Women of Color: Domestic Violence Victims & Nuisances in the Eyes of the Law

By: Patrice Turenne 

Blog Category: Domestic Violence Issues and the Law, Economics, & Race 

In the last twenty-five years hundreds of cities and towns across the country have enacted nuisance ordinances. These ordinances make landlords responsible for weeding out drug dealers and other types of disruptive and undesirable tenants, with the goal of saving neighborhoods from blight.  Landlords are tasked with controlling the conduct of their tenants or face penalties, ranging from fines to the loss of their license to rent.  While the goal of creating beautiful and peaceful neighborhoods is admirable, these ordinances have resulted in an unintended negative consequence, namely the labeling of minority domestic violence victims as nuisances and as a result punishing them for the conduct of their abusers.  This is a heavy burden for a domestic violence victim to bear.  A recent case which stemmed from events that took place in Norristown, Pennsylvania, a small town northwest of Philadelphia, attracted nationwide attention to the plight of domestic violence victims in communities with nuisance ordinances.

Lakisha Briggs, an African-American resident of Norristown, Pa, was afraid to call the police to her rental unit when her live-in boyfriend was abusing her.  Her fear was based on a Norristown Municipal Code, which states that landlords are responsible for the “disorderly behavior” of their tenants.  Under the ordinance, disorderly behavior includes “domestic disturbances that do not require that a mandatory arrest be made.”  More than three calls to the same rental unit for domestic disturbances can result in a landlord being forced to evict their disorderly tenant.  Based on the ordinance in effect at the time, Ms. Briggs, after being beaten with a broken ashtray and then stabbed in the neck, was served an eviction notice.  Prior to losing consciousness Briggs begged her neighbor not to call 911 because she had been warned that further calls to police for domestic disturbances might result in her eviction.

Nuisance ordinances like the one in effect in Norristown, in addition to labeling domestic violence victims nuisances, have an additional unintended impact on minorities.  They disproportionately impact African-American women.  This is due to the fact that African-American women are more likely to be domestic violence victims than Caucasian women.  Recent statistics indicate that African-American women experience intimate partner violence at rates significantly higher than Caucasian women.  The same appears to be the case for African-American men as compared to Caucasian men.  With these statistics in mind, if nuisance ordinances remain in place, minority women and men all over the country are at greater risk for ending up in situations like Ms. Briggs, abused and facing eviction as a result.

Luckily, Ms. Briggs’ situation attracted the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union.  A complaint was filed on behalf of Ms. Briggs against Norristown in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  The complaint alleges that Norristown’s ordinance violated Ms. Briggs’ constitutional rights, including her right to procedural and substantive due process.  Nuisance ordinances like the one in place in Norristown threaten citizens’ fundamental right to call the police for help in situations where domestic violence is involved.  We can only hope that Ms. Briggs’ case will result in the removal of domestic violence disturbances from the list of eviction worthy offenses in Norristown, PA.  Furthermore, the pending lawsuit hopefully will result in a wave of similar changes to the nuisance ordinances in effect in other jurisdictions.  Finally, I sincerely hope that the attention brought to Ms. Briggs’ case will result in widespread education, especially for police officers, about domestic violence.  The last thing a victim needs is to feel like a nuisance or a burden when they call for help.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race. 

Sources:

Sandra Park, Shut Up or Get Out: PA City Punishes Domestic Violence Victims Who Call the Police, available at https://www.aclu.org/blog/womens-rights-lgbt-rights-racial-justice-criminal-law-reform/shut-or-get-out-pa-city-punishes  Shut Up or Get Out: PA City Punishes Domestic Violence Victims Who Call the Police.

American Bar Association, Domestic Violence Statistics, available at http://www.americanbar.org/groups/domestic_violence/resources/statistics.html.

Josh Sugarmann, Black Women Face a Greater Risk of Domestic Violence, available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/josh-sugarmann/black-women-face-a-greate_b_4157659.html.

Anna Stolley Persky, A Call for Help an Ordinance That Evicts Tenants for Seeking Police Aid Is Putting Abused Women Out on the Street, ABA J., September 2013.

Erik Eckholm, Victims’ Dilemma: 911 Calls Can Bring Eviction, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/17/us/victims-dilemma-911-calls-can-bring-eviction.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

Impact on Minority Populations of State Refusals to Expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act

By: Aaron Kostyk

Blog Category: Race & Healthcare

The recent Supreme Court decision in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius struck down federal penalties on states that refuse to expand their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”). The Court held that these penalties exceeded the scope of the government’s spending powers. This made the expansion of Medicaid programs essentially voluntary on a state by state basis. Not surprisingly, some states don’t want to accept federal funds to expand their programs. As of October 22, 2013, twenty six states were moving forward with Medicaid expansion and twenty four were not.

Refusal to accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion creates a “gap” in coverage between existing Medicaid programs and subsidies under the ACA and minorities account for a significant portion of the persons in this gap. Minority populations are more likely to be uninsured than the White population (13%), as compared with nonelderly Hispanics (32%), followed by American Indians/Alaska Natives (27%), Blacks (21%), and Asians/Pacific Islanders (18%). These populations are also more likely to have issues accessing affordable healthcare. Furthermore, given that roughly six out of ten Medicaid recipients are persons of color, minorities are more likely to be disproportionately affected by state refusals to expand their Medicaid programs. People in the gap who fall between one hundred percent of the federal poverty level (the current level of Medicaid coverage) and one hundred and thirty eight percent of the federal poverty level (the level at which ACA subsidies apply) will again be without options if states refuse to accept the money to cover them. The ACA has the potential to improve access to healthcare for historically under served populations. Furthermore, it is important to note that the majority of Medicaid recipients are children. In conclusion, states should set aside ideology and act in the best interest of their most vulnerable populations by expanding Medicaid.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.

Sources:

Nat’l Fed’n of Indep. Bus. v. Sebelius, 132 S. Ct. 2566, 2607 (2012).

Health Coverage by Race and Ethnicity: The Potential Impact of the Affordable Care Act, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, available at http://kff.org/disparities-policy/issue-brief/health-coverage-by-race-and-ethnicity-the-potential-impact-of-the-affordable-care-act/, (publication #8423).

Samantha Artiga & Jessica Stephens, The Impact of Current State Medicaid Expansion Decisions on Coverage by Race and Ethnicity, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, July 02, 2013, available at http://kff.org/disparities-policy/issue-brief/the-impact-of-current-state-medicaid-expansion-decisions-on-coverage-by-race-and-ethnicity/, (publication #8450).

Status of State Action on the Medicaid Expansion Decision, as of October 22, 2013, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, available at http://kff.org/health-reform/state-indicator/state-activity-around-expanding-medicaid-under-the-affordable-care-act/ (last visited Oct. 26, 2013).

Undue Burden- How Far Is Too Far?

By: Marica Leach

Blog Category: Racial Implications of Recent Supreme Court Decisions

In a 5-4 decision in Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas v. Abbott, the United States Supreme Court refused to vacate the Fifth Circuit’s stay of the district judge’s injunction against the enforcement of the abortion restriction law known as Texas HB 2.  Texas HB 2 requires that physicians performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the clinic from where the abortion is performed.  Additionally, it requires that medication abortions, non-surgical abortions, be induced only using the FDA approved medications as opposed to the “off the shelf” medications that some physicians recommend.

Planned Parenthood, on behalf of themselves and their clients, argued that Texas HB 2 is unconstitutional since it places an enormous burden on approximately 22,000 who would have to travel almost 150 miles to medical facility where physicians have admitting privileges.  As a result of staying the trial court’s permanent injunction on the enforcement of Texas House Bill HB2, many clinics had to turn away women and some even had to close their doors.

The restrictive abortion statute passed by Texas demonstrates that the Supreme Court is deeply divided.  The Order affirming the stay resulted in two very different opinions.  The dissent points out that the underlying legal question, —whether the new Texas statute is constitutional—is a difficult question that “at least four Members of the Court will wish to consider irrespective of the Fifth Circuit ultimate decision.”  In contrast, Justice Scalia joined by Justices Alito and Thomas feel that Texas HB-2 will win on the merits.  Until that ultimate decision is made, however, the Supreme Court does not find that travelling 150 miles for an abortion is an undue burden for the women living in rural Texas counties especially minority women who will have difficulty affording travel costs to cities such as Corpus Christie.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race. 

Sources:

Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Servs. v. Abbott, 134 S. Ct. 506, 187 L. Ed. 2d 465 (2013), aff’g 2013 WL5857853.Act of July 12, 2013, 83rd Leg., 2d C.S., ch. 1, §§ 1–12, 2013 Tex. Sess. Law Serv. 4795–802 (West).

Putting the Red Light on Racially Motivated Traffic Stops

By: Jay Patel

Blog Category: Racial Profiling & Traffic Stops

Putting the Red Light on Racially Motivated Traffic Stops

In the late 1990’s the State of New Jersey entered into a consent decree with the United States Department of Justice.[1] The basis: New Jersey State Troopers were using race as a means of discriminating among drivers stopped for traffic infractions.[2] The consent decree underscored a stark reality; police officers across the country were using race as a pretext to stop, and in many cases, harass minorities.[3] The question then becomes: How can we curb these flagrant abuses?

Several commentators have proposed suggestions which could be easily implemented and maintained.[4] The first proposal would establish internal police policies which would set forth standardized procedures that an officer would have to follow when conducting a traffic stop.[5] To ensure that these policies are followed, the author suggests financial awards or fines based on departmental adherence.[6] Another commentator has suggested that by either restricting or barring consent based searches race-centric stops will cease.[7] He would apply the Terry standard of reasonable suspicion for a stop and frisk as a prong to any motorist consent.[8] In short, law enforcement officers would need both the motorist’s consent and reasonable suspicion that illegal contraband was present before conducting a search.[9] The other plausible scenario would render ineffective a citizen’s consent to search and effectively bar the police from searching a motor vehicle.[10]

Ideally we would like to reside in a society where racial profiling does not exist; however, that is not the reality. Therefore, it is important that we consider one or many of the proffered solutions as a means to end racial profiling.


[1]  Noah Kupferberg, TRANSPARENCY: A NEW ROLE FOR POLICE CONSENT DECREES, 42 Colum. J. L. & Soc. Probs. 129,139 (2008).

[2]  Id.

[3] Id.  at 134 (detailing the United State Department of Justice’s investigation and subsequent consent decree with the City of Los Angeles); See also  David A. Harris, ESSAY: “DRIVING WHILE BLACK” AND ALL OTHER TRAFFIC OFFENSES: THE SUPREME COURT AND PRETEXTUAL TRAFFIC STOPS, 87 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 544, 561-69 (1997) (detailing several disturbing race-based traffic stops).

[4]  Id. at 576-79; See also, Timothy P. O’Neil, Article: Vagrants in Volvos: Ending Pretextual Traffic Stops and Consent Searches of Vehicles in Illinois, 40 Loy. U. Chi. L.J. 745, 772-779. (2009).

[5] Harris, supra, note 3 at 576-79.

[6] Id. at 579.

[7]  O’Neil, supra, note 4 at 774-75.

[8]  Id. at 773.

[9]  Id. at 778-79.

[10]  Id. at 778.

Whether or not racial profiling in traffic stops is a thing of the past

By: *Marthe Ngwashi

Blog Topic: Racial Profiling & Traffic Stops

Whether or not racial profiling in traffic stops is a thing of the past.

 

Could racial profiling in traffic stops be an issue of the past? While difficult to determine whether discrimination or other factors dictate a traffic stop, people of color, as research indicates, continue to be stopped more often than whites.[1] For a traffic stop, the purpose of profiling based on race remains unsubstantiated, while the length and search rate for stops between a person of color and a similarly situated white driver may be no different at all.[2] In fact, one study noted that a higher level of discrimination on an officer’s part, does not even take place prior to a stop.[3] Analytically though, something likely more important than the stop itself is the character of each stop and the subsequent treatment of the individual(s) detained.[4]

All things considered, research verifies that subjectivity plays a role in an officer’s decision to make a stop.[5] As such, any attempts to discontinue a practice involving racial bias will require commitment and persistence on a police chief’s part and patience from the public. It is unknown whether the bias stems from the culture within a police department or merely a small group of problem officers.[6] As a result, it is evident that racial profiling in traffic stops is not an issue of the past.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.

 


*Marthe Ngwashi is a staff member on Widener’s Journal of Law, Economics & Race. To learn more about Marthe, click here to view her page.

[1] Racial Profiling and Traffic Stops, National Institute of Justice (Jan 10, 2013), http://www.nij.gov/topics/law-enforcement/legitimacy/traffic-stops.htm#noteReferrer1

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

Driving While Intoxicated and Driving While Black

By: *Bruce Owens

Blog Topic: Racial Profiling and Traffic Stops

Driving While Intoxicated and Driving While Black: Analyzing the Inconsistency in Police Traffic Stops and the Proposal of House Bill 2661

Racial Profiling during traffic stops has been notorious in America for many years.  Take the state of Oregon, for example, where Representative Lew Frederick (D-Portland), an African-American male, who is the spokesperson for Portland’s Public Schools, has been stopped three times by the police near his own home.  Oregon’s minority population has been growing since the year 2000 where the population for Hispanics “rose from 8 percent in 2000 to 11.7 percent in 2010,” while African-Americans grew from a substantially small percentage of 1.6 to a miniscule 1.8 percent.  According to an Oregon State Police study in the year 2001-02, it was reported that minorities were “no more likely to be stopped than whites.”  However, they received arrests and citations, rather than warnings, “at greater rates than whites after being stopped.” This has become a huge issue, especially in areas of Oregon where the amount of minority drivers is substantially outweighed by drivers that are white.

It is not always easy to determine, from an outsider’s perspective, whether traffic stops of all or most minorities are actually the result of some illegal activity or being at the wrong place at the wrong time due to heightened suspicions of officers at night or in being in an urban area.  However, a recent attempt by Rep. Frederick is aimed at requiring the collection of data on these type of statistics to help determine what the core issue is when police are making these types of decisions.  The Bill proposed by Rep. Frederick, House Bill 2661, would require a study by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission to collect data on police stops of minorities.  Frederick states, “It’s clear we have racial disparities in stops, arrests and other law enforcement actions.”  “What we do not have is the data to show where it is happening and how often it is happening.”

The Bill will specifically collect data on the following:
1)    Disparities in the racial or economic status of people that are stopped or “subjected to the use of force by police officers;”
2)   The effect racial and economic status “on interactions not related to crime between police officers and members of the public;” AND
3)   “Recruitment and retention of minorities by law enforcement agencies, district attorney offices,” and other facilities.

On paper, this seems like a progressive way of targeting the issue of racial profiling by the police, specifically in traffic stops.  However, the question, as it always will be with legislative bills, is how effective will this study actually be?

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.

_____________________________

*Bruce Owens is a staff member on Widener’s Journal of Law, Economics & Race. To learn more about Bruce, Click here to visit his page.

To learn more about this topic see:

Peter Wong, Bill Would Gather Data On Police Stops of Minorities, Statesmen Journal (Mar. 15, 2013), http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20130312/NEWS/303120016/Bill-would-gather-data-police-stops-minorities.

Hannah Hoffman, Bill Would Require More Collection of Crime Data On Minorities, Statesmen Journal (Mar. 15, 2013), http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20130306/UPDATE/130305058/Bill-would-require-more-collection-crime-data-minorities.

Changing the Landscape of Corporate Leadership: “Know when to hold ‘em, Know when to fold ‘em.”

By: Marcia Leach

Blog Category: Minorities in the Corporate World

Changing the Landscape of Corporate Leadership: “Know when to hold ‘em, Know when to fold ‘em.”[1]

In May of 2011, the Alliance for Board Diversity (“ABD”) Census reported that between 2004 and 2010, Caucasian men in the Fortune 100 corporations gained 32 corporate board seats while African American men lost 42, and women, particularly minority women, had no appreciable increase in corporate board seats.[2] The census also found that Fortune 500 boards were even less diverse than the Fortune 100 boards.[3] Ilene H. Lang, Chair of ABD and President and CEO of Catlyst, called the results “staggering”, in light of today’s labor market having “. . . so many qualified women and minority candidates available for board service.”[4] Thus, the results confirm that in order to change the landscape of corporate leadership, proponents for the diversification of corporate boards need to change their strategic approach by shifting away from arguments “based on social and moral grounds” to “market-based” arguments supporting diversity on corporate boards.”[5]

Evan Roberts in his law review article, Corporate Leadership and the Unfinished Diversity Movement, found that “[D]espite their symbolic rhetoric, these rationales [social and moral grounds] do not appear to energize the business community enough to inspire broad changes in policy.”[6] In response to the judicial opinions in Bakke and Grutter where the majority of the Supreme Court justices “indicated skepticism over arguments for affirmative action based on the need to remedy past (or even present) societal discrimination,” market based arguments offer a way for advocates to utilize the broad ‘diversity’ rationale that eliminated strict consideration of race.”[7] According to Roberts, the “business case for diversity” makes sense in the present social and legal climate and is increasingly playing “a major role in the debate over why firms should seek to accelerate racial and gender integration.” [8]

One study by The Council of Institutional Investors (“CII”) offers “two sale-related” arguments for corporate boards to diversify.[9] First, diverse boards have a “deeper understanding of minority purchasing priorities and better connections to various minority communities” where there has been new growth in marketing opportunities.[10] Second, diverse boards have a better understanding of cultural differences in the global marketplace.[11] “Talented minority candidates can more easily plug themselves into markets where they have an understanding of the cultural differences of the market, relative to their white peers.”[12]

For diversity advocates, surely the time has come “to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em” if they are going to change the corporate landscape.[13]

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.

___________________________________

*Marcia Leach is a staff member on the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race. To learn more about Marcia, click here to view her page.

[1] Kenny Rodgers,The Gambler,(Dream Catcher 1978)

[2] Women and Minorities lose Ground on Fortune 500 Corporate Boards, Diversity Employers, © 2011 by IMDiversity, Inc. http://www.diversityemployers.com/index.php/career-news/137-board-diversity, accessed 3/3/2013.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Evan Roberts, Corporate Leadership and the Unfinished Diversity Movement, 14 Duq. Bus. L.J. 277, 280-81 (Summer 2012).

[6] Id. at 280-81.

[7] Id. at 281

[8] Id.

[9] Id. at 282.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Rodgers, supra note 1.

The Walking Dead & Gun Control

By: *Sara Horatius

Blog Category: Gun Control

The Walking Dead & Gun Control

The walking Dead

In AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the main protagonist, Rick Grimes and a group of survivors fight their way through the city of Atlanta, Georgia against zombies who feed on the flesh of the living, whether it is a human or an animal, to satisfy their constant hunger for flesh. Rick Grimes and the rest of the survivors fight these zombies with knives, clubs, axes, and anything that can be used to smash the zombies brains out so that they can really die; however, when a large herd of zombies come their way, the most effective weapon is a gun. Whether it is a handgun, a rifle, etc., a gun can take out 2-3 zombies at the same time and it is a more accurate way to kill zombies. Even though killing zombies with a gun will make a lot of noise and attract more zombies, it will allow a person to kill a couple of zombies and have a better chance to get away. Any type of gun during a zombie apocalypse is a necessity and a must to defend oneself from being eaten alive.

Flash forward to today and to reality. The United States Supreme Court in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller & McDonald v. Chicago held that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. However, it seems as if Americans are confused as to what kinds of guns are allowed in our homes. Does it just include a hand gun? Assault rifles? Military style weapons? Semi-automatic weapons? Shotguns? Bazookas? Of course the 2nd amendment gives us the right to own a weapon to defend ourselves and our loved ones, however, it is not an unlimited right in my opinion.

From Columbine (1999), to Virginia Tech (2007), to Gabrielle Gifford (2011), to Aurora, Colorado (2012), and then to Newton, CT (2012), mass shootings are on the rise in America. However, gun violence has been an issue even before these mass shootings became sort of the “norm.” Have we forgotten movies like, “Boys in the Hood” or songs like “Many Men” by rapper 50 Cent? Gun violence has been on the rise in our urban cities even before hip-hop or “hood” movies portrayed this fact to the general masses. One urban city that has been hit hard by gun violence has been the city of Chicago. In 2012, 506 people were killed in Chicago due to gun violence. In January 2013, 44 people had already been killed due to gun violence. The sad part is most of the people being killed by guns are young children & teenagers, one being 15 year old Hadiya Pendleton, who was gunned down while hanging out with her friends at a park in Chicago on Jan. 29, 2013.

With all these mass shootings & the constant violence in our urban cities, one has to wonder is it all worth it? Is having a high capacity magazine or assault rifle worth all of those precious lives in Newton, CT or every single life lost in our urban cities every single day? Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles said: “we know that statistics show that you’re more likely to have your gun used in an accident or stolen than you are using it to protect yourself against an intruder.” Alex Gonzalez, a resident of Los Angeles said at the LA gun buyback, ” All these accidents that have been occurring lately, I don’t think it’s worth it to have one at home.”

Let’s try to compromise. There’s nothing wrong with background checks, mental health evaluations, criminal sanctions for selling guns to criminals and banning certain guns, like military style weapons. That’s better than making ALL guns illegal.
As stated previously, during a zombie apocalypse, having any type of gun is extremely important if one wants to survive the zombie apocalypse. Nevertheless, to my knowledge, there is currently no zombie apocalypse and it doesn’t seem as if the apocalypse is going to fall upon us today or tomorrow…maybe even never (unless you are like those people on the infamous show, Doomsday Preppers, on National Geographic). Therefore, there is no need to have these “zombie killing machines” in our homes. Look at it this way, with these mass shootings and the rise of gun violence in our urban cities, those events did not involve people shooting and killing zombies; living & breathing people and children were the ones who were shot & killed by those guns.

Ummm…I think we should all sit down and really think this one through.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.

_________________________________________

*Sara Horatius was the Web & Technology Editor (2012-2013) on the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.
To learn more about this topic see:
http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Los-Angeles-LAPD-Gun-Buyback-Gift-Cards-184818091.html
http://www.guncite.com/
http://colorlines.com/archives/2013/02/5_must-know_facts_about_chicagos_gun_violence.html
Dist. of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008)
McDonald v. City of Chicago, Ill., 130 S. Ct. 3020 (2010)

WJLER Symposium: “Diversity in the Legal Profession”

Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race Upcoming Symposium:

“Diversity in the Legal Profession”

April 25, 2013, 6-9:15 pm

Widener Law Delaware Campus (Vale)

Widener Law Harrisburg Campus (Televised in A180)

Click on the Flyers below to learn more information on the upcoming symposium.

Harrisburg Flyer (Larger View)                                                         Delaware Flyer (Larger View)

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Shattering the Glass Ceiling Through the Entrepreneurial Spirit

By: *Carla Arias

Blog Topic: Minorities in the Corporate World

Shattering the Glass Ceiling Through the Entrepreneurial Spirit

American society has vastly changed in recent decades. When glancing over our political and corporate structure one may assume that the idea of a “glass ceiling” has faded into obscurity. Currently, we have an African American president, a Hispanic American woman on the Supreme Court and minorities holding powerful positions all over the corporate and political arenas. However, it must be understood that although racial lines in our country have been blurred, advancements such as these are typically the exception not the rule.

To better understand the difficulties faced by women and minorities in the workforce we must first define the term “glass ceiling”. Webster’s dictionary has defined it as “an intangible barrier within a hierarchy that prevents women or minorities from obtaining upper level positions.”[1]   This invisible barrier has created a political and corporate society, which hinders the advancement of minorities and woman, thus preventing them from reaching their full potential in their respective fields. A 2010 Board Diversity Census found that Caucasian men hold the majority of high-ranking positions on corporate boards for fortune 500 companies throughout our entire country.[2]  The study also stated that the number of positions held by women and minorities is at a standstill, with no steady advancement, although they are extremely qualified to hold superior titles.[3]

The primary question then becomes, how can minorities or women break through this invisible barrier? As stated above, studies have shown that minorities and women being affected by this barrier do not lack the educational background and drive to advance.[4]  Therefore, one must find another route to combat the glass ceiling. It is my opinion that this can be done through the use of the entrepreneurial spirit that has helped our country succeed since the founding of the thirteen colonies. We are a country created by the ability to look past any barrier, which may stand in the way of formulating a governmental system, innovation or societal advancement.  From the settlers to the trailblazers to the huddled masses, the new American pioneer continues the legacy of the entrepreneurial spirit. This same method of thinking is being used today to further the roles of minorities and woman in all branches of government and the corporate world.

When looking at some of the most powerful companies throughout our country, it becomes evident that immigrants and minorities have been able to break through any invisible barrier to formulate fortune 500 corporations, which greatly impact our economy. Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, has made tremendous contributions to the music and entertainment world and has become one of the most influential entrepreneurs in the world.[5]  One cannot lose sight of the fact that he is an African American man. He falls directly into a group impacted by the glass ceiling. However, through entrepreneurial drive, he shattered through that invisible barrier and was able to run a business in which he held the most powerful position. This route used to combat any sort of limitations based on race and gender can be seen time and time again. Jerry Yang, the co-founder and former CEO of Yahoo! Inc. is a Taiwanese born American[6]  who in theory should have been hindered by the glass ceiling but was not. He was able to use his ideas and drive to become one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world.

The idea of using the entrepreneurial spirit to go around the glass ceiling is not a novel one, but one needs to understand that it is not strictly geared towards those wanting to engage in fortune 500 companies. This is an idea that every American, male, female, or minority can grab on to as a way to reach their full potential. I am a Hispanic American female; some may say I fall into both groups of people who are affected by the glass ceiling; but I am not afraid. I have seen individuals from all walks of life come up with an idea that has potential. They then take that idea and develop it into a business, whether it is a restaurant, a store, a daycare, a medical practice, or even a television show, which might eventually lead to owning their own television network. Although the glass ceiling may still exist, but just as the oceans and the dense wilderness are inadequate to hinder the entrepreneurial spirit, the glass ceiling also cannot hinder the entrepreneurial spirit and it will not prevent women and minorities from reaching their goals. The sky is the limit!

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.

_______________________________

* Carla Arias is a staff member on the Widener Journal, Economics & Race. To learn more about Carla click here to visit her page
[1] “Glass Ceiling.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2013. http://www.merriam-webster.com (4 March 2013).
[2]  Alliance for Board Diversity, Women and Minorities Lose Ground on Fortune 500 Corporate Boards, IMDiversity, (March 4, 2013); http://imdiversity.com/villages/women/women-and-minorities-lose-ground-on-fortune-500-corporate-boards/.
[3] Id.
[4]  Id.
[5]See generally Motown Museum, http://www.motownmuseum.org/story/berry-gordy/ (for a biography on the life and works of Barry Gordy throughout his career as the chairman of Motown Records.)
[6] See generally Forbes, http://www.forbes.com/profile/jerry-yang/ (for a biography on the works of Jerry Yang as the co-founder of Yahoo!,Inc.)