Race File

By Samantha Chanse Dec 15, 2001

Anti-Arab Discrimination

Even before the outbreak of anti-Arab violence in the wake of September 11, some voices were calling attention to an alarming national atmosphere of discrimination against Arab Americans.

According to a report released in August by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), Arab Americans face discrimination and bias in virtually every sector of U.S. society. The report traces hate crimes and discrimination against Arab Americans from the beginning of 1998 to the end of 2000.

According to the report, airline passenger profiling has created a hostile atmosphere that singles out Arab Americans. They are vulnerable to hate crimes and other physical and psychological attacks, and experience discrimination at the hands of would-be and current employers.

The media and entertainment industry demonstrate a strong penchant for negative stereotyping and biased reporting of Arabs and Arab Americans. And in the educational system, defamatory and erroneous textbooks contribute to negative attitudes towards Arab Americans.

Myopic White Americans

A national survey in July found a significant percentage of white Americans incorrectly believe that black Americans are as well off as whites in terms of jobs, incomes, schools, and health care. The survey was conducted by the Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University.

The survey found that 49 percent of all whites wrongly believe that blacks and whites have similar levels of education. In fact, 17 percent of blacks have a college degree, compared with 28 percent of all whites; 79 percent of blacks 25 or older have a high school degree, compared with 88 percent of whites.

In terms of jobs, 50 percent of whites believe that the average black is as well off as the average white in terms of jobs, while the Census shows that one third of all whites and one fifth of all blacks hold professional or managerial jobs. Blacks are also about twice as likely as whites to hold lower-paying, less prestigious jobs, and 8 percent of blacks are unemployed, compared with 3.8 percent of whites.

Although the median household income for whites was $44,366 in 1999 compared with $27,910 for blacks, 42 percent of whites believe the typical black person earned as much as, or more than, the typical white.

Finally, 61 percent of white respondents said the average black person had equal or better access to health care than the average white, contrary to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey in 2000 finding that blacks were almost twice as likely as whites to be without health insurance.

Bus Rider Victory

The Los Angeles-based Bus Riders Union won the latest round in their protracted campaign against "transit racism" in August when a federal appeals court upheld a landmark 1996 consent decree ordering the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to improve bus service.

The court ordered the MTA to buy 248 new buses and pay legal expenses for the BRU. The MTA, which is appealing the new ruling, has argued that the Supreme Court’s Sandoval decision puts the consent decree into question. The Sandoval case established that only discriminatory intent, and not impact, can be challenged under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

The legal fight began in 1994, when the BRU and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a class action civil rights lawsuit after the MTA tried to raise bus fares and eliminate monthly passes. They argued successfully that the transit agency was engaging in de facto discrimination, since it was planning to build a rail system that would benefit middle-class and affluent suburbanites at the expense of bus riders, over 85 percent of whom are low-income people of color.

"Our legal case is very strong. We have demonstrated both discriminatory intent and disparate impacts," said Eric Mann, co-chair of the BRU planning committee and director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center. "The MTA is violating not just our civil rights but a signed consent decree."

Mexico Passes New Indian Rights Bill

The Mexican Congress passed a watered-down version of a law that bans discrimination against Native people based on their race and tribal affiliations. Political and legal representatives of indigenous groups in Mexico said the new law, which was stripped of its major provisions, emerged stillborn.

Earlier drafts of the bill included provisions that called for Native autonomy over land and natural resources. The law was originally intended to help settle the Zapatista movement in Chiapas and grant a measure of legal and social autonomy to indigenous groups. Mexican lawmakers, however, diluted or erased the most substantial clauses of the bill, arguing that the original version would have Balkanized the country.

Indigenous groups had been pushing for the law for years. Mexico’s 10 million Indians are poorer than other Mexicans, and many lack access to drinking water, food, schools, roads, and housing. The Indian Affairs Minister, Xochitl Gálvez, said that racism against Indians is pervasive, although non-Indian Mexicans rarely admit it.