Tag Archive | "Race and Culture"


Ferguson Opened the Door to a Discussion of Black Equality

 Suddenly the nation is talking about black equality.

It took Molotov cocktails in Ferguson, Mo., to forcefully penetrate our slumbering racial consciousness. Ferguson has become a metaphor for race relations in the 21st century; a signifier for the convergence of poverty, segregation, police brutality, and federal and civic neglect. Most importantly, the Ferguson crisis has forced the nation to re-examine the idea of black equality.

the-hartford-guardian-OpinionMake no mistake: Notions of black equality travel through both historical and contemporary terrain that Americans are loath to discuss. Black equality is more specific, and ironically more universal, than the generic advocacy of “racial equality.”

Anti-black racism in America is essential to understanding the roots of the Ferguson tragedy. From this perspective, Michael Brown is simply the latest victim in a much larger racial drama.

Black enslavement created this nation and in the process reinvented global capitalism. Our national heritage includes deep and enduring patterns of institutional racism that haunt us all even as some deny its very existence. Contrary to popular opinion, the civil rights movement did not save America’s soul. It merely ushered us into a new, uneasy phase of national race relations, where transcendent black achievement co-exists alongside staggering black disadvantage.

Black equality is always the unspoken elephant in the room in discussions of race and democracy. This is not to ignore the issues of class on obvious display during this upheaval, since the black poverty rate, which stands at 28 percent, should be a national crisis. Almost 40 percent of black children (pdf) live below the poverty line. To be #PBB (Poor, Black and Broke) is part of the urban black experience and is quickly becoming a suburban and rural phenomenon as well.

The search for black equality in the age of Obama has been obscured, even hampered, by the fetishization of the transcendent achievement of black elites, exemplified by the president’s own iconography. Not to blame President Barack Obama or suggest that black excellence be ignored—it can’t and it shouldn’t. But so long as we remain idly obsessed with the purchasing power and bling of rappers, movie stars and celebrities, we ignore our collective responsibility to the black poor and working class who make up the bulk of black America.

The measuring stick for American democracy now, as always, is how far a nation based in racial slavery, subjugation and caste has come on the issue of black equality. Ending racial segregation, unemployment, poverty and mass incarceration in the black community is a universal struggle. If they are defeated here, poverty and inequality can be eradicated nationally. Conversely, so long as they thrive in the black community, the rest of society will continue to be plagued by massive inequality, too.

Black equality in reality would mean that African-American success and failure would be closely aligned with that of our white counterparts. This would lift millions out of poverty, transform public education, employ countless numbers of the unemployed and release thousands from the criminal-justice system.

Perhaps most importantly, black equality would end unequal treatment that African Americans receive from institutions and their representatives. Michael Brown’s death is the tip of the iceberg on this score. Access to health care, voting rights, good jobs and schools, local city services, and environmentally safe, clean neighborhoods are all impacted not just by racial bias but also by anti-black racism.

Diversity, multiculturalism and racial equality are not enough, even as these terms all flow, ironically, from the black freedom struggle that inspired so many other groups (including labor, farmworkers, Latinos and women) seeking justice.

Black equality holds the key not only to democracy’s future but also to our very humanity. It’s the enduring national yardstick and thermometer. We can judge the treatment of immigrants, gays and lesbians, poor people, the physically challenged, and the marginalized by the identity that has served as America’s literal and figurative bête noire.

Ferguson offered powerful glimpses of the faces whose successes, failures and achievements offer the best measure of black equality.

People are hungry for the truth. America’s racial Pandora’s box has been opened, and whether or not we are courageous enough to admit it, there are many more potential Fergusons awaiting us if we don’t get our own house in order. Like all moments of crisis, Ferguson offers the nation an important opportunity: to finally dedicate the full weight of our national political, economic and intellectual resources not just to advancing black equality but to actually achieving it.

Peniel E. Joseph, a contributing editor at The Root, is founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and a professor of history at Tufts University. He is the author of Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America, Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama and Stokely: A Life. Follow him on Twitter.

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The Lighter the Skin, the Shorter the Prison Term?

By Topher Sanders, The Root

Colin Powell said it, Sen. Harry Reid hinted at it about President Barack Obama, and black folks have known it for hundreds of years. There are advantages to being a light-skinned black person in the United States.

Research on those advantages isn’t new, but with the release of a recent study by Villanova University, the breadth of quantitative studies that examine colorism, or discrimination based on skin tone, continues to increase. From housing opportunities to employment chances to which women have a good shot at getting married, the lighter-is-better dynamic is at play, research shows.

Villanova researchers studied more than 12,000 cases of African-American women imprisoned in North Carolina and found that women with lighter skin tones received more-lenient sentences and served less time than women with darker skin tones.

The researchers found that light-skinned women were sentenced to approximately 12 percent less time behind bars than their darker-skinned counterparts. Women with light skin also served 11 percent less time than darker women.

The study took into account the type of crimes the women committed and each woman’s criminal history to generate apples-to-apples comparisons. The work builds on previous studies by Stanford University, the University of Colorado at Boulder and other institutions, which have examined how “black-looking” features and skin tone can impact black men in the criminal-justice arena.

But researchers say this is the first study to look at how colorism affects black women and how long they may spend in jail. Part of the reason may simply come down to how pretty jurors consider a defendant to be, and that being light-skinned and thin (also a factor studied in the research) are seen as more attractive, says Lance Hannon, co-author of the Villanova study.

Racism gets all the headlines, but colorism is just as real and impacting, Hannon explains. How “white” someone is perceived matters. “Colorism is clearly not taken as seriously or is not publicly discussed as much as racism, and yet these effects are pretty strong and the evidence is pretty strong,” he says. “It’s a very real problem, and people need to pay attention to it more.”

Christina Swarns, director of the Criminal Justice Practice for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, says the study’s findings are part of a larger problem in how the justice system deals with African Americans. “It is obviously part and parcel of the problem of overincarceration of the African-American community in this country,” she says. “There is unquestionably … an association between race and criminality, and I think this study emphasizes how skin color plays an important role in that perception of a link between race and criminality.”

William Darity, professor of African-American studies and economics at Duke University and director of the Research Network on Racial & Ethnic Inequality, has studied the impact of skin shade on marriage rates for women and employment for men.

Darity says the Villanova study expands previous research and underscores a known truth. “This has been a long-standing issue and problem that all blacks don’t face the same type or degree of discrimination,” he says.

Treating people differently because of the lightness or darkness of their skin isn’t exclusive to whites. As an example, Darity cites his research, which found that there are “real” disadvantages for darker-skinned black women when it comes to their chances of getting married.

“And one would have to say that’s to a large degree the consequence of preferences on the part of black men,” he says. That same preference for lighter-skinned black women over darker-skinned black women is true for white men, Darity adds.

But there has been recent movement by the government to take colorism more seriously, Hannon says. He pointed to a 2008 initiative by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that explicitly considers colorism. Hannon also notes that because the Civil Rights Act refers to “color” and not simply race, the door is open for litigation around colorism, which could also push the policy dial.

Darity believes that the benefits of light skin have to be addressed to cause change. “There are clear social and pecuniary benefits to being lighter-skinned in America,” Darity says. “Unless we eliminate those benefits, this will go on, because the advantages are real.”

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More Latinos in U.S. Identifying as Indian

 A growing number of Latinos in the U.S. are identifying as Amerindians—a term used to identify indigenous people of the Americas. According to U.S. Census Data, the number of both South- and North American-born Latinos who identify as Amerindians has tripled since 2000, to 1.2 million from 400,000. The trend underlies an ongoing debate over how many Latinos can and should identify their ethnic origin.

“There has been an actual and dramatic increase of Amerindian immigration from Latin America,” José C. Moya, a professor of Latin American history at Barnard College, told the New York Times this weekend in a story about more U.S. Latinos identifying as Indians. Moya attributes the increase of Amerindians to immigration over the last two decades from regions with larger indigenous population.

But Carlos Quiroz, a Washington D.C. activist and blogger born in Peru, says the identifying as Hispanic or Latino is innaucurate for most immigrants in the U.S. coming from North and South America. Quiroz developed YouTube tutorial videos discussing how immigrants from Latin America should fill out in the 2010 Census.

“Do not mark Hispanic unless you were born in Spain and all your ancestors are from Spain, you’re not Latino unless you speak Latin or if you’re ancestors are from any Latin country of Europe. Latinos are people of European descent from Southern Europe,” Quiroz said in his video titled “2010 Census: Write in Your True Race.”

“Hispanic is not a race, ” Quiroz told The NY Times this weekend. “Hispanic is not a culture. Hispanic is an invention by some people who wanted to erase the identity of indigenous communities in America.”

Read more here.

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For Women, Strauss-Kahn Case Is One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

By Viji Sundaram, NAM News Analysis

No one who has been wrongfully accused of a crime should be prosecuted.

At this point, though, it is anyone’s guess whether the hotel maid who accused former International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her this past May was telling the truth. What happened in his Sofitel Hotel room is a matter of her word that it was rape against his that it was consensual sex.

As prosecutors, who at first believed her story, dug into her past, it became increasingly clear that the maid had exhibited a careless disregard for the truth on several occasions. So why should anyone believe her now, one might ask.

Initially, women’s groups felt heartened by this woman, whose name has been withheld because she is an alleged rape victim. Apparently assaulted while working in a modestly paying job, this relatively new immigrant from Guinea seemed to take the courageous step of speaking up.

Especially encouraging was that law enforcement officials not only believed her, they went after her alleged rapist without hesitation. When investigators found DNA evidence on the room’s carpet, bed and walls showing that there had indeed been a sexual encounter, the prosecution believed it had a solid case.

“It seemed,” as Miriam Yeung, director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, put it, “a progressive moment for women.”

The maid achieved, if only for a while, what Anita Hill couldn’t two decades ago. Hill accused then–U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment when she worked as his aide at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where he was chairman.

After three days at the contentious hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the all-male panel gave Thomas the nod. A New York Times/CBS News poll at the time found that 58 percent of Americans believed Thomas, while only 24 perceived believed Hill.

Time and time again, when a woman has accused a man of rape or other form of sexual misconduct, there’s an inevitable measure of victim blaming. Few today recall the Big Dan rape case, which occurred in a bar in New Bedford, Mass., in the 1980s. The victim was gang raped on a pool table while other patrons looked on and cheered. When the story broke, the knee-jerk, misogynistic reaction from some was that the victim asked for it by dressing provocatively and, earlier in the evening, flirting with one of her assailants.

“This is a typical dynamic that plays out—detractors are quick to discredit the victim,” noted Beckie Masaki, associate director of the San Francisco-based Asian and Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence, talking about the Strauss-Kahn case.

The hotel housekeeper’s credibility sank as investigators found, among other things, that she had lied on her application form claiming asylum in the United States because she’d been gang raped in her native Guinea.

Her credibility further plummeted when investigators secretly taped her telephone conversation with an incarcerated friend the day after the Strauss-Kahn incident about the potential benefits of pursuing the charges against Strauss-Kahn and possibly gaining financially because “this guy has a lot of money.”

But none should forget that Strauss-Kahn himself may not have been above board in his personal life. There is much talk about his rumored sexual transgressions. “I hope those things get as much attention as the hotel maid’s” past life, Yeung said.

In a joint statement on the allegations against the former IMF chief, the Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund and 24 allied organizations nationwide questioned why it was “easier to believe in the intrinsic dishonesty, vindictiveness and opportunistic nature of alleged rape victims than to believe in a sense of entitlement and lack of respect and judgment among alleged rapists.”

The statement notes that “some are even willing to accept an elaborate conspiracy theory” that conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy had plotted the hotel encounter in order to undermine Strauss-Kahn, a Socialist widely regarded as a leading candidate to succeed him. Believing such a scheme, the the organizations stated, may be easier for some people than embracing “the possibility that a man with a documented history of sexual coercion, exploitation and, according to recent reports, prior sexual assaults, could possibly attack a woman with very little power or status.”

Sexual abuse causes the victim to feel tremendous shame and a need to keep the incident a secret. Her biggest fear is that nobody will believe her— that she will be attacked and humiliated. The hotel maid either didn’t know this or she didn’t care.

After the trial of the New Bedford woman, which led to the conviction of four of her rapists, the woman had to leave town because she was ostracized by the community. She moved with her two young daughters and their father to Miami in search of anonymity.

Just because prosecutors have been able to poke holes in the hotel maid’s credibility, they should not automatically discredit her accusations.

“Focusing attention on her credibility takes attention away from the crime itself,” Masaki said. “This kind of over-focus on the victim will have a definite chilling effect on abused women who already worry about shame, as well as fear of losing their jobs.”

Prosecutors are already saying that they might drop the serious charges against Strauss-Kahn because they will more than likely not be sustained. If that happens, he will move on with his life. Although he’s unlikely to run for president of France now, he’s apt to find a plum job somewhere.

As for the maid, if she is allowed to remain in the United States, she will probably continue cleaning hotel rooms somewhere in America — and become as anonymous as she can.


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Public Enemy’s Chuck D on Hip Hop & Race in America

By Shirin Sadeghi, NAM Correspondent

New America Media’s Shirin Sadeghi interviews hip hop icon Chuck D of Public Enemy about the state of socially conscious hip hop today and the politics of race in America.


Follow Shirin Sadeghi on Twitter: http://twitter.com/shirinsadeghi

New America Now is now available as a podcast through KALW and National Public Radio, so you can listen to the show on your MP3 player.

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50 Years After Freedom Rides, Race Drives Debate on U.S. Future

By Khalil Abdulla, New America Media, News Analysis

WASHINGTON, D.C.—During a week when the national media are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides and the progress made since then against racial bias, concerns persist about deep-seated racism in the United States.

Recently, for example, leaders of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation were faced with accusations that their $75 million initiative to address structural racism in America was unnecessary. They answered their critics during a forum on race and racism hosted by the Hudson Institute.

Quoting author William Faulkner, Kellogg Foundation President Sterling Speirn told the audience that structural racism in America continues to affect people of color. “The past is not dead. The past isn’t even in the past. The past is alive now,” Speirn said at the forum entitled, “Race and Racism in America: Are We Now a Colorblind Society?”

Gail Christopher, the Kellogg vice president overseeing the foundation’s “America Healing” initiative, said, “Racism is a set of beliefs that helped to shape this nation. To suggest that centuries of institutionalizing those beliefs could suddenly be eradicated in less than 75 years is, I believe, simplistic, misguided, naïve at best.”

But the foundation has come under attack by some critics, who contend that structural racism—race bias engrained in institutions, policies and attitudes–is no longer an obstacle for people of color in the United States. They call for evidence that such barriers still exist.

Others, who also largely reject the argument that 400 years of U.S. history has resulted in systemic or structural barriers, insist that any obstacle related to race, should it exist, can be overcome by individual endeavor and anti-discrimination laws.

A Wall Street Journal editorial by Harvard University’s Stephan Thernstrom decrying the Kellogg initiative partly led to the Hudson Institute’s decision to host the forum. Joining Thernstrom on the panel were Speirn, Christopher and political consultant Ron Christie, author of Acting White: The Curious History of a Racial Slur.

The panelists all said the United States is not yet a colorblind society, and they agreed that their point of divergence was on how to achieve it.

Their comments, however, exposed wide philosophical differences. Christie, an African American, said he was especially concerned that America was “self-segregating” again. He believes that a flourishing “cult of ethnicity” emphasizing origins through hyphenated identities was counter productive in reaching an ideal where “we cherish our American citizenship.”

Thernstrom ceded that America’s past was once shaped by a caste system based on color, but he said the election of President Barack Obama was one of many indications of the capacity of the American people to look past race. Stating that “a member of the White House is a member of the [once] untouchable caste,” he stressed that the 2008 election shows how far America has come.

Also, Thernstrom cited the growing number of black-and-white friendships and the increased rate of interracial marriages as confirmation that America is at a very different place than when, as he put it, “the very heart of the caste system was sexual fear. Black men were lynched for even looking at white women in the wrong way.”

One audience member commented afterward that Thernstrom was disingenuous in citing statistics on racial intermarriage as a fundamental shift in attitudes on race and culture.

The person pointed to the 2006 election when the GOP ran an ad in Tennessee pandering to racial fears in the white community. It inferred that the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, congressional member Harold Ford, Jr., an African American, was having sexual relations with white women.

“The ad was successful, I might add,” the attendee said, noting that Ford lost the election after the ad boosted turnout for his white opponent.

Thernstrom not only recoiled at the notion of the existence of structural racism but took exception with the construct of white privilege. “I can’t really find out quite what white privilege is and how you know it when you’ve identified it,” he said.

In response, the Kellogg Foundation’s Christopher noted a 2002 Institute of Medicine report revealing how African-Americans and members of other ethnic groups seek medical treatment for the same conditions, but are treated differently.

She said white privilege is rooted in a mythology, which “suggested that the less pigmentation you had, the higher up you were on this hierarchy of race.”

Science has long-since proved that color is only skin deep, Christopher said. But racial differences are still manifested in U.S. society, not only in the unconscious actions of many individuals, but also in fields as diverse as medicine, education and employment.

“The systems that evolved from that mythology are alive and well,” Christopher said. “That’s what we mean by white privilege.”

Yet, it was Speirn’s depiction of white privilege that drew the most audible reaction from the audience: “I love it when Chris Rock and others, you know, ask white people how much we’d have to pay them to be born a person of color in the United States. It was $50 million.”

Speirn asserted that one goal of the Kellogg Foundation’s America Healing grants initiative is to enable communities “to have courageous conversations about race and historic and structural racism, and current racism.”

He noted that William K. Kellogg founded and endowed the foundation with wide latitude to determine its initiatives, as long as it addressed the needs of vulnerable children, not regardless of race, poverty or other social barriers–but because of those factors.

Christopher said America Healing encompasses far more than just a black-white paradigm. She cited a California community including whites, Hispanics and blacks that used its Kellogg grant to delve into the reasons for its poor access to quality food. The researchers found that individuals doing the same job for the same employer were “paid differently by race,” directly diminishing their purchasing power for food and other necessities.

Christopher said that although America is not consciously racist, “our culture is racialized and our systems reflect that.”

She emphasized that the America Healing initiative is ambitious in scope, encompassing concern for Native Americans, African, Americans, European Americans, immigrant children. Observing that “the data would suggest we’ve made dramatic progress as a nation,” she added, “the data would also suggest that we’re at risk.”

At the conclusion of the panel presentation, Christopher took a moment to answer the question, “What does success look like?”

She reflected, “When all the nuanced histories of the diverse groups that helped to build this nation are part of the school curriculum, and residential segregation is no longer the norm,” she said. “When poverty is no longer racialized in this country and a child’s race is no longer a major predictor of his future.”

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Apartheid Hits Arizona

New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez, Review it on NewsTrustReview it on NewsTrust

TUCSON HIGH SCHOOL: As I prepare to speak to an innovative class here about indigenous philosophies, the students begin their class in the following manner:

In Lak Ech – Tu eres mi otro yo – You are my other self. I am you and you are me. If I hurt you, I hurt myself. If I hate you, I hate myself. If I love and respect you, I love and respect myself.

Students here, part of the Tucson Unified School District’s highly successful Mexican American Studies (MAS) K-12 program, the largest in the nation, are taught this and other indigenous concepts, including how to measure time by the Aztec and Mayan calendars. Not coincidentally, academically, MAS students -– many of whom were doing poorly prior to entering this program -– consistently outperform their peers. It is virtually a college-bound factory.

But in the state capital, Phoenix: Arizona’s state superintendent of schools Tom Horne has just engineered the passage of a new draconian state law, HB 2281, that would eliminate all funding for ethnic studies programs.

Five hundred and eighteen years after Columbus initiated the theft of a continent, Horne, the state’s would-be governor, is using the passage of HB 2281, to perpetuate the notion that indigenous peoples and indigenous knowledge remain outside of western civilization.

This is the same state that recently passed the racial profiling SB 1070 law; the primary targets would be Mexicans and Central Americans with indigenous features, suspected of being “illegal aliens.”

Despite the success of the MAS program, Horne has long expressed the view that the only things that should be taught in Arizona schools are lessons that originate in western or Greco-Roman civilization. While his bill affects the whole state, his primary target has long been Tucson’s program.

Through the bill, Horne mischaracterizes the program by claiming that its teachers preach hate, segregation, anti-Americanism and the violent overthrow of the government. The bill sets up an inquisitorial mechanism that will monitor books and curricula. Horne has been especially critical of Rudy Acuña’s “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos” and Paolo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”

This is not the only effort to punish indigenous peoples in Arizona’s educational system. Separately, the Arizona Department of Education has banned teachers with heavy accents from teaching English classes.

Welcome to Apartheid Arizona.

Tucson federal courthouse: Like clockwork, at 1:30 p.m., 70 short, brown men (and sometimes a few women) occupy the left side of the courtroom, shackled at the ankles, the waist, and the wrists. Within one hour, they are charged, tried and convicted en masse of being illegally present in the United States. After being dehumanized, they are then paraded out of the courtroom. Most have either served or are sentenced to the private detention facility, operated by the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA). This drama unfolds every day here except Saturday and Sunday, every week of the year.

Welcome to Operation Streamline. Its goal is to criminalize every migrant that steps into this kangaroo court, while enriching CCA to the tune of $15 million per month.

Southside Tucson: Several days before the state legislature passes SB 1070, a massive raid involving 800 military-clad U.S. federal agents swoops into this primarily Mexican-indigenous community, occupying and terrorizing its residents, all for the purpose of arresting 48 suspects in a human smuggling operation.

Maricopa County: While Sheriff Joe Arpaio denies a racial motivation, over the weekend, he showcases his 15th major “crime sweep” since early 2008 in Phoenix. The sweeps -– which target Mexican-indigenous communities -– may have actually backfired. They provide a glimpse to the world of how the entire state and nation could look like if SB 1070 is affirmed. To conduct these sweeps, Arpaio utilizes the state’s anti-human smuggling law, accusing migrants of being accomplices in their own smuggling. Such a use of the law smacks of official kidnapping and terror.

While there were undoubtedly many Arpaios in South Africa during the apartheid era, there were no Operation Streamlines there. Kangaroo courts yes, but not daily one-hour mass-show trials.

The Arizona-Mexico border: In the realm of violence, Arizona is no South Africa, but we do have our own killing fields. For the past dozen years, some 5,000 migrants have been found dead in the inhospitable desert; medical reports confirm that many have died due to violence, including blunt trauma to the head. That many thousands of migrants are funneled through the desert annually has long been official policy of U.S. immigration officials. Under international law, at best, this could be construed as negligent homicide.

Washington, D.C.: Ironically, in response to these draconian laws and measures, even Democrats have been cowed into pushing for more apartheid measures –walls, more agents and the further militarization of the border — as a solution.

Just solutions for the problems listed here require calling for international agreements that place human beings at the center, without losing their citizenship, culture, rights or their humanity.

Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com

Related Articles:

End of the Column of the Americas

Census: Masking Identities or Counting the Indigenous Among Us?

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