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

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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karen Lewis Pulls Out of Chicago Mayoral Race

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

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

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.

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

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Categories: Diversity Headlines

For the Supreme Court, New Term Means Renewed Attacks on Civil Rights Legislation

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 08:34
For the Supreme Court, New Term Means Renewed Attacks on Civil Rights Legislation

For people who've watched the Roberts Court whittle away civil rights legislation over the last decade, the new Supreme Court term brings with it the likely possibility of more of the same. The High Court is set to consider Alabama's so-called "racial gerrymandering" and Texas' low-income housing practices this term. In the former, it has the opportunity to take further swipes at the Voting Rights Act, and in the latter, eviscerate the cornerstone enforcement provision of the Fair Housing Act. Civil rights watchers and fair housing advocates in particular are bracing for the worst.

Here's a racial justice primer on what to expect this term in these two key cases.

Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project concerns "disparate impact," a legal concept that's been wielded since the 1970s to fight housing and other kinds of institutionalized racial discrimination. The legal concept says that plaintiffs alleging housing discrimination do not need to know the motivations and intent of decision makers and institutions--like banks, housing authorities and municipalities--as long as they can show that their actions have a racially disparate impact that discriminates against people of color. In other words, it's a civil rights legislation for a post-Civil Rights Era, when blatant redlining no longer occurs, but banks still saw fit to steer wealthy blacks and Latinos toward subprime loans at more than double the rate they did similarly situated wealthy whites.

You won't actually find the words "disparate impact" anywhere in the text of the Fair Housing Act, but the concept, borrowed from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, has been recognized with "unanimity" by the courts, says Rigel Oliveri, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law. The Department of Justice used disparate impact to win its historic settlements against subprime lenders Wells Fargo and the now-defunct Countrywide in the wake of the housing crisis. Disparate impact is, unsurprisingly, not popular with banks and other business interests.

"Disparate impact doesn't mean you win your case," Oliveri says. "It just means you get your foot in the door and the burden of proof shifts to the other side to explain why they needed to pass a facially neutral law that ended up having a disparate, discriminatory impact on a group of people." And that reason better be non-racial and justifiable.

The particular case is the Supreme Court's third attempt in three years to hear such a challenge to disparate impact. Texas was approving developer tax credits for subsidized low-income housing in Dallas, low-income housing advocates allege, but predominantly in low-income neighborhoods concentrated with people of color while denying those tax credits for projects in whiter, more affluent neighborhoods. This kind of practice has aggravated racial segregation in the city, plaintiffs argued. Lower courts ruled that The Inclusive Communities Project, the low-income housing group, was able to prove discrimination via disparate impact. In its appeal, Texas isn't interested in rehashing the facts of the case and instead is seeking to cut off the disparate impact standard altogether.

The Supreme Court, which has seen fit to strike down school integration efforts in Seattle in 2007, gut the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, and clear the way for state affirmative action bans in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action in 2013, is particularly hostile to the consideration of race, even if the policy in question is meant to protect people of color from disenfranchisement and discrimination. In Chief Justice John Roberts' famous words, "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." It's that positioning that has many civil rights and fair housing watchers anxious, says Oliveri.

On November 13, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case challenging Alabama's redistricting efforts in a pair of linked cases, Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama. State Democrats and black lawmakers say that in 2012, the Republican-controlled state legislature redrew legislative maps to consolidate black voters into just a few districts, creating districts of super-majorities while diluting their voting power elsewhere. One newly redrawn House district went from 67 percent black to 76.8 percent black. Senate District 26 went from 72.75 percent black to 75.22 percent black, resulting in a "strangely shaped configuration that resembles a downward-facing sand fiddler crab," plaintiffs wrote in their brief.

Plaintiffs called the practice "racial gerrymandering," or in other words, an unconstitutional and unjustified use of race in redistricting that violates the Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act. Indeed, says Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, "The Voting Rights Act, as courts have interpreted it in the past, [with] the [now-invalidated] Section 5 and other sections, have required a lot more nuance." The question before the court is: Was the state "appropriately nuanced or inappropriately blunt in how it used race in the process?" says Levitt.

In 2012, a three-judge panel of Federal District Court judges ruled the plan did not deny black voters their right to participate in the political process, and was neither unconstitutional nor a violation of the Voting Rights Act--but with one key dissent. Judge Myron H. Thompson, who is African-American, pointed out "a cruel irony" to these cases. "Even as it was asking the Supreme Court to strike down" Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act "for failure to speak to current conditions," Thompson wrote in his dissent, "the State of Alabama was relying on racial quotas with absolutely no evidence that they had anything to do with current conditions, and seeking to justify those quotas with the very provision it was helping to render inert."

Consider this year's Alabama redistricting case "Shelby County, number two," says Victor Goode, a professor at the CUNY School of Law. Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court's landmark ruling that invalidated the Voting Rights Act's pre-clearance formula, paved the way for voter suppression efforts and "has given rise to all these voter ID laws bouncing around the courts now," Goode says.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia in particular "have been arguing all along that the Voting Rights Act is an anachronism of history," says Goode. "If they continue that same approach, they just might take another few bites out of the Voting Rights Act."

Categories: Diversity Headlines

New Ebola Patient Identified, Kim Jong Un Returns to Public, Moon Volcanos

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 07:06
New Ebola Patient Identified, Kim Jong Un Returns to Public, Moon Volcanos

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

  • What would marijuana legalization look like in Washington, D.C., where roughly half the population is black?
  • August is a $250 smart lock connected to your phone through an app. Not like hackers would ever want to figure out how to break into your house or anything. 
  • Wow. Volcanos on the moon seem to have erupted much more recently than first thought--maybe within the last 50 million years (estimates were in the billions before that). 
Categories: Diversity Headlines

Indigenous Peoples' Day, New Ebola Case, Evo Wins Again, Nobel in Economics

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 07:11
Indigenous Peoples' Day, New Ebola Case, Evo Wins Again, Nobel in Economics

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

  • A high school in Sayerville, New Jersey, cancels football season after allegations that seven players sexually assaulted four of their teammates. 
  • The Nobel Prize for economics goes to Jean Tirole, probably best known for his work on the ways in which regulators can tame privatized industries.
Categories: Diversity Headlines

Cinematographer Bradford Young on Lighting Dark Skin and the 'Subversive' Power of the Black Church

Sat, 10/11/2014 - 05:25
Cinematographer Bradford Young on Lighting Dark Skin and the 'Subversive' Power of the Black Church

Every cinematographer's job rests on how they're able to manipulate light. For Bradford Young, a black Brooklyn-based cinematographer from Louisville, Kentucky, the task is especially important. "When you underexpose [dark brown skin tones], they pop and resonate and shine in a particular way that you're not going to see when a face is lit in a conventional way," he told me over the phone recently. "You're doing black folk a great disservice when you overexpose their skin."

Young's approach is currently on display in "Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine: Radical Black Brooklyn," an exhibition produced by the public art nonprofit Creative Time in conjunction with Weeksville Heritage Center. The four-part "walkable" exhibit explores the concept of black self-determination. Young's "Bynum Culter," an experimental film starring members of one of Brooklyn's oldest black churches, Bethel Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal Church, is among the most powerful parts of the exhibition.

Young's feature film work has earned him plenty of fans: His cinematography in "Pariah," "Mother of George" and "Aint Them Bodies Saints" won him awards at the 2011 and 2013 Sundance Film Festival. The New York Times' Amanda Peterusich called his work on Ava DuVernay's "Middle of Nowhere" "a triumphant, signature moment." Colorlines spoke to Young about his installation and his approach to filmmaking in general.

Your "Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine" project features elderly members of one of Brooklyn's oldest black churches. Why was it important for you to tell this part of their story?

When I started doing my research on Weeksville, [one of America's first free black communities], I thought about the whole idea of the homesteader, the black settlement and black nationalism. At the core of all of those movements was spirituality. I grew up in the AME church, and I have my own feelings about the church, but I felt like [during the mid-19th century], the church wasn't just a place where folks went to ask God for favors. The church was an active participant in what I would call black subversive activity.

Subversive activity?

The Civil Rights Movement started out in the church, and the Black Panthers had a lot of their community initiatives come out of church basements. When you look at the Chitlin' Circuit, a lot of the musicians who weren't allowed to play in integrated facilities played at small black establishments in the community or some of them played in the church.

I thought setting my project in the church would allow me to explore not just its sacred nature, which is very important to me, but also the subversive, secular nature of it. One of the ways I thought I could connect to this subversive nature was to connect with elders because they have a much more subversive history. With [Bethel Tabernacle AME] in particular, if you've belonged to that church 50 years or more, you're called a Living Legend. That means you've got to New York in the 1940s or 1950s. ... I thought I could connect to them in the sense that people of their generation often left the South because they were tired of Jim Crow. But when they got to New York, they realized that it wasn't all that different. They had to put their elbows out in order to survive. I figured they would say they got a lot of strength from being an active participant in the church.

bynum2_100914.jpg

Scene from "Bynum Cutler"

The setting of the film is really, really powerful. Viewers are in this dilapidated church, which was housed in a school building. It's got a chilling effect. You talk about black nationalism and black Brooklyn of 50 years ago, and then you're in this space that's ravaged in a neighborhood that's gentrifying faster than any other in New York City. Tell me about the space. It's haunting.

I was interested in an exploration of black American ruins--black architectural ruins, especially, because they speak to how much America has divested from black people's interests. They show how hard it is, economically, for us to handle pieces of infrastructure just because we don't have the economic power. And then on the other hand, it just shows you how much our reality in America is laced with so much blight.

Why are you interested in black ruins?

If you walk into an older piece of black architecture, let's say a church or an old insurance building somewhere in America, you find these ruins. On one extreme, the ruins speak so much to how we just don't have the power to sustain ourselves, infrastructure-wise. The other extreme is that there aren't any ruins at all. You go to Auction Street in Memphis and the building where they sold black folks is gone. It's that mentality of forgiving and forgetting. Black folk are not part of that conversation.

We don't own the bulldozers to knock down the auction block houses, but it's done supposedly on our behalf because America is afraid to have a conversation about slavery and the Middle Passage. It hits on two extremes: Either we don't have any residue at all or the residue that we do have tells you about how disempowered we are. 

I'm really fascinated by how you use light in your work. It's often dark and somber. What are you trying to convey about the experiences of black people through your use of light?

We're all sort of brainwashed on many levels, so part of the reason why I've always thought about lighting black folks in a particular way is because there are levels, right? I'm trying to decolonize my mind from all the images of black folks in American cinema that have bombarded me since I was a kid. All of these images since "Birth of a Nation" still sit with us because we haven't had an opportunity to change them. How many black films get made each year? You can't change the image of black folk when you only make five films each year that are at least trying to push back against that imagery.

I light some stuff unconsciously because I'm just fed up and tired and feel like things can be done better. It also goes back to the pedagogy I came out of Howard [University] with, which was: You gotta' do your people right. If not, we won't be here." But purely from an aesthetic perspective, some of it is just that it looks good. 

[I] had a great opportunity to workshop those ideas because [on] the films I shot before I got to New York, I had 10 to 12 black folks in the room and I got to figure out what looked good. All of it has an intention. When I shot "Pawn Sacrifice," I was one of the only black people on set for like three months. We were shooting in Montreal and I hadn't seen another black person in months. The one day [a] brother showed up, I just lit the hell out of him. I was on a mission to show white folks how black folks can look really beautiful.

bynum3.jpg

Exhibit-goers watch "Bynum Cutler"

"Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn" ends on October 12. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Weekend Reads: Ferguson, Young Black Men And Resistance

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 14:18

Not many people know the modern history in the video above. Head into the weekend with actor Jeremy Renner on "The Daily Show" discussing "Kill the Messenger,"the new film about the CIA's role in bringing crack-cocaine to urban America. The opening clip about which kids America cares about is particularly prescient given the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations' War on Drugs policies, in particular harsh sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders, of course.

But this week also saw St. Louis' third deadly police shooting of a young black man in two months. As Ferguson's Weekend of Resistance gets underway, a related selection of reads all in the vein of #BlackLivesMatter:

Faith leaders are among those most capable of bridging stark racial divides in St. Louis. Ahead of an interfaith dialogue this Sunday at St. Louis University's Chaifetz Arena, evangelical Christian and founding editor of Sojourners magazine, Jim Wallis, touched on the most segregated spaces in America in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch 

...I think white Christians and white churches have to pay attention here. There shouldn't be some terribly different conversation going on in our white churches and black churches. So, this is a challenge to the white churches to pay attention, to listen to our brothers and sisters, to care as much about our brothers and sisters who are black, as much as we care about our own kids who are white.... [When] we divide along racial lines -- that's a denial of the Gospel.

"[A] path can be traced from slavery to the killing of Michael Brown," Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts writes in "The Worth of Black Men, From Slavery to Ferguson."

Just out today, ProPublica's analysis of 32 years of "[more than 12,000] killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males." Note: That number is a "minimum count" of police homicides as violence researchers have long complained that the FBI's database of police shootings "is terribly incomplete." Read ProPublica to learn how.

And ahead of the midterms (and in the long lead-up to 2016), labor leader Richard Trumka continues to speak up about racial justice. He talked about race and Mike Brown in St. Louis last month and today, in California, he discussed drawing down mass incarceration. On the state ballot this November will be Proposition 47, which reduces harsh penalties for simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

'Kill The Messenger' Movie Revisits the CIA and How Crack-Cocaine Exploded in the US

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 14:10

I came of age in New York City overhearing older folks who'd lived through the crack era, ask a series of open-ended questions that began like this: "We didn't own no planes. How you think crack got here?" How, indeed. That's the subject of a new film opening tonight called "Kill The Messenger." Actor Jeremy Renner plays investigative journalist Gary Webb whose controversial 1996 three-part newspaper series opens like this:

For the better part of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, a Mercury New investigation has found. 

The drug network opened the first pipeline between Colombia's cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a city now known as the "crack" capital of hte world. The cocaine that flooded in helped spark a crack explosion in urban America and provided the cash and connections needed for L.A.'s gangs to buy automatic weapons.

The series rocked the country. One 1997 article described it as, "the most talked-about piece of journalism in 1996 and arguably the most famous--some would say infamous--set of articles of the decade."

So what happened after? Three major newspapers--The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times--some in collaboration with the CIA, The Intercept reports--set out to discredit Webb. They did. In December 2004, Webb, an award-winning investigative journalist and 49-year-old father of three who reportedly suffered bouts of clinical depression, took his own life.

"Kill the Messenger," largely viewed as a vindication of Gary Webb, opens nationwide tonight. It's sure to stir memories for familes displaced by civil war in Nicaragua and those in the U.S. who not only came of age under crack-cocaine but, who also sought to rebuild their communities in the decades after.

As for the truth of Webb's claims, from Nick Schou, author of the biography on which the movie is based, in The Intercept:

"I think it's fair to take a look at the story objectively and say that it could have been better edited, it could have been packaged better, it would have been less inflammatory. ... But these are all kind of minor things compared to the bigger picture, which is that he documented for the first time in the history of U.S. media how CIA complicity with Central American drug traffickers had actually impacted the sale of drugs north of the border in a very detailed, accurate story. And that's, I think, the take-away here."

 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Brooklyn D.A. Investigates Video Showing Cop Taking Money from Man

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 09:09

In a video posted on the New York Times, an unnamed, white Brooklyn police officer appears to take a handful of money from a black man's pocket. The officer then appears to indiscriminately pepper-spray the man, Lamard Joye. When his sister, Lateefah Joye, asks the officer for his name, she too is pepper-sprayed.

According to the Times, Joye was hanging out with friends celebrating his birthday in Coney Island in the early hours of September 16. The NYPD says it received a call about a man with a gun. Officers arrived on the scene. What happens next and was caught on video is now the subject of investigations by the Brooklyn district attorney, the Internal Affairs Bureau and the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Joye wasn't arrested--and he never got his money back. Joye's lawyer, Robert Marinelli, says what happened to the money remains a mystery:

Mr. Marinelli said he has submitted pay and bank records to the district attorney showing his client, who works in construction, had earned a few thousand dollars in early September and had withdrawn a couple of thousand dollars, intending to celebrate his birthday with his wife.

"I believe that this officer made an assumption that any money Mr. Joye possessed was obtained illegally and therefore he would not report the theft," Mr. Marinelli said. "This assumption was wrong. Mr. Joye is a hardworking taxpayer. An incident like this would never occur in a more affluent section of the city."

You can read the full story over at The New York Times

Categories: Diversity Headlines

$50K Reward Offered in Aniya Parker Slaying

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 09:03
$50K Reward Offered in Aniya Parker Slaying

It's been just over a week since Aniya "Ballie" Parker, a 47-year-old transgender woman, was brutaly killed in East Hollywood. The Los Angeles City Council will announce on Friday during a press conference that police and community leaders are now offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for her death, according to KTLA.

Based on a surveillance footage of the murder from a nearby business, Parker was approached by a group of two to three suspects last Thursday at 2:30 a.m. The suspects are described as men in their 20s, and after what appears to be a brief alteraction, one suspect shoots Parker in the head as she tries to run away from the group. Parker was later pronounced dead at L.A. County-USC Medical Center.

Family and friends have launched a GoFundMe page to help raise money for Parker's funeral expenses, describing her as a woman with "a heart of gold." 

Parker is the eighth transgender woman of color to be killed in the U.S. this year, and the second to die violently in Los Angeles since June. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

NFL Player Arian Foster Wears T-Shirt to Support Mike Brown

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 08:35
NFL Player Arian Foster Wears T-Shirt to Support Mike Brown

Houston running back Arian Foster decided to make a statement before Thursday night's matchup against the Indianapolis Colts. During pre-game warm-ups, Foster wore a T-shirt that read "Stand Strong St. Louis" on the front and "RIP Mike Brown" on the back. 

#Texans' Arian Foster wearing a "Stand Strong St. Louis" T-shirt. pic.twitter.com/JbN7Bg0w8v

-- Brian T. Smith (@ChronBrianSmith) October 9, 2014

Back of Foster's shirt reads "RIP Mike Brown" pic.twitter.com/HGJtUY2Vjw

-- Brian T. Smith (@ChronBrianSmith) October 9, 2014

It was one of the few on-field statements made by NFL players in the aftermath of Brown's killing and protests in Ferguson. During the NFL's pre-season, members of Washington, D.C.'s NFL team made the "hands up" gesture that's become synonymous with protests in the St. Louis suburb. 

Redskins players led by Meriweather appeared to have paid tribute to #MichaelBrown today: http://t.co/Qx0vrvTUVD pic.twitter.com/4HcYgUPiF8

-- NBCWashington (@nbcwashington) August 19, 2014
Categories: Diversity Headlines