to 3.5 percent in September 2019 from its peak of 10 percent in October 2019, reaching its lowest point in 50 years. (see Figure 1) Amid the improving labor market, the African American unemployment rate fell to a historic low of 5.5 percent, and the rate for whites reached a 50-year low of 3.2 percent at the same time. More importantly, the unemployment rate for prime-age workers—those who are ages 25 to 54—fell to an average of 5.2 percent for Black workers and an average of 2.8 percent for whites for the period from November 2018 and October 2019. This was the lowest unemployment rate on record for Black prime-age workers dating back to 1973 and the lowest for white prime-age workers since 2000. The trend toward ever-lower unemployment rates should not obscure the fact that African Americans systematically suffer higher unemployment rates than whites, even in a good labor market. The unemployment rate for Black workers remains higher than that for white workers even when looking at subpopulations. The data further show that African Americans typically face higher unemployment than whites regardless of age, gender, education, and veteran status. Regardless of educational attainment by Black workers, they typically have a higher rate of unemployment than their white college-educated counterparts. Among college graduates, for example, the Black unemployment rate averaged 2.8 percent from November 2018 to October 2019, 40 percent higher than the 2 percent rate for white college graduates in the same period. While college attainment helps all workers get more access to better-paying, stable jobs with better benefits, the advantages are not evenly distributed. Black workers, no matter their level of education, still face impediments in the labor market—employment discrimination, occupational segregation, and unequal pay. americanprogress.org
  19. To close these persistent labor market gaps, African American families need more wealth to begin with. Wealth makes it easier for families to invest in their own futures. For example, wealth can be used to support both children’s and parents’ education, to start a business, to buy a house in a neighborhood with access to good jobs, and to move to new places when better opportunities arise. Each of these benefits gives families access to more and better jobs. People with a college degree typically have lower unemployment rates and greater access to well-paying, stable jobs with decent benefits; starting a business gives people more control over their own lives and thus the potential to avoid the uncertainty that can come from working for somebody else in a low-paying job with irregular hours; and buying a house closer to where good jobs are located makes it easier to switch jobs when one does not pan out as expected. Similarly, wealth allows families to move to a new location when jobs in one area decline or disappear altogether. Having less wealth makes all these benefits much harder to achieve for African Americans. This issue brief examines African Americans’ and white workers’ labor market experiences in the current labor market expansion. The data summary looks first at differences in unemployment rates, followed by indicators of employment opportunities. The discussion then turns to measures of job quality, starting with wages, followed by benefits, and concluding with job stability. Regardless of the observed labor market outcome, African Americans always fare worse than whites, with Black women often experiencing the harshest impacts. Worse labor market outcomes—higher unemployment, fewer benefits, and less job stability—contribute in part to the growing racial wealth gap, leaving African Americans in a more precarious financial situation. americanprogress.org
  20. The U.S. labor market has now seen a record 109 months of uninterrupted job growth, with the overall unemployment rate falling to its lowest level in 50 years. However, African American workers still face more hurdles to get a job, never mind a good one, than their white counterparts. They continue to face systematically higher unemployment rates, fewer job opportunities, lower pay, poorer benefits, and greater job instability. These persistent differences reflect systematic barriers to quality jobs, such as outright discrimination against African American workers, as well as occupational segregation—whereby African American workers often end up in lower-paid jobs than whites—and segmented labor markets in which Black workers are less likely than white workers to get hired into stable, well-paying jobs. Despite African American workers having increased access to jobs and actually getting more jobs, labor market outcomes—including higher unemployment and fewer good jobs—continue to be worse for African American workers and their families. These differences are not new, and the longest labor market expansion on record has not eliminated them. African Americans have always been more vulnerable in the labor market. They regularly experience higher unemployment rates and work in worse jobs, which feature lower pay and fewer benefits, than whites. Moreover, they tend to work in jobs that are less stable than those held by white workers. For example, African American workers often see their unemployment rates go up sooner than white workers when the economy sours, and their unemployment rates also take longer to decline when the economy improves than is the case for whites—a phenomenon often described as “last hired, first fired.” Moreover, unemployed Black workers look longer to find and secure a new job than do white workers. The labor market experience for African Americans has historically been worse than that for whites, and this continues today. There are several factors that have contributed and continue to contribute to this. These include repeated violent oppression of African Americans such as the riots that destroyed Black business owners’ wealth on the Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, codified segregation, legal racial terrorism during the almost centurylong period from Reconstruction to the civil rights era, systematic exclusions of African Americans from better-paying jobs, and continued occupational segregation. Despite notable improvement, today’s Black workers still have a harder time than whites securing good employment. For Black women, the intersection of race and gender bias has had a combined effect on their labor market experiences, too often devaluing their work and confining their opportunities. americanprogress.org
  21. Early Cases Despite the Supreme Court's ruling in Plessy and similar cases, many people continued to press for the abolition of Jim Crow and other racially discriminatory laws. One particular organization that fought for racial equality was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) founded in 1909. For about the first 20 years of its existence, it tried to persuade Congress and other legislative bodies to enact laws that would protect African Americans from lynchings and other racist actions. Beginning in the 1930s, though, the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund began to turn to the courts to try to make progress in overcoming legally sanctioned discrimination. From 1935 to 1938, the legal arm of the NAACP was headed by Charles Hamilton Houston. Houston, together with Thurgood Marshall, devised a strategy to attack Jim Crow laws by striking at them where they were perhaps weakest—in the field of education. Although Marshall played a crucial role in all of the cases listed below, Houston was the head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund while Murray v. Maryland and Missouri ex rel Gaines v. Canada were decided. After Houston returned to private practice in 1938, Marshall became head of the Fund and used it to argue the cases of Sweat v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma Board of Regents of Higher Education. Murray v. Maryland (1936) Disappointed that the University of Maryland School of Law was rejecting black applicants solely because of their race, beginning in 1933 Thurgood Marshall (who was himself rejected from this law school because of its racial acceptance policies) decided to challenge this practice in the Maryland court system. Before a Baltimore City Court in 1935, Marshall argued that Donald Gaines Murray was just as qualified as white applicants to attend the University of Maryland's School of Law and that it was solely due to his race that he was rejected. Furthermore, he argued that since the "black" law schools which Murray would otherwise have to attend were nowhere near the same academic caliber as the University's law school, the University was violating the principle of "separate but equal." Moreover, Marshall argued that the disparities between the "white" and "black" law schools were so great that the only remedy would be to allow students like Murray to attend the University's law school. The Baltimore City Court agreed and the University then appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals. In 1936, the Court of Appeals also ruled in favor of Murray and ordered the law school to admit him. Two years later, Murray graduated. Missouri ex rel Gaines v. Canada (1938) Beginning in 1936, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund decided to take on the case of Lloyd Gaines, a graduate student of Lincoln University (an all-black college) who applied to the University of Missouri Law School but was denied because of his race. The State of Missouri gave Gaines the option of either attending an all-black law school that it would build (Missouri did not have any all-black law schools at this time) or having Missouri help to pay for him to attend a law school in a neighboring state. Gaines rejected both of these options, and, employing the services of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, he decided to sue the state in order to attend the University of Missouri's law school. By 1938, his case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, and, in December of that year, the Court sided with him. The six-member majority stated that since a "black" law school did not currently exist in the State of Missouri, the "equal protection clause" required the state to provide, within its boundaries, a legal education for Gaines. In other words, since the state provided legal education for white students, it could not send black students, like Gaines, to school in another state. Sweat v. Painter (1950) Encouraged by their victory in Gaines' case, the NAACP continued to attack legally sanctioned racial discrimination in higher education. In 1946, an African American man named Heman Sweat applied to the University of Texas' "white" law school. Hoping that it would not have to admit Sweat to the "white" law school if a "black" school already existed, elsewhere on the University's campus, the state hastily set up an underfunded "black" law school. At this point, Sweat employed the services of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and sued to be admitted to the University's "white" law school. He argued that the education that he was receiving in the "black" law school was not of the same academic caliber as the education that he would be receiving if he attended the "white" law school. When the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1950, the Court unanimously agreed with him, citing as its reason the blatant inequalities between the University's law school (the school for whites) and the hastily erected school for blacks. In other words, the "black" law school was "separate," but not "equal." Like the Murray case, the Court found the only appropriate remedy for this situation was to admit Sweat to the University's law school. McLaurin v. Oklahoma Board of Regents of Higher Education (1950) In 1949, the University of Oklahoma admitted George McLaurin, an African American, to its doctoral program. However, it required him to sit apart from the rest of his class, eat at a separate time and table from white students, etc. McLaurin, stating that these actions were both unusual and resulting in adverse effects on his academic pursuits, sued to put an end to these practices. McLaurin employed Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund to argue his case, a case which eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In an opinion delivered on the same day as the decision in Sweat, the Court stated that the University's actions concerning McLaurin were adversely affecting his ability to learn and ordered that they cease immediately. Brown v. Board of Education (1954, 1955) The case that came to be known as Brown v. Board of Education was actually the name given to five separate cases that were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the issue of segregation in public schools. These cases were Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Briggs v. Elliot, Davis v. Board of Education of Prince Edward County (VA.), Bolling v. Sharpe, and Gebhart v. Ethel. While the facts of each case are different, the main issue in each was the constitutionality of state-sponsored segregation in public schools. Once again, Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund handled these cases. Although it acknowledged some of the plaintiffs'/plaintiffs claims, a three-judge panel at the U.S. District Court that heard the cases ruled in favor of the school boards. The plaintiffs then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. When the cases came before the Supreme Court in 1952, the Court consolidated all five cases under the name of Brown v. Board of Education. Marshall personally argued the case before the Court. Although he raised a variety of legal issues on appeal, the most common one was that separate school systems for blacks and whites were inherently unequal, and thus violate the "equal protection clause" of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, relying on sociological tests, such as the one performed by social scientist Kenneth Clark, and other data, he also argued that segregated school systems had a tendency to make black children feel inferior to white children, and thus such a system should not be legally permissible. Meeting to decide the case, the Justices of the Supreme Court realized that they were deeply divided over the issues raised. While most wanted to reverse Plessy and declare segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional, they had various reasons for doing so. Unable to come to a solution by June 1953 (the end of the Court's 1952-1953 term), the Court decided to rehear the case in December 1953. During the intervening months, however, Chief Justice Fred Vinson died and was replaced by Gov. Earl Warren of California. After the case was reheard in 1953, Chief Justice Warren was able to do something that his predecessor had not—i.e. bring all of the Justices to agree to support a unanimous decision declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional. On May 14, 1954, he delivered the opinion of the Court, stating that "We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. . ." Expecting opposition to its ruling, especially in the southern states, the Supreme Court did not immediately try to give direction for the implementation of its ruling. Rather, it asked the attorney generals of all states with laws permitting segregation in their public schools to submit plans for how to proceed with desegregation. After still more hearings before the Court concerning the matter of desegregation, on May 31, 1955, the Justices handed down a plan for how it was to proceed; desegregation was to proceed with "all deliberate speed." Although it would be many years before all segregated school systems were to be desegregated, Brown and Brown II (as the Courts plan for how to desegregate schools came to be called) were responsible for getting the process underway. uscourts.gov
  22. The Plessy Decision Although the Declaration of Independence stated that "All men are created equal," due to the institution of slavery, this statement was not to be grounded in law in the United States until after the Civil War (and, arguably, not completely fulfilled for many years thereafter). In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified and finally put an end to slavery. Moreover, the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) strengthened the legal rights of newly freed slaves by stating, among other things, that no state shall deprive anyone of either "due process of law" or of the "equal protection of the law." Finally, the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) further strengthened the legal rights of newly freed slaves by prohibiting states from denying anyone the right to vote due to race. Despite these Amendments, African Americans were often treated differently than whites in many parts of the country, especially in the South. In fact, many state legislatures enacted laws that led to the legally mandated segregation of the races. In other words, the laws of many states decreed that blacks and whites could not use the same public facilities, ride the same buses, attend the same schools, etc. These laws came to be known as Jim Crow laws. Although many people felt that these laws were unjust, it was not until the 1890s that they were directly challenged in court. In 1892, an African-American man named Homer Plessy refused to give up his seat to a white man on a train in New Orleans, as he was required to do by Louisiana state law. For this action he was arrested. Plessy, contending that the Louisiana law separating blacks from whites on trains violated the "equal protection clause" of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, decided to fight his arrest in court. By 1896, his case had made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court. By a vote of 8-1, the Supreme Court ruled against Plessy. In the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, Justice Henry Billings Brown, writing the majority opinion, stated that: "The object of the [Fourteenth] amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to endorse social, as distinguished from political, equality. . . If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane." The lone dissenter, Justice John Marshal Harlan, interpreting the Fourteenth Amendment another way, stated, "Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens." Justice Harlan's dissent would become a rallying cry for those in later generations that wished to declare segregation unconstitutional. Sadly, as a result of the Plessy decision, in the early twentieth century the Supreme Court continued to uphold the legality of Jim Crow laws and other forms of racial discrimination. In the case of Cumming v. Richmond (Ga.) County Board of Education (1899), for instance, the Court refused to issue an injunction preventing a school board from spending tax money on a white high school when the same school board voted to close down a black high school for financial reasons. Moreover, in Gong Lum v. Rice (1927), the Court upheld a school's decision to bar a person of Chinese descent from a "white" school. uscourts.gov
  23. The mandate of Brown v. Board of Education has yet to be fulfilled. Research has shown that for children for African American and Latino children, access to high-quality public education remains a challenge. Today, the vast majority of schools remain highly segregated, with African American students more likely to attend schools with less qualified teachers who are more likely to be underpaid and who have a higher likelihood of not being certified. Additionally, these schools, which traditionally have served the most vulnerable populations, have a long history of not receiving adequate funding. For Brown v. Board of Education to be fully realized and to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education, we policymakers must support continued investments in the nation’s public education system. African American students are more likely to attend high-poverty public schools. 47.5 percent of African American students attend schools where at least 75 percent of students are “eligible for free or reduced price lunch.” By contrast, only 7.6 percent of white students attend schools where at least 75 percent of students are eligible. Schools in high-poverty neighborhoods tend to be underresourced and not adequately equipped to teach the students they serve. Black students are disciplined at disproportionate rates compared with their white counterparts. Black students are 24 percent of students enrolled in public schools, yet they make up 48 percent of students suspended and 49 percent of students expelled. Taking these children out of schools has a significant impact on their academic achievement and significantly contributes to what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline. Black students are more likely to be disciplined for subjective offenses than their white counterparts. Evidence suggest that implicit bias plays a role in the disproportionate rates of school discipline for African American students. The quality of math instruction must improve for all American students—and for African American students in particular. Sixty-eight percent of eighth grade students are “not proficient in math.” Among African American students, 88 percent of eighth graders are not proficient. Studies have shown that the math instruction status quo is failing far too many students. Given the growing importance of science, technology, engineering, and math, improvements in math proficiency must be made. Diversifying the teaching profession is critical to the success of African American students. Eighty-two percent of public school teachers were white during the 2011-12 school year. According to studies, white teachers have lower expectations of a black student’s academic performance than a similarly situated black teacher for the same student. This is critical, as teacher expectations have an overall impact on student achievement. For example, black students are significantly less likely to be recommended for gifted and talented programs when their teacher is white than when their teacher is black. While the landscape has significantly improved and black students are achieving significantly more from an academic standpoint than they have in the past, there is still work left to be done. To do that work, policymakers must continue to ensure that the proper resources are in place to close the remaining gaps. americanprogress.org
  24. The common presumption about educational inequality—that it resides primarily in those students who come to school with inadequate capacities to benefit from what the school has to offer—continues to hold wide currency because the extent of inequality in opportunities to learn is largely unknown. We do not currently operate schools on the presumption that students might be entitled to decent teaching and schooling as a matter of course. In fact, some state and local defendants have countered school finance and desegregation cases with assertions that such remedies are not required unless it can be proven that they will produce equal outcomes. Such arguments against equalizing opportunities to learn have made good on DuBois’s prediction that the problem of the 20th century would be the problem of the color line. But education resources do make a difference, particularly when funds are used to purchase well-qualified teachers and high-quality curriculum and to create personalized learning communities in which children are well known. In all of the current sturm und drang about affirmative action, “special treatment,” and the other high-volatility buzzwords for race and class politics in this nation, I would offer a simple starting point for the next century s efforts: no special programs, just equal educational opportunity. brookings.edu
  25. This state of affairs is not inevitable. Last year the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future issued a blueprint for a comprehensive set of policies to ensure a “caring, competent, and qualified teacher for every child,” as well as schools organized to support student success. Twelve states are now working directly with the commission on this agenda, and others are set to join this year. Several pending bills to overhaul the federal Higher Education Act would ensure that highly qualified teachers are recruited and prepared for students in all schools. Federal policymakers can develop incentives, as they have in medicine, to guarantee well-prepared teachers in shortage fields and high-need locations. States can equalize education spending, enforce higher teaching standards, and reduce teacher shortages, as Connecticut, Kentucky, Minnesota, and North Carolina have already done. School districts can reallocate resources from administrative superstructures and special add-on programs to support better-educated teachers who offer a challenging curriculum in smaller schools and classes, as restructured schools as far apart as New York and San Diego have done. These schools, in communities where children are normally written off to lives of poverty, welfare dependency, or incarceration, already produce much higher levels of achievement for students of color, sending more than 90 percent of their students to college. Focusing on what matters most can make a real difference in what children have the opportunity to learn. This, in turn, makes a difference in what communities can accomplish. brookings.edu
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