Diversity Headlines

What is 'The Whiteness Project?'

Colorlines - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 11:49

A new PBS series presents, as millennials site .Mic* notes, an "unironic" look at how white Americans experience their racial identity. Last week's first installment of the 22-episode series by filmmaker Whitney Dow* is a little more than a minute of interviews with residents of Buffalo, New York, one of the country's most segregated cities. Expect more as Dow will interview more than 1,000 people around the country. Some of his goals, as shared in his artistic statement:

"...to engender debate about the role of whiteness in American society and encourage white Americans to become fully vested participants in the ongoing debate about the role of race in American society.. ...The Whiteness Project hopes to bring everyday white Americans, especially those who would not normally engage in a project about race, into the racial discussion--to help them understand the active role their race plays in every facet of their lives, to remove some of the confusion and guilt that many white people feel around the subject of race and to help white Americans learn to own their whiteness--and everything positive and negative it represents--in the same way that every other ethnicity owns its ethnic identity.

The project has elicited strong opinions, positive and negative. Watch the video above and read more at .Mic, The Whiteness Project and on Facebook.

Check your local PBS station for showtimes.

*Post has been updated since publication to  to reflect that PolicyMic.com has changed its name to .Mic and to correct the misspelling, "Down."

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Gunshot Residue Found on Vonderrit Myers, Police Say

Colorlines - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 09:22
Gunshot Residue Found on Vonderrit Myers, Police Say

Vonderrit Myers Jr., the 18-year-old black man who was shot and killed by St. Louis police last week, had gunshot residue on his hands and clothing, according to crime lab results. The findings, reported by St. Louis' KSDK, are an added piece of evidence as investigators and the public work to build a coherent timeline of events before a uniformed off-duty St. Louis police officer shot and killed Myers last Wednesday. The findings don't, however, reconcile the divergent accounts of what happened before Myers was killed.

KSDK's Kevin Held reports:

The tests confirm gunshot residue on Myers' hand, the inner waistband of his jeans, and on his T-shirt. Investigators say the presence of gunshot residue on a person's hands could mean that individual fired a gun, was near a gun when it was fired, or touched an object with gunshot residue on it. Also, people who are shot at close range can have gunshot residue on their person.

In the wake of the shooting, Myers' family insisted that he was unarmed and holding a sandwich. According to police, the uniformed off-duty officer approached Myers and two others last Wednesday before they scattered. When the cop confronted Myers, police say, Myers discharged a gun three times before the cop responded with gunshots of his own, killing the teen.

Myers' prior interactions with the criminal justice system show that he was "no angel," the St. Louis Police Association said according to the St. Louis American. It's a loaded descriptor though. The New York Times, in its much-criticized profile of slain teen Michael Brown, also described Brown as "no angel," a phrase the paper reserved for convicted white rapists and murderers, a Nazi field marshal and Magic Johnson. Brown and Myers, both black and 18 years old, were shot and killed by police officers exactly two months apart.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Watch Michelle Obama Turn Up for Turnips

Colorlines - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 09:16
Watch Michelle Obama Turn Up for Turnips

This Vine is by far the most hilarious thing Michelle Obama's ever done to push her campaign against childhood obesity. Watch and laugh!

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Here's What to Read for in the National Book Awards

Colorlines - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 08:31
Here's What to Read for in the National Book Awards

The finalists for this year's National Book Awards were announced Wednesday morning and a handful of writers of color -- and books about issues important to communities of color -- made the list. Here are six to watch out for, running the gamut from fiction and non-fiction to poetry and young-adult literature.


In fiction, Rabih Alameddine's "An Unnecessary Woman" follows protagonist Aaliya Sohbi who lives in Beirut and is caught in a mid-life crisis. She's unconventional -- no husband, no kids and not particularly aligned with any religion -- but she's haunted by memories of the Lebanese Civil War. Author Alameddine, is a Lebanese-American writer who was born in Jordan and migrated to California in his teens. 


America is rife with war stories from Afghanistan, but reporter Anand Gopal's debut book, "No Good Men Among the Living: America, The Taliban and the War Through Afghan Eyes," provides an intimate account of the conflict from the Afghani perspective. Gopal previously served as an Afghanistan correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor and is currently a fellow at the New America Foundation. 

poetry_rankine_citizen_f.jpgIn "Citizen: An American Lyric," Jamaica-born poet Claudia Rankine recounts everyday microaggressions to document the stress of being black in America. Rankine is currently an English professor at Pomona College and she's previously won fellowships from the Academy of American Poetry and the National Endowment for the Arts.


In his latest collection of poetry, Fred Moten tries to umpack the the musicality of James Brown and William Parker. Currently a professor of English at the University of California at Riverside, Moten is also the co-founder of a small press called Three Count Pour.


Steve Sheinkin's "The Port Chiago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights" revisits the 1944 case of 244 mostly black sailors who protested unsafe working conditions and the 50 who were later charged with mutiny. The men had good reason to take a stand: On July 17 of that year, more than 300 sailors at the segregated Navy base of Port Chicago, California, were killed in a massive explosion. 


With "Brown Girl Dreaming," a series of childhood poems, author Jacqueline Woodson offers up a searing take on growing up in South Carolina in the 1960s and 70s. Woodson has also won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults and the Coretta Scott King Award. She lives in Brooklyn.

The awards will be announced on November 19 in New York City. You can also listen to NPR's announcement of the finalists here:

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Watch: Stop-and-Frisk and Police-Community Relations in the U.S.

Colorlines - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 08:18

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Addressing an audience of prosecutors and policymakers gathered in New York City late last month, U.S. attorney general Eric Holder said, "As you've noted, what gets measured is what gets funded and what gets funded is what gets done." In 2013, the federal government sent nearly $4 billion in criminal justice grants across the country to places including St. Louis. States and cities depend heavily on federal funding to augment slashed police and prosecutorial budgets. Resistant-to-change institutions also use federal funds to test new policies. "Federal grants," according to a new Brennan Center report, "have an outsize impact on state and local criminal justice practices." And grant money typically flows to agencies and organizations that quantify impact, damage, harm or success. Dollars flow, as Holder says, to what gets measured--and today's panel being livestreamed out of Washington, D.C. is an insider's look at what's getting measured.

Can "evidence-based criminal justice research" improve policing in high crime or urban communities of color? To find out, watch "Stop and Frisk: The Role of Police Strategies and Tactics in Police-Community Relations," livestreamed today from noon to 1:30 p.m. EST at The Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. Panelists include: Cathy Lanier, chief of police, D.C.; Ronald L. Davis, community oriented policing services, U.S. Department of Justice; Tracie L. Keesee, Center for Policing Equity, UCLA (which had been evaluating the St. Louis County PD's traffic stops in the months before Michael Brown's murder).

Watch above.

And ICYMI, check out video from last night's Town Hall on Race, Policing and Civil Rights, for activist and community leaders' perspectives on the pace and possibility of stop-and-frisk and police accountability reform.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Second Hospital Worker Infected with Ebola, Hong Kong Police Attack Protestors, BET Hip Hop Awards

Colorlines - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 07:08
Second Hospital Worker Infected with Ebola, Hong Kong Police Attack Protestors, BET Hip Hop Awards

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

  • Anita Sarkeesian cancels a talk after security measures aren't taken to address the threat of a mass shooting. 
  • More than 100 black candidates fill November's ballots--a record high
Categories: Diversity Headlines

For Some Native Tribes, Federal Recognition Remains Out of Reach

Colorlines - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 06:20
For Some Native Tribes, Federal Recognition Remains Out of Reach

The federal government recognizes 566 tribal governments within the United States. By all accounts, the process by which tribal entities apply for and attain--or are rejected from--federal recognition is cumbersome. In May, the Department of the Interior suggested a batch of rule changes that would streamline the process. Connecticut has become ground zero for conflict between tribes seeking federal recognition and lawmakers who say this status would diminish local and state tax revenues, lead to land claims and expand Indian gaming.

Why Federal Recognition Matters

For Native American tribes, federal recognition creates nation-to-nation relationships with the federal government that acknowledge their self-determination and tribal sovereignty. When they become federally recognized, tribes can establish their own zoning and land-use laws on their reservations. In general, these tribes are also exempt from local and state taxes; free of many state laws; and allowed to pursue big gaming such as high-stakes bingo, slots and casinos.

The process for obtaining federal recognition was established in 1978. The Department of the Interior sets the standards and an Indian Affairs assistant secretary decides each petition on a case-by-case basis. The process is a long one--as Nedra Darling, spokeswoman for Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs points out, it can often take decades. Indeed, a look at petitioners awaiting consideration includes the Muscogee Nation of Florida, which sent a letter of intent 36 years ago.

In 2005, a Government Accountability Office report indicated that the "tribal recognition process was ill-equipped to provide timely responses to tribal petitions for federal recognition," and it recommended an overhaul. Nearly a decade later, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is taking on the issue. 

This past May, Indian Affairs assistant secretary Kevin Washburn issued a proposal outlining changes. The current policy requires tribes to prove that they've had "continuous political authority and community" since 1789 and that "an external entity" has identified the group as Indian since 1900. Washburn's plan require tribes to illustrate their political authority and community since 1934.

Public comments on the proposal were supposed to close on August 1, but extension requests were so overwhelming that the deadline was stretched to September 30.

Enter the States

Twenty-three states have their own system for recognition. State-recognized tribes are ineligible for tribal gaming and they must pay local and state taxes. Under Washburn's proposal, tribes that have been state-recognized since at least 1934 would be eligible to petition for federal recognition.

Federal recognition doesn't guarantee that these tribes will live on a reservation."If a state-recognized tribe receives federal recognition, it would have to undergo an additional application process," explains Darling. "[It would be under] a separate regulation ... to obtain federal trust land."

Still, it's almost certain that after a state-recognized tribe is federally recognized, their reservation will become federal trust land. This paves the way for land use-changes including the potential advent of casinos. Critics in California and Connecticut have expressed concerns that they will lose some of their tax base, and that new casinos will bring in traffic that wears on state infrastructure and roads. 

There are two federally recognized tribes within Connecticut--the Mashantucket Pequot and the Mohegan Indian Tribe. The state recognizes the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, the True Golden Hill Paugussett Indian Nation and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation.

Connecticut's congressional delegation, which is made up of two senators and five representatives (all Democrats), opposed an early discussion draft of Washburn's proposed changes in 2013. This summer all seven lawmakers objected to the final draft during Indian Affairs' public comment period.

Within the last decade or so, two of Connecticut's state-recognized tribes--the Eastern Pequot and the Schaghticoke--gained federal recognition. But that didn't go uncontested by the state: During his stint as Connecticut's attorney general, now-Senator Richard Blumenthal fervently opposed federal recognition for both. And he won.

In a 195-page request for the Department of the Interior to reconsider its recognition of the Schaghticoke in 2005, Blumenthal wrote, "there was no Schaghticoke Tribe when colonists settled the area." He did this despite the fact that Connecticut recognized and established a reservation for the tribe in 1736. Blumenthal also demanded federal recognition be revoked from the Eastern Pequot--a tribe for whom Connecticut first established a reservation in 1683. In an extraordinary move, under pressure from the state of Connecticut, the Bureau of Indian Affairs rescinded federal recognition for both tribes.

Schaghticoke Chief Richard Velky says it was a striking blow for his nation of about 325.

Members of the Schaghticoke tribe began their petition for federal recognition in 1981. They underwent a rigorous, 23-year process and were finally federally recognized in 2004. Just a year later, their recognition was taken away. "It [has been] a long and brutal path," says Velky.

Connecticut Rewrites the Rules

In a letter rejecting Washburn's May 2014 proposal, Connecticut lawmakers suggested their own language that would allow tribes that have been denied federal recognition to reapply for it but give third parties--such as the state lawmakers themselves--veto power over the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As the proposed rule changes stand now, Connecticut might have the power to veto federal recognition for the Schaghticoke and other tribal nations that apply. The changes could also mean that these nations might have an opening for federal litigation.

Despite its numerous letters and requests to Indian Affairs, Velky says he's surprised that Blumenthal and the state of Connecticut hasn't contacted the Schaghticoke themselves.

"[Blumenthal] never ever called us in and sat down and said, 'Look, let's discuss this,'" says Velky. "For [the state], it all seems to be based around casinos."

The two federally recognized tribes within Connecticut operate two casinos; federal recognition of more tribes could mean even more casinos in the state. That's what worries some lawmakers.

At this point, the proposed changes are just that--proposals. And it's unclear whether the third-party veto will make its way into the final rule change. "The department is in the process of reviewing all comments received on the proposed rule," says the BIA's Darling. Officials haven't set a deadline for the final approval of the rules. 

Velky says he'll wait. 

"This hurts the elders the most," he says, explaining that he's deeply disappointed that the Schaghticoke have lost about 65 people since they started the federal recognition process more than three decades ago. "It's just ludicrous." 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Korean TV Show Tackles Taboo Subject of Mental Illness

New America Media - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 00:15
Pictured above: Hyo-jin Gong plays a psychiatrist on the recently aired South Korean TV drama, "It's OK, That's Love." ???SAN FRANCISCO – South Korea is notorious for having one of the world’s highest suicide rates. For years now, it has... YeoJin Kim http://publisher.namx.org/mt-cp.cgi?__mode=view&blog_id=19&id=103
Categories: Diversity Headlines

Over 10,000 Californians to Lose Health Coverage

New America Media - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 15:51
More than 10,000 Californians who purchased health insurance on Covered California are now in danger of losing it. During the Open Enrollment period, a total of 1.4 million Californians bought insurance on Covered California, the state’s online health insurance marketplace.On... Viji Sundaram http://publisher.namx.org/mt-cp.cgi?__mode=view&blog_id=19&id=68
Categories: Diversity Headlines

Little Saigon has 19 Candidates Running for 20 Offices

New America Media - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 14:25
 Introducing 19 Vietnamese Americans candidates with origins from Little Saigon in Orange County, California. On Tuesday, November 4th, American voters will vote for elected officials from federal, state, county, school district, special district and city. In Little Saigon, there are19 ethnic... Nguoi Viet http://publisher.namx.org/mt-cp.cgi?__mode=view&blog_id=19&id=103
Categories: Diversity Headlines

LAUSD Asks Judge to Reveal Child Sex Abuse Victims' Immigration Status

Colorlines - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 14:06

The Los Angeles Unified School District is asking a judge to reveal the immigration status of children who were sexually abused by their Miramonte Elementary schoolteacher, Mark Berndt. The request claims that if children seek monetary damages for future earnings losses, their status should be weighed.

In a motion first reported by NBC 4 News Los Angeles and obtained by Colorlines today, LAUSD attorneys outline the argument:

Thus, to the extent the plaintiffs in this lawsuit seek loss of earnings or lost wages, their immigration status is directly relevant to the determination of their potential for future earning capacity and, thus, is relevant to the determination of damages. 

As Colorlines has reported, immigration status has been a central theme in this case--with parents expressing deportation concerns. Then-Sheriff Lee Baca issued a letter to parents in 2012 assuring them that there wouldn't be questions about status.

Berndt was originally investigated by the district in December 2010--but it didn't suspend the teacher until the following February. He wasn't arrested until January 2012. Parents and guardians weren't told about the initial investigation and didn't hear about it until about a year later. Berndt pleaded no contest in 2013 to molesting 23 children and is serving 25 years. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Dispatch from Ferguson: Convenience Store Owners Talk Race

Colorlines - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 13:38
 Convenience Store Owners Talk Race

In the days after white police officer Darren Wilson killed black 18-year-old Michael Brown, the Ferguson Police Department released a security video taken from Ferguson Market & Liquor that allegedly shows Brown participating in an unrelated theft. Many South Asians who saw the video began to wonder whether the store worker in the video was South Asian and whether the business was South-Asian owned and operated. It is. An Indian businessman, Mike Patel, owns not only Ferguson Market and Liquor but also leases several other stores, including a beauty supply store and Sam's Meat Market and More, to other immigrants, some of whom are Arab-American.

Those of us who remember the tensions that arose between Korean-owned business owners and African-Americans in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict in 1992 were concerned about what might occur in Ferguson, Missouri. As the events unfolded in mid-August, I asked civil rights attorney Angela Oh, who was an important figure in building bridges between communities in Los Angeles, for advice. She was clear: Monitor the media because they often inflame tensions. Remember that the underlying problems that communities of color and immigrants face are similar--structural racism, economic distress, neglected neighborhoods. And give people opportunities to connect with each other to find solutions to these shared challenges.

October 10, I traveled to Ferguson to join a group of South Asians, Muslims, Arabs and Asian-Americans for the National Weekend of Resistance.We were there to stand in solidarity, to learn and listen, and to lift up the central message that black lives matter. During the weekend, Faizan Syed, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in St. Louis, organized visits for us with a few Arab, Muslim and South Asian small-business owners in St. Louis and Ferguson.

We started at Yeatman Market on the north side of St. Louis, an area known to be violent. Palestinian-American Zuhdi Masri has owned the store for 32 years. Working closely with local African-American leaders, including Metro St. Louis Coalition for Inclusion and Equity's Ramona Williams, Masri has been able to broker agreements between area gangs. As we left, Linda Sarsour from the National Network of Arab American Communities took pictures with children who were playing outside the market near a gazebo. "You wouldn't have seen kids playing there a few years ago," said Masri.

We then drove out to Ferguson's West Florissant Avenue, where many small businesses - beauty supply, take-out restaurants, small markets and liquor marts - still had reminders of August unrest on their storefronts. Sheets of plywood with spray-painted messages such as "open for business" covered parts of the stores.

At the Ferguson Market & Liquor, I spoke with a clerk who didn't want to be identified. The clerk* said that he knows and appreciates his regular customers, who are mostly African-American. He said that even though it suffered some damage, people from the community stood guard outside of the store during the unrest. When I asked him about racial tensions between the immigrant store owners and African-American residents, he shrugged it off. There's some shoplifting and name-calling here and there, he said. "But the real problem is with cops who stop African-Americans" without cause. 

The Ferguson Market & Liquor clerk and other immigrant workers might not be on the streets of Ferguson with African-American protestors night after night, but there seemed to be an understanding of the racial realities in Ferguson, especially when it comes to police. And, there seemed to be tacit support of the call for justice, which might also be the opening to have deeper and broader conversations. In fact, over the coming months, Neelu Panth and DeBorah Ahmed, who work with A Better Family Life in St. Louis, are planning roundtables between immigrant small-business owners and African-American leaders in the area.

In my short time inside Ferguson Market & Liquor and some of the other stores, I noticed a familiar back-and-forth between customers and workers that comes with seeing each other often. Here's a Facebook post from Sam's Market and More written on August 16, after the store was damaged, that speaks to that rapport:

During this hard time, SAMs meat market staff would like to thank all the [people who] came to the store asking if we need some help. [We can't] forget the people [who] helped us and [gave us] a hand... At this time all we can promise [is that we'll] be back as soon as we can, in business [and] to continue supporting our community.

Perhaps Ferguson is sparking not only a national awakening about the urgency of police brutality but also opportunities for people to address their shared struggles at the most local level - based on the simple understanding that this is "our community."

Deepa Iyer is the former executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together. Along with writing and consulting, she serves on the board of Race Foward, Colorlines' publisher. She tweets at @dviyer

*Post has been altered since publication to lessen detail about clerk and to quote him.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Black and Latino Engineering Graduation Rates Don't Match up With Tech Industry Hiring

Colorlines - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 13:36
Black and Latino Engineering Graduation Rates Don't Match up With Tech Industry Hiring

Blacks and Latinos graduate with degrees in computer science and engineering from top universities at rates that aren't reflected in the tech industry's hiring practices, a USA Today investigation found.

Elizabeth Weise and Jessica Guynn report for USA Today:

On average, just 2% of technology workers at seven Silicon Valley companies that have released staffing numbers are black; 3% are Hispanic.

But last year, 4.5% of all new recipients of bachelor's degrees in computer science or computer engineering from prestigious research universities were African American, and 6.5% were Hispanic, according to data from the Computing Research Association.

The USA TODAY analysis was based on the association's annual Taulbee Survey, which includes 179 U.S. and Canadian universities that offer doctorates in computer science and computer engineering.

Diversity, and the lack thereof, has been the talk of the tech industry this summer as top companies including Twitter, Google, Pinterest, eBay, Facebook, and Microsoft slowly succumbed to public pressure and shared the racial and gender breakdowns of their staff. Unsurprisingly, the tech world is a white- and Asian-male dominated industry.

Amidst the hand-wringing, the USA Today investigation findings should quell one common rejoinder, which is that there just aren't enough talented black and Latino applicants, The New School professor Darrick Hamilton tells USA Today

Getting more women and people of color into technical positions isn't important merely to fill out a company's diversity profile. Some science and technology educational programs argue that getting girls of color into the tech pipeline is a matter of equity and economic sustainability. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

In Ferguson, a Secretive, Federal Team of Racial Conflict Mediators

Colorlines - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 13:34
In Ferguson, a Secretive, Federal Team of Racial Conflict Mediators

They were dispatched to Seattle in 2010 after police shot and killed a Native American woodcarver. They were sent to the 2009 Oakland protests sparked by Oscar Grant's shooting death. And then to Sanford, Florida, in 2012 after protests erupted in the wake of Trayvon Martin's killing. They've been in the St. Louis area since even before Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown. And they're in Ferguson now, a team of under-the-radar federal mediators known as the Community Relations Service, overseen by the Department of Justice, who are sent to the scene of bubbling racial conflicts.

This weekend the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explored the limits and powers of the agency, which operates under a cloak of privacy and secrecy. As in: minimal contact with press, closed door community meetings, and peacekeeping but no investigative authority. 

The Post-Dispatch's David Hunn reports:

[I]ts goal, said Director Grande H. Lum in an interview last week with the Post-Dispatch, isn't to make arrests or file lawsuits, but to give all sides a private place to talk, and, hopefully, solve their own problems.

"Those are the longest-lasting solutions -- when the people themselves resolve their own disputes," Lum said. His unit, he said, allows "people to speak."

Lum wouldn't discuss the details of his agency's work in Ferguson. He said mediators are trained to identify underlying causes, parties involved, and those who need to be included.

"We are going to be there," Lum said, "as long as it is needed."

That could be a very long time. Read the rest of the Post-Dispatch story.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Why the Nobel Peace Prize is a Red-Faced Moment for Pakistan and India

New America Media - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 12:10
This may well go down as the Line of Control Nobel Peace Prize.Even as India and Pakistan talk tough and lob shells at each other across the border, here comes the Nobel Peace Prize committee doing their version of marriage... Sandip Roy http://publisher.namx.org/mt-cp.cgi?__mode=view&blog_id=19&id=54
Categories: Diversity Headlines

Ebola-Themed Halloween Outfits Expected to Go ‘Viral’

New America Media - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 12:09
 Cultural appropriation and various forms of blackface are usually what's dredged up from the place of all things offensive and tacky for Halloween, but this year's Ebola outbreak seems to be attracting the attention of trick-or-treaters looking to up their... The Root http://publisher.namx.org/mt-cp.cgi?__mode=view&blog_id=19&id=103
Categories: Diversity Headlines

Dispatch from Ferguson: Convenience Store Owners Talk Race

New America Media - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 12:06
 In the days after white police officer Darren Wilson killed black 18-year-old Michael Brown, the Ferguson Police Department released a security video taken from Ferguson Market & Liquor that allegedly shows Brown participating in an unrelated theft. Many South Asians... Colorlines http://publisher.namx.org/mt-cp.cgi?__mode=view&blog_id=19&id=103
Categories: Diversity Headlines

Karen Lewis Pulls Out of Chicago Mayoral Race

Colorlines - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 11:58
Karen Lewis Pulls Out of Chicago Mayoral Race

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is putting aside her mayoral ambitions while she battles a brain tumor, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Monday. The charismatic firebrand was set for a hotly anticipated standoff with Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel in his bid for re-election. 

Her mayoral bid was an outgrowth of the political momentum Lewis, a former chemistry teacher, gained when she and the Chicago Teachers Union took on Emanuel in an historic 2012 citywide teachers strike. In that fight, Lewis and the union refocused a mainstream education reform conversation typically depicted as one between self-interested teachers unions and everyone else into a conversation about equity and children's educational rights in a constrained, anti-labor climate. 

It's little coincidence that their showdown happened in Chicago, President Obama's hometown and a testing ground for the school-reform policies championed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and now executed by Rahm Emanuel. Among the most controversial of those policies has been school closures, which advocates argue disproportionately impact black and Latino students. Last year Emanuel shuttered 49 schools. Polls conducted by the Chicago Tribune in August show that voters have been siding with unions instead of Emanuel when it comes to handling schools.

Without Lewis in the race, Emanuel's lost his most formidable opponent, the Chicago Tribune reported this morning.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Actress Khandi Alexander Discovers Racial Violence Victim in Her Family Tree

Colorlines - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 10:16

Tonight on PBS' "Finding your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.," actress Khandi Alexander learns that her grandfather may've been killed by white coworkers in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1935. Neither her mother nor grandmother ever talked about her grandfather's, Joshua Masters,' death at age 25 while working at a rosin factory. "Maybe it was too painful," Alexander says, at first in a questioning voice. Then she's sure: "Maybe it was too painful."

Masters had worked as a factory distiller. It was a job normally reserved for white men whom Gates, after some investigation says, may have resented having a black boss.

Watch Alexander's reaction in the clip above and her full story during tonight's episode of "Finding your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Facing Race Spotlight: Organizer Alicia Garza on Why Black Lives Matter

Colorlines - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 08:48
 Organizer Alicia Garza on Why Black Lives Matter

Alicia Garza calls Oakland home but is one of the many black organizers who've flocked to Ferguson, Missouri, in the aftermath of the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. For Garza, who serves as special projects director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, her presence in Ferguson gave her the opportunity to support local activists as they worked to build sustainable leadership. It was also a chance to put into action a saying that's become somewhat of a movement slogan in recent months: "Black Lives Matter."

The phrase, which began as a hashtag and grew into a national organizing project, started on Facebook. Garza was incensed in July of 2013 when George Zimmerman was acquitted of Trayvon Martin's murder and she started adding the hashtag #blacklivesmatter to her Facebook posts. Within days, she'd teamed up with other organizers, including Patrisse Cullors, executive director of the Coalition to End Police Violence in L.A. Jails, and Opal Tometi, who runs the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. They were determined to take their message offline and into the streets. On July 18, 2013, Collors posted the following message describing the early stages of the project:

#blacklivesmatter is a movement attempting to visiblize what it means to be black in this country. Provide hope and inspiration for collective action to build collective power to achieve collective transformation. rooted in grief and rage but pointed towards vision and dreams. 

Since there has been more police and extrajudicial violence against black people--and more collective action to address it. By this summer, there had been enough dialogue and infrastructure-building to take the call for justice to Ferguson. In late August, hundreds of black organizers and activists from different fields traveled to the small city just outside of St. Louis as part of the Black Lives Matter Bus Tour. (Akiba Solomon, Colorlines' editorial director, attended and wrote about it.) 

On November 15, in Dallas, you can catch Alicia Garza at Facing Race, the biennial conference held by Colorlines' publisher, Race Forward. In this interview with Colorlines, Garza talks about why she think it's crucial to centralize black people in her work.

Tell me about #blacklivesmatter. You're often credited with having started the hashtag, correct?

That's true.

What prompted you start it and how has it grown?

What prompted me to have launched that project was really...we launched it right after George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin-- 

--When you say "we," who are you talking about?

Myself, working with Patrisse Cullers who's an organizer in Los Angeles and executive director of the Coalition to End Violence in L.A. County Jails. They've built an incredible network called Dignity and Power Now. And then the other person [who] really helped to build the project was Opal Tometi, the executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. So essentially, the hashtag was the result of both the anger and the frustration that not just black folks, but largely black people, were feeling around yet another person being acquitted of the murder of another person in our family.

#Blacklivesmatter was also inspired by the need to keep working for transformation. A lot of what we were seeing on Facebook and in our conversations was, "I knew they would never convict [Zimmerman]. He would never go to jail." For us, it wasn't actually about using the criminal justice system to solve our issues. For us, it's really about asking, "Do black lives matter in our society?" and what do we need to do to make that happen. We know that someone going to jail is not going to make black lives matter. What's going to make those lives matter is working hard for an end to state violence in black communities, knowing that that's going to benefit all communities.

Why did you decide to take it offline?

It started off as a hashtag that really picked up, and the three of us are organizers, fundamentally. We believe in the power of social media, but we also believe in connections between people that are face-to-face and in real time. It's important to take that hashtag off of social media and into the streets and transform that into organizing. What that looks like is us being able to name the impact that state violence has on our communities and broaden the conversation from "jail or not jail" to exploring the impact of state neglect on black communities. For example, the fact that we have half-a-million black immigrants living in this country, living in the shadows, who are undocumented, is a product of state violence. The fact that black queer and trans folks, folks along the gender spectrum, are being targeted for various forms of harassment, violence, and in some cases, elimination, is state violence. 

What that's meant in terms of taking [#blacklivesmatter] from social media and into the streets was hosting national conversations around police and vigilante violence. We held a national dialogue around Ted Wafer, who was convicted of killing Renisha McBride. And we asked our folks to engage in a dialogue about what justice looks like in that situation. Does Ted Wafer going to a jail that is probably going to transform him in ways that are not human restore our communities when someone is taken by state or vigilante violence?

How did the bus tour happen?

We built connections between different people in different places. There's lots of black folks out there who do care and who do want to be involved. It's necessary to build real-time and tangible bonds between us. The fruit of that was the culmination of the Black Lives Matter ride to St. Louis to support our family here in Ferguson. What we were able to do, through the leadership of Patrisse, Darnell Moore, who's out of New York, and a whole team of other people, was organize in a [really] short time 600 black folks from all over the country who wanted to lend their skills, services and their love to black folks here in St. Louis.

We organized that in about 10 days. Patrisse took on a lot of leadership in terms of making sure that people had a way to get here and making sure that we were responding to the calls that were coming from Ferguson for medics, attorneys, healers, organizers and journalists. We were lucky enough to be able to come here once all the [national] media had left and be here with folks who were grappling with some big questions about what it means to build a sustainable organization and movement. We were able to do that with a crew of primarily black queer, trans and gender non-conforming folks, which was really, really powerful.

We're really excited to keep building, so part of what came out of that ride was making sure that we stay connected. One of the things that we're up to next is organizing a National Week of Resistance against state violence to coincide with the National Day Against Police Brutality on October 22.

There have been conversations that have been difficult but productive around other groups and communities adopting the language of "Black lives matter."Why is it important to centralize black people in your work? 

It is really important that if we're going to achieve transformation in this country that we pay a lot of attention to the conditions of black people. Black folks here and across the world [are] canaries in the coal mine. Our conditions really speak to what the future can look like if we allow politics to continue as usual. It's also important to acknowledge that when we say "Black Lives Matter," we're not saying that all life doesn't matter. We're not saying that the lives of other communities of color and immigrants are unimportant. We're not interested in a narrow nationalist politic, and we're certainly not interested in an oppression Olympics.

We know that our struggles are intricately connected and we need each other to get free. The argument that we're making, however, is that black lives are central to everybody's freedom. Fighting for black liberation is also fighting for your liberation. One's not better than the other. But black lives are critical, so we need to pay attention to that, stand in solidarity with that and not change the conversation. One of the things that can happen when we lump all people together is that we really lose the complexity of the experiences that we have in this country. If we lose that complexity, we lose out on building sharp strategies that can include everybody.


Bonus: Read Garza's "Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement" at The Feminist Wire.


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