Diversity Headlines

6 Ways the White House Can Help Truly Keep Our Brothers

Colorlines - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 07:43

Editor's note: Our series "Life Cycles of Inequity" explores the ways in which inequity impacts the lives of black men. Each month, we focus on a life stage or event in which that impact has been shown to be particularly profound. In the video above, Colorlines economic justice columnist Imara Jones explains how black men have been cut out of economic opportunity initiatives for more than a century.

After nearly six years of de facto silence on race, the White House this year swung into the harsh world that men of color inhabit with the unveiling of its "My Brother's Keeper" initiative.

When compared to their white peers, black men are nearly half as likely to graduate from high school; earn $6 an hour less in the labor market; are three times as likely to live in poverty and 10 times as likely to have been a victim of homicide--not to mention off-the-charts incarceration rates. This depressing data has been well documented for over a generation and is not in dispute. To describe the totality of what's going on, Marian Wright-Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund drops the world "school" and simply dubs it "the cradle-to-prison pipeline."

As the president launched "My Brother's Keeper" in February, he lamented that the country had become "numb to these statistics" and that all too many Americans "take them as the norm." He described the White House initiative as having potential to give young men of color "a boundless sense of possibility."

Life Cycles of Inequity 
A Series on Black Men 

About This Series

WATCH: A Concise History of Divestment in Black Men

[Ch. 4] The Hip-Hop Hustle, Then and Now

[Ch. 3] Criminals, Victims and the Black Men Left Behind

[Ch. 2] Why Young, Black Men Can't Work

[Ch. 1] Race, Disability and the School-to-Prison Pipeline


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Though the initiative has since drawn noticeable criticism--for, among other things, its paltry pledge of $200 million in mostly private resources and overlooking black women--the unveiling nonetheless raised hopes that the country was arriving at a turning point. Veteran Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson called it "the kind of targeted public-private initiative that might actually do some good, even without tons of new federal money thrown in."

Those hopes were strained severely in May, when the White House published My Brother's Keepers' six policy recommendations.

Despite the fact that the report places poverty at the top of issues facing young men of color, not one of the six policy recommendations in the document directly addresses poverty itself. Surprisingly, the first proposal for addressing the vast and deep inequities confronted by men of color is "entering school ready to learn." That's followed by "reading at grade level by third grade." True, these steps are important and worthy, but the colossal inequity faced by black men is systemic and widespread, not individual and personal. Systemic problems require systematic remedies.

The hopeful news is that public policy can begin to address the difficulties with which men of color contend without massive new funding. The president can use executive action to reform several mistaken policies and procedures that stack the deck unfavorably for black men. Here are six ideas that didn't make it into the My Brother's Keeper recommendations. They would be a good place for the president to start:

1. Make Work Pay for Single Men

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which Congress created in the 1970s and has gradually expanded over the years, is designed to ensure that low-wage workers can make ends meet. By dramatically cutting the taxes owed by low-income households, it manages to keep 10 million people out of poverty.

But the EITC is currently designed to primarily help custodial parents. According to the White House, a childless person working full time and earning minimum wage is eligible only for up to $25 a year in EITC help, and workers under 25 years old are excluded altogether. As the Obama administration has documented, these rules significantly limit the program's impact among both black and Latino men. 

President Obama has already urged Congress to expand EITC. As with other issues where Congress has refused to budge--immigration, LGBT civil rights and cybersecurity, among them--the White House could explore ways to unilaterally enlarge and retool the EITC program while it waits for Congress to act.

2. Focus Job Training Programs on Black and Latino Men

One way to help remedy the job-skills gap created by incarceration and educational barriers is to focus existing job training programs on black and Latino men.

Currently the federal government spends $18 billion a year on job training. As a report by Congress' General Accounting Office details, many of the nearly 50 job training initiatives are scattered across nine governmental departments, with most of the money sent to the states in the form of grants to fund uncoordinated efforts at the local level.

One way to better organize this patchwork of programs is to target them on those who need help the most. Some programs, such as those that concentrate on workers with disabilities and on Native American workers, already focus their efforts. But President Obama could issue an executive order asking that priority be given to efforts that are directed at black and Latino men.

3. Focus Federal Grants on Real Anti-Crime Strategies

As the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University points out, crime is committed by a handful of people: just five people out every 100 commit violent crimes. But policies such as "stop-and-frisk" can sweep up nearly 80 out of every 100 young black men in neighborhood-wide dragnets. Due to these stops, young black men who have not committed serious crimes rack up fees and minor citations for things like riding a bicycle on a sidewalk, which in turn expose them to greater risk for jail time in future, random stops.

But a further problem with these "broken window" policing strategies is that they do little to end the actual violent crime epidemic in communities of color. Two proven approaches to reducing crime are direct, peer-led interventions in street violence and policies that pursue the small number of people who are responsible for violent crime, rather than target entire communities. The My Brother's Keeper report does endorse these approaches and one recommendation calls broadly for their growth. But to get specific, the federal government could spur or even mandate both approaches through restrictions on the way local police departments use grant money.

4. Break the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Disproportionately applied school discipline is a key driver for both high levels of unemployment and incarceration for black and Latino men. As I've written before, students who are suspended are up to five times less likely to graduate.

Here again, the My Brother's Keeper report identifies the problem and calls for an end to suspensions and expulsions in the early educational years. But there's a way for the administration to actually achieve that goal. Each year the Department of Education collects detailed information about racial disparities in school discipline. This existing data could be used by the government to compel each of the thousands of schools who receive federal education funds create an action plan and a timetable to eliminate racial disparities in school discipline.

5. Expand Public School Academies for Black Boys

According to a report by the education non-profit ETS, competitive same-sex academies can increase the chances of black boys graduating high school by 60 percent; putting the attainment of high school diplomas on a par with those for white boys. Each year President Obama's Education Department hands out billions of dollars in grants to the nation's poorest schools, often with strings attached, to steer school districts to policies that it believes to work. These grants are a potential tool to expand public school opportunities for black boys and scale up now-localized, pilot schools that are already underway.

6. Transform Prisons Into Education Centers

Six out of 10 of the 2.3 million people behind bars are men of color. Lack of educational opportunity is one important reason for why they're in the criminal justice system: According to the National Education Association, eight of 10 of those behind bars did not finish high school.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a program to fund associate and bachelor degrees in New York's prisons. The governor points out that it costs $60,000 to incarcerate someone but only $5,000 a year to educate each prisoner, all while "giving a real shot at a second lease on life." Those who earn degrees in prison are far less likely to come back. The federal government could drive a similar effort on a national scale. And given the fact that the president runs all of the federal government's prisons, President Obama could begin laying the groundwork right away.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Watch FKA twigs Battle in a New Google Glass Video

Colorlines - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 07:28
Watch FKA twigs Battle in a New Google Glass Video

In a new #throughglass concept video, FKA twigs summons all-girl battle dancers—and actually makes Google Glass look pretty dope:

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Did 'Dear White People' Miss the Mark on Casual Racism?

Colorlines - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 07:25
Did 'Dear White People' Miss the Mark on Casual Racism?

Justin Simien's debut film "Dear White People" has won over plenty of fans with its satirical approach to race, an approach that depends heavily on showcasing outrageously racist acts. But what about the subtle microaggressions that happen every day? Carimah Townes writes at Think Progress that it's a major oversight of the film:

The film would've been more interesting if microaggression carried the same weight as explicit racism, given the nation's ongoing discussion of race relations. Many argue that we live in a post-racial America, and that argument is largely predicated on what racism looked like in the country's past. No, slavery doesn't exist any more, and Jim Crow laws no longer keep black people from occupying public spaces. But to say that racist attitudes no longer color American society, a microaggression in and of itself, ignores casual acts of racism that occur every day. The purpose of the film was to highlight the experiences of a lot of black people, but aggressive, in-your-face racism overshadowed -- and minimized -- the profound effects that microaggressions have on them.

Read more at Think Progress. 
Categories: Diversity Headlines

One Gunman in Attack in Canada, UNC Cheating Scandal, Partial Solar Eclipse

Colorlines - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 07:20
One Gunman in Attack in Canada, UNC Cheating Scandal, Partial Solar Eclipse

Here's what I'm reading up on:

  • Two AP reporters take the opportunity to visit places in North Korea that "no foreign journalists and few foreigners had been allowed to see before." 
  • An unarmed White House fence jumper, Dominic Adesanya, is apprehended
  • Wow. For nearly two decades, 3,100 UNC students--many of them student athletes--took shadow classes that required little work and were graded by a secretary: 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Ebola Outbreak Threatens Food Crisis in West Africa

New America Media - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 13:57
German aircraft arrives in Ghana to help deliver U.N. supplies for emergency Ebola response. Credit: UN Photo/UNMEERUNITED NATIONS (IPS) - The widespread outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, which has resulted in over 4,500 deaths so far, is also threatening... Thalif Deen http://publisher.namx.org/mt-cp.cgi?__mode=view&blog_id=19&id=103
Categories: Diversity Headlines

Google's Latino-Targeted Domain, .SOY, Inspires Frustration, Confusion

Colorlines - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 12:40
Google's Latino-Targeted Domain, .SOY, Inspires Frustration, Confusion

Google has launched a new domain, .SOY, targeted at a Latino audience. 

In Spanish, "soy" means "I am"--but in English, of course, it refers to the beans that make soymilk and tofu possible. That's probably why it confused English speaking vegans and vegetarians, who also feel they have a claim to the word.

But that's not all.

While Google claims that ".SOY is the place for Latinos online," some are wondering if and why it's necessary for the corporation to develop a domain that virtually segregates Latinos into one domain--but fails to truly include Latinos where it counts, with jobs. Over at Cosmopolitan, Alanna Nunez writes:

If Google really wants to reach Latinos in a meaningful way, .soy probably isn't the answer. Why doesn't Google (I'm looking at you too, Apple and Intel, both of whom have also come under fire for a lack of diversity) examine its own hiring practices? Google's latest Diversity Report stated that its U.S. workforce is only 3 percent Hispanic and 2 percent black. Moreover, a 2014 study from nonprofit Working Partnerships USA suggests that Silicon's Valley's "invisible workforce" -- made up of people in low-paying roles such as janitors, security guards, and landscape workers at big tech companies such as Google, among others -- is dominated by blacks and Latinos, while technical roles are overwhelmingly white and Asian.

Over at Latino Rebels, meanwhile, Roberto Lovato points out the geographic irony of Silicon Valley's failure to engage Latinos:

How can a company based in parts of the United States where the overwhelming majority of the country's 50 million Latinos live, be so border-walled off from the physical, geographic and cultural reality just outside its gates, so self-absorbed in the virtual world where it is king? Another equally pointed question has to do with us, specifically with where and how Latinos relate to the Digital Darwinism that is (again) shuffling and redefining the social and economic positions of Latinos and us all.

In searching for an answer, there's no better place to find it than here in the Bay Area birthplace of the digital economy. Whether in the area around Twitter headquarters, in the biotech labs surrounding the soon-to-be World Champion (again!) Giants' stadium or in the former farmlands where I saw Latino farm workers harvesting fruits and vegetables pushed out by mostly non-Latino workers and companies harvesting the new crop (enormous wealth and astonishing class divisions), the genetically-modifying ethic and the spirit in Google's .SOY capitalism is clear: We will define you for you--if you let us.

Still, other Latinos are participating in Google's Latino domain. Latino.soy, for example, is creating a clearinghouse of Latino startups and what it calls "inclusive investors," which indicates a given venture capitalist's interest in backing people of color. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Political Parties Ignore API Vote at Their Peril

New America Media - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 12:00
Above: Eight of the 19 Vietnamese American candidates running for office in Orange County, California, home to the largest Vietnamese community outside Vietnam. In Orange County, California, home to Little Saigon and the largest Vietnamese American population outside of Vietnam, a... Andrew Lam http://publisher.namx.org/mt-cp.cgi?__mode=view&blog_id=19&id=8
Categories: Diversity Headlines

Film Review: The Last Days in Vietnam

Hyphen Blog - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 11:43

How Last Days in Vietnam rewrites history of the Vietnam War.

read more

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Study: Where Stop-and-Frisk Goes, Trauma Follows

Colorlines - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 11:39
 Where Stop-and-Frisk Goes, Trauma Follows

While cops and civil rights advocates tussle over stop-and-frisk in the courts, and experts debate its efficacy, researchers are tracking something else: stop-and-frisk's impact on the mental health of young men. Their findings suggest a harmful link. 

In a phone survey of 1,261 New York City men between the ages of 18 and 26 conducted between September 2012 and March 2013, those who reported more interactions with police also reported experiencing higher levels of trauma and symptoms of anxiety. Their findings were published last week by the American Journal for Public Health in an article named "Aggressive Policing and the Mental Health of Young Urban Men" authored by Columbia University professors Amanda Geller, Jeffrey Fagan, Bruce Link and Yale University professor Tom Tyler. 

Among respondents, 85 percent had been stopped at least once in their lives, while 46 percent had been stopped in the last year. More than five percent of the men who responded said they'd been stopped more than 25 times in their lives. Those who reported more police contact experienced higher levels of anxiety and symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder, even when controlling for demographics and their own criminal histories. Young black men were disproportionately stopped and frisked by police, and researchers found that they experienced symptoms of trauma at higher rates than non-black respondents. Researchers say theirs is the first study to examine the mental health impact of stop-and-frisk by surveying the population most directly impacted by the practice.

"Most of the police encounters our respondents described didn't include an arrest or incarceration, yet they still reported associated mental health symptoms," Geller, a professor of sociomedial sciences, said in a statement. "This tells us that even the low levels of interaction that many urban residents experience may have consequences."

The researchers are careful to say that their findings don't prove a causal link between intrusive stop-and-frisk policing and the corrosion of young men's mental health, yet add that like others who have found that criminal justice practices can pose a threat to people's physical and mental health, "[o]ur findings suggest that any benefits achieved by aggressive proactive policing tactics may be offset by serious costs to individual and community health."

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Jersey School District Apologizes for Elementary School Ebola Panic

Colorlines - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 11:03
Jersey School District Apologizes for Elementary School Ebola Panic

Two students arriving from Rwanda were set to start school at Howard Yocum Elementary in Maple Shade, New Jersey, earlier this month but the school's fear about Ebola kept them from doing so. 

According to Fox 29, a school nurse sent a letter to teachers and staff warning them that two students from an east African nation had enrolled and would soon start classes. Rwanda is Ebola-free--so much so, that it recently started screening and strictly monitoring travelers visiting from the United States. The nation, which straddles east and central Africa, is nowhere near Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, which have been ravaged by the virus.

Rwanda's closest to Liberia, but at a distance of nearly 3,000 miles--roughly the distance between Dallas, Texas, and Quito, Ecuador. Nevertheless, a rumor about the children enrolling in the school spread to parents.

In a post that's dated October 18--a Saturday--Maple Shade's school superintendent attempted to clarify the district's position:

Dear Parent(s)/Guardian(s):

The Maple Shade School District takes the health of all students and staff very seriously.  As many of you are aware, we have students who have spent time in the eastern portion of Africa that were scheduled to start in our schools on Monday.  This area of Africa has been unaffected by the Ebola virus.  Despite the fact that the students are symptom-free and not from an affected area, the parents have elected to keep their children home past the 21 day waiting period.  The family is looking forward to joining the Maple Shade Schools the following week. 

Please see the links below for more information about the Ebola virus.

Beth Norcia, Superintendent of Schools

Fox 29 then reported on developments and spoke with local parents: 

FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV

After considerable media attention, the district apologized on Monday:

Dear Maple Shade Community Members:

As you know, the Maple Shade School District has been the object of extensive media coverage and community dialogue over the past several days. Our schools have become the unwitting "face" of our nation's fears with regard to pressing health concerns.

If we step back as a community, it is clear that we are of one mind. We all care about our children. New parents were anxious to enroll their children in our public school system. A staff member was anxious to allay any possible fears even before they arose. Community members raised questions about potential health risks to all of our children.

None of the actions that have shined the regional light of media exposure on Maple Shade Schools was mean-spirited or ill intended.

Next week, we will welcome the new students whose parents graciously offered to keep them close this week. Our staff, students and entire school family will be enriched by their presence, as we are by each and every student with us today.  

As these students enter our doors, we vow to safeguard them and offer them the best possible education here in the Maple Shade Schools. That is our promise to every student.

We will, however, consider the unintended consequences of our messages more carefully in the future. No matter how well intentioned, a message that originated within our schools created conflict and concern within the Maple Shade community. We offer our sincere apologies.

Beth Norcia

The kids are expected to finally be able to attend school next week.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Palestinians Protest After Israel Restricts Access to Al-Aqsa Mosque

New America Media - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 10:25
 Four Palestinians were arrested and three police were wounded in the confrontation, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.Police used stun grenades as a crowd of about 400 people gathered near the entrance to the mosque.For the second time in a week,... Arab American News http://publisher.namx.org/mt-cp.cgi?__mode=view&blog_id=19&id=103
Categories: Diversity Headlines

Ben Bradlee, Newspaper Editor of Watergate Fame, Dies at 93

New America Media - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 10:20
 After Benjamin C. Bradlee entered hospice care in mid-September, this columnist asked a few female reporters and black journalists who worked under Bradlee in the Washington Post of the 1970s to assess him, anticipating the inevitable. Most declined.It is clear,... The Root http://publisher.namx.org/mt-cp.cgi?__mode=view&blog_id=19&id=103
Categories: Diversity Headlines

Dee Rees Talks About What Inspired Her Bessie Smith Biopic

Colorlines - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 10:06
Dee Rees Talks About What Inspired Her Bessie Smith Biopic

It's been three years since Dee Rees debuted her critically acclaimed film "Pariah" at the Sundance Film Festival. In the years since, she's been busy working on a TV biopic of American blues legend Bessie Smith. Queen Latifah will play Smith in the film, which is slated for an early 2015 release.

Lisa Schwarzbaum from the Directors Guild of America spoke with the young director about how she prepared for the project, and Rees talked about her grandparents:

To convey her vision, to HBO executives as well as to her cast and crew, Rees created collaged inspiration boards full of photos (particularly from the 1930s South Carolina portraiture work of Richard Samuel Roberts and from the photo book Juke Joint by contemporary Mississippi photographer Birney Imes) and color swatches to create a visual style she articulates precisely. "The first act is grays, blacks, browns, the color of insecurity," she explains. "In the second act, it's metallic colors, colors that are almost not from nature, oranges you wouldn't believe. And then in the third act, the colors are more from nature, like peach, greens, earth tones. I wanted a lot of conflicting textures, looking through things." In fact, Rees can whip out a smartphone showing her combinations. She also kept beautiful old photos of her grandparents and great-grandparents "on my 'shrine' during production."

Read more.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Little League Star Mo'ne Davis Stars in World Series Ad

Colorlines - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 09:37
Little League Star Mo'ne Davis Stars in World Series Ad

It's already been one helluva ride for Mo'ne Davis, the 13-year-old girl whose 70 mph fastball caught the country's attention during last summer's Little League World Series. She's gotten tons of attention, especially from some of today's biggest sports stars. During last night's opening Major League World Series game between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals, Davis appeared in a commercial for Chevy, and it's got a lot of folks talking:

Should a 13-year-old already be starring in a corporate commercials touting her athletic ability? The NCAA thinks it's okay. Davis has already spoken publicly about wanting to pursue a college sports career, and UConn's legendary coach, Geno Auriemma, even got in trouble for congratulating her earlier this year. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Dear White People's Naomi Ko: 'People Don't Think Asian-Americans Are Capable of Protest'

Colorlines - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 09:26
 'People Don't Think Asian-Americans Are Capable of Protest'

Naomi Ko, the Korean-American actress who's gaining attention for her supporting role in Justin Simien's "Dear White People," spoke with Kylee McIntyre of the Visibility Project about her frustration with the model minority myth and what she hopes people will see in the critically acclaimed film. Ko's part was pretty small, but it was pivotal: Her character, Sungmi, encourages black students on campus to unite with other groups of color to protest a racist frat party.

"People don't think Asian Americans are capable of assembly and protesting [...] that's part of the whole model minority stereotype: Asians do really well and assimilate and become doctors and pay taxes and vote Republican," Ko says. She rolls her eyes a little and hits me with a no-nonsense look. "That's not what we do."

..."What 'Dear White People' made me [realize] was not necessarily what it meant to be a woman, Korean-American, person of color. I'm already confident in that," says Ko, who remembers being brought up in the "first wave" of Asian American identity. "Like, figuring out what it means to be Korean or American or Korean-American? That annoys me."

Read more at the Visibility Project

Categories: Diversity Headlines

India Leads All Nations in Surge of Foreign-Born in U.S.

New America Media - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 09:24
Nearly one in six adults in the U.S. is now foreign-born and India led all countries in a record increase of new immigrants to the country, according to a new report by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies.The countries... India West http://publisher.namx.org/mt-cp.cgi?__mode=view&blog_id=19&id=103
Categories: Diversity Headlines

The NBA's Official Anthem This Season is by Kendrick Lamar

Colorlines - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 09:03
The NBA's Official Anthem This Season is by Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar got a huge endorsement this week when the NBA announced that his song "i" will be the official anthem of the 2014-2015 season. From Hypetrak:

The song can already be heard in the new NBA On TNT spot, and will be featured in the league's commercials throughout the year. On top of that, K. Dot will headline a special fan fest/viewing party outside The Q for the Cleveland Cavaliers' opening game against the Knicks on October 30. "i" has previously been featured in the trailer for Chris Rock's Top Five movie, which was co-produced by Rock, JAY Z and Kanye West.

Lamar's major-label debut, "good kid, m.A.A.d city," won tons of critical acclaim after it was released in 2012. His next album is due out later this fall.


Categories: Diversity Headlines

Leslie Jones on SNL Promotion: 'Get Ready'

Colorlines - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 08:56
 'Get Ready'

Earlier this week, "Saturday Night Live" announced that it added comedian Leslie Jones to its regular cast. Jones, a former college basketball star who got her big break touring with Katt Williams, took to Twitter to tell fans about her excitement:

It's official I'm a cast member!!! Get ready! Get ready!! @nbcsnl

-- Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) October 20, 2014

Jones' new role is a big deal in light of all the flack "Saturday Night Live" has gotten in recent years for not having any black female cast members. Sasheer Zamata, a young black female comedian, joined the cast last year. Jones joined the show as a writer and appeared in two episodes. Now you can expect to see a lot more of her. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

North Korea Releases Ohio Man, McDonald's Still in Decline, FTC's New Chief Technologist

Colorlines - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 07:07
North Korea Releases Ohio Man, McDonald's Still in Decline, FTC's New Chief Technologist

Here's what I'm reading up on this morning:

  • North Korea releases Jeffrey Fowle, an Ohio man it held for six months after Fowle left a Bible at a nightclub. 
  • If the weather feels like cooperating wherever it is you live in nearly all of North America, you'll be able to watch Thursday's partial solar eclipse. (I suggest the strainer method if you haven't done that one before!) 
Categories: Diversity Headlines

Rinku Sen and Jeff Chang Discuss His Latest, 'Who We Be'

Colorlines - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 05:16
Rinku Sen and Jeff Chang Discuss His Latest, 'Who We Be'

My friend Jeff Chang has written "Who We Be: The Colorization of America," a wide-ranging history of racialized culture clashes of the last 50 years. It's a great sequel to "Can't Stop, Won't Stop," which is about the early years of hip-hop. Jeff and I have known each other since 1987, when we went through the Movement Activist Apprenticeship Program of Center for Third World Organizing together. He later went on to become the first associate editor of Colorlines upon the founding of the print magazine, and later still to become a music and cultural critic. He is now the director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University.

"Who We Be" is hefty. It looks and feels like a coffee table book with a lot of art and thick paper. But unlike most coffee table books, you will actually want to read it. It covers a vast number of debates over race, cultural consumerism and artistic production that took place between 1963 and 2013, some of them well-known, others much less. Jeff and I sat down for a talk about the book, why he's obsessed with culture and how he writes.

"If Can't Stop, Won't Stop" was a history of hip-hop, "Who We Be" is a history of multiculturalism, a deep, wide-ranging history about the nation's conflicts over who gets to define our culture. You look at high art, street art, political art, advertising and a whole host of other cultural products and the fights, often quite intense fights, over them. What made you want to take such a deep dive?

I don't ever start out like "this is going to be comprehensive or definitive" anything. I start with the germ of an idea and a bunch of stories. This book came from one day in New York City, several months after "Can't Stop Won't Stop" came out. In "Can't Stop Won't Stop" there was a whole swath of history I didn't give any kind of attention to. That was the rise of the multiculturalism arts movement during 1980s as well as the student activism that you and I were a part of in those days. Shortly after the book came out, I was on a panel with Greg Tate, Brian Cross, Vijay Prashad and Mark Anthony Neal. Everybody had a different take on the question of how hip-hop fit into this post-multicultural moment. It was mind-blowing, all these aspects and positions on multiculturalism that I'd never considered. Mark saw it as a college hustle; Vijay as a grand illusion; Greg saw it as this amazing moment of cultural nationalisms coming together. Brian, coming in from Ireland, saw all points of view, and that it was an amazing time of fervor. He saw all these questions about consumerism that we hadn't resolved. Then I got on the train to the Bronx, where Lydia Yee had an exhibition on contemporary arts. We talked about how race had been drummed out of the contemporary arts world.

I pitched it to my editor Monique Patterson, one of the few black editors in the business, and she said "nobody cares about multiculturalism." Multiculturalists were ancient history. Diddy was on billboards so there was no need. Then Obama runs, and all this stuff comes out about his college history. Then the anti-Obama backlash happens, and the culture wars flare up again. When I began writing, Obama was about to be elected. I thought, cool, I'll get this book done in a year, and it'll have a happy ending. But 2009 starts up with Van Jones, Yosi Sergent, Shirley Sherrod and [Henry Louis Gates]. That's when it really got going. What was going to be a short victory lap became six-year deep dive.

In the book, you use the metaphor of a wave to describe culture as a process, one that lives in the soft spaces between events, between political events in particular. You have said, in other places, that culture trumps politics in terms of changing minds and behavior. Why are you so obsessed with culture?

The trigger for these thoughts was looking at the 2007-8 election cycle and seeing Obama not as politician but as symbol, and the explosion of street art and creative activity that begins to happen in the lead-up to his election. What does this all mean? Is it ephemeral, just an interesting phenomenon? Or does it represent something deeper about the way we think of change? There's been huge cultural churn in social life. Social media, communications strategy, messaging, framing. We talk about all these things in progressive movements now that point back to conscious and unconscious ways of thinking.

A lot of research has been moving in that direction. Not just in movements, but also in the academy. What we're concluding is that we are complex individuals, having our minds change all the time. The metaphor of the wave actually reveals something deep about how change happens. Culture functions a lot like the ocean. The wave builds, it recedes, when it builds again, there's new stuff in it.

You partly argue that multiculturalism was presented to Americans after the 1970s, especially in colleges. You seem to be saying that initially a lot of Americans bought it and then got buyer's remorse that was ginned up by conservatives.

The term "multiculture" was coined by Ishmael Reed in mid '70s. The idea's pretty simple: America is not a melting pot and there are a million different ways to become American. We then start wanting to understand what the exchanges look like and how they evolve. Now this seems basic to us, but at the time that was a huge challenge to everything. You can see how big a shift it was in the 1980s when, first academics and then the right in general, and the left, too, begin to organize against multiculturalism. This idea that there could be multiple paths to the same end, a society that's built of all these different types of people, came under attack. It's this long run, a 33-year path from Reed to Obama being elected president.

The last section of the book covers September 11, 2001 to 2013, when it became clear that the country would become majority people of color by mid-century. You use the term "demographobia" to describe the racial anxiety that erupted. Tell me about that.

Stanford faculty director H. Samy Alim coined the term in the lead-up to 2012 elections. It was a snarky, 140-character way of explaining all the backlash we could see in the resurgent culture wars. He tweeted that demographobia was the irrational fear of changing demographics. It made me laugh for hours. It really fit the moment. Richard Benjamin talks about this in his book "Searching for Whitopia," about white folks fleeing these multiracial spaces because they can't stand the idea that the country is changing this way. It's white flight 40 years after term got set. It reflects a deep-set fear among certain whites who just can't comprehend what a multiculture could look like, can't conceive of it as anything but apocalyptic.

You are a particularly visual writer. I can see the settings and people and fights you talk about in the book. How do you write? What was your process on this big book?

The book's central metaphor is of seeing race. Race happens between the actual appearance and the more complicated perception of difference. That was always in the back of my mind. You have to figure out how to describe a thing that hangs on the wall, just like you think about how do you describe a three-minute song and how it changes over time and how it makes you feel.

After I took the job at Stanford, I couldn't write whenever I wanted to. I'd get up at 4 a.m. and write for two hours before I went to work. If I was feeling it, I'd squeeze out a little extra time and show up late. That was the quiet time, in the mornings. On weekends, Lourdes, [my wife], would let me not clean the yard so I could write. But the bulk of the writing was at Sea Change cottage. I walked out of Provincetown with 150 pages. I'd get up, read a passage out of Twyla Tharp's book on creativity, have breakfast and start up by 8:30, go strong til 4:30 and then get on the bike. At night I'd read Italo Calvino or James Baldwin. I was reading "Invisible Cities," 600-word bursts of images of these fictional cities. It was the furthest thing from what I was writing about but exactly what I needed at that point

What does a setting have to do with the writing? Is it just the quiet?

There was stuff in the house, like a Jaune "Quick-to-See" Smith piece downstairs, and a lot of other art, so there would be all these different types of sparks. You don't do it 100-percent consciously, but you surround yourself. At home I have my room, my records and music. It's all there; I just have to open a cabinet door and there are these visual cues. You just want to have those kinds of things to be able to light you up and get you going or help you get out of a writing cul de sac. 

What effect do you hope to have on the reader with this book?

I would hope that people get to a point where they say, "Yeah, why do we have this strange paradox where I feel like I may be closer to you because I can see a TV show or read a book about you now, and yet, I still don't want to live next to you?"

Can we have a more open conversation about that? At this particular point, it's heartbreaking for those of us who were young and in the streets in our 20s, half a lifetime later, seeing that the students are still asking for the same kinds of things we were. And things haven't gotten much better. Anyone with our background in trying to change the world, you want a person to leave with not just empathy, but with the feeling that they want to go out and change the world afterwards.

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