Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013

Nelson Mandela passed away surrounded by his family in his home in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Thursday. He was 95. Mandela spent 20 years as a political prisoner on Robben Island—imprisoned there for fighting against apartheid. He would spend a total of 27 years imprisoned for his beliefs. Mandela remains an international icon for freedom and racial justice.  

Mourning the loss, TransAfrica posted:  

To Mandela, attaining a free and justice South Africa did not mean taking over power and forgetting the poor and disenfranchised.  Both during his time in office and out, Mandela worked tirelessly to resolve conflicts within the African continent.  Throughout his life, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela embodied the sentiment “another world is possible” and this was most eloquently illustrated with his statement at the Rivonia Trial in April 1964:  

 “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people, I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Watch this 1961 interview of Mandela, then 42 years old.

“Food Stamp” Art On Display at Art Basel-Miami

All the cool kids are in Miami this week at Art Basel, the annual exhibitor’s extravaganza for the international art crowd. Among the pieces on display is a food stamp table.

The work of art by minimalist artist Meg Webster is quite literally called “Food Stamp Table 2013.” It’s a wood table displaying $4.60 worth of food, including a pack of Ramen noodles, an egg and a broccoli spear. The piece is going for $12,000, according to unimpressed arts blogger Paddy Johnson.

Reached by phone today, the Paula Cooper Gallery, which represents Webster, wouldn’t confirm the sale price of “Food Stamp Table,”—but did say that there was talk of possibly donating the proceeds to a soup kitchen.

(h/t Art F City)

RNC’s Director of Black Media Outreach Calls Rosa Parks Tweet a ‘Typo’

RNC's Director of Black Media Outreach Calls Rosa Parks Tweet a 'Typo'

The Republican National Committee’s newly appointed Communications Director for Black Media, Orlando Watson, had the unenviable job of answering for his organization’s embarrassing weekend Twitter gaffe this week. And it didn’t go well. Speaking with MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts Wednesday, Watson dismissed the controversy, saying “Talking about a typo and a tweet, it’s old news.”

It’s an awkward, deeply uncomfortable TV segment. Watson isn’t interested in talking about the tweet, so Roberts asks Watson about the GOP’s efforts at voter suppression, the party’s relationship with black voters and its ongoing, failing efforts to torpedo Obamacare. Watson flounders, but not before repeatedly holding up a printed copy of the RNC’s statement about the organization’s honoring the 58th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ historic act of civil disobedience and offering to read straight off the release. (He never does.)

It’s not suggested viewing if you’re averse to seeing people embarrass themselves publicly.

‘Dear White People’ and ‘Drunktown’s Finest’ to Screen at Sundance

'Dear White People' and 'Drunktown's Finest' to Screen at Sundance

The Sundance Institute announced on Wednesday the films that will screen during its annual film festival in Utah next month. Among the 118 feature-length films that will be shown at this year’s festival there are two that we’re especially excited about.

“Dear White People”

(Director and screenwriter: Justin Simien) — Four black students attend an Ivy League college where a riot breaks out over an “African American” themed party thrown by white students. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the film explores racial identity in “postracial” America while weaving a story about forging one’s unique path in the world. Cast: Tyler Williams, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris, Brandon Bell.


“Drunktown’s Finest”

(Director and screenwriter: Sydney Freeland) — Three young Native Americans—a rebellious father-to-be, a devout Christian woman, and a promiscuous transsexual—come of age on an Indian reservation. Cast: Jeremiah Bitsui, Carmen Moore, Morningstar Angeline, Kiowa Gordon, Shauna Baker, Elizabeth Francis.World Premiere

Gov. Christie Supports Tuition Equity for DREAMers, but Won’t Sign Tuition Equity Bill

Gov. Christie Supports Tuition Equity for DREAMers, but Won't Sign Tuition Equity Bill

New Jersey governor and rumored GOP presidential hopeful Chris Christie says he supports tuition equity for undocumented immigrant students, just not S2479, the New Jersey DREAM Act passed by the state legislature last month which would offer that very benefit.

Democratic lawmakers are accusing Christie of flip-flopping his position from remarks he made this fall during his successful re-election campaign. On Monday, Christie denied those allegations. “I said the legislature should move in the lame duck session towards tuition equality in New Jersey. Period,” ABC reported. “That’s what I said. I didn’t support any particular piece of legislation. And I still support tuition equality.”

But to advocates of the state’s tuition equity bill, Christie’s support of S2479 seemed clear. In an October speech in front of Latino civic groups, Christie said he supported tuition equity for “everybody in New Jersey,” the Associated Press reported.

Obama: We Need ‘Targeted Initiatives’ to Address Racial Economic Inequality

Obama: We Need 'Targeted Initiatives' to Address Racial Economic Inequality

Today, President Barack Obama delivered a speech about economic inequality at an event hosted by the progressive policy research institution Center for American Progress, which itself released three reports on the widening problem this morning. For Obama, his overall point was to show that the vaguely-defined “opportunity gap” in America is “now as much about class as it is about race.” But Obama did take a few moments to recognize the role of racism in keeping many people of color in poverty to begin with — a rare admission from the president. Early in his speech, he noted that “racial discrimination locked millions out of opportunity.” But later in his speech, when outlining “myths” that exist about why so many Americans are poor and what the government can or can’t do about it, he topped the list with this nugget:

First, there is the myth that this [poverty] is a problem restricted to a small share of predominantly minority poor — that this isn’t a broad-based problem, this is a black problem, or a Hispanic problem, or a Native American problem. Now, it’s true that the painful legacy of discrimination means that African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans are far more likely to suffer from a lack of opportunity — higher unemployment, higher poverty rates.  It’s also true that women still make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men.  So we’re going to need strong application of antidiscrimination laws.  We’re going to need immigration reform that grows the economy and takes people out of the shadows.  We’re going to need targeted initiatives to close those gaps.

“Targeted initiatives” — conservatives will have a field day with that one. Meanwhile, such race-based initiatives to mitigate centuries of racial discrimination is what many people of color have called for from Obama since he took office in 2008. He’s also earned plenty of criticism for not doing more to champion policies that target black and Latino communities. 

Obama’s endorsement of targeted initiatives may, for many, be five years too late and, billions of dollars short (actually, he didn’t put a dollar amount on them), but there’s some comfort in the fact he publicly supported them at all. It’s an uneasy comfort, though, given the vague and limited reference he made to race-focused solutions — one paragraph out of a five-page transcript. Other parts of the speech added to the discomfort by refusing to acknowledge precisley how racism caused much of America’s poverty problems.

This part of his speech was particularly nauseating:   

“During the post-World War II years, the economic ground felt stable and secure for most Americans. … But starting in the late ’70s, this social compact began to unravel. Technology made it easier for companies to do more with less, eliminating certain job occupations. … As values of community broke down and competitive pressure increased, businesses lobbied Washington to weaken unions and the value of the minimum wage.”

The post-World War II years may have felt stable and secure for white Americans, but the same certainly can’t be said for African Americans who during that time were kept out of many New Deal benefits, lived under the continued threat of lynchings and were pushed into ghettoes formed in large part by the federal government. As ProPublica’s Nikole Hannah-Jones, who’s reported extensively on unfair governmental housing policies, recently told This American Life:

“So in the early to mid ’30s, the federal government realized that home ownership was going to be a major way to build and fortify the middle class. So the Roosevelt administration starts to back loans. And so you only had to put down 20%. And this is when the practice of redlining actually began. The federal government was the one who introduced redlining. … And what ultimately happens, of course, between 1934 and 1964, 98% of the home loans that are insured by the federal government go to white Americans, building up the white middle class by allowing them to get home ownership. And black Americans are largely left out of that process. And, if there’s one thing that’s amazing about all of this, is how efficient the federal government was in creating segregation.”

Near the end of Obama’s speech, he emphasized this point: “The decades-long shifts in the economy have hurt all groups, poor and middle class, inner city and rural folks, men and women and Americans of all races.”

But clearly some races were hurt more than others. If targeted initiatives that address legacy racial discrimination are in fact coming, it will be interesting to see what shape they take. Given the impossibly stubborn gridlock of Congress, they would have to come from the White House, which would be great for Obama’s legacy and, more importantly, for the people they would help. How the white electorate responds will be far more interesting, especially as the 2014 mid-term elections approach. 

Don Lemon Perpetuates ‘Knockout Game’ Hysteria

Don Lemon Perpetuates 'Knockout Game' Hysteria

The so-called knockout game may not actually exist—but talking about it certainly does. The New York Times ran an article about two weeks ago indicating that authorities are split about whether this is an increasing menace or another urban myth. 

Real or imagined, the knockout game narrative is a racialized one: young black men are the ones perpetuating violent crime. Over at Patheos, Alan Noble has taken the current racist obsession with the knockout game to task:

What goes mostly unspoken in these commentaries on the “knockout game” is the idea that these assaults are racially motivated and so white people should be wary of groups of black men. Some take this further and blame the “liberal media” for the violence, since the media allegedly hid the “truth” about the race of the criminals. If only the media would tell us when black people attack white people, we’d know to not trust them and we’d be safe, the logic goes.

But are these pundits correct? Are these crimes committed by roaming packs of black “savages” against white people?

Here’s the fascinating thing about this “spreading” trend: nobody seems to have any evidence that it’s spreading, or that it’s new, or that it’s racially motivated, or that black youths are the ones typically responsible, or that whites are typically targeted.

But that didn’t stop CNN’s Don Lemon from playing perpetrator against a rabbi and martial artist Gary Moskowitz on live television yesterday. During the awkward segment, Lemon was concerned that he might be harmed. He pointed to his face and explained, “This is my livelihood right here.” 

Why the Spurs Dribbled Barefoot on Tuesday

Why the Spurs Dribbled Barefoot on Tuesday

The NBA Global Games tips off in Mexico City today, and over the next year, a dozen NBA teams will play ten games in seven countries over the next year. But the San Antonio Spurs got an early start against one of Mexico’s most coveted teams—a group of very young players from Oaxaca. 

Basketball is pretty big among indigenous people in the south of Mexico, where players often ball barefoot. Fancy kicks are both hard to find and they’re expensive, so players prefer to play without shoes. There are a growing number of young Triqui players from Oaxaca who are fast becoming serious players. It’s not always easy when they’re away from home, however—they’ve been forced to wear sneakers on the court in the US in the past, and their play was compromised as a result. Nonetheless, they won an international title in Argentina recently, where they were allowed to play barefoot.

The Spurs wanted to see what the commotion was all about, and invited the young Triqui players to a game yesterday in Mexico City—where both sides played barefoot. The Spurs played a great game, but lost 10-4. Watch the video and you’ll see why. 

Report: Half of U.S. Families Live on the Edge of ‘Economic Chaos’

Report: Half of U.S. Families Live on the Edge of 'Economic Chaos'

Half of all families in the United States are poor, near poor or face economic insecurity where “one major setback in income could push them into poverty.” That’s the shocking conclusion of a report released today by The Hamilton Project. Released by the left-of-center think tank housed at the non-partisan Brookings Institution, the report is a bombshell for those who believe that the current workings of the economy are both sound and fair.

According to the report titled “A Dozen Facts About America’s Struggling Lower Middle Class,” families with household incomes under $60,000 a year “live in economically precarious situations.” The earnings of half of all American households fall between $15,000 and $60,000. And it’s barely sufficient for many to keep their head above water.

Sadly, the tough news for workers who face economic insecurity and their children doesn’t end with lower pay. Four out of 10 kids who live in families earning between $15,000 and $60,000 face hunger, food insecurity or food-related health challenges such as obesity.

And on top of it all, working poor and lower-middle-class workers pay the highest marginal tax rates of any other group of taxpayers in America, reaching up to 95 percent of earned income.

For many The Hamilton Project’s analysis will not come as surprise.  These longterm trends are showing up in data from across the U.S. economy, including in the disappointing “Black Friday weekend holiday sales.Given that wages are at a 40-year low and the ongoing impact of a still struggling economy, living on the verge of “economic chaos,” as the report puts it, is now standard fare for most.

Average Student Debt is $29,400 and Climbing

Average Student Debt is $29,400 and Climbing

Those who graduated from college in the class of 2012 are sitting on a whopping average of $29,400 in student debt, according to a new report released today from The Institute for College Access and Success’s Project on Student Debt

Student debt in the U.S. is large. So large in fact that since 2010, student loan debt topped credit card debt in the country, and in 2012 surpassed the $1 trillion mark. Based on TICAS findings, the student debt load is still growing. Seventy-one percent of students who graduated in 2012 left school with loan debt, up from 68 percent in 2008. In that same span of time, student debt rose by an average of six percent every year. 

Black students are more likely than their white counterparts and other students of color to graduate with high debt loads. According to a 2010 College Board study, almost one-third of black students graduated with $30,000 in debt, compared with 16 percent of white students.

French ‘ELLE’ Beauty Editor Apologizes for Solange Knowles Blackface Costume

French 'ELLE' Beauty Editor Apologizes for Solange Knowles Blackface Costume

Jeanne Deroo, beauty editor of French Elle, had the dumb idea to go to a recent holiday party dressed in blackface as Solange Knowles and put up evidence on Instagram.

Of course, after a public backlash, Deroo feels really bad about the whole thing and said as much on Twitter:

I realise how much the fact of painting oneself brown is an offensive act. I didn’t realize the seriousness of my action when I went to a private party last Saturday evening, which [sic] the theme was “Icons” and I chose to embody Solange Knowles, of whom I am a fan. During this private party, I posted a picture of myself on my Instagram without intention of hurting anyone. I deeply regret and would like to present all my apologies. I would also like to indicate that this picture published in a private context does not involve in any way the French ELLE magazine.”

But, come on, as the beauty editor at an internationally recognized fashion magazine, shouldn’t she know better?

(h/t Rolling Out)


TAGS: Blackface

Maybe 2013 Wasn’t The Year Of ‘The Black Movie’ After All

Maybe 2013 Wasn't The Year Of 'The Black Movie' After All

It’s been a big year in black film, but Shani O. Hilton points out over at Buzzfeed that there’s trouble with lumping this year’s black films — “Fruitvale Station”, “12 Years a Slave”, “The Butler”, etc. —  together:

…honoring the achievements of black filmmakers by declaring it “their” year does them a disservice. Lumping together heavy dramas with lighthearted romcoms simply because of the skin color of the actors or director prevents these films from being measured against the whiter counterparts that actually share their genre — inadvertently ghettoizing the former and protecting the latter from scrutiny. It’s difficult to imagine pulling, say, Blue Is the Warmest ColourThe Great GatsbyThe Hangover Part III, and The Fifth Estate into a story declaring 2013 the year of the “white movie.”


If 2013 is notable for black filmmakers in any way, it’s that the models for distribution are more diverse than ever. [London black filmmaker Patrick Victor] Monroe’s smart script led Cumberbatch and his SunnyMarch production company partners to jump on board. The team launched a crowdfunding campaign, leaning on the actor’s name in an attempt to raise about $40,000 on IndieGogo — and ended up with nearly $140,000. (Monroe noted, “I wasn’t sure about using Benedict’s name to raise money — it just didn’t feel right to me — but Benedict was totally in to do it and to be involved.”)

And not only that, according to Hilton, but we’ve also been here before:

The independent black film wave adds a layer of richness to an experience familiar to many black Americans. “Back in the late ’80s and ’90s, it was, ‘Spike Lee has a movie and we have to go see it — gotta go support it,’” said Malcolm D. Lee. “Now there’s a bunch of movies and talented filmmakers out there, and they’re getting their movies funded and they’re going to festivals — and that’s a beautiful thing for filmgoers, the popcorn filmgoer, and the search-out-the-arthouse-theater filmgoer.”

It’s a compelling argument. Read more over at Buzzfeed.

Your Favorite ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Actors Made a Christmas Video

Your Favorite 'Orange Is the New Black' Actors Made a Christmas Video

Need a little something to get you into the holiday spirit? Danielle Brooks and Uzo Aduba — better known to Orange Is the New Black fans as Taystee and Crazy Eyes, respectively — made a Christmas video and it’s just the thing you need.

(h/t New York Magazine)

Have You Heard The #NationHood Mixtape?

Have You Heard The #NationHood Mixtape?

Over at, Jarrett Martineau compiled and mixed a dope mixtape: 

This is music for the movement: songs to inspire the liberation of oppressed peoples globally, and to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists together in rhythmic force. For this mix, I wanted to showcase a diversity of styles that illustrate our commonalities in struggle, our shared experiences, and the many ways in which our words—in whatever language we sing and speak them—locate us in common purpose, resistance, and action to transform the world.

You can hear it for yourself on Soundcloud: 

Fast-Food Worker Strikes Set for 100 Cities

Fast-Food Worker Strikes Set for 100 Cities

Hot on the heels of the second year of Black Friday protests last week, fast-food restaurant workers in 100 cities around the U.S. plan to strike on Thursday, organizers have announced.

Their call is for a $15 an hour minimum wage—a major but, say workers, necessary, hike from the current federal minimum wage of $7.25. While one-day strikes have been happening for the last year in major cities like Seattle, New York City and Los Angeles, they’ll be happening for the first time this week in Providence, Rhode Island; Charleston, South Carolina; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the New York Times reported.

It has been a big year for both retail and fast-food industry worker public actions. This spring and summer were dotted with one-day fast-food strikes of McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s restaurants around the country. In August retail and fast-food workers in 50 cities staged a one-day walkout for their cause. The calls come as cities are grappling with growing class inequality and poverty. One solution is to raise the minimum wage. Last week, Seattle area voters approved a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage in SeaTac to $15 an hour, a harbinger of changes to come, advocates hope.

How Black American Voters Feel About The Clintons

How Black American Voters Feel About The Clintons

Political narratives about black peoples matter—particularly when given marquee placement in the paper of record. According to a front-page article in this Sunday’s New York Times, “Eye on 2016, Clintons Rebuild Bond With Blacks,” African-Americans remain, “the constituency that was most scarred during [Hillary Clinton’s] first bid for the presidency.” Why? Five years ago, “remarks by Mr. Clinton about Barack Obama deeply strained the Clintons’ bond with African-Americans….”

What’s remarkable about the article—besides attributing a teenager’s hurt feelings to millions of voters and also assuming a disturbing level of unsophistication among them—is the absence of polling data. The Times’ barometer for sampling African-American voter sentiment is instead, chats with a few elected officials and media staples, Rev. Al Sharpton and Tavis Smiley. That’s like dipping a toe in the Maine portion of the Atlantic and guessing the ocean’s temperature for the entire eastern seaboard. Here’s to deeper and more complex coverage during 2014 and in the run-up to 2016.

Immigrants Begin Protest Inside El Paso Detention Center

Immigrants Begin Protest Inside El Paso Detention Center

Although the overwhelming number of immigrant detention centers are privately owned and operated, the El Paso Processing Center is run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Nevertheless, it confines immigrants who are being held for civil—not criminal—matters. Many of those held there are asylum-seekers, and staying in detention only adds to the trauma. 

Many of the asylum-seekers—who are mostly from Central America and India and fear violence because of their sexual preferences or religion—say they have established credible fear of persecution or torture with U.S. authorities. According to ICE, those asylum-seekers who have established credible fear are eligible for release from detention on a case-by-case basis. Parole requires a humanitarian need or a public benefit, and a reasonable expectation that the asylum-seeker doesn’t pose a security threat.

Colorlines has obtained a document smuggled out of the detention facility that lists 32 Indian men who have passed their credible fear interview but remain in detention nonetheless. Some entered in May 2013, were granted an interview and established credible fear the same month. Yet seven months later, these 32 men remain in detention, without any indication of when they will be paroled.

That’s why at 12 p.m. Mountain Time, up to 40 detainees began a demonstration in the common area where they’re served lunch. Ungo Ramírez, a 33-year-old asylum-seeker from El Salvador, spoke to Colorlines by phone before the action. “We’re going to sit down on the floor of the patio and refuse to eat,” said Ramírez. “We’re going to explain that we’ve been here long enough.”

Ramírez says he fears returning to El Salvador where he’s already been tortured by police officers for refusing to participate in a drug ring. But what he faces in detention, he says, is not much better and that’s why he’s participating in today’s protest. ICE has been known to retaliate against immigrant detainees who demonstrate inside of its facilities, and it’s unclear whether Ramírez and others will be placed in solitary confinement for their action today. 

The National Immigrant Youth Alliance has started a petition demanding the release of those asylum seekers who have already established credible fear.

A phone call requesting comment about today’s protest to ICE’s El Paso Field Office was transferred to voicemail, and wasn’t immediately returned.  

Looking for the Perfect Holiday Gift? Try An Aziz Ansari Sari

Looking for the Perfect Holiday Gift? Try An Aziz Ansari Sari

Comedian Aziz Ansari went on Conan yesterday to show off his new saris and the appearance is hilarious.

(h/t The Aerogram)

How Many Of These 100 Must-See Films Have You Seen?

How Many Of These 100 Must-See Films Have You Seen?

Here’s a fun test. There’s a list challenge our of 100 must-see black films that includes some perennial favorites, including “Set It Off” and “Coming to America.” How many have you seen?

TAGS: Films

The Sharkeisha Punch Viral Video Isn’t Funny, It’s Brutal

The Sharkeisha Punch Viral Video Isn't Funny, It's Brutal

It’s been more than a week since video of an assault by one teenage black girl over another went viral. The video shows one girl, 16-year-old Sharkeisha, sucker punching a former friend, 17-year-old Shamichael Manuel. The video of a black person in distress, like so many others before it, has become a joke for some viewers, with some viewers making racist comments about the girls’ names. But, as Demetria L. Lucas pointed out over at The Root, the real tragedy is how many people enjoyed watching the video: 

This isn’t funny. At all. It’s a vulgar display of violence, a tragic depiction of someone who lacks anger management and humanity and a shocking example of just how wayward some teens are. Sharkeisha’s reaction to a petty dispute over, likely, a boy who didn’t care about either of these girls is a clear-cut case of assault. This isn’t entertainment to get through the workday. The way that girl was kicked in the face could have resulted in her death.

To that point, the victim in the video has spoken out to local Houston news stations about how the popularity of her assault has impacted her life. 

(h/t Madame Noir)

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