Black Agenda Radio Commentaries
News, analysis and commentary on the human condition from a black left perspective.
white firemenA Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act still lives, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's reversal of then Federal Appeals Court decision against white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut. Another federal court has found discrimination in testing applicants for the New York City Fire Department. The New York test was filled with firefighting trivia questions that have little to do with the actual job.
 
Courts Again Confront Racism in Firefighter Hiring
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
“A Federal District Court ruled that Blacks and Hispanics were discriminated against in two entrance exams for the New York City Fire Department.”
When Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, New Haven firefighters arrayed themselves in rows of seats in the audience, like full-dress uniformed rebukes to her legal judgment. The white and one Hispanic firemen were meant as visual testimony to the claim that white men have become victims of so-called “reverse discrimination.” The Supreme Court had earlier knocked down Sotomayor’s ruling, as an appellate judge, that the City of New Haven was justified in getting rid of a promotions test that had flunked every Black fireman that took it.
Some right-wingers may have wishfully thought that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was dead – that it was no longer a legal safeguard against tests that resulted in disproportionately bad outcomes for Blacks. They were wrong. Last week, a Federal District Court ruled that Blacks and Hispanics were discriminated against in two entrance exams for the New York City Fire Department. The judge ruled that the tests, administered in 1999 and 2002, not only disproportionately failed non-white applicants, but did so by asking questions that had little or nothing to do with fighting fires.
The tests were not quite as bad as the old Jim Crow voting test question, “How many bubbles in a bar of soap?” – but many of the questions were nearly as irrelevant. According to one constitutional law professor, the New York test was similar to others in big cities around the country, dealing with arcane firefighting details that only the children and grandchildren of firefighters would be familiar with – in other words, a kind of trivia for the families of firemen. Which is just the kind of test a bunch of white guys who want to put their relatives on the public payroll, would put together.
“The New York tests were designed to favor members of firefighting families.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is still in effect – at least until its next confrontation with the right-wingers at the U.S. Supreme Court. The legal reasoning goes like this: if a test results in a disproportionate number of failures among Blacks or Hispanics, then it must be shown that the skills and knowledge being tested are necessary for doing the job. If not, then the test amounts to illegal discrimination.
The New York test was written and multiple-choice. The judge in the case found that multiple-choice tests could measure only about half the skills necessary to fight fires. The city’s own firefighting experts believe that oral comprehension and oral expression are the most important skills for firefighters on the scene, but the tests did not measure these oral skills.
Clearly, the New York tests were designed to favor members of firefighting families, steeped in the lore and trivia of the profession, over otherwise qualified applicants, many of them Black and Hispanic.
Police and fire departments have remained disproportionately white, not because whites are inherently better at fighting fires and crime, but because the hiring and promotion systems have been rigged in their favor. The Civil Rights Act was designed to un-rig the system. That’s not reverse discrimination, that’s justice.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to www.BlackAgendaReport.com.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
Direct download: 20090729_gf_Firefighters.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:33am EDT

right to protectA Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
“R2P” is the latest American device to justify military aggression and regime-change in the developing world. “The doctrine is a warmed-over version of so-called 'humanitarian' military intervention – another excuse for big powers to make war on weaker nations.” The doctrine is “reminiscent of the term 'protectorate' – a legalism for a country that is run as a virtual colony of one of the big powers.”
 
“Responsibility to Protect” is Warmed-Over Imperialism
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
“R2P allows Washington to act unilaterally whenever it decides that military intervention is in the best interest of humanity.”
The United Nations last week began what will become a protracted debate over the doctrine “Responsibility to Protect,” or R2P. The doctrine is a warmed-over version of so-called “humanitarian” military intervention – another excuse for big powers to make war on weaker nations. Its primary champion in the Obama administration is UN ambassador Susan Rice, who would use the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine to justify U.S. military action in Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere. One important opponent of R2P is Rev. Miguel D’Escoto, of Nicaragua, president of the UN General Assembly.
“Responsibility to Protect” is reminiscent of the term “protectorate” – a legalism for a country that is run as a virtual colony of one of the big powers. That’s how the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, took the colony of South West Africa away from the defeated Germans, after World War One, and gave it to white-ruled South Africa, under whom it would remain until emerging as the independent Republic of Namibia, in 1990.
A “protectorate” is what the British and French established in much of the Middle East on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, also after World War One, so they could “protect” the oil and ports and other resources of the region from the people who lived there. Palestine was a British protectorate, but that didn’t protect the Arab majority from the Zionists, who stole the land in 1948.
Haiti is now a de facto “protectorate” of the United Nations, which fronts for the United States, France and Canada. In fact, the new version of protectorates – philosophically buttressed by the doctrine “Responsibility to Protect” – was refined specifically to deny Haitians sovereignty over their own country after the ouster of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 2004.
“Africa has turned decisively against the notion of 'Responsibility to Protect.'”
UN General Assembly president D’Escoto rejects the doctrine of protectorates, under the guise of R2P. His country, Nicaragua, was viewed, like all of Central America, as a protectorate of the United States. The U.S. once considered Nicaragua as a dumping ground for freed Black American slaves, and in the 1980s funded Contra terrorists and mined Nicaraguan harbors in defiance of the World Court, which was unable to provide protection from the Americans.
Africa has turned decisively against the notion of “Responsibility to Protect,” as it has witnessed the lopsided protectionist “justice” of an International Criminal Court that indicts only Africans, but does nothing to protect Africa from U.S. and European neocolonialism.
Among those participating in the UN debate on R2P, is Noam Chomksy, who describes the doctrine as “humanitarian imperialism.” That certainly is what it would amount to in the hands of the United States. Susan Rice’s version of R2P allows Washington to act unilaterally whenever it decides that military intervention is in the best interest of humanity. In practice, that’s no different than the Bush doctrine, or all the other previous American doctrines that have justified regime change at Washington’s political whim.
What the planet really needs protection from, is the United States, which remains, as Dr. Martin Luther King said more than 40 years ago, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to www.BlackAgendaReport.com.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
Direct download: 20090729_gf_R2P.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:29am EDT

PRISONA Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
American determination to arrest ever-increasing numbers of Blacks and to keep them locked up for as long as possible is creating a rapidly aging prison population. “Two-thirds of the prisoners serving life sentences are Black or Latino” and “more Americans are under life sentence than ever before – more than 140,000, compared to only 34,000 25 years ago.”
 
With Life Sentences Proliferating, U.S. Prisoners Get Blacker and Older
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
“More than 20 percent of prison inmates are over 50 years old.”
The truth about race in America is most clearly evident, not in the unexpected election of a non-white man to the U.S. presidency – a singular and temporary phenomenon – but in the steady march of statistics from the criminal justice system. A new report from the Sentencing Project shows that two-thirds of the prisoners serving life sentences are Black or Latino. More Americans are under life sentence than ever before – more than 140,000, compared to only 34,000 25 years ago.
The racist nature of the system is seen in the ever-increasing proportion of non-whites condemned to spend the rest of their years behind bars. In New York State, whites make up only 16 percent of inmates serving life terms, although whites are 60 percent of the population. Such gross racial disparities obtain everywhere in the United States. The inexorable growth in life sentences guarantees that the grotesquely distorted racial outcomes of the U.S. criminal justice system will continue to grow deep into the future, as today’s young inmates become tomorrow’s sick, caged old men and women.
Nationally, one out of every ten prisoners is a lifer; in California, one out of five. In Alabama, Massachusetts, Nevada and New York, at least one out of every six inmates is doing life. Seven states and the federal prison system have done away with parole, altogether. That means, in Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Pennsylvania and South Dakota, the actuarial tables of life and death ensure the prisons will be filled by an ever more geriatric – and ever Blacker and browner – cohort of captive men and women, grandmothers and grandfathers. Already, more than 20 percent of prison inmates are over 50 years old.
“The grotesquely distorted racial outcomes of the U.S. criminal justice system will continue to grow deep into the future.”
The states have a constitutional obligation to care for the health needs of this aging population – but of course, they do not live up to this obligation. California’s prison health care apparatus is so inadequate, it’s been ruled unconstitutional, but the state is crying broke. Prisoners over 50 cost California between $98,000 and $138,000 a year, but despite its poverty, the state remains determined to throw as many Black and brown people in prison for life as possible.
The sheer irrationality of U.S. prison policies points to race hysteria as the engine of incarceration. How else could we have arrived at a situation in which one out of every three Black males is under some form of criminal justice custody. These numbers reflect much more than bad laws; they reveal white society’s general intentions for Black people: to remove as many as possible from circulation, by any means necessary, with no possibility of return. When compared to the enormity of America’s prison Gulag, housing a million Black inmates, the presence of one Black male in the White House amounts to a mere diversion, especially when that Black president offers virtually no hope to ameliorate the conditions for, or lessen the numbers of, the one million locked inside.
America’s draconian prison policies are motivated by race, not rational concerns about safety. Otherwise, the penitentiaries would not be rapidly filling up with old Black and brown men – and an increasing number of older women – who are less and less dangerous, but more and more costly, by the year.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to www.BlackAgendaReport.com.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com
Direct download: 20090729_gf_LifeInPrison.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT