Talking Very Loud
and Saying Something
A 30-something year-old brother recently approached 49-year-old Dr. Julianne Malveaux for a date. When she revealed her age, he suggested that she tell people she is 35 - - or 14 years younger than she really is. She thanked him, then began thinking about the consequences of lying.
"I would have to ask myself, what 14 years of my life would I want to throw away? And there aren't any," she reasoned. This is precisely the kind of analysis I expected and relished during my talk about life and politics with the well-studied author, radio and television commentator, economist and interlocutor.
The eldest of five children, Malveaux entered this world in the midst of global revolution. Two years after she was born in San Francisco in 1953, 29 African and Asian nations met for a historic conference in Bandung, Indonesia. Its purpose was to seek a political and cultural alliance among Black and Brown nations that would defend them from Western colonial powers.
People around the world were pushing for change, but it was Malveaux's parents who provided the basis of her analytical thinking and political agitation. Her father, an educator and realtor, was from Opelousas, Louisiana (hence the name Malveaux). Her mother was a social worker from Moss Point, Mississippi. Malveaux added, "mom was always involved with issues of income distribution and poverty." Both were involved with the NAACP and Urban League.
"My first political memory comes at the age of six, when my mother went to vote for President," she recalls. As they walked toward the polling place, her mother talked to her about Mississippi, segregation, and voting rights. "Then, she picked me up and let me pull the lever for Kennedy," Malveaux continued.
Today, Malveaux describes herself as a "reluctant" or "Jesse Jackson" Democrat, but values the role Black Republicans play in the service of Black people. "When Republicans are in office what happens to Black people if we don't have some Black people who are there to make sure we get our share?" she asks.
Malveaux believes that the increased interest Blacks are showing toward the Republican Party is due to the increased prosperity of some Blacks and their interest in "keeping their money in their pockets." However, her economic success has not radically changed her opinions. She recalled a store owner introducing her to a White neighbor in their gentrifying Downtown, D.C. neighborhood. The neighbor remarked, "Isn't it lovely, all the changes in the neighborhood?" Malveaux sharply replied, "No!"
The coming of upscale stores and the departure of African people have not pleased Malveaux and she blames the policies of DC Mayor Anthony Williams for the situation. He's "the Whitest Black man you ever will see, who has been trying to give our city away block by block to the developers," she says.
While she favors open housing, she laments that some people forgot that their decisions have consequences for the community at large. "We could have maintained vibrant communities, but many people [for example] choose Prince George's County over Washington, D.C."
Malveaux came to the nation's capital in 1994 to work with Pacifica Radio's local affiliate, WPFW-FM. That marriage didn't last long. "They [Pacifica] are far more progressive and wonderful on paper than they are in person," she continued, "I lasted for 18 months, then I had to collect my cookies and go." However, she expresses confidence in her former producer, Tony Regusters, who currently manages the D.C. station. She added, "I'm sure he will take it toward a more positive direction."
Some may see Malveaux as unrelenting. Others see her as true to the cause. In one of her latest books, Unfinished Business: A Democrat and a Republican Take on the 10 Most Important Issues Women Face, which she co-wrote with conservative Deborah Perry, Malveaux wrote, "You'd have to be mad, angry, and crazy to be Black in an America that constantly puts you in an outside position."
She maintains her sanity with the lessons learned from mentors including Dr. Phyllis Wallace, the first Black woman to earn an economics doctorate from Yale. She also found inspiration in Essence magazine's Marcia Gillespie and Susan Taylor. In 1973, while an undergraduate at Boston College, Malveaux became Essence's first college editor. "That really started me with my writing thing," she says. The avid reader also recalls Sonya Sanchez telling the women at her high school during the height of the Black Power and Sexual Revolutions, "The most revolutionary thing you can do is sit on your stuff!"
She likes "music and art that nurture" and for her that includes African art, reggae, and gospel. Occasionally, she listens to "bling-bling" radio to see what's new, but adds, "while the beats are great for aerobics and walking; they do nothing for me spiritually." She continued, "In the morning, it's usually Yolanda Adams and I."
Malveaux admits having her wild days. "I was such a bad actor as a kid that I got put out of about three San Francisco high schools," she says. Like many Black parents, her parents sent their troubled kid back South for a year.
She continues to draw on the lessons learned that year in The South and during the other 48 years of her life including the lessons her mother taught her in the Bay City about voting. Despite having earned a doctorate in economics from MIT, she places much value on political involvement. She affirmed, "politics affects everything in our lives from the cradle to the grave. So if you are prepared to yield those decisions to other people, don't be involved."
Visit Malveaux's website for her current speaking engagements and other activities. Her books are available in most bookstores including her favorites, "Karibu" and "SisterSpace and Books." I like SisterSpace, she said, they "created not only a bookstore, but a community center."