Good question. But another is how do we transform the culture of violence as a way of coping in our community.
The Daily Pennsylvanian
The Daily Pennsylvanian is the University of Pennsylvania’s independent student news organization. We cover news and sports from the University of Pennsylvania and from around the Philadelphia metro area.
Guest Column | Guess who’s (not) coming to dinner
President Gutmann fails at increasing administration diversity
By SENIOR FACULTY OF AFRICANA STUDIES · January 30, 2013, 12:32 am
Every institution has traditions that celebrate diversity on campus and the University of Pennsylvania is no exception.
Penn President Amy Gutmann invites faculty of color to a dinner at her house each year. Last year’s dinner was a memorable one. With the term for the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences soon ending and the newly appointed provost on hand, President Gutmann was asked during a heated exchange why she has never appointed a person of color to the position of dean during her long tenure at Penn.
Her response was that she would not just bring in someone who is not qualified, a comment implying that none of the people in the room were qualified to serve in these positions, even though many of them serve in administrative capacities in departments and centers. In her closing remarks, President Gutmann reiterated her dedication to diversity within Penn’s administration, admitting that “a show beats a tell.”
President Gutmann’s “show” came on Jan. 17, when she announced the appointment of the new dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. Yes, a show beats a tell every time, and once again, she has shown that her commitment to diversity does not include her own administration. When presented with yet another opportunity to increase diversity at the highest levels of the University, she failed to do so after nine years at the helm.
Not only has President Gutmann failed to show leadership in diversifying the highest levels of University administration, those individuals appointed by President Gutmann have often modeled her example and made similarly nondiverse appointments of vice provosts, associate deans and other high-ranking administrative staff.
Don’t take our word — walk into the Provost’s office or many of the deans’ offices at Penn. Like begets like, and in this instance, the absence of clear leadership and real results seems to have trickled down to those who report to her. The president’s most recent dean appointment is simply one more example of failure to act in a manner that is consistent with diversity claims and a recently enacted university-wide diversity plan.
Still, President Gutmann persists in speaking and writing about diversity, touting it on Penn’s website and elsewhere as the leading tenet of her presidency.
To her credit, there has been progress on creating a more diverse undergraduate student body. But the continuing failure of any changes in her own leadership team raises questions either about her ability to lead or about her commitment on this particular issue, or both.
Whatever the reason, the sad truth is that her stated vision for a more diverse administration and faculty at the University has yet to be matched by actions taken by her and those she has appointed.
So consider this an early RSVP. As senior faculty of color at Penn, we will not attend any “faculty of color” dinner this year. In the afterglow of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend and the second inauguration of our country’s first African-American president, we can no longer mask our disappointment, stifle our outrage or pretend not to notice the incongruity between internal actions and public words of commitment to diversity at the institution that we serve.
If President Obama can be queried about the diversity of his administration, as well he should be, then certainly the same applies to the president of the University of Pennsylvania.
The annual “diversity dinner” is indicative of cosmetic — not substantive — progress on diversity that we believe President Gutmann must address. Our decision not to attend this year’s dinner — and to share that decision with the Penn community — is not a petty one, nor is it one we’ve made lightly. Rather, it is based on a long overdue decision to forgo these meaningless gestures toward progress on diversity.
Only when issues of diversity are substantively engaged at the highest levels of our administration, not simply promoted as social events, will real change occur at Penn.
It is long past time to turn rhetoric into reality, planning into action and commitment into leadership. We stand ready to actively engage in that process. Until then, dinner can wait.
LAST UPDATED JANUARY 30, 2013, 12:32 AM
SOUL AFIRE with Dr. Matthew V. Johnson
“ The Ashes of Folly: Decay of Black Cultural Integrity in the Black Church”
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When Jim Crow Drank Coke
Published: January 29, 2013
THE opposition by the New York State chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s restrictions on sugary soda caught many Americans by surprise. But it shouldn’t: though the organization argues it is standing up for consumer choice and minority business owners, who it claims would be hurt, this is also a favor for a stalwart ally – Coca-Cola alone has given generously to support N.A.A.C.P. initiatives over the years.
This is more than a story of mutual back-scratching, though. It is the latest episode in the long and often fractious history of soft drinks, prohibition laws and race.
While it is widely known that John Pemberton, an Atlanta pharmacist, invented Coke as a kind of patent medicine, it was in fact his second drink. His first, an 1884 invention called French Wine Coca, was a copy of a popular French wine that contained cocaine. But in November 1885, just as the product began to sell, Atlanta outlawed alcohol sales.
Across the nation, support for prohibition was often tied to the desire by native whites to control European Catholics, American Indians, Asian-Americans and, especially in the South, African-Americans. It gave police officers an excuse to arrest African-Americans on the pretext of intoxication.
Pemberton went to work on a “temperance drink” with the same “medicinal” effects, and he introduced Coca-Cola in 1886. At the time, the soda fountains of Atlanta pharmacies had become fashionable gathering places for middle-class whites as an alternative to bars. Mixed with soda water, the drink quickly caught on as an “intellectual beverage” among well-off whites.
Eliminating alcohol granted only a temporary reprieve. Though Asa G. Candler, who had taken over the business, kept the formula secret, an Atlanta paper revealed in 1891 what many consumers – who called the soda “dope” – already knew: Coca-Cola contained cocaine.
Candler began marketing the drink as “refreshing” rather than medicinal, and managed to survive the controversy. But concerns exploded again after the company pioneered its distinctive glass bottles in 1899, which moved Coke out of the segregated spaces of the soda fountain. Anyone with a nickel, black or white, could now drink the cocaine-infused beverage. Middle-class whites worried that soft drinks were contributing to what they saw as exploding cocaine use among African-Americans. Southern newspapers reported that “negro cocaine fiends” were raping white women, the police powerless to stop them. By 1903, Candler had bowed to white fears (and a wave of anti-narcotics legislation), removing the cocaine and adding more sugar and caffeine.
Coke’s recipe wasn’t the only thing influenced by white supremacy: through the 1920s and ’30s, it studiously ignored the African-American market. Promotional material appeared in segregated locations that served both races, but rarely in those that catered to African-Americans alone.
Meanwhile Pepsi, the country’s second largest soft drink company, had tried to fight Coke by selling its sweeter product in a larger bottle for the same price. Still behind in 1940, Pepsi’s liberal chief executive, Walter S. Mack, tried a new approach: he hired a team of 12 African-American men to create a “negro markets” department.
By the late 1940s, black sales representatives worked the Southern Black Belt and Northern black urban areas, black fashion models appeared in Pepsi ads in black publications, and special point-of-purchase displays appeared in stores patronized by African-Americans. The company hired Duke Ellington as a spokesman. Some employees even circulated racist public statements by Robert W. Woodruff, Coke’s president.
The campaign was so successful that many Americans began using a racial epithet to describe Pepsi. By 1950, fearing a backlash by white consumers, Pepsi had killed the program, but the image of Coke and Pepsi as “white” and “black” drinks lingered.
Not long after, perhaps seeing the business error of its ways, Coke quietly began to market to African-Americans. Eventually, part of Coke’s strategy was to support African-American organizations, forming the basis of its relationship with the N.A.A.C.P.
The historical weight of that relationship came to the surface after a 1999 discrimination case brought by black Coke employees, which created bad press for the company around the world. In 2000, Coke agreed to a settlement for $156 million and made a $50 million donation to the Coca-Cola Foundation to support community programs.
It took time, but the new tack worked: today the racial line between the soda companies, even in the South, is a dim memory, and the soft-drink industry is on good terms with one of its largest demographic markets: African-Americans.
Of course, the New York State N.A.A.C.P. may have a legitimate complaint against the soda restriction as a threat to minority business. And it may be fair to see the proposal, as some observers have intimated, as an instance of middle-class whites trying to control the behavior of working-class minorities – just as they did under Prohibition. But to understand the real story behind this unexpected alliance, we first have to understand its tangled history.
Grace Elizabeth Hale, a professor of history and American studies at the University of Virginia, is the author, most recently, of “A Nation of Outsiders: How the White Middle Class Fell in Love With Rebellion in Postwar America.”
What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Jobs
How Racism, Global Economics, and the New Jim Crow Fuel Black America’s Crippling Jobs Crisis
Andy Kroll, Staff writer, Mother Jones magazine
Like the country it governs, Washington is a city of extremes. In a car, you can zip in bare moments from northwest District of Columbia, its streets lined with million-dollar homes and palatial embassies, its inhabitants sporting one of the nation’s lowest jobless rates, to Anacostia, a mostly forgotten neighborhood in southeastern D.C. with one of the highest unemployment rates anywhere in America. Or, if you happen to be jobless, upset about it, and living in that neighborhood, on a crisp morning in March you could have joined an angry band of protesters marching on the nearby 11th Street Bridge.
They weren’t looking for trouble. They were looking for work.
Those protesters, most of them black, chanted and hoisted signs that read “D.C. JOBS FOR D.C. RESIDENTS” and “JOBS OR ELSE.” The target of their outrage: contractors hired to replace the very bridge under their feet, a $300 million project that will be one of the largest in District history. The problem: few D.C. citizens, which means few African Americans, had so far been hired. “It’s deplorable,”insisted civil rights attorney Donald Temple, “that… you can find men from West Virginia to work in D.C. You can find men from Maryland to work in D.C. And you can find men from Virginia to work in D.C. But you can’t find men and women in D.C. to work in D.C.”
The 11th Street Bridge arches over the slow-flowing Anacostia River, connecting the poverty-stricken, largely black Anacostia neighborhood with the rest of the District. By foot the distance is small; in opportunity and wealth, it couldn’t be larger. At one end of the bridge the economy is booming even amid a halting recovery and jobs crisis. At the other end, hard times, always present, are worse than ever.
Live in Washington long enough and you’ll hear someone mention “east of the river.“ That’s D.C.’s version of “the other side of the tracks,” the place friends warn against visiting late at night or on your own. It’s home to District Wards 7 and 8, neighborhoods with a long, rich history. Once known as Uniontown, Anacostia was one of the District’s first suburbs; Frederick Douglass, nicknamed the “Sage of Anacostia,” once lived there, as did the poet Ezra Pound and singer Marvin Gaye. Today the area’s unemployment rate is officially nearly 20%. District-wide, it’s 9.8%, a figure that drops as low as 3.6% in the whiter, more affluent northwestern suburbs.
D.C.’s divide is America’s writ large. Nationwide, the unemployment rate for black workers at 16.2% is almost double the 9.1% rate for the rest of the population. And it’s twice the 8% white jobless rate.
The size of those numbers can, in part, be chalked up to the current jobs crisis in which black workers are being decimated. According to Duke University public policy expert William Darity, that means blacks are “the last to be hired in a good economy, and when there’s a downturn, they’re the first to be released.”
That may account for the soaring numbers of unemployed African Americans, but not the yawning chasm between the black and white employment rates, which is no artifact of the present moment. It’s a problem that spans generations, goes remarkably unnoticed, and condemns millions of black Americans to a life of scraping by. That unerring, unchanging gap between white and black employment figures goes back at least 60 years. It should be a scandal, but whether on Capitol Hill or in the media it gets remarkably little attention. Ever.
The 60-Year Scandal
The unemployment lines run through history like a pair of train tracks. Since the 1940s, the jobless rate for blacks in America has held remarkably, if grimly, steady at twice the rate for whites. The question of why has vexed and divided economists, historians, and sociologists for nearly as long.
For years the sharpest minds in academia pointed to upheaval in the American economy as the culprit. In his 1996 book When Work Disappears, the sociologist William Julius Wilson depicted the forces of globalization, a slumping manufacturing sector, and suburban flight at work in Chicago as the drivers of growing joblessness and poverty in America’s inner cities and among its black residents.
He pictured the process this way: as corporations outsourced jobs to China and India, American manufacturing began its slow fade, shedding jobs often held by black workers. What jobs remained were moved to sprawling offices and factories in outlying suburbs reachable only by freeway. Those jobs proved inaccessible to the mass of black workers who remained in the inner cities and relied on public transportation to get to work.
Time and research have, however, eaten away at the significance of Wilson’s work. The hollowing-out of America’s cities and the decline of domestic manufacturing no doubt played a part in black unemployment, but then chronic black joblessness existed long before the upheaval Wilson described. Even when employment in the manufacturing sector was at its height, black workers were still twice as likely to be out of work as their white counterparts.
Another commonly cited culprit for the tenaciousness of African-American unemployment has been education. Whites, so the argument goes, are generally better educated than blacks, and so more likely to land a job at a time when a college degree is ever more significant when it comes to jobs and higher earnings. In 2009, President Obama told reporters that education was the key to narrowing racial gaps in the US. “If we close the achievement gap, then a big chunk of economic inequality in this society is diminished,” he said.
Educational levels have, in fact, steadily climbed over the past 60 years for African Americans. In 1940, less than 1% of black men and less 2% of black women earned college degrees; jump to 2000, and the figures are 10% for black men and 15% for black women. Moreover, increased education has helped to narrow wage inequality between employed whites and blacks. What it hasn’t done is close the unemployment gap.
Algernon Austin, an economist for the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., crunched data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that blacks with the same level of education as whites have consistently lower employment levels. It doesn’t matter whether you compare high-school dropouts or workers with graduate degrees, whites are still more likely to have a job than blacks. Degrees be damned.
Academics have thrown plenty of other explanations at the problem: declining wages, the embrace of crime as a way of life, increased competition with immigrants. None of them have stuck. How could they? In recent decades, the wage gap has narrowed, crime rates have plummeted, and there’s scant evidence to suggest immigrants are stealing jobs that would otherwise be filled by African Americans.
Indeed, many top researchers in this field, including several I interviewed, are left scratching their heads when trying to explain why that staggering jobless gap between blacks and white won’t budge. “I don’t know if there’s anybody out there who can tell you why that ratio stays at two to one,” Darity says. “It’s a statistical regularity that we don’t have an explanation for.”
Behind Bars, the Invisible Unemployed
So what keeps blacks from cutting into those employment figures? Among the theories, one that deserves special attention points to the high incarceration rate among blacks — and especially black men.
In 2009, 7.2 million Americans — or 3.1% of all adults — were under the jurisdiction of the U.S. corrections system, including 1.6 million Americans incarcerated in a state or federal prison. Of that population, nearly 40% percent were black, even though blacks make up only 13% percent of the American population. Blacks were six times as likely to be in prison as whites, and three times as likely as Hispanics. For some perspective, consider what author of The New Jim Crow Michelle Alexanderwrote last year: “There are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.”
Incarceration amounts to a double whammy when it comes to African-American unemployment. Rarely mentioned in the usual drumbeat of media reports on jobs is the fact that the Labor Department doesn’t include prison populations in its official unemployment statistics. This automatically shrinks the pool of blacks capable of working and in the process lowers the black jobless rate.
In the mid-1990s, academics Bruce Western and Becky Pettit discovered that the American prison population lowered the jobless rate for black men by five percentage points, and for young black men by eight percentage points. (Of course, this applies to whites, Asians, and Hispanics as well, but the figures are particularly striking given the overrepresentation of blacks in the prison population.)
Even that vast incarcerated population pales, however, in comparison to the number of ex-cons who have rejoined the world beyond the prison walls. In 2008, there were 12 million to 14 million ex-offenders in the U.S. old enough to work, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). So many ex-cons represent a serious drag on our economy, according to CEPR, sucking from it $57 billion to $65 billion in output.
Of course, such research tells us how much, not why — as in, why are ex-cons so much more likely to be out of work? For an answer, it’s necessary to turn to an eye-opening and, in some circles, controversial field of study that may offer the best explanation for the 60-year scandal of black unemployment.
Twice as Hard, Half as Far
In 2001, a pair of black men and a pair of white men went hunting for work in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Each was 23 years old, a local college student, bright and articulate. They looked alike and dressed alike, had identical educational backgrounds and remarkably similar past work experience. From June to December, they combed the Sunday classified pages in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and searched a state-run job site called “Jobnet,” applying for the same entry-level jobs as waiters, delivery-truck drivers, cooks, and cashiers. There was one obvious difference in each pair: one man was a former criminal and the other was not.
If this sounds like an experiment, that’s because it was. Watching the explosive growth of the criminal justice system, fueled largely by ill-conceived “tough on crime” policies, sociologist Devah Pager took a novel approach to how prison affected ever growing numbers of Americans after they’d done their time — a process all but ignored by politicians and the judicial system.
So Pager sent those two young black men and two young white men out into the world to apply for perfectly real jobs. Then she recorded who got callbacks and who didn’t. She soon discovered that a criminal history caused a massive drop-off in employer responses — not entirely surprising. But when Pager started separating out black applicants from white ones, she stumbled across the real news in her study, a discovery that shook our understanding of racial inequality and jobs to the core.
Pager’s white applicant without a criminal record had a 34% callback rate. That promptly sunk to 17% for her white applicant with a criminal record. The figures for black applicants were 14% and 5%. And yes, you read that right: in Pager’s experiment, white job applicants with a criminal history got more callbacks than black applicants without one. “I expected to find an effect with a criminal record and some with race,” Pager says. “I certainly was not expecting that result, and it was quite a surprise.”
Pager ran a larger version of this experiment in New York City in 2004, sending teams of young, educated, and identically credentialed men out into the Big Apple’s sprawling market for entry-level jobs — once again, with one applicant posing as an ex-con, the other with a clean record. (As she did in Milwaukee, Pager had the teams alternate who posed as the ex-con.) The results? Again Pager’s African-American applicants received fewer callbacks and job offers than the whites. The disparity was particularly striking for ex-criminals: a drop off of 9 percentage points for whites, but 15 percentage points for blacks. “Employers already reluctant to hire blacks,” Pager wrote, “appear particularly wary of blacks with known criminal histories.”
Other research has supported her findings. A 2001-2002 field experiment by academics from the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, uncovered a sizeable gap in employer callbacks for job applicants with white-sounding names (Emily and Greg) versus black-sounding names (Lakisha and Jamal). They also found that the benefits of a better resume were 30% greater for whites than blacks.
These findings proved a powerful antidote to the growing notion, mostly in conservative circles, that discrimination was an illusion and racism long eradicated. In The Content of Our Character (1991),Shelby Steele argued that racial discrimination no longer held black men or women back from the jobs they wanted; the problem was in their heads. Dinesh D’Souza, a first-generation immigrant of Indian descent, published The End of Racism in 1995, similarly claiming racial discrimination had little to do with the plight of black America.
Not so, insist Pager, Darity, Harvard’s Bruce Western, and other academics using real data with an unavoidable message: racism is alive and well. It leads to endemic, deeply embedded patterns of discrimination whose harmful impact has barely changed in 60 years. And it cannot be ignored. As the old African-American adage puts it, “You’ve got to work twice as hard to get half as far as a black person in white America.”
Is There a Solution for Black America?
Tracing black unemployment in America since World War II, there are two moments when, briefly, the gap between black and white joblessness narrowed ever so slightly — in the 1940s and again in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For example in 1970, unemployment was at 5.8% for blacks and 3.3% for whites, a sizeable gap but significantly better than what followed in the Reagan era. Those are moments worth revisiting, if only to understand what began to go right.
According to University of Chicago professors William Sites and Virginia Parks, those periods were marked by a flurry of civil rights and anti-discrimination activity on the federal level. A series of actions ranging from the creation of the Fair Employment Practice Committee in 1941 to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which mandated the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, write Sites and Parks, had “dramatic impacts on employment discrimination.”
But those gains of the 1970s were soon wiped out. The thinning of union membership and the dwindling power of organized labor didn’t help either, after decades of pressure on employers to end discrimination against workers of color.
Today, in terrible times, with the possibility of social legislation off the table in Washington, the question remains: What, if anything, can be done to close the jobless gap between blacks and whites? When I asked Devah Pager, she called this the “million-dollar question.” This form of discrimination, she pointed out, is especially difficult to deal with. As she noted in 2005, many employers who discriminate don’t even realize they’re doing so; they’re just going with “gut feelings.” “It’s not that these employers have decided that they are not going to hire workers from a particular group,” Pager told me.
What won’t work is relying on discrimination watchdogs to crack down more often. The way federal anti-discrimination law works, it’s up to the person who was discriminated against to raise an alarm. As Duke’s William Darity points out, that’s a near impossibility for a job applicant who must convincingly read the mind of a person he or she doesn’t know. Worse than that, the applicant who wants to lodge charges of discrimination also has to prove that the discrimination was intentional, which, as Pager’s experiments make clear, is no small feat. Under the circumstances, as Darity told me, perhaps no one should be surprised to discover that blacks “grossly underreport their exposure to discrimination and whites grossly overreport it.”
Of course, fixing a problem first requires acknowledging it — something the nation has yet to do, says the Economic Policy Institute’s Algernon Austin. To put blacks back to work, lawmakers should invest federal money directly in job creation, especially for black workers. Other avenues for putting people back to work, like a payroll tax credit won’t do the trick. “We’ve spent billions in trying to build jobs overseas” in war zones, Austin told me. “But if we invested that money here in our cities, we wouldn’t have this racial gap.”
But how likely is that at a moment when, in a Washington gripped by paralysis, any discussion of spending in Washington begins and ends at how much to cut? The painful reality of permanent crisis for black workers is here to stay. That’s how it seems to blacks in D.C., especially those who live east of the river. In April, another group of protesters took to the 11th Street Bridge to demand more D.C. hires, and the following month, the group D.C. Jobs or Else took their complaints to City Hall. But progress is slow. “We’re being pushed out economically,” said William Alston El, a 63-year-old unemployed resident who grew up in D.C. “They say it’s not racism, but the name of the game is they have the money. You can’t live [in] a place if you can’t pay the rent.”
Andy Kroll, Staff writer, Mother Jones magazine
Andy Kroll is a reporter in the D.C. bureau of Mother Jones magazine, and an associate editor at TomDispatch. He’s appeared on MSNBC, Al Jazeera English, Current TV, and Democracy Now! to discuss the economy and its ills.
NOVEMBER 17, 2009
After a six year dispute, prolific writer and profound spiritualist, Sophia Stewart has received justice for copyright infringement and racketeering and will finally recover damages from the films, The Matrix I, II and III, as well as The Terminator and its sequels. Yes, you heard that correctly – the entire Matrix & Terminator franchises, and her suspected pay off is expected to be the highest in history – an estimated 2.5 billion.
Her case is a true landmark, and far too uncommon as countless creatives are exploited by the snake-like dealings of the movie industry. Here’s a recap of her triumphant journey by way of George2.0:
“Stewart filed her case in 1999, after viewing the Matrix, which she felt had been based on her manuscript, ‘The Third Eye,’ copyrighted in 1981. In the mid-eighties Stewart had submitted her manuscript to an ad placed by the Wachowski Brothers, requesting new sci-fi works.
According to court documentation, an FBI investigation discovered that more than thirty minutes had been edited from the original film, in an attempt to avoid penalties for copyright infringement. The investigation also stated that ‘credible witnesses employed at Warner Brothers came forward, claiming that the executives and lawyers had full knowledge that the work in question did not belong to the Wachowski Brothers.’ These witnesses claimed to have seen Stewart’s original work and that it had been ‘often used during preparation of the motion pictures.’ The defendants tried, on several occasions, to have Stewart’s case dismissed, without success.
Stewart has confronted skepticism on all sides, much of which comes from Matrix fans, who are strangely loyal to the Wachowski Brothers. One on-line forum, entitled Matrix Explained has an entire section devoted to Stewart. Some who have researched her history and writings are open to her story.”
Although it’s long overdue, and buried in large part by the media machine, Stewart has finally received official credit (and hopefully financial settlement by 2009) for her prodigious contributions to both Hollywood, and the world for her ground breaking sagas, both the Matrix & Terminator franchises. Let us hope that this landmark ruling provides a measure of hope for other ripped off screenwriters seeking justice even if only by way of public recognition.
To echo her 2004 victorious press release:
‘The Matrix & Terminator movie franchises have made world history and have ultimately changed the way people view movies and how Hollywood does business, yet the real truth about the creator and creation of these films continue to elude the masses because the hidden secret of the matter is that these films were created and written by a Black woman…a Black woman named Sophia Stewart. But Hollywood does not want you to know this fact simply because it would change history. Also it would encourage our Black children to realize a dream and that is…nothing is impossible for them to achieve!’
We’d like to believe that the justice she received was not in name only, and she is able to reap the benefits of her enormous creative contributions.
Petition to Demand the U.S. Government form Task Force on Reparations for Slavery and Jim Crow
Let it be known, we are demanding that a Task Force, or Commission, be formed for reparations for the descendants of Africans who were enslaved in the United States of America for centuries.
Whereas reparations means to make amends, to repair, and to compensate, the people who were wronged;
We demand reparations on behalf of the descendants of enslaved Africans in America from the government of the United States of America;
Whereas America was built with and continues to enjoy the benefits of her centuries of forced, unpaid labor known as slavery;
Whereas, slavery in America remains the worst known atrocity in human history;
Whereas, this dehumanizing practice enabled the United States to rise to global prominence, to accumulate massive amounts of wealth, and to build the world’s most formidable military, among others achievements, to become the world’s only Superpower;
Whereas, U.S. House Bill H.R. 40, as it was originally sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, D-MI, provides a viable outline that best suits this measure. We further recognize reparations as the only way forward to move towards resolution of this human rights issue;
Whereas, the purpose and goal of this Task Force, or Commission, is to determine how reparations will be made to the descendants of the Africans enslaved in America.
Therefore, we acknowledge this as a human rights issue that demands the power and unconditional support of the President and the Congress of the United States of America and that it can be established by Executive Order of the President of the United states; and,
Therefore, we sign this petition to demand that government of the United States of America immediately form a Task Force, or Commission, whose purpose is formulate how reparations will be made to the descendants of the Africans who were brutally enslaved in this country for centuries, and who were further demoralized and oppressed for another 100+ years of Jim Crow.
Thank you for signing this petition and for encouraging all others to sign it, too.
Jeffrey E. Savage
I just signed the following petition addressed to: Jeffrey E. Savage.
Demand President Obama form Reparations Task Force/Commission
We, the signers of this petition, demand that President Obama immediately issue an Executive Order to form a Presidential Task Force, or Commission, that mirrors the purpose, intent and direction of House Bill, H.R. 40, as it was originally
Without question, reparations are owed and the right to self determination is a human right that have been denied our people.
With this petition, we proudly and enthusiastically stand up for human rights by signing it. Additionally, we are asking that you pass it on to all of your contacts everywhere.
Thank you for signing and supporting this human rights issue.
A Black Feminist Comment on The Sisterhood, The Black Church, Ratchetness and Geist
January 28, 2013
There’s been much talk about TLC’s new show The Sisterhood, a reality show about the lives and struggles of Ivy Couch, Domonique Scott, Christina Murray, DeLana Rutherford, and Tara Lewis, five pastor’s wives in the Atlanta area. While some critics are threatening to boycott the show, and others are framing it as evidence of black [male] preachers loosing their way (which I guess is synonymous with the Black Church loosing its way, but that’s another issue), millions of others, myself included, a former “first lady” and black feminist scholar of religion, race and media, are flocking faithfully to the television screen on Tuesday nights with popcorn and bottled water in hand.
And let me be clear: like many, I’m “sick and tired of being sick and tired” of the operative mediation of the global racist and sexist imagination through black women’s corporeal realities. I’m tired of mass mediated notions of “black womanhood” being both the adjective and the noun that modifies and constricts space, time and meanings. I’m tired of black women consistently serving as—through both overdetermination and consent—televisual artifacts for establishing white, black and other “normalcy.” And yes, I’m sick and tired of black women functioning as cultural mediums for soothing primal fears, representational tropes for suckling the collective fascination with black female sexuality, and work horses for demonstrating a mastery of unscrupulousness and otherness. I’m tired.
And yet, I’m also admittedly drawn in to this show and others like it, week after week. Like so many others before them, Ivy, Domonique, Christina, DeLana, Tara and many other reality TV women, inspire all kinds of repulsions, attractions and anxieties. However, they also satiate [some of] our ratchet taste buds. Can we have a moment of honesty? The Sisterhood is a hit show. And this isn’t because no one’s watching it.
So what’s the draw? The Sisterhood creates a conflict between public politics, private realities and personal taste. However, this war between the emperors’ coat of high culture and the everydayness of his nakedness is nothing new. This ongoing juxtaposition highlights the ever increasing tensions between the “cultured” and the “ratchet;” the former drawing attention to so-called taste, tact, refinement, civilization and genius, and the latter calling attention to the so-called vulgar. While the former is purported to arise out of the Geist – the intellectual inclinations – of our times, the latter is purported to spring forth from the worst of black culture. However, what better communicates the spirit of the time than the ratchet? And no, I don’t mean the ways that ratchet gets deployed to project a collage of derogatory meanings onto black women’s bodies. I’m referring to the ways that ratchetness often undergirds the ricocheting of raw emotions and missiles of unfiltered truths.
To uncritically bash The Sisterhood is to toe the expected party line. To demonize the show is not only an attempt to maintain a position of moral superiority, but an assay to construct and limit meaning for the audience—an audience that may in fact connect with the human qualities of the ratchetness therein. And trust me, I get the critiques regarding black female representations in media. This needs to be called out everyday all day—but not while asphyxiating black women’s complex identities with mythological notions of black women’s heroic genius. In short, binary oppositions don’t work. They set up “us” versus “them” politics, which are both totalizing and reductive. I think a better suggestion might be to think about the heroic qualities of black women’s genius, that is if you buy this argument, as at times being a bit ratchet. Identities and tastes shift in shades of grey, not monochrome. That said, we don’t need another schemata. And we damn sure don’t need another exceptionalist social fiction to cancel out our complex subjectivities, which can neither be packaged nor wholesaled, by the way.
The Sisterhood isn’t “hurting the church image…[or] giving God a bad name.” Religious people have already done that. Neither is it “abominable and offensive to the Christian/African American communities.” I can think of a few other things, all ending with “isms” or “phobia,” to fit that bill. And finally, it’s not evidence of black [male] preachers or the historical Black Church loosing its way–I haven’t even mentioned how the eve/gender politics here are troubling at best. And to be sure, I’m not saying wether the Black Church or the black [male] preacher has lost their way or not. That’s an entirely different conversation. For starters, I think I’d first need to know what the “way” once was or imagined to be. And truly, The Sisterhood isn’t even a representation of the Black Church. As far as I can see, there are only two wives from historical black churches (hold this thought) on the series–whose church would likely define themselves in such a way, Ivy and Domonique.
The Sisterhood is evidence of our obsession with brown women’s lives and our pornotropic desire to lift their curtains and see everything. In addition, it’s evidence of the fluidity between religion and culture, and the myriad ways that each cross-pollinates the other, thus broadening, limiting and confusing all kinds of meanings. An example of this is the construction of the “first lady” concept for the show, a Black Church conception structured in both politics of respectability and patriarchal dominance, aimed at constructing alternative identities–distinct from the hypersexual/sexual savage trope–for black women, particularly during the early twentieth century. As with the FLOTUS, it’s a title of respect for wives in religious contexts that are often theo-socially hostile to women in general. With regard to black women, there’s a long history here apropos race, gender, sex, sexuality, respectability and wifehood. However, I’ll save the politics of race, ladyhood and wifedom for another day.
(Side note: background, I’d be interested to see how the “first lady” title operates for Christina, a Dominican woman married to a black new wave evangelical pastor, and DeLana, a white southern woman who, akin to her co-pastor husband, seems to fancy all things “plantation” (27:56 mark) and soft Christian rock. I’d be even more interested in seeing how this works for Tara, a black body builder married to a Jewish Christian former pastor, both of whom appear to be working with a different set of gender politics. But this, again, is another story.)
Ultimately, The Sisterhood is evidence of not only our obsession with brown women’s lives, the constant interpolation of religion in culture and vice versa and the static nature of meanings in our society, but our very own and ever expanding frailties, contradictions and complexities as human beings. These women represent the thorny nature of our inner selves, particularly when situated in hostile, novel, and/or uncomfortable environments. Sure. Ivy, Domonique, Christina, DeLana, and Tara aren’t really sisterly (or are they?) and they argue like the women in the Basketball Wives and Real Housewives franchise. But wouldn’t you if pimping your story on reality television somehow became a necessity, or if you found yourself in the midst of a group of others who were geographically, theologically, racially, economically, politically, contextually, and socially different than you? Would you not have differences of opinions and take up, forcefully at that, different positonalities? Seriously. Are we above drama and contradictions? Have we never been pushed to the edge to the point where we want to or choose to take it there? Are our lives without mistakes, conflict, struggles, pain, stresses and moments of dehumanization? Show me a person devoid of these realities and I’ll show you a straight up liar. Yes. That simple.
The bottom line for me is this: these women are human. They are women with problems from autonomous churches that differ, at minimum, theologically. And like it or not, for Christians and others, theology shapes how people understand themselves in the world. Yes, it shapes both Tara’s unyielding “prayerbush” (s/o to Birgitta Johnson) at the 37:18 mark of the 4th episode and Domonique’s ongoing quest to live out and within her own truth.
Consciously or not, theology re-appropriates politics and ways of seeing by constructing a veil that recolours reality with simultaneous taken for granted notions of truth, hope, transcendence, capitalism, injustice and intolerance. Moreover, the “first lady” position often serves as a protective shield against disagreement. That is, Ivy, Domonique, Christina, DeLana, and Tara are likely used to participating in discourses where their politics and ways of seeing go unchallenged, especially within their congregations.
But what happens when removed from that context? Basically, shit goes awry—just as it would with any other group of strangers with different theo-political-socio-cultural-historical backgrounds and value systems. My favorite on the show is Domonique. Not simply because she keeps it all the way real and clearly isn’t afraid to get it poppin with her co-stars, but because her struggle between the politics of respectability, the structures of dominance that frame her sexual past, and her quest for financial independence and selfhood are real.
Wherever we land in terms of this show being good or bad or something in between, it’s pretty significant to see a reality TV show centered on people of faith who are flawed with real issues. Perhaps we might interpret The Sisterhood not as an “abomination,” but as an imperfect, yet useful intervention–for the Black Church, black popular culture and black folk living in various communities. These ladies disrupt the monolithic image of the puritanical (and irrational) religious person on one hand, and the exemplary religious heroic genius on the other. These tropes are death-dealing. No one can live them…or live up to them. Let’s face it, we are messy inter-subjective beings with troubles, longings, complications, and inconsistencies–just like Ivy, Domonique, Christina, DeLana, and Tara.
And this is why we watch—and yes, with popcorn and bottled water in tow. Because, unlike the black [male] mega church prosperity gospel preacher constantly being shoved down our throats (pun intended) as the symbol of black churches U.S.A, these folks—these women, are trying to make it and make sense of their messy lives—just like us. And hey, like so many others in academe, the Black Church and without, they want to do it on TV. That said, perhaps we’ve all lost our way.
Dr. Tamura Lomax is an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice. She was guest in our “Black Women in the Prism” series
FREE Marissa Alexander Petition Drive
Change.org Petition ALERT
Community groups remain concerned about the case of Marissa Alexander, a woman who was given quite a few years in prison for a situation in which it appeared that she had no other options. Alexander received 20 years in prison after firing warning shots at a man who she believes had come to harm her. No one was hurt, but Alexander was still sent away for a very long time.
Various groups have been fighting for Marissa’s release and say that her case is part of the reason that mandatory minimums should be abolished. They argue that since no one was hurt and she was only trying to protect herself from an abusive husband, her actions were entirely justified.
The petition, which is at Change.org, says that Alexander’s sentence was excessive and exceedingly harsh.
It was also suggested by the judge in this case that Ms. Alexander “could have found some other way to flee the home,” yet the law states that “those who feel threatened, have no duty to retreat,” further lending to the ambiguity of this judgment against Ms. Alexander.
Something has to be done regarding all women who defend themselves against their abusers. Too often they receive little understanding and sympathy from the systems supposedly set up to protect them. Women who are victims of domestic violence need a voice, and it is our intent to be that voice for Marissa and any other potential victim of domestic violence or any other form of injustice.
We interviewed Marissa Alexander on OUR COMMON GROUND in an exclusive from her jail in Florida, less than an hour after she was sentenced.
Gabrielle Douglas: ‘Woman of the Year’
BY DR. RIDGELY ABDUL MU’MIN MUHAMMAD -GUEST COLUMNIST
FINAL CALL on-line| LAST UPDATED: DEC 10, 2012
Gold medalist Gabrielle Douglas appears on the December 2012 cover of Essence magazine crowned as “Woman of the Year.” The more we learn of her struggles, the more we must appreciate her as a strong Black woman as well as a great athlete. Now we must ask the question, “How many other great young Black people are out there that we will never know, because they were not as mentally and spiritually prepared as Gabrielle?” They may have great potential but they never made it through the agonizing reality of being Black in a world dominated by “White Supremacy.”
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan writes in A Torchlight for America: “There seems to be a practice of identifying young, brilliant black children, particularlyBlack boys, and casting in their minds suggestions that stagnate their development and kill their upward movement.” Gabrielle Douglas gave an interview after the Olympics to Vanity Fair magazine. In this interview she stated that she felt isolated and was made the butt of “racist jokes” while training in Virginia before moving to Iowa to be coached by her mentor Liang Chow. She felt bullied by the other White girls in the program to the point that she was afraid to show off more of her skill. Gabrielle had been training as a gymnast since she was six years old. Starting in 2004, when she was eight, Gabrielle mostly trained at Excalibur Gymnastics in Virginia Beach, a well-regarded program that has produced 10 members of the U.S. national team since 1995. Her mother soon began working nights so she could home-school Gabrielle, in large part because a gymnast’s daily training regimen makes going to regular school impossible.
Through all of the physical and emotional stress of such intensive training, Gabrielle still blossomed until 2009. Gabrielle said that some of her fellow White gymnasts had made fun of her appearance but when an Excalibur staff member suggested to her that she might want to get a “nose job,” that was a severe blow to her self-esteem. But Gabrielle did not quit. She became determined to train at Chow’s gym, in West Des Moines, Iowa. “I’ve got to get a coach I can believe in, and who believes in me,” she told her mother. Gabrielle said that her mother told her to “suck it up,” to which Gabrielle asked, “If this was happening to you, how well would you suck it up?” Her mother was then moved to make it possible for Gabrielle to move to Iowa to train under Chow.
What would have happened to Gabrielle if she were not so persistent and her mother were not so caring? Do you remember the story of Malcolm X when he was in the eighth grade and the white teacher told him that he should forget about becoming a lawyer and instead think about learning carpentry? Malcolm eventually dropped out of school to pursue a life of crime. In a previous article “Exposing the Aim and Purpose of America’s Educational System,” we shared the statistic that 1 out of every 6 Black children was suspended from high school in the 2009-2010 school year compared to 1 out of 20 for white children. There is a direct relationship between being suspended and eventually dropping out of school and eventually ending up in jail.
Why should Gabrielle have to “suck up” a deliberate psychological blow to her head? Why does society have to suffer the consequences of having to deal with a destroyed ego? What if these incidents are not isolated, but a planned method of control? Is there, as Minister Farrakhan stated, “a system in place to keep a plantation running, for the benefit of the rich and powerful?” Minister Farrakhan also describes the purpose of “true education”: to cultivate “the person—mind, body, and spirit—by bringing us closer to fulfilling our purpose for being, which is to reflect Allah (God).” If her mother had not pulled Gabrielle out of the public school system and home schooled her, and then sent her away to be trained by an Asian coach, would we now be enjoying the athletic feats and captivating smile and personality of Gabrielle Douglas?
Minister Farrakhan has walked the streets of Chicago with the Fruit of Islam (FOI) trying to repair the broken souls of our young Black men who have formed “gangs” to express their manhood in a culture that has failed to acknowledge their humanity. Their frustrations are turned on each other while the dominant society is training professional killers to gun them down when the order is given. What if this form of psychological destruction, followed by physical annihilation, is not an anomaly but the American way? Jeff Schmidt in his book Disciplined Minds makes the point that this type of psychological warfare is not waged solely against Blacks, as manifested in their almost 50 percent high-school dropout rate; rather, it is a planned method of selection that moves all the way up to the Ph.D level and cuts across all racial lines. The selection process is based not on academic skills or even race, but on a willingness to give over the core of one’s being to serve “the status quo,” the rich and powerful. The aspiring professional, no matter what the field, must demonstrate a willingness to be a “professional” slave without making waves.
Dr. Schmidt, who holds a Ph.D in physics, demonstrates how the “ideology of the status quo is built into the curriculum.” The curriculum establishes the goals, values, priorities and attitude of its students to ensure future employers that the graduate is willing and able to set aside his or her values and do whatever is necessary to “get ahead.” If he changes employers, the graduate is flexible enough to change values to fit in to the new workplace at the drop of a hat. Sounds like a well-adjusted prostitute to me.
The streets of America are red with the blood of our young Black boys and girls who could have been another Gabrielle Douglas. Our prisons are full of untapped talent that just did not know that they were victims of a well-thought-out scheme. We must teach our young Black boys and girls that, as Minister Farrakhan says, “We are at war!” and that each person or institution that they may meet could have a “land mine” ready to detonate in their minds to destroy their self-esteem and their future. We must institutionalize some form of survival training to protect the minds of our children.