It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well — (applause) — to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion and generosity and truth. He changed laws, but he also changed hearts.
For the people of South Africa, for those he inspired around the globe, Madiba’s passing is rightly a time of mourning, and a time to celebrate a heroic life. But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or our circumstance, we must ask: How well have I applied his lessons in my own life? It’s a question I ask myself, as a man and as a President.
We know that, like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took sacrifice — the sacrifice of countless people, known and unknown, to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are beneficiaries of that struggle. But in America, and in South Africa, and in countries all around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not yet done.
The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality or universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important. For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger and disease. We still see run-down schools. We still see young people without prospects for the future. Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs, and are still persecuted for what they look like, and how they worship, and who they love. That is happening today.
And so we, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.
- Full transcript available here
You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.
There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.
And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.
Now, this isn’t to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.
And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.
- Full transcript available via The White House
- Why USC and not a black college, Dr. Dre? (The Los Angeles Times)
Make no mistake: This donation is historic. It appears to be the largest gift by a black man to any college or university, comparable to the gift Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille, gave to Spelman College in 1988. Some 25 years later, their $20-million gift (about $39 million in inflation-adjusted dollars) is still the largest-ever private gift to a historically black college. Dre gave USC almost triple the amount Oprah Winfrey has given Morehouse College over the years. Sean “Diddy” Combs gave $500,000 to Howard University in 1999, which he attended before launching a successful career.
A hip-hop icon is now the new black higher-ed philanthropy king. We’ve never seen a donation to rival this from any black celebrity — musician, athlete or actor — and that fact must be celebrated.
But as the president of a black college, it pains me as well. I can’t help but wish that Dre’s wealth, generated as it was by his largely black hip-hop fans, was coming back to support that community.
USC is a great institution, no question. But it has a $3.5-billion endowment, the 21st largest in the nation and much more than every black college — combined. Less than 20% of USC’s student body qualifies for federal Pell Grants, given to students from low-income families, compared with two-thirds of those enrolled at black colleges. USC has also seen a steady decrease in black student enrollment, which is now below 5%.
A new report on black male athletes and racial inequities shows that only 2.2% of USC undergrads are black men, compared with 56% of its football and basketball teams, one of the largest disparities in the nation. And given USC’s $45,602 tuition next year, I’m confident Dre could have sponsored multiple full-ride scholarships to private black colleges for the cost of one at USC.
The comparison has been made before between Lena Dunham and Beyoncé as feminist icons. Mainstream white feminist organizations don’t question whether Lena Dunham, a self-professed feminist, is feminist enough. Though her show Girls has come under fire in more progressive wings of feminism, mainstream feminist organizations embrace her, happily framing her as a new face of feminism. Dunham openly swears, walks around naked, and simulates sex onscreen, but there is no larger mainstream questioning of her feminist credentials. But when Beyoncé, a fierce, independent woman of color flirts with the feminist moniker, the backlash begins. How interesting.
Dunham has appeared fully naked on her show. She has both appeared in and written some highly provocative and often controversial sex scenes. Her character has been shown snorting cocaine and having one-night stands, yet no one questions Dunham’s feminist credentials. And they shouldn’t — her choice to appear naked and in simulated sex scenes is not anti-feminist. It’s a choice that she made, an artistic choice meant to explore sexuality, sexual expression, and the limits of her character.
And yet, Beyoncé is often roundly criticized in feminist spaces because of her “slutty” outfits, herovertly-sexual dance moves, for her lyric choices, for using the moniker Mrs. Carter, and her occasional use of the word bitch. Who are we, feminists? Is this who we want to be? You sound like Phyllis Schlafly. She wears a unitard — she can’t be a feminist! She is gyrating and shaking her butt — how inappropriate! She said the word “bitch” — that’s a feminist no-no! Do you hear yourselves, white liberal feminists? Do you hear what you are doing to this strong, independent black woman?
- Kerry Washington, Scandal, Black Women and the Super-Mammy-Jezebel (The Shadow League)
That Olivia Pope is the new darling of network television is less surprising than you might think, if you really take the time to think about it and to consider it within the context of America’s strange relationship with its dark racial past. After 40 years without a leading black female in a network drama – 40 years which has seen the likes of cornrows at Wimbledon and the White House – it’s more than about time, it’s way overdue (interestingly, if you Google “black female accomplishments of the past 40 years,” Kerry Washington’s Wikipedia page is the sixth entry). But the hype aroundScandal feels different than the catharsis traditionally felt when glass ceilings are nudged by nappy or nappy-in-spirit heads of hair. This is at least in part due to the show’s success lying in not only one fictional black woman’s double-duty reign on the mountaintop and roll in the hay; Scandal’s real shocker is that it represents a trifecta of black female power, visibility, and influence in the entertainment industry. The show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes, who, according to Willa Paskin of The New York Times, is “one of the most powerful show runners in the business,” the real-life inspiration for its protagonist, crisis manager Judy Smith, and its leading lady, the hybrid star and character, brown bombshell Kerry Washington/Olivia Pope, who is brilliant, cunning, and stunningly beautiful.
Rhimes is a crafty one, to say the least. She learned the hard way “how to be a boss and a leader at the same time,” forced to transition from a self-sequestered screenwriter into the powerhouse Midas she is now, as her first network effort, Grey’s Anatomy, turned directly into prime-time gold. Paskin’s NYT piece paints a picture of a woman who earned and owns the right to write the counter-culture D.C. of Scandal,where “America is run by an African-American spin expert, a scheming first lady and a mercenary gay guy.” Furthermore, Shonda Rhimes’ facility with social networking has made her show the industry’s darling test-tube baby of multi-media engagement and viewership, prompting the Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara to crown Scandal“the show that Twitter built.” Rhimes regularly sends Tweets of gratitude to 350,000 followers and fans, who include among their number former-D.C. mayor Marion Barry; while cast members Tweet from the set, and fans respond in kind. All of this has made the show a social media phenomenon, and the first to achieve the multi-screen orgy network execs have been trying to pull off since prime-time ratings started falling.
- Why I Was Never a Riot Grrrl (Bitch Magazine)
While I was a teenager during the grunge and Riot Grrrl era, for some reason I was (at the time) more drawn to hyper-masculine, testosterone-saturated grunge and metal bands and was not that interested in what was happening on the other side of the scene. As Hanna’s talk was intriguing, I took the opportunity to check out The Punk Singer, part of the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto.
About 10 minutes into the documentary, I knew that I had made a colossal mistake.
Well, actually, as soon as I saw a snippet of 17 year-old fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson waxing poetic about an era she was not even alive to witness, I knew that I would not be able to put my personal biases in regards to my age—and more importantly, my ethnicity as a black woman—aside when watching this documentary.
From watching The Punk Singer, I realized why I had never been that psyched on the Riot Grrrl scene. It wasn’t for me. It was for white women.
- How the Obama Administration Talks to Black America (The Atlantic)
At the most basic level, there’s nothing any more wrong with aspiring to be a rapper than there is with aspiring to be a painter, or an actor, or a sculptor. Hip-hop has produced some of the most penetrating art of our time, and inspired much more. My path to this space began with me aspiring to be rapper. Hip-hop taught me to love literature. I am not alone. Perhaps you should not aspire to be a rapper because it generally does not provide a stable income. By that standard you should not aspire to be a writer, either.
At a higher level, there is the time-honored pattern of looking at the rather normal behaviors of black children and pathologizing them. My son wants to play for Bayern Munich. Failing that, he has assured me he will be Kendrick Lamar. When I was kid I wanted to be Tony Dorsett — or Rakim, whichever came first. Perhaps there is some corner of the world where white kids desire to be Timothy Geithner instead of Tom Brady. But I doubt it. What is specific to black kids is that their dreams often don’t extend past entertainment and athletics That is a direct result of the kind of limited cultural exposure you find in impoverished, segregated neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods are the direst result of American policy.
Enacting and enforcing policy is the job of the Obama White House. When asked about policy for African Americans, the president has said, “I’m not the president of black America. I’m the president of all America.” An examination of the Obama administration’s policy record toward black people clearly bears this out. An examination of the Obama administration’s rhetoric, as directed at black people, tells us something different.
By Guest Contributor Janell Hobson; originally published at The Feminist Wire
Fifteen years ago, the stardom of then-23-year-old Lauryn Hill had peaked when she released what would become her defining musical legacy. After rising to popularity as part of the hip-hop trio The Fugees, with fellow members Wyclef Jean and Pras, she later released her solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which went on to garner multiplatinum sales and five Grammy Awards for the recognizably brilliant singer-rapper. Such accomplishments made her the first female artist to be nominated for and to win the most Grammys in a single night and her album the first hip-hop-themed work to win the Grammy’s top prize of Album of the Year.
Interestingly, the same year of Lauryn’s solo album debut, a 16-year-old who would later be known only by her first name – Beyoncé – also emerged on the pop scene when Destiny’s Child released their self-titled debut album. And in a curious one-degree-of-separation of the two icons, Destiny’s Child’s collaboration with Wyclef on their song “No No No” led to the group’s first successfully released single, which topped R&B charts.
In retrospect, it seems easy to trace what would become a commingled narrative: one star rises while another one declines. One star (Ms. Hill) presumably declined a starring role in the Hollywood faux-feminist blockbuster, Charlie’s Angels, while the other star (Beyoncé), along with fellow group members, provided the necessary “girl power” anthem – “Independent Women, Part I” – for the movie’s soundtrack. One star virtually disappeared from the mainstream media while the other star appeared ubiquitously, covering every magazine from Sports Illustratedto Vogue to GQ to the feminist publication Ms.
One star proved a lyrical genius – rapping and crooning on politics, love, religion, and the resistance of corporate media – while the other preferred more superficial fanfare concerning clubbing, looking fabulous, and having her own money to spend as she fends off heartaches and trifling lovers, while occasionally championing women’s empowerment. One star refused the pop-culture make-over, preferring instead to rock her natural hair and bask in her dark-skinned beauty, while the other has made a signature look out of blond weaves and other variations on white beauty standards that her light-skinned beauty can more easily appropriate.
In a speech that built on the progressive agenda laid out by his second inauguration, President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address touched on a wide range of issues: he called for the minimum wage to be increased to $9 an hour; he continued asking lawmakers for immigration reform. And in the clip above, he invoked the memory of Hadiya Pendleton as part of an appeal for gun safety legislation:
She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.
Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote. Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party turned to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)–himself at the center of the party’s own push to court Latino voters–to deliver the response. And this happened.
Your thoughts on this year’s latest bout of political theater, Racializens?
By Andrea Plaid
I find myself increasingly defending someone whom I otherwise wouldn’t look around at or wouldn’t listen to: Beyoncé.
I haven’t converted to listening to her discography: To me, she sounds like every other Black female soloist in a Black church choir, so her voice–her timbre and melisma–isn’t unicorn-unique to my ears. In fact, I find it gratingly common because I heard so many women with her voice every Sunday from the age of five to my late twenties; Beyoncé just has a better production team.
And, as I’ve said on the R, her female-empowerment messages aren’t my feminism:
[S]ome of folks who see Bey as “girl power” may have never heard of Valenti or may even want to be bothered with her writings or what they perceive to be “white feminism” that she embodies. Bey is their feminist text and their idea–and ideal. And whatnot…On the real though, Bey is not my sort of feminism–and that’s not blasphemous to say. Then again, neither were the Spice Girls…or the Riot Grrls, for that matter. And I remember folks tripped on each of those pop-cultural “generations” of feminist representations, too, trying to figure out their effects on younger people.
Feminism is rather malleable as each generation figures out what it means to them, even when we’re fighting the same old battles. Or because of them.
And let’s not forget Beyoncé now-notorious photo layout in French Vogue, which she said was an homage to “African queens in the past” and “African rituals”:
And I was quite happy to leave Beyoncé to her ideas about race pride and “girl power” with a genuinely heartfelt “bless her heart”…until Harry Belafonte came along.
- The Conservative Backlash To Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Show: Objectification And Slut-shaming Go Hand-in-hand (Feministing)
The predictable conservative hand-wringing about Beyoncé’s Super Bowl show is exactly whythe recent “feminist” slut-shaming of Beyoncé bothered me so very much. In general, if you find yourself agreeing with the right-wing modesty police concerned about “the children” (and, weirdly, also “old people”?), it’s usually a red flag.
It’s interesting–and telling–that every conservative critic I’ve seen who took Beyoncé to task for “gyrating in a black teddy” acknowledged that, aside from all that awful sexiness, she’s a great performer. Kathryn Jean Lopez says that she “is talented, has a beautiful voice, and could be a role model” if only she wore “another outfit, perhaps without the crotch grabbing.” S.E. Cupp–who is no stranger to slut-shaming herself–notes that some performers need to rely on their sex appeal, but Beyoncé is “immensely talented” so it’s odd that she “would choose to make her sex appeal the main attraction.” Though “Single Ladies” is an “ode to female empowerment and self-worth,” Cupp writes, “humping the stage and flashing her lady bits to the camera” is “sad.” Rich Lowry says her performance “was stunning and athletic,” before going on to add, “as well as tasteless and unedifying.”
But flaunting her sex appeal automatically undermines Beyoncé’s talent and credibility as “role model” for these conservatives. (Just as it did for Freeman, too.) Since there seems to be some sort of superficial agreement between feminists and conservatives that “sexual objectification” is bad, let’s pause for a second to talk about exactly what it is and why it’s bad. For conservatives, it’s generally because of the sex. For feminists, it’s generally because of the objectification. And, importantly, objectification is not about presenting yourself as as sexual being–or even as an object of sexual desire. After all, that is a normal and fairly universal human urge–who doesn’t like to feel attractive sometimes? Objectification is about being dehumanized by being reduced solely to a sex object.
In recent years, the Obama administration has detained and deported immigrants at a record-setting pace. Though the administration purports to target serious criminal offenders, critics say immigration laws paint “serious” in exceptionally broad strokes. The bulk of the 1.5 million people deported in the last four years were charged with minor violations, and many of these people would still find themselves subject to deportation even if they’re on track to legal status or have a green card.
And for immigrants pegged with a long list of convictions, detention before deportation is mandatory. Laws passed in the 1990’s took the power away from ICE agents and immigration judges to review the particulars of cases, release detainees or stop their deportation. Approximately two-thirds of the 400,000 detainees last year were held on a mandatory basis in one of the more than 300 facilities that dot the American landscape, without the possibility of release, according to the advocacy group Detention Watch Network.
Advocates hope that an immigration reform bill will begin to replace punitive lock up with alternative, community-based measures to keep track of non-citizens in deportation proceedings. Last week, President Obama nodded in that direction. The White House’s guiding principles for immigration reform note that the president’s proposal “allows DHS to better focus its detention resources on public safety and national security threats by expanding alternatives to detention and reducing overall detention costs.”
In 2012, the federal government spent over $2 billion on detention operations, a nearly 150 percent increase from just seven years ago. And the two leading private detention companies, Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group, together netted about $425 million in revenues from their ICE contracts. The industry spends millions lobbying Congress.
- Racism Doesn’t Exist In Tech Because White Tech Blog Millionaire Jason Calacanis Has Never Seen It (Gawker)
Eventually, Calacanis took it to his blog, in a post entitled “Doing the Right Things.” It’s a shockingly un-self-aware document, even by the low standards of tech writing; it opens with the lines “I’m a white guy so I’m not allowed to talk about race. At least that’s what they tell me,” and goes downhill from there.
He drops the factoid “Ninety percent of the people in Silicon Valley were not born there” as a rebuttal to the straw-man charge “Silicon Valley is in some way a closed, secret society.” (Very few Bonesmen were born inside the Skull and Bones clubhouse at Yale, either.)
He jokingly apologizes to his father for the attenuation of identifiable white-ethnic identity in his mixed-race kids.
He posits that maybe those of us in the “1st world” shouldn’t be allowed to talk about “inequality,” because he “can’t talk about race because I’m white”—to show how illogical and unfair this prohibition against white people discussing race is. (He never names or identifies the “they” who have told him that as a white person he is not allowed to discuss race.)
He describes his former employee Rafat Ali: “much darker skin than mine (brown, but not black for those obsessed with the exact tone — really?)” It is unclear whether or not this is a joke, or if he actually thinks that Bouie or his other critics are “obsessed with the exact tone” of anyone’s skin.
- Google’s Online Ad Results Guilty Of Racial Profiling, According To New Study (The Huffington Post)
Every job candidate lives in fear that a Google search could reveal incriminating indiscretions from a distant past. But a new study examining racial bias in the wording of online ads suggests that Google’s advertising algorithms may be unfairly associating some individuals with wrongdoing they didn’t commit.
After learning that a Google search for her own name surfaced an ad for a background check service hinting that she’d been arrested, Harvard University professor Latanya Sweeney set out to investigate whether race shaped online ad results. She searched over 2,000 “racially associated names” to determine if names “previously identified by others as being assigned at birth to more black or white babies” turned up ad results that indicated a criminal record. Specifically, she focused on ads purchased by companies that provide background checks used by employers.
Sweeney concluded that so-called black-identifying names were significantly more likely to be accompanied by text suggesting that person had an arrest record, regardless of whether a criminal record existed or not.
- On Guns, Conservatives rewrite, Disrespect African-American History (The Miami Herald)
Rush Limbaugh thinks John Lewis should have been armed.
“If a lot of African-Americans back in the ’60s had guns and the legal right to use them for self-defense, you think they would have needed Selma?” he said recently on his radio show, referencing the 1965 voting rights campaign in which Lewis, now a congressman from Georgia, had his skull fractured by Alabama state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. “If John Lewis had had a gun, would he have been beat upside the head on the bridge?”
Right. Because a shootout between protesters and state troopers would have done so much more to secure the right to vote.
Incredibly, that’s not the stupidest thing anyone has said recently about the Civil Rights Movement.
No, that distinction goes to one Larry Ward, who claimed in an appearance on CNN that Martin Luther King would have supported Ward’s call for a Gun Appreciation Day “if he were alive today.” In other words, the premiere American pacifist of the 20th century would be singing the praises of guns, except that he was shot in the face with one 45 years ago.
Thus do social conservatives continue to rewrite the inconvenient truths of African-American history, repurposing that tale of incandescent triumph and inconsolable woe to make it useful within the crabbed corners of their failed and discredited dogma.
This seems an especially appropriate moment to call them on it. Not simply because Friday was the first day of Black History Month, but because Monday is the centenary of a signal event within that history.
- Ray Lewis And Murder, They Wrote (Postbourgie)
Long story short, Lewis did not commit murder. He pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and then “did his best to help the prosecutors’ case” by testifying against the murder suspects. Ultimately, no one was ever convicted of murder in the deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar–this was more about the strength of the case than Lewis’ crime.
Lewis was sentenced to 12 months’ probation, the maximum for a first-time offender, and later reached civil settlements with the families of both victims. He was also fined $250,000 by the NFL.
If he’s had a legal run-in since then, I’m unaware of it.
In part because of his run of on-field dominance, Lewis had managed to successfully rehabilitate his image. He starred in national advertising campaigns for the NFL Network, Under Armour, EA Sports and Old Spice, among others.
Lewis also has been involved in a number of charities in Baltimore, including his Ray Lewis 52 foundation which offers “personal and economic assistance to disadvantaged youth.” The foundation adopts 10 families in the city for the holidays, hosts food drives and raises money through a number of other endeavors. A portion of Baltimore’s North Avenue was renamed “Ray Lewis Way” in honor of his work in the community.
Until Lewis announced last month that he planned to retire, little had been said or written about that awful night in Atlanta 13 years ago.
Then all of a sudden, we were inundated with reminders.