Cape Town’s New Masculinity

CAPE TOWN — To cut themselves free of the gender norms fed to them since birth, young South Africans aren’t using sharp edges but rather soft fabrics and turns of phrase. Their fashion and styling choices, as well as the words they use to describe their own bodies, challenge essentialism and the notion that any of our outward characteristics are fixed.

These young South Africans, most visible in urban centers like Cape Town, are playful in the ways they present themselves to the world. They eschew European designer labels manufactured for consumerism in favor of local designers, many of whom have caught the spirit of the moment.

That Cape Town, known as the “Mother City,” has become a front in the war on Western gender roles is somewhat fitting. It’s where the Dutch and, later, the British began their colonization of South Africa in earnest.

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‘Atlanta Skips A Grade

What is “Atlanta,” exactly? It’s a fair but limiting question.

Fair, because, look, if one week you were watching a show about a couple who might have br28oken up at a German-culture festival, and then the next week they’re gone and you’re watching a road comedy about an exasperated rapper and his pathologically distractible barber, and the episode after that is a mini horror film built around a different character trapped in the mansion of a kooky human mannequin, the changeups might feel destabilizing. But the question is limiting since so much TV in general right now resembles no TV that’s come before it.

“Atlanta,” whose second season wrapped up on FX on Thursday night, proudly embodies that development. No episode looked or felt the same as the one before it.

[Read our recap of the Season 2 finale of “Atlanta”]

The show has four central characters — Earn; Alfred; Darius; and Earn’s sometimes ex-girlfriend, Van — who veer in and out of friendship, selfhood, personal clarity and, often, the show itself. In a classic television sense, “Atlanta” is about them. But it’s also increasingly about itself: what its makers can do with the medium, yes, and also what’s possible for the twinned comedies of race and status. It knows the assorted bars a half-hour “sitcom” faces and sets out to raise, vault over and demolish them, to prioritize “sit” over “com.” “Atlanta” is like a rapper obsessed with his own brilliance. You want to see if the show can top itself because that self-regard is part of the hook. But loving this show means worrying that it might be devoured by its own genius, that it’s too great to last, that, eventually, conceit will cannibalize concept. This second batch of episodes was more obviously, aggressively ambitious. The show became cinema (one ominous aerial shot of a vegetal forest canopy made me want vinaigrette) and appeared to have on its mind the ideas in “Get Out,” the moods of “Moonlight,” the hypnotic ambiguities of David Lynch. Some of that reach toward movie-ness nudged the show into self-conscious precocity, the equivalent of skipping a grade.

Ben Carson vs. the Fair Housing Act

27STATE1-superJumboThe contempt of the housing and urban development secretary, Ben Carson, for the Fair Housing Act of 1968 has blinded him to policies that are in the nation’s best interest, and made him a prime target for lawsuits and court intervention. Last year, for example, the Federal District Court in Washington stopped the Department of Housing and Urban Development from derailing an Obama-era program that helps low-income families receiving federal assistance to find homes in middle-class communities with good schools, transportation and jobs. Now, the court would be wise to bar HUD from shelving another set of rules — those that require communities to analyze segregation and submit plans for remedying it as a condition for drawing down billions of dollars in federal aid.

new lawsuit filed by fair housing groups shows that HUD’s decision last January to suspend the segregation rule — in the absence of notice, public consultation or even plausible explanation — violates federal law. If the suspension is allowed to stand, it will essentially vacate federal oversight of as much as $5.5 billion a year in development money that is being parceled out to nearly 1,000 jurisdictions around the country. Freed from federal scrutiny, jurisdictions with proven histories of using federal money to confine low-income families in impoverished, racially isolated areas would be free to carry on business as usual. The Fair Housing Act, which turned 50 last month, was meant to solve America’s segregation problem by requiring state and local governments that accepted federal aid to “affirmatively further” fair housing goals — which meant making credible efforts to roll back segregation, which the federal government itself had fostered through discriminatory mortgage policies. But elected officials from both parties sold out that promise, allowing state and local officials to continue policies that sustained even egregious forms of segregation without fear of losing access to federal dollars. Governments that received federal aid were required only to produce vague, nonbinding analyses of “impediments” to fair housing. These were essentially filed away and had no real impact on housing development decisions.

The Obama administration wrestled with this issue in a legally prescribed rule-making process that lasted several years and involved extensive consultation with stakeholders. The rule, which became effective in 2015, defined compliance with the “affirmatively furthering” provision of the Fair Housing Act as “replacing segregated living patterns with truly integrated and balanced living patterns, transforming racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty into areas of opportunity, and fostering and maintaining compliance with civil rights and fair housing laws.”

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The Cities Where African-Americans Are Doing The Best Economically 2018

26goldbergWeb-master768The 2007 housing crisis was particularly tough on African-Americans, as well as Hispanics, extinguishing much of their already miniscule wealth. Industrial layoffs, particularly in the Midwest, made things worse. However the rising economic tide of the past few years has started to lift more boats. The African-American unemployment rate fell to 6.8% in December, the lowest level since the government started keeping tabs in 1972. Although that’s 3.1 percentage points worse than whites, the gap is the slimmest on record. A tightening labor market since 2015 has also driven up wages of black workers, many of whom are employed in manufacturing and other historically middle and lower-wage service industries.

There’s still much room for economic improvement for the nation’s black community — the income gap with whites remains considerably higher than it was in 2000, with the median black household earning 35.5% less — but as we pay homage to Martin Luther King this week, the record low unemployment rate is a cause for celebration. President Trump has predictably taken credit for the good news, but kudos more likely should go to those states and metropolitan areas that have created the conditions for black progress.

The gains have not been evenly spread. To determine where African-Americans are faring the best economically, we evaluated America’s 53 largest metropolitan statistical areas based on three critical factors that we believe are indicators of middle-class success: the home ownership rate as of 2016; entrepreneurship, as measured by the self-employment rate in 2017; and 2016 median household income. In addition, we added a fourth category, demographic trends, measuring the change in the African-American population from 2010 to 2016 in these metro areas, to judge how the community is “voting with its feet.” Each factor was given equal weight.

The South Also Rises

One of the great ironies of our time is that the best opportunities for African-Americans now lie in the South, from which so many fled throughout much of the 20th century. In the past few decades, many good jobs have moved South and blacks, like many whites and Hispanics, have followed.

The South dominated the previous version of this ranking, developed through the Center for Opportunity Urbanism, three years ago, and still does. All of the top 10 metro areas are in the South, led in a tie for the No. 1 spot by Washington, DC-VA-MD-WV and Atlanta, which was our previous leader.

Washington, with its ample supply of well-paid federal jobs, is the metro area where blacks have the highest median household income in the nation: $69,246. Amid rising home prices, the black home ownership rate has dipped to 48.3% from 49.2%, but that’s still fourth highest among the largest metro areas.

Atlanta, with its historically black universities and strong middle class, has long been described as the black capital of America, and its thriving entertainment scene has given rise to claims that it’s become a cultural capital as well. Entrepreneurship is strong, with some 20% of the metro area’s black working population self-employed, the highest proportion in the nation, and though median black household income is quite a bit lower than in the D.C. area at $48,161, costs are lower too. In-migration has slowed since the financial crisis, but the black population is still up 14.7% since 2010.

Atlanta and Washington are followed in our ranking by Austin, Texas, Baltimore and Raleigh, N.C., with the rest of the top 20 rounded out exclusively by Southern cities, except for Boston in 19th place.

Two key determinants seem to be driving these rankings: homeownership and self-employment, traditional benchmarks of entering the middle class. All of the top 10 boast homeownership rates that match or well exceed the black national average of 41 percent. (It should be noted that the national average is a full third lower than the national average for all ethnicities.)

These patterns hold up as well for income. Black incomes have been rising most rapidly since 2010 in largely fast-growing Sun Belt locales, as analyst and Forbes contributor Pete Saunders has found, such as Nashville, Raleigh and Austin. It appears as if the fastest income gains are generally being made in the places where other ethnic groups are advancing as well. After Washington, the metro areas where blacks have the highest annual household incomes are San Jose ($65,400), the capital of Silicon Valley, and No. 4 Baltimore ($53,200), which like Washington has a huge federal employment base.

Gallery: Where African-Americans Are Doing The Best Economically

The New Great Migration

Perhaps the most persuasive indicator of African-American trends lies in population growth. During the period of the Great Migration out of the south in the early 20th century, an estimated 6 million blacks headed north and west to cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and St. Louis. But now the tide is reversing, with the African-American population dropping in the latter three over the past six years, as well as in San Francisco and cities with fading industrial cores like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee.

In contrast the metro areas whose African-American populations have expanded the most since 2010 are the South and Sun Belt: Las Vegas, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, Phoenix.

In some cases it’s clear that blacks are leaving for better economic opportunities. In others, high housing prices may play a role: In Los Angeles and San Francisco the black homeownership rate is about 9 percentage points lower than the major metro average.

In San Francisco the black community seems headed toward irrelevance and extinction as tech workers have driven up home prices to unprecedented levels; the metropolitan area’s African-American population has dropped 6.3% from 2010.

The situation is particularly dire in California where strict land-use and housing regulations have been associated with increases in home prices relative to income of 3.5 times the rest of the nation since 1995. In coastal California, African-Americans face prices from more than two to nine times their annual incomes than non-Hispanic whites. African-American homeownership rates in California are down 17% in the Golden State compared to a decline of 11% for Hispanics and 6% for non-Hispanic whites. Asian homeownership rates have stayed the same.

Blacks, like many other Americans, are likely to continue to move, as Pete Saunders notes, to cities that are both high growth and relatively low cost. In these cities, housing and land use policies generally allow the market to function, resulting in lower home prices and greater housing choice. Business investment and job creation are also strongly backed. Blacks, like others, are moving to these places for opportunity.

 In many cases this means a reversal of the Great Migration and a return trip to parts of the country now far more accommodating to black aspirations than those places which once provided the greatest opportunities.

A Black Woman Who Defied Segregation in Canada Will Appear on Its Currency

viola desmondOTTAWA — Nine years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Jim Crow-era bus in Montgomery, Ala., Viola Desmond tried to sit in a whites-only section of a movie theater in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.

Ms. Desmond, a businesswoman who had her own line of cosmetics and who died in 1965, was prosecuted for trying to defraud the provincial government of 1 cent — the difference in sales tax for a seat in the balcony, where blacks were expected to sit and the whites-only ground floor ticket price. While she offered to pay the tax, she was convicted and fined 26 Canadian dollars, including court costs, at a trial at which the theater owner acted as the prosecutor and she was without a lawyer.

Now she is about to become the first black person — and the first woman other than a British royal — to appear alone on Canadian currency. The new series of $10 bills is to be released this year.

“Outside of the Underground Railroad story, which has a fair amount of mythologizing around it, Canadians do not know about black Canadian history,” said Barrington Walker, a history professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. “Black history was imagined as not central to the founding of the country.”

Underscoring Mr. Walker’s point, Ms. Desmond’s story was little known in Canada until her sister, Wanda Robson, began drawing attention to it after taking a course in 2003 on race relations. Ms. Robson, who unveiled the design of the bank note last Thursday in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was 73 at the time of her studies at University College of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, the sisters’ home province.

Trump’s Threat to Democracy

EYESTwo political scientists specializing in how democracies decay and die have compiled four warning signs to determine if a political leader is a dangerous authoritarian:

1. The leader shows only a weak commitment to democratic rules. 2. He or she denies the legitimacy of opponents. 3. He or she tolerates violence. 4. He or she shows some willingness to curb civil liberties or the media.

“A politician who meets even one of these criteria is cause for concern,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, both professors at Harvard, write in their important new book, “How Democracies Die,” which will be released next week.

“With the exception of Richard Nixon, no major-party presidential candidate met even one of these four criteria over the last century,” they say, which sounds reassuring. Unfortunately, they have one update: “Donald Trump met them all.”

A survey that year found that the Venezuelan public overwhelmingly believed that “democracy is always the best form of government,” with only one-quarter saying that authoritarianism is sometimes preferable. Yet against their will, Venezuelans slid into autocracy.

“This is how democracies now die,” Levitsky and Ziblatt write. “Democratic backsliding today begins at the ballot box.”

We tend to assume that the threat to democracies comes from coups or violent revolutions, but the authors say that in modern times, democracies are more likely to wither at the hands of insiders who gain power initially through elections. That’s what happened, to one degree or another, in Russia, the Philippines, Turkey, Venezuela, Ecuador, Hungary, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Poland and Peru.

Venezuela was a relatively prosperous democracy, for example, when the populist demagogue Hugo Chávez tapped the frustrations of ordinary citizens to be elected president in 1998.

Likewise, the authors say, no more than 2 percent of Germans or Italians joined the Nazi or Fascist Parties before they gained power, and early on there doesn’t seem to have been clear majority support for authoritarianism in either Germany or Italy. But both Hitler and Mussolini were shrewd demagogues who benefited from the blindness of political insiders who accommodated them.

Let me say right here that I don’t for a moment think the United States will follow the path of Venezuela, Germany or Italy. Yes, I do see in Trump these authoritarian tendencies — plus a troubling fondness for other authoritarians, like Vladimir Putin in Russia and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines — but I’m confident our institutions are stronger than Trump.

It’s true that he has tried to undermine institutions and referees of our political system: judges, the Justice Department, law enforcement agencies like the F.B.I., the intelligence community, the news media, the opposition party and Congress. But to his great frustration, American institutions have mostly passed the stress test with flying colors.

“President Trump followed the electoral authoritarian script during his first year,” Levitsky and Ziblatt conclude. “He made efforts to capture the referees, sideline the key players who might halt him, and tilt the playing field. But the president has talked more than he has acted, and his most notorious threats have not been realized. … Little actual backsliding occurred in 2017.”

That seems right to me: The system worked.

And yet.

For all my confidence that our institutions will trump Trump, the chipping away at the integrity of our institutions and norms does worry me. Levitsky and Ziblatt warn of the unraveling of democratic norms — norms such as treating the other side as rivals rather than as enemies, condemning violence and bigotry, and so on. This unraveling was underway long before Trump (Newt Gingrich nudged it along in the 1990s), but Trump accelerated it.