A Road Map Beyond Black History Month

February 20, 2015 at 1:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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bb_flag_1_6_2012Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Black History Month (which kicked off on Feb. 1) became a national annual observance in 1926. The goal of the month is to honor and celebrate the achievements of African-Americans.

If Dr. Carter Woodson, the Father of Black History, were alive today, he would be proud of the tenacity of the African American community. It speaks volumes about our survival here on this American soil, after centuries of slavery, decades of lynching and years of racial profiling.

However, for decades now, Black History Month has not broached the topic of the socio-political construction of white privilege.

There’s a reason why.

During Black History Month in 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder received scathing criticism for his speech on race. His critics said the tone and tenor of the speech was confrontational and accusatory.

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot,” Holder said, “in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

Many communities of color contest that white people—straight or LGBTQ—show no real invested interest in engaging in this country’s needed dialogue on race. While many whites have confessed their aversion to such a dialogue, stating that while a cultural defense of “white guilt” plays a role in their reticence, so too does their cultural fear of “black rage” for inadvertently saying the wrong thing.

It’s a polemic that has been avoided because of the politics of political correctness as well as how any discussion on race, no matter who’s stirring the conversation—a rabid racist, the president or Attorney General Eric Holder—invariably inflame our emotions more that inform our faculties.

Ironically, or tragically, the aversion to a conversation about race not only continues to harm people of color, but it also harms whites as well.

In her recent book “Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race” Cambridge author Debby Irving’s wrote the following:

“I can think of no bigger misstep in American history than the invention and perpetuation of the idea of white superiority. It allows white children to believe they are exceptional and entitled while allowing children of color to believe they are inferior and less deserving….Unless adults understand racism, they will, as I did, unknowingly teach it to their children.”

On one hand we have the dominate culture’s continued indelicate dance of white privilege and single-issue platforms which thwart coalition building with communities of color. On the other we have some people of color dismissing the notion that white marginalized and struggling groups (white women, LGBTQ, the poor) may have something to offer communities of color in terms of advice and shared (not same) experiences.

Both hands are right. And both hands are wrong. The only way forward it to keep talking about race. But how do we make our way through the current tangle of misguided good intentions and valid suspicions?

My answer: past harms need to be redressed.

For example, the killing of unarmed black males has awakened the movement. “Black Lives Matter” has taken to the streets.

Sadly, civil rights struggles in this country—black, women, and gay—have primarily been understood and demonstrated as tribal and unconnected rather than intersectional and interdependent of each other. But that is a false assumption.

When we look at how we moved forward on the issue of same-sex marriage, LGBTQ activists remember that an African-American woman named Mildred Loving set the precedent for marriage equality. Loving gained notoriety when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in her favor that anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional. Her crime was this country’s once racial and gender obsession—interracial marriage. Married to a white man, Loving and her husband were indicted by a Virginia grand jury in October 1958 for violating the state’s ‘Racial Integrity Act of 1924.’

For many years I taught a college-level course titled “Power and Privilege,” exploring how many of our stereotypes about people whom we perceive as being different invades our lives without much conscious deliberation on our part. Issues of race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, age and ability, among others, were considered, and how such distinctions often lead to an inequitable distribution of political power, social well-being, and the resources available to individual members of society.

On the syllabus I laid out the rules regarding classroom interaction:
1. We will address our colleagues in our classroom by name.
2. We will listen to one another—patiently, carefully—assuming that each one of us is always doing the best that s/he can. We will speak thoughtfully. We will speak in the first person.
3. Although our disagreements may be vigorous, they will not be conducted in a win-lose manner. We will take care that all participants are given the opportunity to engage in the conversation.
4. We will own our assumptions, our conclusions, and their implications. We will be open to another’s intellectual growth and change.
5. We cannot be blamed for misinformation. We have been taught and have absorbed from our U.S. society and culture, but we will be held responsible for repeating misinformation after we have learned otherwise.
6. We each have an obligation to actively combat stereotypes so that we can begin to eradicate the biases which prevent us from envisioning the well being of us all.

As we celebrate Black History Month, 2015, in what is clearly not the post-racial era many had hoped for, I wish as a nation we begin an honest talk about race.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. Rev. Monroe can also be heard every Monday on Boston Public Radio, WGBH 89.7. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies.

Opinions expressed in the guest editorials are solely those of the author.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the power of righteous anger

January 18, 2015 at 10:10 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest opinion by Kevin C. Peterson

As we celebrate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this weekend its difficult to say exactly what he would be angry about. But he’d be angry.

Yes, it’s accurate to describe King as an “apostle of love” because of the gospel of non-violence he preached. King obsessively sought the “beloved community” which was rooted in his commitment to peace and pacifism.

He would say: “Non-violent resistance is not for cowards. It is not a quiet, passive acceptance of evil. One is passive and non-violent physically, but very active spiritually, always seeking ways to persuade the opponent of advantages to the way of love, cooperation, and peace.”

If he were alive today, King would be 86–a lion in winter ignored by most. A national holiday would not exist in his name. The glow from the great marches and the noble pursuits he followed would be faded national memories.

But King would likely still be on fire: He would be disappointed by the state of the nation on race relations. He would oppose our U.S. foreign policy that relies so heavily on drone strikes. And he would decry our country’s uneven economy that has resulted in a class crisis and a bloated oligarchy.

During this weekend’s reflections on King, many will evoke his famous “I Have A Dream” speech where he evoked the grandeur President Lincoln and wrapped the aspiration of the American people around symbols of fairness, opportunities and the hope that the present generation of black Americans would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Ironically, if he was alive today, King would reject such historical romanticizing on a speech he made decades ago.

He would point to the irony that 50 years after the struggle in Selma for voting rights–where Rev. James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister from Roxbury (Boston, MA), was murdered– there are ongoing battles across the South where voter ID laws and redistricting suppress the electoral power of blacks and the poor.

King would certainly oppose the police murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He would evoke the spirit of “hands up, don’t shoot,” and “I can’t breathe.” But more than this, he would challenge — with exacting moral authority — the remaining vestiges of institutionalized racism that grip our society.

Perhaps King’s most lasting legacy was his criticism of the persistent “evils” which continue to plague American progress.

In 1967 he said: “I am disappointed with our failure to deal… with the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism. We are presently moving down a dead-end road that can lead to national disaster. America has strayed to the far country of racism and militarism.”

For all his preaching about peace, King’s passion–his smoldering anger about injustice–would be as apt today as it was when he walked the streets of America.

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is founder of the New Democracy Coalition and a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s expansive dream

January 18, 2015 at 9:53 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest opinion by Rev. Irene Monroe

Martin Luther King’s actual birthday is January 15th, and I believe if MLK were alive today he would be well pleased with Ava DuVernay’s film “Selma.”

Many people working for justice today stand on the shoulders of Martin Luther King Jr and what he achieved in Selma. But I believe King’s vision of justice is often gravely limited and misunderstood. Too many people thought then, and continue to think, that King’s statements regarding justice were only about race and the African-American community. We fail to see how King’s vision of inclusion and community is far wider that we might have once imagined. And his vision always included lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

For King, justice was more than a racial issue, more than a legal or moral issue. Justice was a human issue. And this was evident in King’s passionate concern about a wide range of concerns: “The revolution for human rights is opening up unhealthy areas in American life and permitting a new and wholesome healing to take place,” King once told a racially mixed audience. “Eventually the civil rights movement will have contributed infinitely more to the nation than the eradication of racial injustice.”

Moral leadership played a profound role in the justice work that King did. He argued that true moral leadership must involve itself in the situations of all who are damned, disinherited, disrespected and dispossessed, and moral leadership must be part of a participatory government that is feverishly working to dismantle the existing discriminatory laws that truncate full participation in the fight to advance democracy. And surely part of our job, in keeping King’s dream alive, is to also work to dismantle discriminatory laws and dehumanizing structures that we see young people now taking to the street to protest about across the country.

But if King were among us today, he would say that it is not enough just to look outside ourselves to see the places where society is broken. It is not enough to talk about institutions and workplaces that fracture and separate people based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. We must also look at the ways that we ourselves manifest these bigotries, how we are the very ones who uphold and are part of these institutions and workplaces.

Often, we find that these institutions and workplaces are broken, dysfunctional and wounded in the very same ways that we are. The structures we have created are mirrors not of who we want to be, but who we really are.

King would remind each of us that we cannot heal the world if we have not healed ourselves. So perhaps the greatest task, and the most difficult work we must do in light of King’s teachings, is to heal ourselves. And this work must be done in relationship with our justice work in the world.
In “A Farewell to Arms,” Ernest Hemingway said that the world breaks us all, but some of us grow strong in those broken places. King’s teachings invites us to grow strong in our broken places – not only to mend the sin-sick world in which we live in, but also to mend the sin-sick world that we carry around within us. And we can only do that if we are willing to look both inward and outward, healing ourselves of the bigotry, biases and the demons that chip away at our efforts to work toward justice in this world. And our differences have been used to divide us instead of uniting us, so consequently we reside in a society were human brokenness, human isolation and human betrayal are played out every day.

I know that the struggle against racism that King talked about is only legitimate if I am also fighting anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism, classism – not only out in the world but also in myself. Otherwise, I am creating an ongoing cycle of abuse that goes on unexamined and unaccounted for.
We are foolish if we think we can heal the world and not ourselves. And we delude ourselves if we think that King was only talking about the woundedness of institutional racism, and not the personal wounds we all carry as human beings.

Ironically, our culture of woundedness and victimization has bonded us together in brokenness. The sharing of worlds to depict and honor our pain has created a new language of intimacy, a bonding ritual that allows us to talk across and among our pains. In exploring our common wounds, we sometimes feel more able to find the trust and the understanding that eludes us as “healthy” people.
When we bond in these unhealthy ways we miss opportunities in ourselves for moral leadership, and to work collaboratively with others to effect change in seemingly small ways that eventually lead to big outcomes.

Both Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. were leaders in the Montgomery bus boycott in challenging Alabama’s Jim Crow laws. Both were working together for a desired outcome, and they could not have done it without the other.

Had Rosa Parks not sat down by refusing her seat to a white man that day on the bus in December 1955, King could not have gotten up to promulgate a social gospel, which catapulted the civil rights movement.

Each year, I mark the Martin Luther King holiday by re-examining myself in light of King’s teachings. And in so doing, I try to uncover not only the ways in which the world breaks me, but also how it breaks other people. That keeps us fractured instead of united toward a common goal – a multicultural democracy.

I believe that when we use our gifts in the service of others as King has taught us we then shift the paradigm of personal brokenness to personal healing. We also shift the paradigm of looking for moral leadership from outside of ourselves to within ourselves; thus, realizing we are not only the agents of change in society, but also the moral leaders we have been looking for.

Our job, therefore, in keeping King’s dream alive is to remember that our longing for social justice is also inextricably tied to our longing for personal healing.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. Rev. Monroe can also be heard every Monday on Boston Public Radio, WGBH 89.7. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies.

Opinions expressed in the guest editorials are solely those of the author.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? …Now

September 12, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Lonnie Farmer, Julia Duffy, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, and Meredith Forlenza in the Huntington Theatre Company production of Todd Kreidler’s compelling family comedy Guess Who's Coming to Dinner directed by David Esbjornson, playing Sept. 5 – Oct. 5, 2014. Photo: Paul Marotta

Lonnie Farmer, Julia Duffy, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, and Meredith Forlenza in the Huntington Theatre Company production of Todd Kreidler’s compelling family comedy Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner directed by David Esbjornson, playing Sept. 5 – Oct. 5, 2014. Photo: Paul Marotta

Guest review by Kevin C. Peterson

Against the political backdrop of a dashing, brilliant black president, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and the racial crisis now roiling in Ferguson, Missouri over the murder of unarmed Michael Brown by a local white police officer, the themes and tropes that comprise Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—which premiered at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston this week–seem absurdly lame and unforgivingly naive.

Originally released as a movie in 1967 to critical acclaim, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was also widely popular, featuring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn as white ultra-liberal parents who face a moral and racial reckoning when confronted with the “situation” that their daughter was on the verge of marrying a black man–played in the film sensationally by Sidney Poitier.

The current cast performing in Boston is excellent, led by Malcolm-Jamal Warner (Theo, from The Cosby Show, playing the pliant Dr. John Prentice), Will Lyman and Julia Duffy portraying Matt and Christina Drayton, the parents of Prentice’s fiancée, Joanna Drayton (Meredith Forlenza) and Patrick Shea, the grog-loving, but soulfully insightful Monsignor Ryan.

Each character alternatively gives the play superb moments that are lighthearted, grim, then sometimes earnestly introspective–reflecting the racial realism of the sexual taboos of the time.

The ensemble sparkles generally but is made more radiant by Lynda Gravatt, who plays the maid, Matilda Binks, the moral epicenter of this story. Gravatt’s protean talent brings to this production all of the spiritual and psychological gravitas of what it then meant to be Negro, female and American–the pangs of love and hate, servitude and dignity, bitterness, promise, and no-nonsense racial conservatism, that stresses family, continuity and tradition.

But mostly Matilda signifies–like Dilsey in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury or Aunt Ester Tyler in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, the hopeful recognition that our humanity is ever waiting for opportunities to bloom, a careful optimism that, despite the country’s many tragic, racial sins, there is space for redemption for those on both sides of the aisle.

The issue of interracial marriage was all the rage at the time of film’s release. During its production, 17 states deemed interracial marriage a crime.

Decades later, this is now an archaic matter layered over and made obsolete by the elimination of anti-miscegenation laws and the emergence of an integrated national popular culture that has made aesthetic and cross-racial erotic choices sometimes simply a peculiarity of taste.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner remains an important literary artifact mainly because it reminds the carefully attentive clear insight into how hard the task is of achieving a racial democracy. This reality is made so clear as we simply look at neighborhood apartheid patterns that persist as an embarrassing American social feature.

The play, (which runs at the Huntington through October 5th) is good nostalgic theater that possesses moments that will evoke laughter and even raise high the irony that the guests at dinner at the White House every night currently are black.

But for Americans today–including Bostonians–who continue to take race seriously, who acutely understand the persistence of racial supremacy, this is a theater production that will also evoke some sadness.

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at UMass Boston and a democracy activist.

Should More States Require Racial Impact Statements for New Laws?

July 31, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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By Maggie Clark, staff writer for Stateline

Most states evaluate new legislation for how it might affect the economy or the environment, but what about measuring a law’s effect on minorities?

Earlier this month, Oregon became the third state to require racial impact statements for any changes to state criminal laws or sentencing codes. Any new criminal justice proposal must be evaluated if at least one member of each party requests a report. The report, produced by a sentencing commission or legislative analyst, must show how a proposed law could have consequences for sentencing, probation or parole policies affecting minorities disproportionately, and that information is shared with lawmakers before they vote on the bill.

Iowa and Connecticut require racial impact statements before lawmakers can vote on any new criminal laws, and Minnesota’s sentencing commission regularly drafts racial impact statements for new legislation.

Attention to racial bias in the criminal justice system has been growing. In May, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights  began a national review to determine if controversial self-defense laws, known as “stand your ground” laws, promote racial bias.

These laws are on the books in at least 21 states and gained national attention after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. Martin was an unarmed black teenager killed by neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

More states are considering requiring minority impact statements in the wake of Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict and the recent Supreme Court decision ending the federal preclearance requirement for election law changes in states with a history of voter discrimination, said Wayne Ford, a former Iowa state representative. Sponsor of the nation’s first racial impact statement bill, which passed in Iowa in 2008, Ford is in talks with lawmakers from 29 states interested in adopting racial impact statements.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that minority impact legislation has national, historic implications in regard to enactment and expansion of ‘stand your ground’ legislation,” said Ford. “Its scope can be expanded to make legislators and the public aware of the potential effects of ‘voter suppression’ legislation, too.”

Lawmakers in Oregon were motivated to enact their legislation by reports of disproportionate numbers of minorities in the child welfare system and in state prison.

“These racial and ethnic disparities suggest that we are using state resources inefficiently and ineffectively,” Democratic Rep. Joseph Gallegos, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. He was referring to statistics showing that African Americans make up less than 2 percent of Oregon’s population, but 9 percent of the state’s prison population.

Similar statistics convinced Iowa to become the first state to adopt minority impact statements.  In a scathing report published in 2007, researchers from The Sentencing Project, a national advocacy group which highlights racial disparities in the criminal justice system, found that Iowa had the nation’s highest racial disparity in prison populations:  African-Americans account for 24 percent of Iowa’s prison population, but only 2 percent of the state’s population.

Those numbers made Iowa lawmakers eager to act. “We did not want to be recognized as the nation’s leader in the incarceration of black men,” Ford said. Both chambers passed the minority impact statement bill nearly unanimously.

Racial impact statements aren’t a panacea, however. Even though Iowa has required them for more than four years, the state still has wide racial disparities in its justice system. The state has the worst racial disparity in the U.S. in marijuana arrests, according to an ACLU study. Blacks are more than eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, even though usage is about even, according to researchers.

Minnesota, which also uses racial impact statements although not required by law, ranked third behind Iowa in the ACLU report, with blacks more than seven times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Still, the statements are a helpful tool for lawmakers to evaluate outcomes of new legislation, said Nicole Porter, advocacy director at The Sentencing Project.
“We don’t claim that racial impact statements will resolve all disparities, but it will allow lawmakers to be intentional about the effects of the laws they enact,” Porter said.

Reprinted from Stateline. Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.

Rosa Parks: A National Day of Courage

February 4, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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In commemoration of Rosa Parks’ 100th birthday, Detroit Public Television and The Henry Ford Museum are presenting A National Day of Courage: a full day of performances, speakers and tributes (livestream below.)   In 2010, TIME Magazine called Rosa Parks one of the 25 most powerful women of the past century.

Relevant links:
National Day of Courage
Rosa Parks, Eyes on the Prize (American Experience/WGBH)

Friday News & Notes: November 2, 2012

November 2, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Editor: Valerie Linson

M. Gertrude Godvin School, Walnut Avenue, Roxbury, MA circa 19th century. The building is currently the home of the National Center of Afro American Artists.
(City of Boston Archives, via Flickr)

 

The Cleveland Uppercut, Lil Reese and camera phone savagery
Akiba Solomon, Colorlines.com, October 29, 2012
In my neck of the online woods, two violent camera phone videos have been making the rounds and sparking disturbing reactions about if and when it’s OK for a man to strike a black woman.

The first video, popularly known as “The Uppercut,” shows a Cleveland bus driver later identified as Artis Hughes, 59, arguing with passenger Shi’dea Lane, 25, for several stops. Witnesses claim that Lane struck and spit on Hughes, provoking the 22-year employee to punch the woman in her face and physically throw her off the bus. When an unseen passenger screams, “That’s a female,” Hughes retorts, “I don’t care! She want to be a man? I’ma treat you like a man.” Hughes has been suspended and charged with assault.
Read more…

National Civil Rights Museum to open balcony where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot
Agence France Presse, November 2, 2012

The motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee where US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 is being opened to the public, a spokeswoman said Friday.

It is the first time that visitors to the erstwhile Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, will be able to stand on the very spot outside Room 306 where King was gunned down by sniper James Earl Ray.
Read more…

The African American debate on voting rights
Jamila Aisha Brown, Guardian.uk.com, September 25, 2012

Not voting in the age of Obama has become almost a taboo subject among African Americans. After record black voter turnout helped elect the nation’s first black president in 2008, the decision not to vote is regarded by many as an affront to the ancestors who died and activists who bled to exercise this right.

They are not worth the color if they don’t vote. They oughta give us their color back. Their African-American credentials should be snatched if they don’t vote,” proclaimed an impassioned Representative Emanuel Cleaver (Democrat, Missouri) in his address to the 42nd annual legislative conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation before the “voting rights and new age discrimination” panel.
Read more…

Small Wonders: Winning images from Nikon’s 2012 Small World Photo Micrography Competition
Washington Post, November 2, 2012
Read more…

Yes, you can criticize Obama and not be racist
Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post, October 31, 2012
I’ve long argued that Obama’s most ardent supporters should not ascribe racial motives to the president’s critics when none exist. Doing so undermines their argument and the ability to call out real racism — explicit and implicit — when it happens. And at the height of the tea party movement, I made a point of separating those who had genuine concerns about the direction of the country and its mounting debt from the right-wing extremists who latched onto the conservative movement.
Read more…

 

A walk around the web…

October 2, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Picking up headlines from around the web…
Editor: Valerie Linson

Random image from my office because I like the colors…

 

Obama, Romney face similar debate test: Staying cool under fire
By Amie Parnes and Justin Sink, TheHill.com – 10/02/12
President Obama and Mitt Romney face a similar test heading into Wednesday night’s presidential debate: staying cool while under your opponent’s fire.

At their first debate in Denver — when tens of millions of voters will tune in to see the competitors clash in Denver — each candidate will have to do his best to keep calm despite the other’s best efforts.
Read the entire article here…

7 of History’s Most Racist Political Ads
The Root, 10/2/2012
This election has produced its own share of memorable ads, among them one that is being touted as potentially effective by some, but racially charged by others. The controversial Romney campaign ad attempts to depict President Obama as the welfare president.

Whether or not the ad is appealing to racism in the electorate may be up for debate, but there’s no doubt that is a timeworn strategy in American politics. Plenty of campaign ads over the years have been undeniably racist. The Root looks at the worst of the worst, in no particular order.
Read entire article here…

Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Ruling: Judge Halts Enforcement Of Law For Election
Marc Levy, The Huffington Post, 10/2/2012
A judge is postponing Pennsylvania’s tough new voter identification requirement, ordering that it not be enforced in the presidential election.

Tuesday’s ruling comes just five weeks before the election. An appeal is possible. The 6-month-old law requires each voter to show a valid photo ID.

Democrats and groups including the AARP and NAACP mounted a furious opposition to a law Republicans say is necessary to prevent election fraud. Critics have accused Republicans of using old-fashioned Jim Crow tactics to steal the White House and have highlighted stories of registered voters struggling to get a state photo ID.
Read entire article here…

Can Social Media Kill Homophobia?
Michael Arceneaux, Ebony, 10/2/1012
Recently, like everyone else of color who has ever written anything online, I was sent a study from the Institute of Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta in Canada chronicling the various forms of homophobia found on social media.
Highlighting how pervasive anti-gay sentiments remain, the study revealed that the word “faggot” and all its variations have been used over 2.5 million times on Twitter. Those variants include words and phrases like “dyke” (300,000 tweets), “no homo” (800,000 tweets) and the increasingly proper “so gay” (800,000 tweets).
Read entire article here…

Everything you need to know about Elizabeth Warren’s claim of Native American heritage
Washington Post (The Fact Checker) Josh Hicks, 9/28/2012
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has focused his campaign’s attention back on the self-proclaimed Native American heritage of his Democratic challenger, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren, who listed herself as a minority in professional directories commonly used by recruiters.

The controversy had faded in recent months while Brown maintained a steady lead in the polls. But Warren overtook the Republican incumbent in more recent polls after delivering a high-profile speech at the Democratic National Convention this month.
Brown brought Warren’s lineage back into the spotlight with his remarks during a debate last week and with an ad that uses old news accounts instead of his own words to renew skepticism about his opponent’s ancestral claims — cleverly avoiding direct accusations. Warren responded with an ad of her own, saying: “Scott Brown can continue attacking my family, but I’m going to keep fighting for yours.”
Read entire article here…

We are Trayvon Martin: LGBTQ and African Americans united by murder

April 20, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

 

What does Trayvon Martin’s murder have to do with gay civil rights protection?

The quick answer: The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act (mostly known by Matthew Shepard’s name). And this might be the only option the Florida Justice Department has in moving forward to arrest George Zimmerman and charge him with murder.

The nation is outraged that in 2012 an unarmed, African-American, 17 year-old high school student can be shot dead by a neighborhood watch captain because his egregious offense was   “walking while black” in a gated community.

By now you are familiar with the story—on February 26, Trayvon Martin left a 7-Eleven convenience store to head back home to his father’s fiancée’s gated community in the Retreat At Twin Lakes in Sanford, Florida. George Zimmerman, 28, of mixed ethnic descent (mother’s Peruvian, and father’s Jewish—he identifies as Hispanic)  began following Trayvon and called the Sanford Police Department. Although Zimmerman was advised by his superior not to pursue Trayvon he shot Trayvon in self- defense after a physical altercation initiated supposedly by Trayvon.

Was Zimmerman motivated by racism; therefore, racially profiling Trayvon?

And was Zimmerman’s act also a hate crime?

Many politicians are throwing around the h-word concerning Trayvon’s murder. Now many African-Americans are, too.

Renowned African American filmmaker Tyler Perry told CNN.com that “Racial profiling should be a hate crime investigated by the FBI. That way local government can’t make the decision on whether or not these people get punished.”

Perry recalled his frightening experience when he was pulled LAPD for making an illegal turn and having tinted windows. Once a black officer pulled up at the scene recognizing Perry. The arresting officers apologized and let him go. Perry stated that the incident, however, has stayed with him, opening his eyes to what type of treatment he might have endured if it wasn’t for his celebrity status.

In 2009, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act in law.  Many African-Americans were irate that their protection under the law—which they argue they have fought for since being shipped to America in 1619—had to be associated with a white gay male who was killed in 1998.

Some African Americans, and, of course, heterosexual homophobes, wanted to know why couldn’t they have the James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act act solely to protect them. Many further argued that the law would serve to solely protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and queer Americans and would do precious little to protect them, particularly since the bill is commonly referred to as the Matthew Shepard Act.

“The more time I spend in the LGBT community’s civil rights movement the more I’m struck by the need for all the various human communities to support one another…Trayvon’s death is as personal to me as any white lesbian’s death.  Trayvon is my brother, and whether one is black, white, gay or straight, we are all human beings together in this struggle for human dignity.  It’s as simple as that,” Carol Fischer, wrote me in an email. Fischer’s a white lesbian and producer of bloomingOUT, a weekly queer radio show on WFHB Radio Station in Bloomington, IN.

In 1998 both James Byrd Jr., and Matthew Shepard were victims of bias-motivated crimes. Byrd, an African American was murdered by three white supremacists who chained him to the back of their pick-up truck at his ankles and dragged along a three mile asphalt road until he was dismembered.  Shepard was tortured, tethered to a fence and left to die because he was gay.

With Florida’s Stand Your Ground permitting Zimmerman to walk without charges, the Shepard-Byrd statute not only reminds us of how bias-motivated crimes links gays and blacks together but that it’s also the best hope for Trayvon Martin and his family seeking justice.

Rev. 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.)

The Hunger Games’ young racist fans

April 13, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Guest editorial by Rev Irene Monroe

The Hunger Games: Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). Photo credit: Murray Close

There’s a frenzy surrounding the blockbuster film and book The Hunger Games. But the fan attention around the movie has taken a decidedly different turn from the fervor the book caused. The schism originates from the difference between reading ­— where one’s visual images of characters can be both personal and individual — and watching — where the film’s visual images of characters are a literal representation.

The film script follows the book closely and some of fans are apoplectic. The result is a tweeting tsunami of racist comments focusing on the presence of the few main black characters in the film.

Here are just a few of the racist tweets that have gone viral:

“why does rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie.”

“Kk call me racist but when I found out Rue was black her death wasn’t as sad.”

“why did the producer make all the good characters black.”

“Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you pictured.”

Sadly, there are more vile tweets, some employing the “n-word,” that have been collected on a Tumblr page called Hunger Games Tweets.

Lionsgate, the distributor of The Hunger Games issued a statement praising fans who spoke out against the racist tweets, saying, “We applaud and support their action.”

Gay rights activist and actor George Hosato Takei who’s best known for his role as Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the USS Enterprise in the television series Star Trek, responded to these racist tweets stating, “Some fans outraged that blacks cast in Hunger Games roles. Teens killing each other in futuristic arenas, and they care about what color?”

There are several salient themes both in the book and film, but race is not one of them. While I won’t say this dystopic tale is post-racial, the author’s, Suzanne Collins, treatment of race is both honest and nuanced.

In April of 2011, Suzanne Collins told Entertainment Weekly that her characters “…were not particularly intended to be biracial. It is a time period where hundreds of years have passed from now. There’s been a lot of ethnic mixing. But I think I describe them as having dark hair, grey eyes, and sort of olive skin. …But then there are some characters in the book who are more specifically described.”  Thresh and Rue. Collins said, “They’re African-American.”

And the characters Rue, Thresh, and Cinna are played in the film by African American actors, Amandla Stenberg, Dayo Okeniyi and Lenny Kravitz, respectively. Whereas Cinna’s skin hue is not mentioned in the book, Rue’s and Thresh’s are both explicitly depicted as having “dark skin.”

In describing the character Rue in the novel Collins writes, “And most hauntingly, a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that, she’s very like Prim in size and demeanor.” Prim is the protagonist’s, Katniss Everdeen, sister. I surmise since Prim is white and Rue is being compared to her many fans expected the same, ignoring what’s stated explicitly in the text.

And in describing Thresh Collins writes, “The boy tribute from District 11, Thresh, has the same dark skin as Rue, but the resemblance stops there. He’s one of the giants, probably six and half feet tall and built like an ox. “

Collins could have never imagined this sort of reaction to her non-white characters, yet it highlights resoundingly the lack of cultural and ethnic diversity in children and young adult literature.

Data analyzed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center in 2010 found that only nine per cent of the three thousand four hundred children’s books published that year contained significant cultural or ethnic diversity.

With the paucity of cultural and ethnic diversity in children and young adult literature, white characters and white culture become an expectation and literary norm that is both learned and internalized by white children as well as children of color.

“People very often talk about literacy with words, but there’s such a thing as visual and thematic literacy,” says Deborah Pope, the executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, which encourages diversity in kids’ books. “I think some of these young people just didn’t really read the book.”

While I agree with Pope that the fans who unabashedly expressed their racist views either didn’t read the book or didn’t read it carefully the theme and symbol of innocence and love in an inherently corrupt dystopic world affixed to a black 12-year old girl as Collins does with her character Rue in The Hunger Games is neither commonly nor comfortably seen in our world.

Do writers for children and young adult literature have a responsibility to be more explicit when introducing non-white characters in their books?

Or would being more explicit when introducing non-white characters play into a racist assumption that literary characters are white unless otherwise stated?

An easy answer would be to publish, to distribute, and to make part of core curriculum reading authors of color for children and young adults. Otherwise, this outpouring of racist tweets we see with The Hunger Games will merely be the tip of the iceberg.

Rev. 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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