Michelle Chen

Michelle Chen
Columnist, Global Justice
New York, NY

Michelle Chen is Colorlines' Global Justice columnist. She is a regular contributor on labor issues at In These Times, as well as a member of the magazine's Board of Editors. Michelle's reporting has appeared in Ms. Magazine, AirAmerica, Alternet, Newsday, the Progressive Media Project, and her old zine, cain. Prior to joining Colorlines, she wrote for the independent news collective The NewStandard. A native New Yorker, she has also conducted ethnographic research as a Fulbright fellow in Shanghai and checked coats at a West Village jazz club. She is currently pursuing doctoral studies at the City University of New York and co-producing the community radio program Asia Pacific Forum on Pacifica's WBAI.

Follow Michelle at @meeshellchen.

Black Unemployment Crisis: “Social Catastrophe” in the Making

by Michelle Chen on November 25 2009, 11:47PM

The latest employment figures sadly unsurprising: with about 35 percent of black men aged 16 to 24 unemployed, the epidemic of joblessness in Black America encapsulates a nationwide crisis. Although high unemployment and deep racial disparities are nothing new,…

Topics: Economy, Race and Recession

Does the American Dream Have an Expiration Date?

by Michelle Chen on November 21 2009, 7:26AM

When making the case for immigration’s contribution to society, activists reflexively highlight the economic resilience of immigrant families, particularly their seemingly ceaseless drive to work their way up from poverty. While the tired “American Dream” mythology seems perilously naive…

Topics: Immigration

A Fresh Face at Greenpeace

by Michelle Chen on November 19 2009, 7:10AM

Greenpeace has earned a reputation as the quintessential radical environmental group, facing down oil tankers and crusading against nuclear plants. Today, the organization’s new executive director, a veteran of racial justice struggles in Africa, is tipping the group’s focus…

Topics: Environment, Global Affairs

College Dreams Clouded by Debt, Students Look to Loan Reform

by Michelle Chen on November 14 2009, 9:18AM

What’s a college degree worth these days? Well, how much are you willing to pay? For many, the price of admission to higher education is crippling financial debt. Students of modest means are likely to run into even higher…

Topics: Schools & Youth

How Racist is U.S. Immigration Policy?

by Michelle Chen on November 14 2009, 12:22AM

It’s been over a century since the U.S. government wrote racial exclusion into law, and for the past few generations, American immigration policy and race have courted each other without directly overlapping—at least not on paper. Yet, even in…

Topics: Immigration, National Security

Native Leaders Speak to Washington

by Michelle Chen on November 7 2009, 1:36AM

When it comes to upholding promises to native communities, Washington will never fully atone for its abysmal track record over the past few centuries. But on Friday, President Obama did at least make good on one pledge he made…


New York’s Elections Mostly Blah, with a Little Chutzpah

by Michelle Chen on November 4 2009, 11:43PM

The reaction of many New Yorkers to Tuesday’s election results was probably something along the lines of, “eh.” Billionaire Michael Bloomberg predictably snared a third term as Mayor—hardly surprising, following his astronomical spending blitz and an unpopular (some say…


Black AIDS: Complex Risk Factors Defy Easy Explanations

by Michelle Chen on October 31 2009, 6:43AM

In the political minefield surrounding the AIDS epidemic, myth and fact often trip over each other, especially in communities most deeply scarred by the disease. The striking prevalence of HIV/AIDS among Black Americans has set off much speculation and confusion….

Topics: Health

Stimulus Provides a Boost but Falls Short on Equity

by Michelle Chen on October 31 2009, 6:38AM

It’s easy to see that communities of color and women are facing unique and disproportionate impacts from the recession. It’s much harder to figure out what the government is doing about it. The site has presented masses of data…

Topics: Economy

The Quest for Environmental Justice in Dixie

by Michelle Chen on October 29 2009, 4:27AM

Some of the most toxic communities in the country confronted the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday, hoping for a sign that the new administration is more willing than its predecessor to deal with the legacy of environmental racism in…

Topics: Environment

Legal Dissonance: Immigration Policies Clash with Worker Protections

by Michelle Chen on October 27 2009, 6:55PM

It’s hard to make sense of the news headlines about immigrant workers these days.A police sweep in Maricopa County, Arizona, home of the famously anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe Arpaio, snatched up 66 people in the latest “crime-suppression sweep.” After figuring…

Topics: Criminal Justice, Economy, Immigration

Justice, Peace, and Hate Crime: Looking at Matthew Shepard’s Law

by Michelle Chen on October 23 2009, 11:58PM

To many civil rights activists, the passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act in the Senate on Thursday was an unequivocal victory. The legislation, now headed to Obama’s desk, would expand federal laws against hate crimes to…

Topics: Criminal Justice

Measuring Death Row: The Cost of Killing and the Devaluation of Life

by Michelle Chen on October 23 2009, 9:58PM

Of all the adjectives opponents use to describe the death penalty—cruel, oppressive, racist—the word “wasteful” probably doesn’t leap to mind. But if you can’t appeal to people’s consciences, you might as well try to get them through their pocketbook….


Risks and Returns: Exploiting the Immigrant Detention Industry

by Michelle Chen on October 23 2009, 4:37PM

Last winter, a remote Texas prison convulsed in a cry of outrage, voicing the desperation of the immigration system’s silenced captives.Two recent articles in the Boston Review and Texas Observer reflect on violent uprisings at the Reeves County Detention…

Topics: Criminal Justice, Immigration

A NY Politician Speaks Subtly About Interracial Marriage

by Michelle Chen on October 21 2009, 9:08PM

Having won the Democratic primary, New York City Councilmember Bill de Blasio’s quest to become the city’s next public advocate is now all but certain to lead to victory. But his campaign—which has run “eye-catching” ads featuring his wife…

Topics: Politics

Immigration Chaos: Rule of Law versus Rule by Fear

by Michelle Chen on October 16 2009, 9:56PM

The White House’s vows to reform immigration enforcement have met a mixture of tepid praise and cynical frustration from advocates. The Center for American Progress says that despite “good intentions,” the administration’s promises to make the system more rational…

Topics: Immigration

Making Amends with Native America: The Meaning of Resolution

by Michelle Chen on October 13 2009, 7:53AM

Continuing a string of high-profile gestures of contrition, Congress has issued an official apology for the treatment of the country’s indigenous peoples. To be more exact, they resolved: To acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies…


Shades of Gray in the Green Economy and Communities of Color

by Michelle Chen on October 10 2009, 8:41AM

Much has been said on green jobs lately: a economic and environmental cure-all, an overblown promise, an untested ideal. The departure of Van Jones from the White House may seem like another setback for the grassroots movement pushing for…

Topics: Environment

Poor, Facing Foreclosure, and On Their Own in Court

by Michelle Chen on October 9 2009, 9:23PM

Now that the dust has started to settle on the foreclosure crisis, it’s clear that the dysfunctional legal framework of the financial system underwrote the heist of the nation’s wealth by Wall Street’s profiteers. Now, victims of the subprime…

Topics: Economy

Tomato Pickers Harvest Labor Justice in Florida

by Michelle Chen on October 8 2009, 6:12AM

If someone offered to carry your groceries home, you’d probably thank them. But every day, a typical migrant farmworker in Florida could gather over two tons of tomatoes for America’s supermarkets and fast-food joints and be thanked only with…

Topics: Immigration