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Citibank Pays Up, Finally

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 07:34
Citibank Pays Up, Finally

Earlier this week, Citibank agreed to pay the largest federal civil penalty to date for their role in hawking dodgy subprime loans to consumers--disproportionately people of color--and then lying about their creditworthiness to potential investors. It is the latest sign that the collapse of the housing market six years ago continues to reverberate. Citibank's admission of de facto fraud on Monday means that it will pay more than $7 billion to settle outstanding claims against its loan activities.

The announcement is bittersweet. It may in some small way go to help the nearly 4 million families at risk of losing their home right now. But the settlement comes too late for the nearly 13 million families, many black and brown, who've faced foreclosure since the crisis began. And despite the fact that Citibank will pay a historic cost for its wrongdoing, only a fraction of the total amount will go to help victims of the bank's activities. Just $1 out of every $4 will go directly to help modify loans or help build new housing for affected communities. Most of the rest will go either to the U.S. Treasury and state coffers.

All of that said, Attorney General Eric Holder underscored the importance of the penalty by noting that, "Citi is not the first financial institution to be held accountable by this Justice Department, and it will certainly not be the last."

Given its history, the size of the punitive action against Citibank is of little surprise. The bank was one of the most active retailers of subprime mortgages on Wall Street. Next to Bank of America, another subprime mortgage printing press, Citibank received the largest share of TARP bailout funds--$45 billion of taxpayer money--to help it stabilize after the meltdown. The bank's books were so full of the unfair, high-interest mortgages that two years after the height of the crisis The Wall Street Journal openly speculated about whether the federal government would let the financial behemoth fail.

It did not.

Even though the scale of what Citibank did is of little shock, the details of how they did it are enraging. In order to get to the heart of the wrongdoing here we have to go back to the scene of the crime: subprime mortgages.

As you probably remember, subprime mortgage loans were high-interest loans which had an initial, deceptively low interest rate. People of color who were qualified for traditional, steady-rate mortgages were nonetheless 70 percent more likely to be steered into these subprime loans. Subprime loans were so identified with people of color that brokers at Wells Fargo referred to them pejoratively as "mud people" loans.

But where the real money lay for banks was not necessarily in making these loans to homebuyers. Rather it was in repackaging and selling them in billion-dollar chunks to large institutional investors like pension funds and universities as "safe investments." Citibank excelled by dressing up and turning subprime loans into giant "mortgage backed securities."

Citibank knowningly mispresented subprime loans as safe investment vehicles. Internal e-mails released as part of the settlement show that "Citigroup employees learned that significant percentages of loans reviewed in due diligence had material defects." One person at Citibank responsible for selling the loan products said that buyers should "start praying" because he "would not be surprised if half of these loans went down."

Not only did Citibank push these busted loans on vulnerable communities and misleadingly re-sell them as high-quality investments, Citibank also corrupted the objective process that's supposed to prevent these illicit practices.

As The Wall Street Journal lays out, before loans are sold to investors they are reviewed by an outside evaluator who essentially assigns them a grade to rate their investment caliber. This allows investors to know whether their products are quality or not. However, if Citibank didn't like the results of a particular evaluation, it would practically erase the unbiased grade and assign a new one. Citibank would then turn around and sell the product with its bogus higher rating to unsuspecting buyers.

Of course, as the attorney general indicated, Citibank is not the only bank to engage in these activities. What continues to be astounding is just how consistent the sentiments and practices were across Wall Street firms. Echoing the "we're selling to fools" sentiment of Citibank, former Goldman Sachs Vice President Fabrice Tourre told his girlfriend in an e-mail on the eve of the crisis, "the whole building is about to collapse now." Referring to himself in the third person, Tourre swaggered that the "only potential survivor" would be "the fabulous Fab ... standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstruosities [sic]!!!" He was convicted last year of mortgage fraud.

Given the fact Citibank will be able to write off much of the penalty as a business loss means that the impact of Monday's decision on Citibank's bottom line is small. In fact on the same day of the settlement Citibank reported profits that beat analysts' expectations. Even with the penalty, the company's stock went higher on the profit news. 

While it's true that no one responsible for the mortgage mess has gone to jail, the positive element here is that however haltingly, the banks are being held to some account. This may be of little consolation to the tens of millions of individuals effected by their activities. But given that the financial sector continues to have some of the strongest cards in our winner-take-all economic system, there is some consolation that there was any justice rendered at all.


Categories: Diversity Headlines

MH 17 Crash Site Contaminated, Israel's Ground Invasion in Gaza and Kindle Unlimited

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 06:49
MH 17 Crash Site Contaminated, Israel's Ground Invasion in Gaza and Kindle Unlimited

Here's what I'm reading about this morning: 

  • After reaching a new contract, New York's Long Island Rail Road workers will not strike
Categories: Diversity Headlines

The New Captain America is a Black Man From Harlem

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 05:52
The New Captain America is a Black Man From Harlem

The wait for a new Captain America is finally over. Here's Stephen A. Crockett Jr. at The Root:

On Wednesday, Marvel Comics announced just such a promotion as Falcon, the African-American character born and raised in Harlem, will become the new Captain America. (Comic book aficionado and The Root's Grapevine editor, Yesha Callahan, does not believe that Falcon's rise to Captain America makes him the first, since she notes that Isaiah Bradley, widely regarded as "Black Captain America," held that position.)

"It's about time," Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort told the New York Daily News. "In 2014 this should be a thing that we shrug off. It shouldn't be seen as revolutionary, but it still feels exciting."

Categories: Diversity Headlines

'Crack Baby' Hysteria Returns

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 15:54
'Crack Baby' Hysteria Returns

Last week, the first woman was arrested in Tennessee under a controversial new law, passed in late April. The law allows for the arrest of pregnant women who've been found to use narcotics during pregnancy and "if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug."

It's a first of its kind law, but this type of prosecution of pregnant women goes back decades. The first incidences can be traced to the beginnings of the war on drugs in the 1980s and '90s, when the attention was primarily on the over-hyped and misinformed "crack baby" epidemic. In that era, mostly black women were being targeted for using crack cocaine during pregnancy. Back then, they were often charged under existing laws that hadn't been written with pregnant women in mind--such as child abuse laws, or laws prohibiting the sale of drugs to a minor. Tennessee has taken things a step further with a law crafted specifically to criminalize pregnant women with drug problems.

There was little evidence during the intial crack baby hysteria that in-utero exposure to the drug actually had long-term negative consequences. But a longitudinal study published last year proved outright that children exposed to crack cocaine during pregnancy did no worse in life than their peers from similar neighborhoods. The study showed that, in reality, the thing to blame for the often poor outcomes of these children was not drugs, but rather poverty. Scholar Dorothy Roberts, in an appearance on "All In with Chris Hayes" this week, recounts this history.

Despite all of this, the trend of prosecuting drug-using mothers has not abated. Instead, the targeted drug has changed over the decades as trends in media and drug use have evolved. The latest target of this hysteria is the use of opiods, commonly consumed in the form of prescription drugs like percocet, vicodin or oxycontin, or also as the illict drug heroine. The Tennessee law specifically refers to narcotics. While "narcotic" has vague connotations to all illict drugs, it's most often associated with opiods. This new law is consistent with recent media alarmism regarding the use of prescription drugs and other opiates by pregnant women, and represents simply a new chapter in the recurring hysteria about pregnant women and drug abuse.

The main problem with these kinds of stories, and prosecutions, is they do nothing to address the very real substance abuse and addiction issues facing many people in the United States today. Despite decades of incredible spending and increased incarceration in response to the war on drugs, addiction and substance abuse continue. Some policy makers have acknowledged this reality and begun looking for a different ways to address substance abuse. "We've really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction," said Michael Botticelli, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease."

There is no evidence that incarcerating women who use drugs during pregnancy will do anything to improve their health, or their children's health. In fact, these criminalizations actually worsen the health of the newborn, and make access to appropriate drug treatment for the mom unlikely. Mallory Loyola, the woman charged under the Tennessee law, was in jail for at least three days before being released on bond, just two days after giving birth, during which her child was in custody of Child Protective Services. Kylee Sunderlin of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), an organization that works closely with women charged under these types of laws, explained that when a baby is diagnosed with what's called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome--or, the constellation of symptoms that reflects substance exposure inutero--established treatments for it include skin to skin contact with the mother and breastfeeding. That treatment is next to impossible if the mother is incarcerated and her child is in state custody.  

While Loyola is white, history tells us that it's black women who will be disproportionately targeted by this and similar measures. A study by NAPW of the arrests and prosecutions of pregnant women from 1973 to 2005 found that African-American women were "significantly more likely to be arrested, reported to state authorities by hospital staff, and subjected to felony charges." Part of what influences this bias is the fact that there is no consistent policy regarding drug testing of pregnant women, which means it is left up to the discretion of hospital personnel. Often, a trigger for testing is a complication with the birth, such as a low infant birth weight or premature delivery. These are things for which women of color, particularly black women, are already at higher risk. As a result, black women in particular face higher levels of scrutiny than white women--leading to more prosecutions under these types of laws.

So if it's clear that drug prosecutions don't actually improve the health of mother or baby, why are they still so intensely pursued, despite the opposition of the entire medical community? One possible cause lies in the connections between the for-profit prison system and lawmakers. Deborah Small, author of "Breaking the Chains: Communities of Color and the War on Drugs," pointed out in an Alternet article in May that Tennessee is home to the headquarters of the Correctional Corporation of America. "One can't help but wonder," she wrote, "whether there is any connection between Tennessee becoming the first state to enact legislation that would make women subject to criminal punishment because they became pregnant and failed to meet societal expectations and its distinction as the corporate headquarters of the nation's largest private prison company--Correctional Corporation of America (CCA)--which already operates 3 of the state's 14 prisons."

The ties to CCA aren't just geographic. The company is also a major contributor to the campaigns of Gov. Bill Haslam, who had the power to veto this bill, and two other Tennessee lawmakers. Small reports: "Governor Bill Haslam was among the top four recipients of campaign contributions from CCA--remarkably, two of the other four top recipients are also Tennessee elected officials--Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker."

It's clear that the war on drugs--and the subsequent war on pregnant women of color who have used drugs--is motivated by ideology and profit, not actually care for the wellbeing of mothers and their children.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Detroit's Maternal Death Rate Three Times National Average

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 13:36
Detroit's Maternal Death Rate Three Times National Average

Between 2008 and 2011, more than two dozen Detroit women died because of issues directly related to pregnancy or childbirth, reports The Detroit News. That maternal death rate is three times the national average, and the worst of major U.S. cities. Racial health disparities are squarely to blame, experts say.

Writes The Nation's Dani McClain:

The numbers make sense given the racial disparity in maternal mortality. Black women nationwide are at three to four times greater risk than white women. And since Detroit's population is 83 percent African-American and more than four in ten of its residents live under the poverty line, it's no wonder that the chance that pregnancy or childbirth will result in death is so high--higher than in Libya, Uruguay or Vietnam, the article reports.

Blame it on the prevalence of chronic health issues likely to put a new or birthing mother's life at risk, namely diabetes, hypertension, obesity and heart disease. Black women are also twice as likely as white women to receive no prenatal care, or to receive it only in the third trimester.

Read more on new approaches to addressing racial health disparities from Colorlines' Miriam Zoila Pérez. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Seattle Revival of 'The Mikado' Insists on Bringing Yellowface Back With It

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 13:10
Seattle Revival of 'The Mikado' Insists on Bringing Yellowface Back With It

mikadoposter_071714.jpgYellowface is nothing new. But people seem unable to leave it behind as an embarrassment of the past. The Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year with a production of the operetta duo's classic "The Mikado." Except, writes Jeff Yang over at CNN

It is the most frequently staged of Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas and a perennial favorite of the Society. Every time, they have done it the same way: As a photocopy of the Victorian original, with Caucasian actors wearing garish facepaint and outfits that cartoonishly approximate traditional Japanese garb.

[T]hese "traditional" productions -- yellowface productions -- of "The Mikado" have to end.

They are the deep-drilled root of the yellowface weed: the place from which the scourge keeps springing back, even when its surface expressions are plucked. There are older examples of yellowface in entertainment than "The Mikado," but none so popular, and certainly none that have been as popular among mass audiences for as long -- 129 years and counting.

I want to be clear that I'm not saying that "The Mikado" shouldn't be performed at all.

Its biting satire and splendidly silly stage play make it quite possibly Gilbert and Sullivan's greatest work. But when it is performed by an all-white troupe of actors dressed and made up as Asians, it shifts from a brilliant comedy of manners to, as Asian-American actress and blogger Erin Quill says, a "racist piece of crap."

Read the rest of Yang's piece at CNN.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

New Video Series Honors Today's 'Queer Black Visionaries'

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 11:38

We know our black queer heroes. They're the Audre Lordes, Marsha P. Johnsons and Richard Bruce Nugents of the world. But filmmaker Katina Parker is on a mission to tell the stories of today's queer black leaders with a new web series called "Truth.Be.Told." The North Carolina-based filmmaker has launched an Indiegogo campaign to help raise money for the series, which has already featured powerfully told stories from poets, educators and filmmakers across the country.

Take a look:

Stacyann Chin, Tony Award-winning writer and mother

Kai M. Green, writer, filmmaker and transgender activist

Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, co-creator of the Mobile Homecoming Project

The fundraising campaign ends on August 9 at 11:59pm PST and is a truly refreshing take on the people who are fighting and living for justice in queer black bodies. To date, more than 50 people have committed to being interviewed for Seasons 1 and 2. Confirmed participants include the aforementioned in addition to Emil Wilbekin, editor-at-large for Essence magazine; Patrik-Ian Polk, creator of Logo TV's Noah's Arc; B. Slade, a singer formerly known as Tonéx; Toshi Reagon, singer/songwriter; Mia McKenzie, creator of the Black Girl Dangerous blog; Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler filmmaker/transgender rights activist; Karamo Brown, Oprah Winfrey Network host, model and actor and Justin Robinson, founding member of the Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Casting Call for 'Straight Outta Compton' Biopic is Really Racist

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 08:52
Casting Call for 'Straight Outta Compton' Biopic is Really Racist

The casting call for an N.W.A. biopic "Straight Outta Compton" was released yesterday, and it's awful:

SAG OR NON UNION CASTING NOTICE FOR FEMALES-ALL ETHNICITIES- from the late 80's. Shoots on "Straight Outta Compton". Shoot date TBD. We are pulling photos for the director of featured extras. VERY IMPORTANT - You MUST live in the Los Angeles area (Orange County is fine too) to work on this show. DO NOT SUBMIT if you live out of the area. Nobody is going to be flying into LA to do extra work on this show - and don't tell me you are willing to fly in.


A GIRLS: These are the hottest of the hottest. Models. MUST have real hair - no extensions, very classy looking, great bodies. You can be black, white, asian, hispanic, mid eastern, or mixed race too. Age 18-30. Please email a current color photo, your name, Union status, height/weight, age, city in which you live and phone number to: subject line should read: A GIRLS

B GIRLS: These are fine girls, long natural hair, really nice bodies. Small waists, nice hips. You should be light-skinned. Beyonce is a prototype here. Age 18-30. Please email a current color photo, your name, Union status, height/weight, age, city in which you live and phone number to: subject line should read: B GIRLS

C GIRLS: These are African American girls, medium to light skinned with a weave. Age 18-30. Please email a current color photo, your name, Union status, height/weight, age, city in which you live and phone number to: subject line should read: C GIRLS

D GIRLS: These are African American girls. Poor, not in good shape. Medium to dark skin tone. Character types. Age 18-30. Please email a current color photo, your name, Union status, height/weight, age, city in which you live and phone number to: subject line should read: D GIRLS

This is how bad films are made. 

(h/t Gawker)

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Dolores Huerta Talks About Becoming an Organizer

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 07:49

At 84 years old, Dolores Huerta has spent the better part of 50 years working and supporting community organizers. In this recent interview with a San Diego news station, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers shows that she's still approaching life with the same strategic thinking that's made her one of the most well-known labor leaders in the country.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Video: Bruce Lee Meets the Guy Who Got a Groupon for Karate Class

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 07:20

From Angry Asian Man:

Check out this hilarious short, animated by Dilara Karabas, in which comedian Ian Edwards asks some of the hard questions about Fists of Fury and Enter the Dragon.


Categories: Diversity Headlines

U.S. Expands Sanctions on Russia, Microsoft Eliminating 18,000 Workers and Siberian Crater

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 06:47
U.S. Expands Sanctions on Russia, Microsoft Eliminating 18,000 Workers and Siberian Crater

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

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Immigration Detention Quotas Have Kept Families Apart for 55 Million Nights

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 14:12
Immigration Detention Quotas Have Kept Families Apart for 55 Million Nights

A congressional mandate requires that the U.S. hold 34,000 unauthorized immigrants in detention every day, for an annual cost of $2 billion. (Unsurprisingly, gobs of money paid to for-profit prison corporations are involved.)

Detention Watch Network, in partnership with MIT's Codesign Studio, brings to life the human impact of all those nights detainees spent locked up with a new website Bedtime Stories, lauched today. Altogether it adds up to more than 55 million nights since the quota was put in place--nights when parents might have been tucking their children into bed, or readying for the next workday have instead been spent behind bars.

The website pulls out personal accounts from immigrant detainees of their detention experiences, like this one from a detainee in Arizona's Pinal County Jail: 

"The only way to have a visit with our families is by way of a televised screen and a telephone[...] which makes our stay here more depressing and affects us psychologically, since in circumstances such as these, we need all the support of our families."

Visit Bedtime Stories for more.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Brooklyn 8th Grade Metal Band Lands $1.7 Million Record Deal

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 12:59

Yes, you read that headline correctly. Three Brooklyn 8th graders -- guitarist Malcolm Brickhouse, bassist Alec Atkins and drummer Jarad Dawkins -- got together to form Unlocking the Truth, and  Sony has signed the tweens to a two-record deal worth $1.7 million. 

Here's more from Consequence of Sound:

According to the NY Daily Newsthe group was discovered performing in Washington Square Park back in 2012 by Steve Jordan, drummer for Eric Clapton. That led to gigs playing across the country, including opening for Guns 'N' Roses in Vegas, a current spot on the Vans Warped Tour, a gig with Queens of the Stone Age next weekend, and even an opening slot on Coachella's main stage. "What started out as play dates went to Times Square and now this," said Dawkins' mother, Tabatha. "It's been one great thing after another." For you concerned mothers out there, don't worry; Dawkins said the boys are all solid students. "School work comes first. If their school work is not done, they don't play."

What makes this story unique is that these kids are young. Really young. But they're also black musicians in a genre that's long been seen as mostly white. Let's just hope that the pressure to produce doesn't get the best of them. 



Categories: Diversity Headlines

'Holler If Ya Hear Me' Musical's Broadway Run Cut Short

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 11:09
'Holler If Ya Hear Me' Musical's Broadway Run Cut Short

"Holler If Ya Hear Me," the Broadway musical directed by Kenny Leon that is based on the life and music of 2pac, is ending its run on Sunday after lackluster sales.

From the New York Times:

In a statement on Monday night, one of the lead producers, Eric L. Gold, blamed the show's closing on "the financial burdens of Broadway" and added, "I was unable to sustain this production longer in order to give it time to bloom on Broadway." Mr. Gold also recently told Variety that he made a "rookie mistake" by underestimating the amount of capital necessary to keep the $8 million show running.

While some Broadway shows rely on budget reserves to muddle through slow weeks, "Holler" struggled from the outset. The production never brought in more than $175,000 a week in gross revenues, becoming one of the worst-selling musicals of recent years. Last week the show grossed $154,948, or 17 percent of the maximum possible amount, and only 45 percent of its seats were occupied.

It's sad news, but especially troubling for what this could mean for the future of hip-hop on Broadway. "If we don't succeed, it's going to be difficult to do another rap or hip hop show on Broadway," Gold said in an interview with Times. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

All-Star Game to Pay Tribute to Glenn Burke, First Openly Gay MLB Player

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 10:57
All-Star Game to Pay Tribute to Glenn Burke, First Openly Gay MLB Player

There are now enough openly gay professional athletes in America that the phrase "LGBT Sports Movement" has entered our cultural lexicon. Britney Griner, Jason Collins, Michael Sam -- they're all pioneering black gay athletes whose bravery deserves attention. But so too does Glenn Burke, a Major League Baseball player who came out of the closet during the 1970s. Now, 40 years after Burke's coming out and 20 years after his death from AIDS, Major League Baseball will publicly honor him at this year's All-Star Game.

"He was a pioneer, and should be recognized," said Major League Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney, speaking to the New York Times.

But that recognition was a long time coming.  Burke's career was cut short by injury -- and ignorance. "Deep inside, I know the Dodgers traded me because I was gay," he said in a 1982 Inside Sports profile about being traded from Los Angeles to Oakland. 

Al Jazeera's Gregg Levine noted:

Glenn Burke was also gay. He wasn't "out" by any definition -- certainly not a contemporary one -- but he didn't do some of the things other closeted players at the time would do. He didn't go out "girl hunting" with teammates on road trips. He didn't marry a woman for appearances (even though the Dodgers offered to help him financially if he did). He didn't avoid the spotlight, though he once said, looking back, he thought it would be easier to be a mediocre player that few people recognized.

Burke, instead, wanted to excel. Beyond his natural competitive spirit, he reportedly hoped his success and fame would be big enough to allow him to live openly as a gay athlete.

The league has invited Burke's family to this year's All-Star game in Minneapolis, where they'll witness the first official dedication to the movement that he started. 

(h/t The New York Times)

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Ariz. Congressional Candidate Confuses YMCA Campers for Migrant Children

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 10:54

A self-described conservative Republican candidate running for a seat in Congress joined a protest against migrant children in Oracle, Ariz., on Tuesday, where it was rumored that children would be dropped off in a shelter. Adam Kwasman, who currently serves in his state's House of Representatives, saw a yellow school bus full of what he thought were child migrants and tweeted--and later deleted--"Bus coming in. This is no compassion. This is the abrogation of the rule of law."

The politician later told Phoenix's 12 News Brahm Resnik that he "was able to see some of the children in the buss, the fear in their faces." Resnik broke it to Kwasman that the bus was full of YMCA campers--not migrant children:

Kwasman later tweeted that he was apparently grateful to God that the yellow school bus in question wasn't carrying migrant children:

Last tweet not the bus of illegal immigrant children. Thank God.

-- Adam Kwasman (@AdamKwasman) July 15, 2014

Kwasman faces his party's primary election in August.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Aaron McGruder and Adult Swim Team Up for 'The Hooligans'

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 10:50
Aaron McGruder and Adult Swim Team Up for 'The Hooligans'

Aaron McGruder is one busy man. The creator of the hit comic and animated series "The Boondocks" announced this year that he's also working on a new show on Adult Swim called "Black Jesus." Now comes news that there's another show in the works, this one the "Hooligan Squad" about an American insurgency in Japanese-occupied San Francisco.

"With 'The Boondocks' and the upcoming "Black Jesus" series we consider Aaron very instrumental in the success of Adult Swim and this deal is the continuation of a great partnership," said Mike Lazzo, executive vice president/creative director of Adult Swim.

For his part, McGruder noted that "it's a rare thing to have a network home. Even more rare is a home that wants to see you grow and expand as a creator. Adult Swim is headed to new horizons and I'm happy to be along for the ride."

Earlier this year there was some talk of trouble between McGruder and the network after it was announced that he wouldn't be involved in the last season of his signature show "The Boondocks." But it looks like all is well. Get ready to laugh.

(h/t Shadow and Act)

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Study: Black Men No Better, Sometimes Worse Off Than in 1960s

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 10:33
 Black Men No Better, Sometimes Worse Off Than in 1960s

Those are the sobering, if unsurprising, conclusions from University of Chicago economists Derek Neal and Armin Rick,  who picked up the work of earlier researchers to examine the economic progress of black men since the 1980s. What Neal and Rick found is that despite major educational and economic gains blacks made between 1940 and 1980, in recent decades mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on black men have stalled and sometimes reversed economic progress made decades earlier. "The growth of incarceration rates among black men in recent decades combined with the sharp drop in black employment rates during the Great Recession have left most black men in a position relative to white men that is really no better than the position they occupied only a few years after the Civil Rights Act of 1965," the authors write in their abstract.

Neal and Rick write

Since 1980, incarceration rates among both black and white men in most age groups have increased by factors of two to three... On any given day in 2010, almost one in ten black men ages 20-39 were institutionalized, and rates of institutionalization were actually slightly higher among black men in 2000. Further, because turnover among prison populations is quite high, these results suggest that far more than ten percent of prime age black men will serve some time in prison or jail during a given calendar year.

The impact is severe. Black men between the ages of 25 and 29 without a high school diploma posted a higher incarceration rate in 2010 than an employment rate. 

Ultimately, evidence shows that "prison spells harm [for] the future labor market prospects of arrested offenders, and black men likely now face worse labor market prospects relative to white men than they faced when policy shifts in the late 1970s and early 1980s ignited the prison boom," the authors wrote.

For more on the welfare of black men, check out Colorlines' ongoing series: Life Cycles of Inequity.

via WashingtonPost

Categories: Diversity Headlines

A New Way to Fight Health Disparities?

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 09:28
A New Way to Fight Health Disparities?

There's a big question behind pretty much every health care debate in the U.S.: Why, despite all the money spent on health care (we're the world's top spender), are our health outcomes so bad? The U.S. ranks at the bottom of other developed nations. When you look at these outcomes by race, though, you start to get a hint of what might be behind these stark differences.

We see incredible disparities in health outcomes for people of color. In maternal health, for example, black women are four times more likely than white women to die during childbirth, and these disparities persist even for middle class black women. To a lesser but still to a significant degree, other women of color (Latinas, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders) experience these disparities as well. It's not limited to maternal health either--in many other arenas people of color face worse health outcomes than whites.

This is not a new problem, and it's been the focus of public health efforts for decades. But because of the Affordable Care Act and alarm about the high cost of health care in the wake of a major recession, the topic is receiving renewed attention. Somewhat surprisingly, there is some consensus on what is causing these disparities. Researchers, academics and providers across sectors have been pointing to what they call "social determinants of health" as the cause. Social determinants of health are things like poverty, housing, employment, stress, access to clean water and fresh food. What researchers have found, particularly by doing international comparisons, is that countries that invest more in these social services see improved health outcomes.

In the U.S., we've invested way more in health care spending and way less in social services, resulting in escalating costs without real benefit. Say you are a patient with diabetes. You're having trouble controlling your sugar intake because the only grocery store in your area has little fresh food, and mostly pre-packaged processed foods high in sugars. Visits to your doctor and conversations about managing your diabetes through diet are going to do little to change the fact that the nearest grocery store with fresh produce is an hour away by bus.

Addressing this issue is going to require a system-wide change, including a challenge to the individualistic and anti-public spending philosophies popular with conservatives today. As a starting point though, there is a new movement to shift medical education in a way that might at least bring my hypothetical diabetes patient's dilemma into the treatment discussion, and at best equip her provider with tools to address those barriers to appropriate nutrition. Helena Hansen--an assistant professor of psychiatry and anthropology at New York University, and a research psychiatrist at the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research--along with her colleague Jonathan Metzl--chair of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society, and a sociology professor at Vanderbilt University--are proposing a shift in the way medical students are trained.

For the past few decades, issues of health disparities and race have been approached in medical education by way of cultural competency training. The idea behind cultural competency initially, says Hansen, was listening to the patient and learning about their world view. Instead, she recounted her own cultural competency training during medical school: "Chinese patients tend to like the color red so you might want to prescribe them red tablets. Mexican families like to be together so let them all come into the exam room." In short, cultural competency training can actually serve to reinforce racial stereotyping by making providers believe they are the experts on a certain community. Instead of approaching someone from a race or culture different than their own with a desire to listen and learn about their world view, the provider might come with a set of predetermined ideas about what that person might need or want. Even if cultural competency training wasn't reinforcing racial stereotypes, after decades of integration into medical school curricula, there is little evidence that it is effectively addressing the issues it was created to solve.

As an alternative, Hansen and Metzl are proposing that medical students train in structural competency instead. At its core, this training would be a crash course in the social determinants of health, an area that Hansen says has historically been seen as the domain of public health, not medicine. But she and Metzl are out to change that, and Hansen thinks the increased focus on holding providers (and insurance companies) responsible for the outcomes of their patients may help to push this effort along. In a Social Science & Medicine Journal article last year they argue: "clinical training must shift its gaze from an exclusive focus on the individual encounter to include the organization of institutions and policies, as well as of neighborhoods and cities, if clinicians are to impact stigma-related health inequalities."

A simple example of the possible impact of this shift is a study at University of California San Francisco, where through electronic medical records, providers were required to fill in a question about the patient's housing status. The providers whose form included this question were more likely to include social interventions in the patient's treatment plan.

While Hansen admits that training providers alone won't address these disparities, she hopes that it will be the beginning of an increase in providers collaborating with other social service providers to create system-wide solutions. And it could serve another purpose: keeping physicians in the field. "There is a high drop out rate amongst physicians," Hansen says. "They feel as though they can't have an impact on their clients' health. The systemic barriers are too great for them to practice medicine in a way that makes a difference." Hansen thinks provider burnout could be eased by structural competency work because individual practitioners might actually feel like they are helping their patients in more systemic ways.

While Hansen and Metzel have seen interest in their proposal over the last few years, it's clear that a number of barriers exist to getting this training implemented in medical schools. A primary one, and likely part of why cultural competency training has been distorted from its original intention, is ideological. "We're really going against the grain pushing something that takes the focus off the individual's responsibility for their own health," says Hansen. Another barrier is research. There have been few studies on structural competency, in part because medical research is often funded by the pharmaceutical industry. Medical education is not a product that can be sold for profit (although cultural competency curricula have been prepared and packaged by some companies). Without studies showing the efficacy of the training, it's harder to make the case for it--creating a chicken or the egg paradox that makes it tough to move forward. But there is some hope for this concept: the fact that most of the interest in it has come from a younger generation of new providers, says Hansen.

One can only hope that we're at a tipping point when it comes to tolerance of these major health disparities, and that looking beyond individual patients toward the political, economic and social environment which they live (in many ways an intersectional approach to health care) can bring us one step closer to closing these gaps.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

More than 200 Palestinians Killed, KKK Hands Out Candy, and a Four-Winged Raptor Fossil

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 07:16
More than 200 Palestinians Killed, KKK Hands Out Candy, and a Four-Winged Raptor Fossil

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

  • At least 206 Palestinians, including at least 39 children, have been killed as a result of Israeli attacks on Gaza. An Israeli was killed by a Palestinian rocket on Tuesday; it was the conflict's first Isreali death.
Categories: Diversity Headlines