Throughout the ’90s, that glorious decade, just before academics the likes of Henry Louis Gates, Cornel West or Michael Eric Dyson emerged as voices to soon dominate cable news coverage on Black America, political economist Julianne Malveaux set a standard of rugged honesty and incisive critique that has thankfully never been marred by the trappings of acclaim.
Somehow Dr. Malveaux – syndicated columnist, radio and television host, MIT educated economist, businesswoman, scholar, former Bennett College President – always seems to “say it straight” while connecting the complicated terrain of GDPs, racial economic justice and the nation’s history of discrimination all the while making those ties accessible and digestible. Her work and her words continue to resonate with a unique precision and familiarity.
Dr. Malveaux served as the keynote for the YWCA Southeast Wisconsin’s 11th Annual An Evening to Promote Racial Justice on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. As Dr. Malveaux’s words rang with that same familiarity and insight, she made clear how little progress had been made toward true racial economic justice.
The YWCA’s An Evening to Promote Racial Justice has included a range of presenters who have addressed important histories that inform contemporary issues, with an eye on things to come. The Evening also includes two awards to local activists who promote Eliminating Racism and Empowering Women. This year’s awards went to Reggie Jackson and Alida Cardos Whaley, respectively.
Reggie Jackson is a local educator and longtime Griot with America’s Black Holocaust Museum. Founded by Dr. James Cameron, America’s Black Holocaust Museum was a cultural institution in the heart of Milwaukee’s African American community. Dr. Cameron was the last known survivor of a lynching in the U.S. and dedicated his life to fighting for racial equality. After the museum closed in 2008, Jackson and a committed few preserved the institution and expanded its reach by moving it virtual. Cameron’s imprint on Jackson and his lingering legacy was clear as Jackson reminded us that racism was indeed a virus eating at the soul of our nation and its people. In earning the Eliminating Racism award Jackson’s tireless efforts, ranging from chairing the Dr. James Cameron Legacy Foundation Board to giving countless lectures and workshops on the experiences of African Americans, was recognized by a community of his peers. Jackson explained to us Tuesday that on topics like racial inequality one should always, “Say it straight, or it comes out crooked.”
STITCH Milwaukee co-founder and founder of the Wisconsin Doulas of Color Collective, Alida Cardos Whaley, was recognized with the Empowering Women award. Whaley’s efforts rest at the heart of grassroots mobilization for basic human rights, such as food and health justice. Whaley’s rich artistic spirit was undeniable. Whaley’s acceptance speech reverberated as a tour de force that webbed history, culture, art and science into a brilliant lesson on the importance of self-identity and community-based determination. While encouraging us to continually resist the indignities and trauma that comes with mental, physical and emotional colonization, and by giving props to the First Nations as she ended, Whaley used quiet force and artistry to, “say it straight.”
Dr. Malveaux, taking cues from the award recipients, addressed the crowd of several hundred as straight as anyone of her expertise could do when stating that the nation’s economy is rigged to privilege some and not others. The true grist of her words rested on the realities of the nation’s so-called economic recovery. Dr. Malveaux reminded that we have not witnessed an economic recovery for African Americans and Latinos, and in fact the wealth gap has increased between whites and blacks. She also warned against the impact of an unfair tax code that privileges the wealthy. Yet, what made her comments all the more accessible were calls for a livable minimum wage, lowering college costs and thus student loan debt, improving our public schools to fully equip youth to compete in a globalized labor market, and remaining vigilant in demanding gender-based pay equality and family medical leave benefits. Throughout, Dr. Malveaux effectively connected these critical issues to the political economy of Milwaukee and Wisconsin.
This event and others hosted by those in attendance are critical to the soul of our city. It becomes increasingly difficult to wade through all the negatives, which is exactly why we must herald our local champions for justice. It is also important that the city’s woes, and the heroic challenges to those woes, continue to receive national attention. As Dr. Malveaux concluded her remarks, she questioned the political will of elected officials and instructed us to demand more of them, which in turn can help shape the policy making process. Meaningful change requires all hands on deck, particularly in these trying times. And it also requires a continued discourse, locally and nationally, that “says it straight.”