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African Americans have made many accomplishments in the tech field, as shown in this awards notice of the “Blacks in Tech Top 10 Awards” from the Black Business Journal in Austin, Texas, last year.

Racial (in)equality in America

In honor of Black History Month, we are dedicating this February newsletter to the issue of blacks in technology and Harriet Tubman—a woman of strength and an early adopter for freedom.

More than 50 years ago, following an investigation into the causes of civil unrest and race riots in the mid-1960s, President Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (better known as the Kerner Commission) concluded that the nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” Present-day racial inequities embody the Kerner Commission’s dire prediction. We know, and have known for decades, that if nothing is done to bridge the vast racial wealth divide, the nation will remain on the ill-fated path charted by the Kerner Commission five decades ago.

A very important part of the problem is that the most important data, used for federal, private sector and non-profit initiatives, is both missing and misinterpreted. For example, in the last five years, Federal Reserve data indicates that the wealth of Black households increased by $3,500—a positive trend on the surface, but only by a small fraction of the $140,000 increase in wealth experienced by white households over the same period. The median household income for a Black family is still around $20,000 less than for other families in America. This comparison of racial income and wealth inequality suggests that the wealth divide probably will not be bridged in this century without significant new strategic initiatives.

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YouTube short video: 
Black History Month: Black scientists and inventors, part 1
Black History Month should be a time for us to commemorate African American scientists and inventors and their remarkable accomplishments that all too often are overlooked. This enlightening family- and kid-friendly video features George Washington Carver, Madam C.J. Walker, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams and other African Americans whose discoveries need illumination. One of its most important themes is that, when America or any society fails to nurture and reward minority communities, we all lose the potential future benefits, including our own children. We hope that you and your children will watch this video, learn from it, and consistently apply its message.
Our recommended book this month

Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton

About 15 years ago, after languishing in popular culture and historical legends since the early 1940s, a series of outstanding scholarly and highly readable biographies revealed Harriet Tubman’s truly amazing life: Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories, by Jean M. Humez (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004); Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero, by Kate Clifford Larson (Ballantine Books, 2009); and Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom, by Catherine Clinton, (Little, Brown & Company, 2004), which we are reviewing here.

Tubman was immortalized as a famous conductor on the Underground Railroad; author Catherine Clinton details Harriet Tubman’s secret journeys into Maryland during the 1850s to rescue enslaved women, men, and children, earning her the biblical name “Moses.”

No history of slavery can be fully understood without reading Clinton’s marvelous book that transforms a trove of previously untapped documents, sources, and genealogical research. Tubman is revealed as so much more than a black woman who managed to escape enslavement in 1849, refusing to spend her life in bondage. A complex, brilliant, shrewd, and deeply religious woman, driven by love of family and faith, Tubman dedicated herself to fighting for liberty and equality for the remainder of her long life. She returned again and again to liberate her beloved family and more than 70 friends.

Born into slavery on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Tubman bore the scars of whippings all her life. She suffered permanent disability from a head injury resulting from an object thrown at a slave by an enraged overseer. During her lifetime Tubman gained international acclaim as an abolitionist, Civil War spy, suffragist, nurse and remarkable humanitarian. By the late 1850's, Tubman was appearing on the antislavery lecture circuit. Her completely unpredictable achievements resulted in international celebrity, acclaim and close ties with Northern politicians, abolitionists, and Frederick Douglass.

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Arnold Schuchter photo for his blog
Arnold's Analysis

The centuries-long struggle for racial justice continues

By ARNOLD SCHUCHTER, St. James Faith Lab Tech Editor

When we hear BlackRock Inc.’s Larry Fink, CEO of the world’s largest asset manager, urging investors to pay attention to global environmental risks, we also hear the calls of other financial and corporate executives for their cohorts to do well by doing social good. Good luck, however, to the average citizen, or even the sophisticated investor, trying to figure out from sundry data sources, what companies actually are doing to promote racial or gender equity, sustainability, fairer labor practices and the like. Some companies disclose a great deal of information that may or may not be relevant. Many others say little or nothing. So the idea of discerning from thousands of companies or stocks what companies have been doing positively in response to social or environmental issues is problematic to say the least.

The problem for all of us is not the trustworthiness or worthiness of ideals among politically left, right, and center businesspeople and politicians. The problem, which will not be easily solved in the foreseeable future, is the availability and usefulness of data for application to socially conscious action, including business investments. How can we assess what business, and even the U.S. government at various levels, is doing or not doing to improve racial equality if there simply is not enough information that has been vetted, analyzed, and disseminated online and otherwise?

Another problem, which has not been addressed for decades, is the Federal government itself, and even its most liberal members, setting goals for the economy which are based on a fundamental misreading of the nature of unemployment in America. In the mid-1970s, with rising joblessness among blacks, and the Federal Reserve Bank following its own mandates driven by their preferred economic theories, the civil rights community pressed for passage of what became the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act. The heart of the bill, for which thanks to the Congressional Black Caucus I served as floor manager in the House of Representatives, was a requirement that the Federal Reserve work with Congress and the White House to ensure “full employment” as well as “reasonable price stability.”

In practice, however, since passage of the bill in 1978, the Fed has prioritized price stability over “full employment.” Even more important, however, “full employment” and the official Federal unemployment rate only count jobless individuals actively looking for work and not persons who would like a job but have been discouraged from searching for one. These “discouraged jobless” include hundreds of thousands of Blacks who know that they have very poor job prospects. We don’t know today how many Blacks of any age group have literally dropped out of the labor market for various reasons, irrespective of U.S. labor demand trends, growth of wages and better quality jobs going begging.

Many socially conscious investors have been complaining lately about the adequacy of information/data on what business has been doing on environmental, social and governance issues (ESG). Much of the ESG information made available by companies seems like more of a PR marketing story. How do we dig deeper into the reality of what companies are doing to remedy racial inequality or any other ESG goal? Perhaps advocates for racial justice need to take a page from the book of some leading asset management and investment companies that are using quantum computing and AI tools to assess the ESG performance of companies in their portfolios or potential investments. In other words, are companies claiming to do social good actually backing up their claims with measurable action?

Advocates for racial justice and other social good, including those calling for much more responsible corporate investment in products, services, labor practices, business development, etc., sooner rather than later need to rely much more on powerful computer systems systematically running AI models across tens of thousands of data sources, and read, digest, and analyze them. These data sources can even include presentations and interactions by businesspeople and techies at seminars, workshops and international events, like the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. AI and natural language processing (NLP) even can track everything that business representatives are saying in any public venue. The era of civil rights organizations hiring really smart analysts to track indications of racial equality progress in communities across the nation eventually will be a thing of the past.

Another fundamental problem is that many of us who care deeply about and advocate for racial justice do not really understand the racial dynamics at play in our nation that continue to make racial progress elusive. This is not a new problem. Sincere efforts to remedy racial injustice since the era of emancipation began have not really reflected an in-depth understanding of those complex dynamics.

We will continue at St. James Faith Lab and in our community to do everything possible to challenge racial and other injustice and create a fair, just and inclusive democracy. As Harriet Tubman fully realized, after dealing with slavery for her whole life, and with complete conviction told Lincoln and his advisors, “in addition to hope and prayer, it will be necessary to kill the snake that keeps on biting its victims.” With the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, Lincoln killed the snake…or did he?

Helpful terms and topics

We have prepared a glossary of helpful terms and topics, from artificial intelligence all the way to 5G, which you can find at our website by clicking the above link.

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