Guest Video Post: Policing The Police

May 19, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The young and emerging journalists at Press Pass TV get opinions from their peers and older experts on the relationship between members of their community and the Boston Police Department.

From the Press Pass TV site:  For 5 years, Press Pass TV has gathered some of the brightest and most dedicated minds in media to work with youth. With humble beginnings in an after school program at the Dearborn Middle School in Roxbury, Press Pass TV has become and integral part of the community, serving young people throughout the city and increasing the capacity of organizations and schools throughout Greater Boston.  For more information visit Video Post

Guest Editorial: On the Loss of Lena Horne

May 14, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Lena Horne Was More Than Skin-Deep
Rev. Irene Monroe

Lena Horne died this Mother’s Day at the age of 92.

If you are of my generation of Lena Horne fans, your first encounters with the star was her role as Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, in “The Wiz” the 1978 film of the all-black version of L. Frank Baum’s children’s classic “The Wizard of Oz.”

But Ms. Horne’s breakthrough on the silver screens was decades before 1978. It began in 1943 when Horne was in the all-black production, “ Stormy Weather,” where she performed the title song that became her signature tune.

With the help of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Horne broke the color barrier that year when movie mogul Louis B. Mayer signed Horne to a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), the first African American performer to receive a long-term deal with a major Hollywood studio.

However, in an era when African American actors in Hollywood were portrayed as toms, coons, bucks, mulattoes, and mammies, Horne’s roles were limited because she refused to play stereotypes.

When Ms. Horne was asked by Hollywood agents to play mammy roles, she shared in a 1997 PBS interview that her father chimed in emphatically stating, “ I can get a maid for my daughter. I don’t want her in movies playing maids.”

Horne discovered her light-skinned complexion and white facial features might have opened MGM doors for her, but once she got through them her tenure with MGM was fraught with all sorts of racial problems, the biggest one being her light-skinned complexion.

“I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept,” she told PBS. “I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked.”

For example, her first screen test at MGM was alongside African American comedian Eddie Rochester Anderson, who played the happy-go-lucky “darkie” to Jack Benny’s eponymous hit radio and television series “ The Jack Benny Program.” Because her complexion was too light juxtaposed to Anderson’s the make-up department came up with a special shade for Horne called “light Egyptian” to dispel the notion that the movie studio was promoting an interracial couple.

However, as much as Horne detested how the white show business world exploited her light-skinned complexion, she also exploited the privilege of having it, because of intraracial discrimination — or in laymen’s terms, “colorism” in the African American community.

While it is true that America’s pigmentocracy began with slavery, many of its vestiges are with us today where still lighter-skinned blacks are preferred, trusted, and perceived to be more intelligent and attractive than darker-skinned ones.

Just look at how American soul, and R&B singer Beyonce’s career is a cross-over success compared to American soul and R&B singer India Arie’s.

Study: Darker-skinned Black Job Applicants Face More Obstacles(Issues in Higher Education, 2006) stated that “a light skinned African American male with a bachelors degree and mediocre experience is more likely to be hired for a typical job than a dark skinned man with a Masters in Business Administration and past experience in the field.”

One aspect of President Barack Obama’s appeal to those whites who would give him a listening ear during the presidential campaign was not only because he is a brilliant orator, legal scholar, and Harvard Law graduate, but also because his light-skinned complexion engenders less fear – both visually and emotionally.

And if truth were told, so did Barack’s looks for many African Americans.

During the Lena Horne era, the “ brown paper bag test” was used in the application process for admission to many of the prestigious Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Any African American darker than the hue of a brown paper bag was automatically denied admission. But the admission process also included the “comb test” and the “flashlight test.” For the “comb test,” if you were light-skinned and your hair was coarse — or as we say in black vernacular “nappy ” — you were denied admission. For the “flashlight test,” if your light-skinned features were not close to those of whites, you were denied admission.

Horne dropped out of high school at sixteen to join the famous chorus line of the renowned Harlem’s Cotton Club showgirls. The club only wanted “tall, tan, and terrific” dancers.

In 1947, Horne married her second husband, Lennie Hayton, a Jewish American conductor and arranger at MGM, 20 years before the U.S. Supreme Court 1967 ruling in Loving v. Virginia that anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional. In a 1980 interview with Ebony Magazine, Horne spoke about the pressures of being in an interracial marriage. But she also stated in the interview that she married Hayton to advance her career and to cross the “color- line” in show business because she knew her looks and his connection could make it happen.

Born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn in 1917, Horne belonged to New York City’s “brown bourgeoisie” whom W.E.B. Dubois called “The Talented Tenth,” because of her family’s wealth, education, and light-skinned complexion.

Many will argue that Horne got involved in civil rights activism at a nadir in her career to advance herself, after having benefited all she could from light-skinned privilege.

“A kind of racial anger began to grow in me,” Horne told PBS. “I had to ask myself if I were merely attaching private feelings, disappointments, and resentments to a larger, more critical, crisis.”

But Horne was more than skin-deep. As an activist, she worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-lynching laws; she refused to lodge in black sections of towns; and, she criticized the treatment of African American soldiers during the war, to name just a few.

While it is true that Horne was exploited because of her light-skinned complexion, and she also exploited the privilege of having it, I argue that all of what Horne did in her lifetime can neither be understood nor judged merely by the color of her skin.

Reverend Irene Monroe is a nationally-known writer, speaker and theologian.  She has been profiled in O, Oprah Magazine and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  (The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.)

Guest Editorial: Thoughts on Harvard 3L

May 7, 2010 at 11:35 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Harvard Student Email on Black Genetic Inferiority Causes a Stir
Rev. Irene Monroe

As one of the most renowned and liberal institutions in the world, it’s always hurtful and harmful — both to the campus milieu and the school’s reputation — when racist and sexist acts occur at Harvard University.

Last week, a lengthy email written by a third-year student and an editor on the Harvard Law Review, Stephanie Grace, was printed by the legal blog In that email, Grace wrote that she thought blacks might be genetically inferior to whites:  “I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent,” she said. (Grace’s comment came following a private dinner conversation about affirmative action and race.)

As we all know, affirmative action is a hot-button issue. At a basic level, it’s an attempt to take race, gender and ethnicity (to name only a few factors) into consideration to promote a level playing field for all. But the sub-text in all affirmative action debates is the fallacious belief that blacks selected to benefit from it are hopelessly and helplessly genetically inferior — that their DNA is chromosomally deficient, if not defective.
The myth of genetic inferiority of people of African ancestry is centuries old, tracing back to when the first slave boat arrived on our shores in 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia. The myth of genetic inferiority of people of African ancestry not only legitimized slavery, but also biblically sanctioned it. It was aided by people like Nobel Laureate William Shockley, who in 1956 voiced his theory of a genetic basis for racial inferiority. As part of his theory on the biology of ethnicity, Shockley stated that people of African ancestry belonged to a lower species of humanity, and deserved sterilization.
The idea of sterilizing blacks — because we supposedly belonged to a “lower species of humanity” — was part and parcel of the American eugenics movement, which started in 1926. Even Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger — an iconic figure for the women’s reproductive rights movement — espoused eugenics theory, backing the 1939 “Negro Project,” which was a precursor to what eugenists wanted to implement on a much larger scale.  As Sanger told the Senate in 1932, “The main objectives of the [proposed] Population Congress is to…apply a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is already tainted, or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring.”

Debates about genetic inferiority is not new, and perhaps will continue, especially in light of ongoing debates about affirmative action.  But it’s surprising to find them at an institution of learning like Harvard.

Then again, Harvard is also the place where in January 2005, then-president of the University, Larry Summers, espoused his belief in the genetic inferiority of women. At a conference discussing why women are underrepresented in tenured science and engineering jobs at the best universities and research institutions, Summers stated that one explanation might be the “different availability of aptitude at the high end.” Summers went on to say that his “best guess” was that “there are issues of intrinsic aptitude,” meaning men tend to have a broader range of I.Q. scores than women — what he said was a more important factor to explain the lack of women in such fields than “different socialization and patterns of discrimination.”  As a woman, Grace surely realizes the absurdity of Summers’ argument, an absurdity that’s true of her own as well.

What do Grace’s views mean for her future career? The Harvard Law Review is one of the premier journals of legal scholarship in the country. Grace is an editor of the journal, and will soon be an attorney. In her practice, will Grace be espousing racist legal theory?  Many of the journal’s alumni have gone on to be Supreme Court justices, cabinet secretaries and U.S. government officials. But only one went on to become president of the U.S. — Barack Obama, a man who was admitted thanks to affirmative action.

While Grace might argue that Obama is advantaged in terms of genetic intelligence because he’s biracial — as opposed to black — let’s remember that it was his Kenyan father who graduated from Harvard with a Ph.D. in economics, not his white mother.
Not surprisingly, Harvard Law School’s dean, Martha Minow, has denounced Grace’s email, stating that the school is “committed to preventing degradation of any individual or group.” But as long as discrimination along the lines of race, class and gender persist, girded by attitudes of white superiority like Grace’s, society will miss out on the future Barack Obamas of the world.

Reverend Irene Monroe is a nationally-known writer, speaker and theologian.  She has been profiled in O, Oprah Magazine and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  (The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.)

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