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Here is the Okinawan Rapper Who Was Inspired by 2pac

Wed, 10/01/2014 - 09:27
Here is the Okinawan Rapper Who Was Inspired by 2pac

During a 1994 interview with Vibe, 2pac famously uttered, "I'm not saying I'm gonna' change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world." Twenty years later, the slain rapper's influence is felt all over hip-hop, from Kendrick Lamar and Lil Wayne to lesser-known rappers far outside of America's rap studios.

One of those rappers is 27-year-old Akiko Uraski, a native of Okinawa, a small island off the coast of Japan. Uraski raps under the name "Awich" and, in an interview with Vogue, she talked about how listening to 2pac helped shape her political understanding of Okinawa's struggle for independence and resistance to U.S. military troops stationed on the island.

"Tupac was my textbook," Awich told Vogue. "It was really fascinating to learn from him. What he says in his songs and interviews, turning negativity into strength, I felt a lot of positivity about that. I was obsessed with their struggle, and I think, I saw a similarity in the Okinawan people."

Here's the video for Awich's song "In the Battle."

Awich also told Vogue about the parallels she sees between traditional Okinawan music and black American music. "Okinawan songs are so hip-hop to me. They talk about struggle, they talk about the blues." 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

It's Now Easier to Find Government Data on Asian-Americans

Wed, 10/01/2014 - 09:11
It's Now Easier to Find Government Data on Asian-Americans

For decades, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have been left out of big studies that focus on race and ethnicity. A couple of years ago, Pew released a comprehensive report called "The Rise of Asian-Americans," but even that was widely panned for playing up the model minority myth.

"Our community is one of stark contrasts, with significant disparities within and between various subgroups.," Congresswoman Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said back in 2012 after the release of Pew's report. "The 'Asian Pacific American' umbrella includes over 45 distinct ethnicities speaking over 100 language dialects, and many of the groups that were excluded from this report are also the ones with the greatest needs."

The White House Initiative on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders just launched a new initiative that it hopes will offer broader statistical data on the diverse set of ethnicities that make up the AAPI community. On Tuesday, the initiative announced that is open for business.

"The launch of marks an important milestone for better understanding and responding to the complex needs of AAPIs, now the fastest growing racial group in the country," WHIAAPI executive director Kiran Ahuja said in a press release.

Already, the trove of information offers an important glimpse into the often underreported experiences of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.

  • In the first year of college, Asian American and black students have the highest enrollment rates in remedial education courses. Explore the data.
  • Of the immigrant orphans adopted by United States citizens, nearly half are of Asian descent. Explore the data.
  • Pacific Islanders have among the highest unemployment rates of all racial and ethnic groups. Explore the data.
  • The AAPI community is expected to more than double to over 47 million by 2060. Explore the data.

The new website features roughly 2,000 data sets and reports from nearly 50 federal, state, city and county sources. See more at

The White House also released this video about the new website:

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Facing Race Spotlight: Queer Burlesque Dancer Ms. Cherry Galette

Wed, 10/01/2014 - 07:44

It's been nearly 10 years since choreographer and performance artist Ms. Cherry Galette met poet Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha at retreat for writers of color. At the one-week workshop Galette, who calls herself a "queer showgirl," and Piepzna-Samarasinha, a self-described "queer disabled Sri Lankan cis femme" performer bonded over the idea of starting a troupe made up of queer and trans people of color. In queer spaces, we faced so much racism [and] in straight people-of-color spaces, we faced so much homophobia," Galette says of why they formed the troupe,Mangos With Chili, in 2006.

On its website, Mangos With Chili is described as "the floating cabaret of queer and trans people of color bliss, dreams, sweat, sweets and nightmares." What that translates into is a wide variety of performance: there's poetry, there's burlesque, there's acting. Since their first cabaret in 2007, they've presented the work of about 150 queer and trans people of color.

On November 15, in Dallas, you can catch Mangos With Chili at Facing Race, the biennial conference held by Colorlines' publisher, Race Forward.

Cherry spoke with Colorlines about the group she co-founded and why burlesque is an important part of queer folks reclaiming their bodies.

How did Mangos With Chili start?

I met Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinhawhile we were both attending VONA [Voices of our Nation] in the Bay Area in around 2005. We just got to talking about our mutual experiences around performing and that's how rare it was to be part of an all QTPOC line-up. We just started building from there. We had different artistic visions, but I've always thought that's been a strength of Mangos: We have come across such different contexts, experiences and creative platforms to tell queer and trans people-of-color stories through performance.

>How important was it to have that space to incubate ideas for queer and trans performance?

I think about José Esteban Muñoz's work. He has this thing that's always guided me of queerness being a point of possibility and potentiality. Queers are so creative, and especially queer and trans people of color. We find courageous and creative ways to be together. We make shit happen. I think there's so much power in us being physically together and exploring that potential.

When people go to your shows, what can they expect?

We're a performance group that really embraces body positivity and wants to make a space for every body to be recognized. Along with that, we have a commitment to collective access. [We] want the stories of disabled queer and trans people of color showcased as well. Let me just be transparent about that: We've had our own learning curves around how to provide accessibility, in a good way. I just feel like it's important to acknowledge it.

How did you get involved in the arts?

I grew up the daughter of wonderful musicians. During my formative years my parents were migrant farm workers, but they would come home and jam out and they would also play on the weekends. It was really beautiful to see people share and dance with that music. In terms of my own performative path, ironically I started as a writer. It's the gateway drug. [Laughs.]

How did you start performing burlesque?

I kind of just went out there and did it. Back in 2004 a friend asked me to be a part of her show. That's when I put together my first two burlesque pieces. It was wonderful. I got to engage with the audience and tell a story. It's kind of funny because years later, a friend was helping me pack up all my things and she found this really pathetic looking pasty and said, "Oh, look! It's your first pasty!"

Why is it important that people of color are performing burlesque?

It gives us a chance to redefine sexuality on our own terms, to be more erotic on our own terms. We're able to address legacies of imperialism, colonization and slavery through our body's movements. When you put your body on stage, you're not only dealing with your own body and story, you're telling other people's stories who've had similar experiences.

Find out more about Galette's work and her Facing Race workshop about the role of art in the lives of queer and trans people of color. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Inmates and Families Charged to Send, Spend Their Own Money

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 13:03
Inmates and Families Charged to Send, Spend Their Own Money

With 2.4 million people locked up in the United States, prisons are big business, and not just for the private companies that operate them. The Center for Public Integrity has a multi-part look out today on the business scheme to make inmates and those newly released from prison pay to access their own money. 

The report focuses on JPay, a prisoner financial services company which sells debit cards and money transfer services to inmates and their families. Amirah Al Idrus reports for the Center for Public Integrity:

In Michigan, for example, JPay charges users 50 cents to check the card's balance at an ATM, $2 to withdraw cash, 70 cents to make a purchase and 50 cents a month for a maintenance fee. Even not using the card costs money. Doing nothing draws a $2.99 fee after 60 days. To cancel the card, it costs $9.95.

In a companion article, Center for Public Integrity reporter Daniel Wagner writes that families have few alternatives but to submit to this fee-filled world.

Inmates' need for money is inescapable, Nelson says. Those in northern Illinois are not issued cold-weather clothes, he says, leaving them vulnerable to frostbite unless they can get money to pay for prison-approved long underwear and boots.


Taken together, JPay and other prison vendors create a system in which families are paying to send the money, and inmates are paying again to spend it, says Keith Miller, who is serving 21 ½ years at Bland for a series of drug-related, violent crimes committed in his early 20s. The earliest he may be released is 2021, when his mother will be 87 years old.

"The fact that [my mother] has to pay the fees to send the money and then the fact that [prison agencies] make a certain cut off it seems to me that [the prisons are] double-dipping into the money they're sending," he said in an interview at the prison. "It really doesn't make sense to me that this should be allowed."

CPI will release the second half of its report on Thursday. Read the rest at the Center on Public Integrity.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Rikers Island Will End Solitary Confinement for Its Youngest Inmates

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 13:01
Rikers Island Will End Solitary Confinement for Its Youngest Inmates

After a year of scathing media reports and a Department of Justice review, New York City is changing the way it treats its teen inmates. The city will stop holding 16- and 17-year-old inmates in solitary confinement, beginning at the end of the year, AP reported.

In August, the United States attorney's office released a report that said that Rikers Island, where the majority of New York City prisoners are held, too often turned to solitary confinement and had a "deep-seated culture of violence," the New York Times reported. The change will affect roughly 300 of Rikers Island's 11,000 inmates.

For more, watch this report of a former teen inmate at Rikers Island talking about the experience and lasting impacts of being held in solitary confinement while he was behind bars.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Report: Sunday Talk Shows Rarely Mention Asian-Americans

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 09:36
 Sunday Talk Shows Rarely Mention Asian-Americans

When Fox News panelist Jonathan Hoenig used Japanese-American internment during WWII to make the case for racially profiling American Muslims last weekend, he caused an uproar. And rightfully so. Hoenig's comments were clearly meant to drum up even more racist hysteria aimed at Arab- and Muslim-Americans. But in another way, Hoenig's comments also represented another sad reality of political weekend talk shows: They rarely talk about Asian-Americans, and when they do, the coverage is generally really bad.

According to a new report from ChangeLab, America's Big Five Sunday shows -- "Face the Nation," "Fox News Sunday," "Meet the Press," "State of the Union" and "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" -- are rarely talking about Asian-Americans, the country's fastest growing racial group. Researchers examined over 130 episode transcripts from the Big Five shows between January and June of 2013 and found that Asian-Americans were mentioned just 13 times. 

"It's about time that [Asian-American] stories get told, and not just to benefit [Asian-Americans]," researchers write in the report. "Until our stories are told, our understanding of the experiences and political behavior of every other racial group in America is incomplete."

Read the full report here

Categories: Diversity Headlines

A Look at Williamsburg's Puerto Rican Past and Present

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 09:03
A Look at Williamsburg's Puerto Rican Past and Present

Williamsburg may be known today as one of America's white hipster capitols, but a new neighborhood storytelling project looks at how the neighborhood's working-class Dominican and Puerto Rican residents live and thrive today.

It all started with a 1984 documentary called "Los Sures." In a decade when economic disinvestment and rampant crime plaugued the area, many residents were at their wit's end, but also hopeful that their community could push forward. "I swear, I don't want to live here," says one resident in the film. "I would like to get out of here." The film, directed by Diego Echeverría, was re-released this month as part of this year's New York Film Festival.

On Saturday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, it screened shortly after an updated version called "Living Los Sures," a collaborative web documentary about today's version of the Southside of Williamsburg. The powerful stories capture a diverse history of the neighborhood and you can listen to them here (grab a pair of headphones).

Here's the trailer for the new project:

LIVING LOS SURES TRAILER from UnionDocs on Vimeo.

(h/t Remezcla)

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Meet the Muslim NFL Player Who Was Penalized for Praying

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 08:54

Kansas City Chief safety Husain Abdullah did what most players do when they make an extraordinary play. Abdullah, a 29-year-old veteran, had just intercepted a pass from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and returned it for a touchdown. He then slid down on both knees in the end zone and put his head down in prayer. The move earned him a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Religious celebrations aren't new to the NFL. They happen all the time. "Tebowing," in which former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow got down in the end zone on one knee to thank God, is probably the best known such celebration -- it's even been trademarked.

In recent years, the league has tried to crack down on what it calls excessive celebrations, which usually relate to the elaborate end zone dances that were once popular in the league.

But Abdullah wasn't dancing. He was praying. Tebow did it. Chicago Bears wideout Brandon Marshall's done it, not to mention countless other players. The difference here is that Abdullah is Muslim, not Christian. Whether the game's officiating crew wasn't familiar with Muslim prayers or was intolerant of them is unclear. What is clear is that Abdullah earned a penalty (and, likely, a fine) for doing something that generally goes unpunished by the league.

Several observers noticed the discrepancy, including media commentator Arsalan Iftikhar.

Brandon Marshall gets on knees & raises hands to Jesus after TD..No penalty..Husain Abdullah bows to Mecca..15 yards!

-- Arsalan Iftikhar™ (@TheMuslimGuy) September 30, 2014

Abdullah is a devout Muslim who grew one of 12 kids in Southern California. He starred at Pomona High School before going to Washington State. Even though he wasn't drafted out of college, Abdullah earned a spot on the Minnesota Vikings roster before being signed by Kansas City. Like many Muslim athletes, he observes fasting for Ramadan during the season and even sat out a year to make Hajj, his pilgrimage to Mecca. 

"I'm putting nothing before God, nothing before my religion," Abdullah told the Huffington Post about his fast in 2010 in a story about how his employer learned to accommodate his needs. "This is something I choose to do, not something I have to do. So I'm always going to fast."

In preparation for his pilgrimage, Abdullah and his brother Hamza embarked on a "30 for 30 Abdullah Brothers Ramadan Tour" in 2012. Their first stop was the Islamic Institute of Orange County where they talked about faith and football. You can see video of the brothers' talk below:

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Hong Kong Protests Continue, Aretha Franklin's Stunning Cover, Ebola's Orphans

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 07:10
Hong Kong Protests Continue, Aretha Franklin's Stunning Cover, Ebola's Orphans

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

  • Pro-democracy student-led protests grow in Hong Kong, just ahead of Chinese National Day. 
  • The seller of a spyware app designed and marketed to abusive stalkers who suspect their partners of cheating is indicted for conspiracy.
  • Walmart stays doing the most, blaming Tracy Morgan for injuries in the car accident he didn't cause. 
  • Remember how Tim Tebow, a Christian, got penalized by the NFL for painting Bible verses on his face and praying? Neither do I. But Husain Abdullah, a Muslim, is penalized by the NFL for his prayer
  • Thousands of Liberian children who've lost their parents to Ebola are deeply shunned
Categories: Diversity Headlines

College Students Wage Campaign to Kick Teach for America Off of Campus

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 05:44
College Students Wage Campaign to Kick Teach for America Off of Campus

Members of Teach for America's (TFA's) target recruiting base are saying no to the teacher corps recruitment organization. Last week, student activists on a number of campuses including Harvard, Vanderbilt, University of Michigan and Macalester College launched a campaign spearheaded by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) to call attention to TFA's recruitment and training practices. Students' demands? To win reforms or force their universities to sever ties with TFA.

On Friday, students at Harvard delivered a letter to university president Drew Faust asking that the institution cut ties with TFA unless the organization makes three key changes by October 8. The demands echo those of USAS-affiliated students at other campuses. The first: that TFA send its teacher recruits to places where there are teacher shortages and not to cities such as Chicago and New Orleans where, USAS argues, TFA corps members are replacing veteran--and unionized--teachers. Second, that TFA train its recruits beyond its standard five-week crash course before sending new corps members into the field. Third, that TFA stop partnering with or accepting money from corporate sponsors including J.P. Morgan Chase and Exxon Mobil. At the heart of their concerns, students say, is what they see as TFA's role in the corporatization of public education. 

"TFA's shift from an organization providing volunteers to overcome teacher shortages to an organization that de-professionalizes the teaching career and displaces veteran teachers has forced us as students to ask our universities to reconsider their relationship with Teach for America," read a letter USAS sent to TFA's co-CEOs Matthew Kramer and Elisa Villanueva Beard and its founder and board chair Wendy Kopp last week.

In a response published Friday, Teach for America took a bright tone, thanking USAS for the public challenge and expressing regret that "a fair amount of misinformation" about TFA's contested impact in cities including Newark, Chicago and New Orleans "made its way to you."

"Our program exists to meet local demand for teachers and long-term education leaders," TFA wrote in its response to USAS, adding that its 32,000 corps members "only apply for open positions." "On the training and support side... we strive to continuously improve our program," the statement read.

Criticism of TFA is not new. To its critics, the model of recruiting and placing brand new college graduates into under-resourced rural and urban schools for two-year stints is indistinguishable from corporate-style education reforms such as school closings and test-based teacher accountability mechanisms that have guided mainstream education reform for the last two decades. In recent years though, former staff and alumni have been among those speaking out about the organization. Last summer, Wendy Heller Chovnick, a former director at Teach for America's Phoenix office, gave a public exit interview about her disillusionment with the organization. And Olivia Blanchard's essay "I Quit Teach for America" published in the Atlantic last year was just the most high-profile of TFA alumni's public critiques. 

"TFA has played a crucial role in displacing teachers who have committed their lives to their communities and justifying school closings. By doing so, [they've] put control over public education in the hands of private groups," says Blake McGhghy, a second-year undergraduate at Harvard with the Student Labor Action Movement. 

But Teach for America's operating theory, says spokesperson Becky O'Neill, is "if we get some of the nation's best minds thinking and working and committed to education, we're going to start seeing change in a system that's not working for low-income students of color." Ninety percent of students taught by corps members are black and Latino, according to TFA. Operating primarily as a "leadership development organization," O'Neill says, "gives us the privilege of being a bit agnostic on some of these reform issues."

>Still, the organization operates in the highly politicized world of education reform, and it's a political powerhouse in its own right. Many of the lightning-rod education reformers in the nation today got their start in education as TFA corps members. Newark schools superintendent Cami Anderson, Tennessee education commissioner Kevin Huffman, former Washington, D.C., schools chief Michelle Rhee and Louisiana state superintendent John White are but a small collection of TFA alumni who've gone on to champion an education reform agenda that calls for charter school expansion, test-based teacher accountability mechanisms and school closures, all of which have been largely targeted at students of color. 

"While our university is complicit in the corporate education reform movement and plays a huge part in driving it forward, we're asking students not to accept this model," says Harvard undergrad McGhghy.

"I myself have experienced TFA," says Vanderbilt University sophomore Dani Lea when asked why she decided to take part in the USAS campaign. Lea, who is African American, describes a bad experience with TFA corps members at her Charlotte, North Carolina, high school. "I had some teachers via TFA who weren't competent and didn't really know their subject matter and what was happening and who just weren't very good teachers." 

"A lot of teachers quit before their two years were up, and some teachers who you heard were really good teachers, by the time you got to their level to take their class, they were gone," Lea says. Now that she's in college, Lea says that many students on her campus think of TFA as merely a resume booster. She spoke of a Vanderbilt classmate who wants to do Teach for America and then go to culinary school. 

Indeed, TFA's own recruitment policies contribute to the notion that it's a stepping stone for those who would otherwise not take a two-year detour into the classroom. For example, TFA partners with top business, education, law and medical schools to grant two-year deferrals and application fee waivers for TFA alumni. On its website, TFA lists finance and consulting giants such as Deloitte, Ernst & Young, McKinsey & Co. and Bain and Company as companies that offer deferrals to new hires. 

"This idea that people are going into the classroom as a stepping stone to other things--it's a tough stepping stone," says TFA's O'Neill. According to its annual alumni surveys, says O'Neill, 64 percent of TFA's 37,000 alumni are working in education in some capacity, while 31 percent are pre-kindergarten through twelfth-grade teachers. 

On October 10, Harvard students will host a speaking tour featuring TFA alumni. At Vanderbilt, says Lea, students are uniting to make demands of their university administration similar to those of Harvard students. Their short-term goal is to shut off the recruitment juggernaut that has made Vanderbilt the second-highest contributor of new recruits among medium-sized schools (PDF) this year.

"We realize we have a lot of political education we need to do," says McGhghy. "At the individual level we're hoping to connect with students and inform them that if they want to support public education there are better ways to do it."

Categories: Diversity Headlines

California Becomes First in the Nation to Limit Suspensions for Willful Defiance

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 13:41
California Becomes First in the Nation to Limit Suspensions for Willful Defiance

Last week California became the first state in the country to ban the use of suspensions and expulsions for "willful defiance" for its youngest public school students, the Sacramento Bee reported.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 420 into law on Saturday. The law bans California public schools from suspending or expelling kindergarten through third-grade students for offenses described as "willful defiance."

"Willful defiance" is a category of subjective and minor offenses that account for 43 percent of suspensions in California public schools, according to the ACLU. Every year California public schools issue more than 10,000 suspensions for willful defiance for students between kindergarten and third grade alone, the Los Angeles Times reported. It's also the category of school offense with the highest racial disparities. 

In the 2012-2013 school year, African-Americans were just 6 percent of the state's public school enrollment but made up a whopping 19 percent of those who received suspensions for willful defiance, EdSource reported. The bill, authored by a coalition of civil rights and community advocacy groups, comes alongside a growing national conversation about the school-to-prison pipeline and the overuse of school discipline. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Daisy Hernández Writes About Race and The New York Times

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 12:37
Daisy Hernández Writes About Race and The New York Times

Last week's reaction to TV critic Alessandra Stanley's "Angry Black Woman" review of Shonda Rhimes and Viola Davis opened the window, ever so slightly, into the privileged world of The New York Times. The fallout, as informed by the Times' public editor, revealed that two of the paper's 20 critics are people of color and that three editors approved Stanley's piece for publication. Now author Daisy Hernández (and former editor of Colorlines) is opening that window just a tad more with an excerpt from her new memoir,"A Cup of Water Under My Bed." Hernández who recently shared with Colorlines the eight books that define her, writes about being Latina in a majority white male office and how it shaped her time at The Times, first as an intern and then, a staffer:

"Did you hear?" another intern asks me [about Jayson Blair, accused in 2003 of plagiarizing and fabricating stories].

I nod. "Crazy." I figure the paper will run an apology and move on.

But there isn't an apology. The story unravels. The anxieties of white people, the ones kept behind private doors, burst and the other newspapers report them: Jayson only got as far as he did because he's black. A fellow intern comes up to me, irritated. "Why are people thinking it's okay to say racist shit in front of me?"

She's holding a cup of coffee. We both glance across the newsroom, across the cubicles and the tops of people's heads. I have no way, none really, of knowing who in the room is a Mr. Flaco, and this is part of the agreement we make by working here, as people of color. We don't know who harbors doubts about our capacity to think and work and write. We don't know, not really, who we can trust.

Read more about Hernández and her Cuban-Colombian family at Salon.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Talib Kweli: Lauryn Hill Doesn't Owe Us Anything

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 11:27
 Lauryn Hill Doesn't Owe Us Anything

Lauryn Hill is one of the few artists who can still ignite passionate responses in fans. The woman who gave us two modern hip-hop classics in the Fugees' second album, "The Score," and her 1998 hit "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" has, in the more than 15 years since she backed away from the spotlight, become a lightening rod for criticism. The complaints are all over the place: She hasn't released an album since 2002, is late to shows, dresses funny, has too many kids, doesn't pay taxes and is homophobic (more on this later). 

The complaints aren't new, but they resurfaced recently in a piece on Medium by white, male writer Stefan Schumacher called "It's Finally Time to Stop Caring About Lauryn Hill." In it, Schumacher writes about what he calls "Hill's erratic behavior, paranoid, and overt religious fixation" and levels the pretty weighty claim that Hill's dealing with "something more akin to mental illness." Schumacher writes:

It occurred to me that, as great as Miseducation and The Fugees' The Score are, they're part of a distant past. Lauryn Hill was a great artist. She's not anymore and it's time we stop holding her in that regard, waiting for her to pay off on a promise that's long since expired.

Talib Kweli doesn't agree. In a response on Medium, the rapper makes the case the artists are not products and Lauryn Hill's personal life is none of her fans' business:

When you pay for a Lauryn Hill concert you are not paying for her to do what you want, you are paying for her to do what she wants. She is not an iPod nor is she a trained monkey. She doesn't have to do her hits and she doesn't have to do the songs the way you want to hear them. She doesn't owe you that. The world does not revolve around you, and you ain't gotta like it. Get over yourself. If you have a negative experience at her concert, go home, put on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and the next time she does come through your town, don't go to her concert. Problem solved. Just because you had a negative experience at a Lauryn Hill show doesn't mean her contribution to the world is invalid or deserves to be disrespected.

But even for those who agree wholeheartedly with Kweli's points, not all of Hill's critics are totally off base. For instance, take the anti-gay lyrics in one of her most recent songs from last summer, "Neurotic Society," in which she compares "social transvestism," "drag queens" and "girl men" to "pimps," "pushers," and "serial criminals." In a written defense of the song, Hill wrote on her Tumblr: "Everyone has a right to their own beliefs," she wrote. "Although I do not necessarily agree with what everyone says or does, I do believe in everyone's right to protest."

Those are words that more or less prove Kweli's point: Hill is a person, not a product, and fans don't have to agree with her -- or listen. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

'Hands Up, Don't Shoot' in Hong Kong Protests?

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 07:57
'Hands Up, Don't Shoot' in Hong Kong Protests?

Observers of this weekend's youth-led demonstrations in Hong Kong have noticed a familiar gesture: Ferguson protesters' "hands up, don't shoot." Coming little more than a month after some Palestinians Tweeted teargas advice to Ferguson's protesters, "hands up" in Hong Kong appears to confirm that Ferguson's influence has gone global. 

Hands up don't shoot is being used by tens of thousands as a form of protest in Hong Kong. Powerful.

-- Alex Medina (@mrmedina) September 28, 2014

Vox reports however, "It's impossible to say the degree to which protesters are using the gesture as a deliberate nod to Ferguson, or borrowing something they'd seen on the news for their own purposes, or using it coincidentally." And Quartz's Lily Kuo, reporting from the ground in Hong Kong, has this to say:

Most Hong Kong protesters aren't purposefully mimicking "hands up, don't shoot,"as some have suggested. Instead, the gesture is a result of training and instructions from protest leaders, who have told demonstrators to raise their hands with palms forward to signal their peaceful intentions to police.

Asked about any link between the gesture and Ferguson, Icy Ng, a 22-year-old design student at Hong Kong Polytechnic University said, "I don't think so. We have our hands up for showing both the police and media that we have no weapons in our hands." Ng had not heard of the Ferguson protests. Another demonstrator, with the pro-democracy group Occupy Central, Ellie Ng said the gesture had nothing to do with Ferguson and is intended to demonstrate that "Hong Kong protesters are peaceful, unarmed, and mild." 

In Ferguson, where street demonstrations are still happening, reporter Amanda Wills found one protester with a soldarity message for Hong Kong. Read more at And learn about Hong Kong's democracy demonstrations, which have drawn thousands, through the eyes of Joshua Wong, one of its 17-year-old leaders.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Hong Kong Protests, Obama on '60 Minutes,' Facebook's New Ad Platform

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 07:55
Hong Kong Protests, Obama on '60 Minutes,' Facebook's New Ad Platform

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

  • Afghanistan inaugurates Ashraf Ghani as president, a post for which he'll be expected to share power with rival Abdullah Abdullah.
  • Ferguson is charging journalists and civil rights groups $135 an hour for simple records requests. 
  • Meet Atlas, Facebook's new ad platform that will track users in new ways. It's so scary that you can opt out of it (except opting out constantly expires and you can't really opt out anyway because Atlas makes clear it's still collecting information about you). 
  • Ooh. "The Walking Dead" prequel characters are revealed
  • Look up. The crescent moon is about to line up with Mars and Antaras tonight. 
Categories: Diversity Headlines

Eric Holder's Racial Justice Legacy

Sun, 09/28/2014 - 23:00
Eric Holder's Racial Justice Legacy

When President Barack Obama picked Eric Holder to head the United States Department of Justice in 2008, he selected someone committed to the democratic principle of equal protection under the law. You have to go all the way back to the 1960s--the days of Bobby Kennedy and Nicholas Katzenbach--to find justice department chiefs who were as boldly committed to these principles. Having taken the post some 50 years later than Katzenbach and Kennedy, Holder has proceeded in creating a similar justice regime in these regards.

Previous attorneys general--namely those under President George W. Bush--approached civil rights enforcement with contempt. They rarely brought civil rights or voting rights cases, and when they did they were misapplied. One of the highest profile voting rights cases under Bush was one filed on behalf of a white person whom Justice Department attorneys claimed was intimidated from voting by the New Black Panther Party. Bush's Justice Department was no less nefarious outside the civil and voting rights realm, launching wiretaps of Americans way before it became trendy.

The 2005 appointment of Alberto Gonzales as the first Latino attorney general wasn't exactly a moment to cry freedom. His tenure remains scarred by the time when the Justice Department emptied out a large number of attorneys who wouldn't abide by ultra-conservative creeds. Among those fired were U.S. attorneys across the nation who refused to carry out campaigns of war against the invisible threat of voter fraud. Gonzales also injected an unhealthy dose of partisan politics into Justice Department hiring and firing practices and he eventually resigned in disgrace. He was one of four attorneys general rotating in and out under Bush.

When Obama tapped Holder to become the first African-American attorney general, there was finally a reason for people to cry something other than foul. He began as an intern at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund while studying at Columbia law school. You'd think then, in 1976, he'd be a natural for the Justice Department's civil rights division, but the agency rejected him when he applied for a job there. He did, however, get picked up by the criminal division's newly created public integrity unit to focus on corruption. He went on to serve as the U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., under President Bill Clinton then rose to become the first African-American deputy attorney general. Add on his four years as a D.C. Superior Court judge and his legacy spans over a quarter-century as a public servant and leader in the nation's criminal justice system.

In 2009, as America's top attorney under Obama, one of Holder's primary goals was to restore the Justice Department to its former glory, and the civil rights division in particular. Despite the division's prior rejection of him, Holder believed it was still the "the conscience of the Justice Department," as he told GQ in a 2010 profile. "You can really assess how good a Justice Department is by how effective its Civil Rights Division is."

Let's assess.

On voting rights, Holder's cvil rights division, driven at the time by current-Labor Secretary Tom Perez, did what Bush's Justice Department failed to do: actually apply Voting Rights Act enforcements when and where they were needed. They put an early stop on a restrictive photo voter ID laws in Texas, and put a similar law in South Carolina through enough review and court rigor to tame it into something less onerous for black residents to comply with.

When the U.S. Supreme Court neutralized a Voting Rights Act provision that civil rights advocates relied heavily upon for weeding out discrimination, Holder doubled down on enforcement of the act's remaining provisions. That has meant taking Texas to court over its voter ID law (again) and fighting a new one that threatens to abridge voters' rights in North Carolina.

This is owed to the fact that Holder reversed the purging of civil rights lawyers who happened under Bush. As Perez told GQ in 2010, "Virtually every section is bringing back people who were here before. The diaspora have returned."

On racial profiling, Holder has proposed banning the use of race, ethnic, religious and gender identities in federal operations for both national security and standard criminal investigations. He also ordered the department to begin tracking hate crimes committed against Arabs, Hindus, Mormons and Sikhs. The Civil Rights Division's hate crimes conviction rate is now larger than it's been in an over a decade.

Holder also fought the school-to-prison pipeline. He asked schools to dismantle the "zero tolerance" discipline policies that, for decades, have led to black and Latino students getting suspended and expelled at rates far higher than their white peers.

Holder's work beyond the civil rights division has been has had just as much impact. He's made plenty of headlines lately for his reforms to the federal criminal justice system, namely softening sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug offenders. His "Smart on Crime" initiative has helped law enforcement officials find other ways of reducing and correcting criminal activity beyond just locking people up. His acknowledgement that the mass incarceration crisis among the black community has taken a tremendous toll on black communities was the first of its kind from the highest law enforcement authority ever.

"The 'Smart on Crime' initiatives he announced last year are a quintessential example of Attorney General Holder's vision and boldness," says NAACP LDF president Sherrilyn Ifill.

The results: This year, the federal prison rate dropped for the first time since 1982. Holder has called for restoring voting rights to the formerly incarcerated, and he has built bipartisan support for that and his other reforms. You would be hard-pressed to name another individual in federal government who's pulled bipartisan support together on anything, let alone something as massive in impact as criminal justice.

Still not done, Holder called last week for federal prosecutors to stop enhancing sentences for defendants who reject plea deals. He also announced this week that the Justice Department would enter a lawsuit, siding with New York's public defender program, which is arguing that their excessive caseloads are preventing them from providing low-income defendants with adequate counsel. Helping the indigenous in court has been an issue dear to Holder's heart, as seen in the documentary "Gideon's Army." The inability to secure a good lawyer has been a huge contributor to the racial disparities seen in court convictions and sentencing. Holder launched the "Access to Justice Initiative" in 2010, which expanded research and funding support to improve the delivery of indigent defense services.

The outgoing attorney general has made it no secret that he's a fan of the TV shows "The Wire" and "Breaking Bad." Those stories, along with the thousands of cases he's helped adjudicate as an attorney and judge, have no doubt informed his recent policy reform proposals. He's also received the support of President Obama, a constitutional lawyer, and someone who Holder says shares his worldview on civil rights and criminal justice.

But for all that, conservatives have made him one of their chief adversaries, attacking Holder from the very beginning of his tenure. Some of the attacks appear to fault him for making the Justice Department do the enforcements it failed to do under previous administrations.

"He was a menace to the rule of law," wrote J. Christian Adams, who was an attorney under Bush's lackluster Justice Department. He helped bring the aforementioned Voting Rights Act case against the New Black Panther Party (which failed) and has been salty about it ever since.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, (R-Calif.) has also been a thorn in Holder's side, trying desperately for years to behead Holder for the "Fast and Furious" gun-smuggling scandal. Despite being cleared of any wrongdoing by the department's inspector general (for the operation that began under Bush) Issa has continued to try to hang Holder for it. He even led a House Republican vote to hold Holder in contempt -- the first such instance for any U.S. attorney general, ever -- over the drama.

In response to Holder's resignation, Issa made his thirst apparent by calling him "the most divisive U.S. Attorney General in modern history."

Said Issa, "By needlessly injecting politics into law enforcement, Attorney General Holder's legacy has eroded more confidence in our legal system than any attorney general before him." This means Issa believes Holder is worse than Bush's AGs, who resigned one after another for scandal after scandal, including those that led to the partisan-based firing and forcing out of dozens of Justice attorneys.

Civil rights stalwarts have praised Holder's service. "There has been no greater ally in the fight for justice, civil rights, equal rights and voting rights than Attorney General Holder," said Myrlie Evers Williams, the widow of voting rights martyr Medgar Evers.

"Eric Holder has vigilantly defended an ideal Bobby strongly believed, that the Justice Department must deliver justice for all Americans," said Ethel Kennedy, widow of Bobby Kennedy, who led the Justice Department's defense of civil rights in the early 1960s. He was assassinated in 1968.

In Holder's resignation speech on September 25, he spoke of watching Kennedy as a young boy "prove during the Civil Rights Movement how the department can--and must--always be a force for that which is right."

A few months ago, Holder spoke in Texas at the dedication of the new Lyndon B. Johnson library when he looked up and saw a picture of his late sister-in-law, Vivian Malone. She was one of the two black students prepared to integrate the University of Alabama in 1963 under court orders as Governor George Wallace literally stood in their way.

In that dramatic standoff, Wallace positioned himself behind a lectern in the University's Foster Auditorium, flanked by state troopers and a gang of his segregationist acolytes. Kennedy's Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach stepped to Wallace and told him to kill the drama. Wallace delivered a speech that day that sounded a lot like many of the conservatives today who've been aiming at shredding civil rights laws under the theme of states rights.

Katzenbach was unbothered. "Governor, I am not interested in a show,'' said the deputy attorney general. "I am interested in the orders of these courts being enforced. ... Those students will remain on this campus. They will register today. They will go to school tomorrow.''

The rest is American history.

What Holder has achieved, among many things, is a restoration of those sentinel qualities, from the days of Kennedy and Katzenbach.

One of his last, big stands was in Ferguson, where he helped quell rising tensions between community residents and police over the killing of the unarmed teenager Michael Brown. He came back from Ferguson sharing with his close friends and family members his hopes to continue these efforts to restore trust between cops and communities of color. It appears he feels he can do that more effectively now, without being constrained by the politics and chaos of Washington.

Reflecting on the struggle to register his sister-in-law in college in Alabama, Holder told The Daily Beast, "When you consider what she had to deal with, and what our ancestors had to deal with in the 18th and 19th centuries... some of the opposition against us is difficult, but if you keep a historical perspective, all of this stuff is manageable."

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