Shonda Rhimes on TV’s Lack of Diversity: ‘I Think It’s Sad and Weird’

Shonda Rhimes on TV's Lack of Diversity: 'I Think It's Sad and Weird'

Everybody’s favorite ABC drama, “Scandal”, is the subject of a must-read piece in the New York Times. In it, the show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes, talks about how she deals with being one of the most powerful writers in television. “What was great for me about ‘Scandal’ was I had earned a lot of political capital with the network,” Rhimes told me Willa Paskin at the Times. “I had done ‘Grey’s,’ I had done ‘Private Practice.’ What were they going to do, fire me? I wasn’t worried about what anybody else thought. This one was for me.”

But, importantly, Rhimes also discusses the fact that she, a black woman, casts some of the most racially diverse shows on television. Racial diversity isn’t usually television’s strong suit.

From the Times:

Rhimes refuses to make an issue of her casting. “I think it’s sad, and weird, and strange that it’s still a thing,” she told me over the phone a few months ago. “It’s 2013. Somebody else needs to get their act together. And, oh, by the way, it works. Ratings-wise, it works.” In addition to its general success, “Scandal” is also rated No. 1 on network TV among African-American viewers.

While race on Rhimes’s shows is omnipresent, it is not often discussed explicitly. This has led to a second-order critique of her shows: that they are colorblind, diverse in a superficial way, with the characters’ races rarely informing their choices or conversations. Rhimes, obviously, disagrees. “When people who aren’t of color create a show and they have one character of color on their show, that character spends all their time talking about the world as ‘I’m a black man blah, blah, blah,’ ” she says. “That’s not how the world works. I’m a black woman every day, and I’m not confused about that. I’m not worried about that. I don’t need to have a discussion with you about how I feel as a black woman, because I don’t feel disempowered as a black woman.”

In November, released an infographic that showed just how white the Fall 2012 TV line up was. It wasn’t pretty.

Three Key Graphs From New Census Report on Voting Rates by Race

Three Key Graphs From New Census Report on Voting Rates by Race

Yesterday, Census finally released a report on how people voted by racial categories, making official what elections scholars have been saying for months: Black voter turnout rate exceeded that of white voters for the first time in our nation’s history.

This is, of course, special because of the voter intimidation and suppression history of America, all the way up to November 2012. While black voters expanded by 1.7 million voters between 2008 and 2012, the number of white voters dropped by about two million — “the only example of a race group showing a decrease in net voting from one presidential election to the next,” reports Census.

Below are three key graphs from the Census report:

Census Graf 1.png

The above graph shows the wide berth in growth for the black voter turnout rate, as well as the drop in the white voter turnout rate. What’s most troubling in this graph, though, is that it shows a huge drop in the turnout rate for Latino voters — a decrease that has been on a continual slide slide since 1996.

Census Graf 2.png

This graph shows the voting rate gap between white voters and each of the non-white voter racial categories. While the black voting rate exceeded the white rate by over 2 percentage points, we see that the Latino and Asian rates fall far below that of the white voting rate. Since 1996, the gap between Latino and white has improved only marginally while the Asian rate has regressed from 15.7 percent in 1996 to 16.8 percent last November.

Census Graf 3.png

The most disturbing of the three graphs shows that the black and Latino youth vote has regressed significantly. Consider that black and Latino voters expanded their voting rates by 10.8 and 7.4 percent respectively between 2000 and 2004; but between 2008 and 2012, black and Latino voters decreased their rates by 6.7 percent and 4.6 percent. The much ballyhooed “enthusiasm gap” may have fallen on voters aged 18 to 24.

Jay Smooth on Charles Ramsey, Humor and the Trouble With Memes

Jay Smooth on Charles Ramsey, Humor and the Trouble With Memes

Over at Ill Doctrine,’s Jay Smooth gives one of the most succinct analyses of the media spectacle surrounding Charles Ramsey, the man who helped save three women from a brutally violent decades-long ordeal in Cleveland. Yes, dude’s funny. And sure, it’s okay to laught. But, as Jay puts it:

“Whenever a certain person is in the news, we have a certain compulsion to flatten out that person and immediately flatten out their personhood into this paper-thin, click-bait, Chappelle show, laughing-for-the-wrong-reasons viral joke.”

St. Louis Fast Food Workers Latest To Go On Strike

St. Louis Fast Food Workers Latest To Go On Strike

St. Louis became the third city where fast food restaurant workers staged a day-long strike to demand higher wages and the right to unionize. Organizers yesterday expected as many as 100 workers to walk out of restaurants including a McDonald’s. The local CBS affiliate reported that last night and this morning, seven St. Louis fast food restaurants have been forced to halt operations because workers refused to come to work.

In April, Chicago hundreds of fast food workers walked off the job . That strike mimicked a November fast food strike in New York. Like those previous actions, St. Louis workers, who often earn the state’s $7.35 hourly minimum wage, are demanding a raise to $15 an hour.

The strikes come as low-wage jobs like those in fast food restaurants grow in number. As I wrote in December:

An oft-cited report by the National Employment Law Project reveals that in the fledgling economic recovery, the only parts of the labor market that are expanding significantly provide low-wages. The report finds 43 percent of all jobs gained in the last two years were in food service, retail and other services sector work. These are some of the least unionized jobs in the country. Only about 7 percent of private sector workers have a union and that rate is even lower for service workers.

This new economy is populated by an increasingly non-white labor force. The average fast food worker is about 30 years old, female and, as with low-wage work in general, likely to be a person of color. In 2011, 28 percent of working black women and over 31 percent of working Latinas had jobs in the service sector, compared to about 20 percent of white women.

Further, black and Latino workers are concentrated in the lowest-paying jobs in the service sector, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

The labor actions are part of a trend to organize workers in service sector jobs that have historically been unorganized or excluded from labor law protections. Most labor experts agree that unionization in the fast food sector is a long way off.

Margaret Cho, Alice Walker and 100 More Artists Call for Humane Immigration Reform

Margaret Cho, Alice Walker and 100 More Artists Call for Humane Immigration Reform

On Tuesday more than 100 artists, comedians, writers and musicians issued a statement calling on Congress and President Obama to pass humane, inclusive and just immigration reform.

The signers, whose statement is available at, say immigration reform must include five basics:

End the detentions and deportations that cause separation and suffering for families; Preserve families by expediting the visa process and retaining longstanding policies that reunite and stabilize families; Ensure all immigrants have basic workers’ rights; Provide equal immigration rights to LGBTQ individuals and families; and Create a clear roadmap to citizenship that includes all 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Because, they contend, “Migration is natural and beautiful. The human truth is that all people move, and all people have rights. Creating a just and humane immigration process is a moral and cultural imperative that secures the future of a vibrant nation.” Their calls come just as the Senate is taking up its immigration bill.

Take a look at the list of supporters in full; it’s a who’s who of smart artists. Novelists Ha Jin and Teju Cole support humane immigration policy. As do filmmakers Mira Nair and Robert Redford, along with comedians Negin Farsad and Margaret Cho, and actors Rosario Dawson, Blythe Danner and Alfre Woodard. Who wouldn’t want to be in such good company?

To kick off the campaign, which is a collaboration between The Culture Group, Air Traffic Control, and CultureStrike, artists Favianna Rodriguez, Ray Hernandez, Julio Salgado and Jason Carne created images with the campaign’s signature butterfly attached to it. Check out their work below:

by Favianna Rodriguez

by Jason Carne

by Julio Salgado

by Ray Hernandez

Senate Battle Lines Drawn on Immigration Bill

Senate Battle Lines Drawn on Immigration Bill

The battle lines in the congressional immigration reform debate were drawn more firmly yesterday when members of the Senate Judiciary Committee filed well over 300 amendments. The committee will begin discussing the amendments tomorrow starting what’s likely to be several weeks of debate and voting on the bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

Republicans have introduced a number of amendments that would largely gut the promise of a path to citizenship and impose nearly unachievable benchmarks for border security. But because Democrats hold a ten of the 18 seats on the committee and two of the Republicans, Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., are among the bill’s drafters, most of those are likely to fall flat. Meanwhile, several Democratic proposals, most notably provisions to provide same-sex couples with immigration rights, will face stiff opposition from Republicans and possibly some Democrats.

From The Right

Republican members of the Judiciary committee filed the majority of the 300 amendments to S.744. In general, the amendments aim to strengthen enforcement measures in a bill that already requires significant new investment in the border and interior immigration controls.

Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee offered an amendment would require Congress to first sign off on a border security plan offered by the Department of Homeland Security. Congress would have the power to decide if that plan is sufficiently implemented before undocumented immigrants could apply to the path to citizenship. Along with an amendment from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tx., requiring the federal government affirm that the US-Mexico border is under “full operational control,” these provisions would likely make border security requirement unattainably high. If passed, the so-called border triggers could put the path to citizenship on indefinite hold.

Lee would also require applicants to the path to citizenship to pay all back taxes since entering the U.S. The amendment could prove prohibitive for undocumented immigrants who’ve lived in the country for long periods.

Among the 77 amendments introduced by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, one would do away with language intended to protect immigrants from being deported because of laws like Arizona’s SB 1070. Grassley would also require DHS to deport undocumented immigrants who denied entry to the path to citizenship.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Ut., proposed to increase the fee for green cards after the 10 year path to citizenship. He also wants all registered immigrants to provide DNA records.

From The Left

The amendments getting the most attention are two from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to include in the bill immigration rights to for same-sex couples. The so-called Protecting American Families Act and another amendment, would allow LGBT Americans to sponsor non-citizen partners for green cards and provide other immigration protections to “permanent partners.” Currently, the Defense of Marriage Act, which the Supreme Court is considering, bars same-sex couple from federal marriage benefits, including those that involve immigration.

Republicans are calling the provision a poison pill. It “will ensure that [the bill] fails,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Meanwhile, it’s not yet clear if the Democratic members of the eight-member group who drafted the bill will support the LGBT provisions.

Democrats also proposed amendments to provide greater protections for immigrants in detention and deportation. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota offered an amendment to protect children of deportees from becoming separated from their parents. Franken was joined in introducing the amendment by several other Democrats but also by Republican Sen. Grassley. The amendment, called the “Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections for Separated Children Act,” would provide detained parents with more access to their children and greater latitude to arrange for their kids to travel with deported parents. In the case that detainees’ children are in foster care, the amendment would provide greater access to those proceedings.

Another amendment from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., would expand the version of the DREAM Act in the immigration bill to include undocumented immigrants under the age of 16. Currently, the reform legislation provides a fast track to citizenship for undocumented immigrants over the age of 16 who came the country as children. But the provision does not include younger undocumented immigrants and as a result most minors will have to wait the full ten years for the ability apply for a green card.

Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii introduced a series of amendments to maintain family-based immigration. The reform legislation as written would no longer allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their immigrant siblings. Hirono would restore the sibling visa category and expand family-based immigration to additional relatives.

Senators will begin discussion on the amendments tomorrow and debate and voting will last at least through next week. Because Democrats control the committee, the bill could leave relatively unscathed. But ultimately, how far the bill moves right or left may depend on votes in coming weeks from the four Senators on the Judiciary Committee who took part in drafting the bill. While they will no doubt reject major shifts that change the underlying nature of the legislation, their willingness to agree to smaller amendments could have significant impact on immigrant communities.

This post has been updated since publication.

The Sad Lesson of Charles Ramsey: We Still Love to Laugh at Black People

The Sad Lesson of Charles Ramsey: We Still Love to Laugh at Black People

Details are slowly emerging from the Cleveland kidnapping case and they’re absolutely horrific. Neighbors report having seen naked women on leashes at night in the backyard of the home where the women were later found. But the surprising star of the media frenzy surrounding the case continues to be Charles Ramsey, the black neighbor who initiated the victims’ freedom and whose recounting of the incident has seen gone viral.

In an interview (posted above) with ABC’s Cleveland affiliate on Monday, Ramsey described how he was busy “eating [his] McDonald’s” when he heard a woman (later identified as Amanda Berry who, along with the two other women in the home, had been missing for a decade) screaming for help. Ramsey said he knew something was wrong when “a pretty little white girl runs into a black man’s arms.” It was a streak of humor in an otherwise overwhelmingly bleak situation.

But it’s also a caricature that had also become all too familiar on the Internet. As Aisha Harris wrote at Slate, videos like Ramsey’s have become part of a troubling viral trend that’s loaded with racist signifiers:

Before Ramsey, there was Antoine Dodson, who saved his younger sister from an intruder, only to wind up famous for his flamboyant recounting of the story to a reporter. Since Dodson’s rise to fame, there have been others: Sweet Brown, a woman who barely escaped her apartment complex during a fire last year, and Michelle Clarke, who couldn’t fathom the hailstorm that rained down in her hometown of Houston, and in turn became “the next Sweet Brown.”

Over at NPR’s Code Switch blog, Gene Demby asks if we’re laughing with Ramsey or at him. And the answer’s pretty clear:

Very quickly, they went from individuals who lived on America’s margins to embodying a weird, new kind of fame. Williams ended up being offered work doing voiceovers for radio. Dodson leveraged his newfound notoriety to get his family out of the projects.


But race and class seemed to be central to the celebrity of all these people. They were poor. They were black. Their hair was kind of a mess. And they were unashamed. That’s still weird and chuckle-worthy.

No matter how heartbreaking the story, we still love to laugh at black people.

New York Times Recycles Same ‘Racist Undertones’ It Covers

New York Times Recycles Same 'Racist Undertones' It Covers

The New York Times published an A1 story today about the struggles of farm workers of color in the U.S. But rather than explore the ways that our agricultural and immigration laws have degraded the quality of work and systematically pushed workers of color into the margins, Ethan Bronner strings together quotes that largely regurgitate racist tropes about lazy black workers and “efficient” Latinos. What could have been a story about labor conditions and very real problems of exploitation ended up a mess of racial stereotypes that pit black and Latino workers against each other and makes black folks out to hate immigrants.

The story is ostensibly about a set of lawsuits in Georgia and elsewhere in which U.S. citizens, some black, are suing farms for not hiring them. Some of the plaintiffs say they weren’t hired because of their race or nationality, that the farms only hire Latinos.

But here’s a few passages from the story about workers at a Georgia farm called Southern Valley:

Even many of the Americans who feel mistreated acknowledge that the Mexicans who arrive on buses for a limited period are incredibly efficient, often working into the night seven days a week to increase their pay.

“We are not going to run all the time,” said Henry Rhymes, who was fired — unfairly, he says — from Southern Valley after a week on the job. “We are not Mexicans.”

Jon Schwalls, director of operations at Southern Valley, made a similar point.

“When Jose gets on the bus to come here from Mexico he is committed to the work,” he said. “It’s like going into the military. He leaves his family at home. The work is hard, but he’s ready. A domestic wants to know: What’s the pay? What are the conditions? In these communities, I am sorry to say, there are no fathers at home, no role models for hard work. They want rewards without input.”

After putting us through this litany of generalizations and racist undertones, Bronner writes, “Such generalizations lead lawyers — and residents — to say there are racist undertones to the farms’ policies.” Thanks.

Why not frame the story around what the story is about: the way that guest worker programs depress wages and public policies have systematically pushed black and Latino workers into the most vulnerable parts of the labor market? Why not write about the racist undertones in the policies—the one’s that lock guest workers into captive employment relationships that make it possible for employers to force folks to work seven days a week?

It’s not that Bronner doesn’t give these ideas some space, but to frame the story as it’s framed makes a problem of structural racism into another black-brown struggle. There is a story here about the impact of guest worker programs on wages for other low-income workers, including black folks, but it’s hard to find that story through the weeds.

For a more nuanced take on how black and Latino workers often struggle together at the botton of the labor market, read Brentin Mock’s 2010 story on workers in post-Katrina, post-BP spill New Orleans. Mock wrote about…

an ugly underbelly to the new economy that’s being built. It is one in which opportunity is ever-more concentrated in a few hands, and in which profiteering capitalists and scapegoating politicians are pitting struggling workers against one another in starkly racial terms.

Report: Latinos Scared To Report Crime Because of Local Immigration Enforcement

Latinos are far less likely to contact police to report crime because of fears that doing so could trigger immigration detention and deportation. That’s according to new polling data released today of over 2000 Latinos in Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago and Phoenix.

The report, “Insecure Communities: Latino Perceptions of Police Involvement in Immigration Enforcement,” finds that Latinos in general and undocumented Latino immigrants in particular are unlikely to call police to report crime because of fears that police will inquire about their immigration status. University of Illinois Chicago researchers and Lake Research Associates pollsters found that 44 percent of Latinos in these cities say they’re unlikely to call police if they’re victim of a crime. And 70 percent of undocumented Latino immigrants say they’re less likely to tell police if they’ve been targeted by a criminal act.

Responding to the report findings, Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said in a statement, “Federal deportation policy doesn’t just destroy families, it is destroying public trust in law enforcement and, as a consequence, threatening everyone’s public safety.”

The survey also found that over 60 percent of undocumented immigrants in the four counties say they feel isolated and are afraid to leave their homes because police could ask them about their immigration status.

The report focuses in particular on the impact of programs like Secure Communities that use local cops and jails to begin the detention and deportation process. Advocates have long said that these programs put immigrant communities at risk of becoming victim to crime and violence. Evidence of this has so far been largely anecdotal. The survey provides a larger analysis.

The federal government deported 409,000 people last year, largely through these programs. Even as Congress considers immigration reform, the removals appear to have continued at a similar rate.

La. Supreme Court: School Voucher Program Funding Is Unconstitutional

La. Supreme Court: School Voucher Program Funding Is Unconstitutional

The Louisiana Supreme Court dealt a major blow to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform agenda today. In a 6-1 vote the Court ruled that funding for school vouchers, a central part of the governor’s education law, is unconstitutional because it diverts public money meant to fund public schools toward private schools.

The expansive voucher program pulls funding from what’s called the minimum foundation program, in clear violation of Louisiana state constitution. “The state funds approved through the unique MFP process cannot be diverted to nonpublic schools or other nonpublic course providers according to the clear, specific and unambiguous language of the constitution,” Justice John Weimer wrote, the Times-Picayune reported.

It is a serious setback for Gov. Jindal’s ambitious education agenda, much of which has ended up in the courts. The voucher program was a central part of Act 2, Jindal’s 2012 sweeping school reform package which included provisions to increase the use of private online education programs for public education; speed up charter school approval and forcefully tie teachers’ jobs’ to their students’ test scores. In March a judge ruled the teacher tenure and evaluation portions of Jindal’s law unconstitutional as well.

FOX Broadcasting Cancels ‘Cops’ After 25 Years

FOX Broadcasting Cancels 'Cops' After 25 Years

After months of pressure, senior executives at FOX Broadcasting have decided not to renew the show “Cops” for another season. Critics of the long-running police reality TV show claimed that it pedels in misrepresentations and caricatures of black and Latino communities. The show will instead move to a niche network, SpikeTV.

“We have been working tirelessly to push this damaging reality TV series off primetime network television, and today we applaud FOX for dropping this toxic show from its lineup,” said Executive Director, Rashad Robinson. Last week, the online civil rights organization sponsored ads in AdvertisingAge and Daily Variety denouncing the show’s racially-charged content. The ads came after the group circulated an online petition against the show.

“Out of primetime, COPS no longer has a mainstream platform and will have a significantly smaller audience. Research shows that exploiting persistent dehumanizing stereotypes that marginalize Black Americans have real-world consequences, and there is much more work to be done to bring about a significant cultural shift in the ways we are portrayed in the media,” Robinson said in a statement to the press.

WNBA’s Brittney Griner Is Really Happy for Jason Collins, Wants to Inspire Others

WNBA's Brittney Griner Is Really Happy for Jason Collins, Wants to Inspire Others

After the NBA’s Jason Collins made his coming out announcement last week, a good number of folks wondered what the big deal was. After all, openly gay professional women athletes have been around for years — including soon-to-be WNBA rookie Brittney Griner, who came out publicly the week before Collins to a lot less fanfare. But Griner doesn’t mind all the attention that Collins is getting. In fact, she’s incredibly happy for him.

In an essay published by the New York Times on Sunday, Griner recounted her own coming out story. From The Times:

People have asked me if I’m at all bothered that my “announcement” after the W.N.B.A. draft last month didn’t receive as much attention as Jason’s. Frankly, it didn’t matter at all to me. I simply answered a question honestly and am just happy to tell my truth and to be in a position to encourage others to do the same. It’s all about living an honest life and being comfortable in your own skin. It strengthens me to know that Jason and I (along with so many other out pioneers and allies) are united in a mission to inspire others who may be struggling. I want everyone to feel at peace and O.K. with being who he or she is.

Griner casually announced to the sports world that she was gay during a post-WNBA draft media interview.

In the Times essay, Griner goes on to describe how she was “bullied in every way imaginable” because of her height (she’s 6’8”) and sexuality, and hit “rock bottom” in seventh grade.

It’s taken me a long time to figure out exactly where I fit. During that journey, I realized that everyone has a unique place in this world. I also discovered that the more open I was with my family and friends, the more I embraced others, and the more committed I became to doing the things I love, like basketball, skating and, of course, eating bacon (the greatest food of all time), the more love and confidence I received in return.

Griner and Collins are two great examples of courage. And two fantastic role models for athletes.

Jason Collins Talks Race, Coming Out, and Religion With Oprah

Jason Collins Talks Race, Coming Out, and Religion With Oprah

NBA center Jason Collins spoke with Oprah recently about his decision to become the first active male professional athlete in a major American sport to come out as openly gay. Collins shocked the sports world one week ago when he announced his sexuality in a beautifully written Sport Illustrated cover story. With Oprah, he elaborated a bit on what it means for him to be black, openly gay, and a person of faith.

“I grew up in a very religious family,” Collins told Oprah. “I knew as an African-American that it adds another dimension to the discussion,” he said of race impacts the discussion of his sexuality.

Is the ‘Pigford’ Pushback a Case of Resistance Against Reparations for Black Farmers?

Is the 'Pigford' Pushback a Case of Resistance Against Reparations for Black Farmers?

Ten scholars from major universities have risen to the defense of black farmers who were accused in a New York Times article of exploiting and defrauding a settlement made to remedy decades of discrimination in financial lending. In a letter to the editor, the group professors wrote that the New York Times article:

“underplays the history of racial dispossession, uses cherry-picked examples, and creates needless antipathy to the lawsuit and the settlement with black farmers. Focusing on fraud and invoking familiar, racially freighted stereotypes of undeserving opportunists serve to throw into question all payouts rather than explaining why they were ordered in the first place.”

A letter from Ralph Paige, executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, was also published in the Times, where he said their article:

“does not offer historical context of the vast scope of discrimination in rural areas throughout the country by the Agriculture Department. It does not mention the decades of studies by the Commission on Civil Rights and the Agriculture Department itself that confirm discrimination against black farmers. It also does not mention the countless black farmers who worked diligently on farm plans only to have their loan applications thrown in the trash can right in front of them by the Agriculture Department’s county supervisor.”

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The plight of the black farmers was also featured on a segment of the Melissa Harris Perry show this past weekend. Rep. Terri Sewell, a Democratic congresswoman who represents large rural swaths of Alabama where black farmers live and work, called the Times article a “gross mischaracterization of the entire process.”

The Nation executive editor Richard Kim said on the show, “If we think of this as reparations, the point of reparations is actually to be historically minded and to understand the many times in which discrimination impacted this group of people. And that’s probably the best way in which to frame this, as a historical inquiry and about justice.”

The Racial Wealth Divide: Why Housing Matters [Infographic]

The Racial Wealth Divide: Why Housing Matters [Infographic]

It can hard to see wealth. Sure, there are markers of it everywhere: homes, jobs, cars. But the true indicators of wealth, like home equity, retirement savings, and a family’s investments aren’t usually on public display. Now, a new infographic from United For a Fair Economy is trying to expose just how deeply divided our nation’s wealth is along the lines of race. And those divisions have grown even starker since the economic recession began in 2008.

“This infographic draws attention to the intersection of housing as both a globally-recognized human right and as a commodity in a global stock market controlled by the wealthy,” wrote Mazher Ali, the organizations communications coordinator. “We urge readers to acknowledge the history behind the long-standing racial wealth divide and to consider the interplay between federal housing policies and risky financial practices and their impacts on the divide.”

An Open Letter From Assata Shakur: ‘I Am Only One Woman’

An Open Letter From Assata Shakur: 'I Am Only One Woman'

Correction on 5/6/13 at 2:37pm EST: This morning we published an open letter from Assata Shakur, who was recently placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List. We reported that the letter was published on May 3. However, the letter actually dates back several years. The University of Texas’ Digital Repository dates the letter to 1998. Apologies for the error. 

In her letter, Shakur provides her own account of the events leading up to her arrest and 1977 conviction. She also details the extent to which the media played a role in her prosecution. Shakur was sentenced to life in prison plus 33 years before she escaped to Cuba.

The U.S. Senate’s 1976 Church Commission report on intelligence operations inside the USA, revealed that “The FBI has attempted covertly to influence the public’s perception of persons and organizations by disseminating derogatory information to the press, either anonymously or through “friendly” news contacts.” This same policy is evidently still very much in effect today.


Like most poor and oppressed people in the United States, I do not have a voice. Black people, poor people in the U.S. have no real freedom of speech, no real freedom of expression and very little freedom of the press. The black press and the progressive media has historically played an essential role in the struggle for social justice. We need to continue and to expand that tradition. We need to create media outlets that help to educate our people and our children, and not annihilate their minds. I am only one woman. I own no TV stations, or Radio Stations or Newspapers. But I feel that people need to be educated as to what is going on, and to understand the connection between the news media and the instruments of repression in Amerika. All I have is my voice, my spirit and the will to tell the truth.

Last week, the New Jersey State Police and the FBI announced a $2 million reward for information leading to Shakur’s capture. The FBI has also put up billboards across New Jersey asking for the public’s help in her arrest. Since her exile, Shakur has remained outspoken about racial and economic injustice in the United States and, as a result, has become one of the most widely recognized and admired names in the struggle for black liberation. While her supporters are not surprised by the FBI’s continued diligence in the case, many were taken aback by timing  and prominence of the agency’s renewed efforts.

Renowned scholar and activist Angela Davis, who was once on the FBI’s List of the 10 Most Wanted Fugitives and labeled by President Richard Nixon as a “dangerous terrorist” in 1970 before being exonerated, appeared on Democracy Now last week to talk about the timing of the agency’s new pursuit of Shakur. 

You know, certainly, Assata continues to advocate radical transformation of this country, as many of us do. You know, I continues to say that we need revolutionary change. This is why it seems to me that the attack on her reflects the logic of terrorism, because it precisely is designed to frighten young people, especially today, who would be involved in the kind of radical activism that might lead to change.

Davis appeared in a segment that also included Shakur’s longtime attorney Lennox Hinds. You can see video and a full transcript of that segment over at Democracy Now.

North Carolina Election Board Drops 56 HBCU Students From Voter Rolls Under Dubious Cause

Close to 60 students at the historically black Elizabeth City State University were targeted by a county Republican Party chair who challenged their voter status for questionable reasons. Of the group, 56 students were dropped from voter rolls for no better reason than having a voter registration address that was different their parents’ home addresses. They used their college campus addresses instead.

Two students were kept on the rolls after they showed up at a hearing on April 19 with lawyers from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice to defend their registration status. Some of the notices for that hearing that went out to the rest of the students came back as undeliverable, while others failed to show for unknown reasons. The board decided that the students’ absence was evidence that they should be dropped.

Southern Coalition executive director Anita Earls told Colorlines that dropping people from voter rolls due to undeliverable mail may be a violation of the National Voter Registration Act. They plan to sue the county and today sent a letter to the elections board indicating their intent to do so. The two students who they saved from being dropped are resident advisors who live on campus. It’s not known how many of the other 56 who were purged were also university employees.

Earls also tells us that the Republican Party county leader who made the challenges, Richard Gilbert, only targeted the black college students, that he filed no other challenges at any other universities. Pasquotank County, where the challenges occurred, is also a Section 5-protected jurisdiction under the Voting Rights Act.

Angela Davis, Attorney Defend Assata Shakur Amid New FBI Efforts

Angela Davis, Attorney Defend Assata Shakur Amid New FBI Efforts

One day after the FBI and the state of New Jersey announced that former Black Panther Assata Shakur had become the first woman on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List, Angela Davis and Shakur’s longtime attorney Lennox Hinds went on Democracy Now in the exile’s defense. Like many of Shakur’s supporters in the U.S. and abroad, both Davis and Hinds questioned why the FBI has suddenly renewed its interest in the Shakur’s capture; currently, Shakur is 66-years-old and has been living in exile for over three decades.

Davis’ explanation:

Well, see, there’s always this slippage between what should be protected free speech—that is to say, the advocacy of revolution, the advocacy of radical change—and what theFBI represents as terrorism. You know, certainly, Assata continues to advocate radical transformation of this country, as many of us do. You know, I continue to say that we need revolutionary change. This is why it seems to me that the attack on her reflects the logic of terrorism, because it precisely is designed to frighten young people, especially today, who would be involved in the kind of radical activism that might lead to change.

And Hinds’:

Now, why today is Assata Shakur now being branded a terrorist? If we look at the definition of terrorism, what is it? It is the use or the threat of use of force against a civilian population to achieve political ends. What happened in the case of Assata Shakur? You have heard, in her own words, this woman was a political activist. She was targeted by whom? J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI in a program that was called COINTELPRO. That program was unveiled by whom? Frank Church, Senator Frank Church, in the 1970s. He chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee. That committee determined that the FBI was using both legal, but mostly illegal, methods—to do what? In the FBI’s own words, they wanted to discredit, to stop the rise of a black messiah—that was the fear of the FBI—so that there would not be a Mau Mau, in their words, uprising in the United States.

You can see the entire interview and transcript over at Democracy Now.

At this point, one can only speculate about why the state has renewed its efforts to capture Shakur. But what’s clear is that they’re serious about it. In addition to offering a $2 million reward for her capture, the FBI has also put up billboards around New Jersey.


How Public Policy Built The Racial Wealth Divide

How Public Policy Built The Racial Wealth Divide

The racial wealth gap never ceases to amaze. Black and Latino families hold pennies of accumulated assets compared to every dollar of the average white family’s investments, retirement savings and home equity. Wealth matters a lot. It’s what families use to buttress against hard times—say a period of joblessness—and it’s what parents pass onto their kids to pay for college and avoid taking out big loans. This means that families without wealth actually pass on a future of debt.

So it’s particularly enraging to observe, once again, that the racial wealth gap is the product of very clear and deliberate public policy. Ta-Nehisi Coates has a post at the Atlantic on a foul 1950’s housing market practice that sprang up because the federal government refused to insure loans for black families. In the space left by this legal exclusion, housing speculators bought cheap properties, jacked up the prices and sold the homes to black families. If the families missed a single payment, the broker could terminate the contract, take all the money the family already invested and kick them out of the home. Coates explains:

Buying on contract meant that you made a down-payment to a speculator. The speculator kept the deed and only turned it over to you after you’d paid the full value of the house — a value determined by the speculator. In the meantime, you were responsible for monthly payments, keeping the house up, and taking care of any problems springing from inspection. If you missed one payment, the speculator could move to evict you and keep all the payments you’d made. Building up equity was impossible, unless — through some Herculean effort — you managed to pay off the entire contract. Very few people did this. The system was set up to keep them from doing it, and allow speculators to get rich through a cycle of evicting and flipping.

Coates posted a chart mocked up by 1960s advocates to show the kinds of markups we’re taking about. The first column reads, “Documented Price Paid By Speculator.” The second: “Documented Price Change To Negro Buyer.” In one case, a home listed on the chart is sold to a black family at nearly three times the purchase price, not including interest.

“In that chart you can literally see black wealth leaving one neighborhood and migrating to another,” Coates writes. “It was not just legal. It was the whole point.”

It’s a prime example, Coates writes, of why “the wealth gap is not a mistake. It is the logical outcome of policy.” And it’s upon this policy history that new forms of predation emerged. The subprime loans of the last decade were targeted to black families who’d been denied affordable and regulated lending services. These losses are part of the reason the wealth gap is now growing. And as I wrote earlier this week, the very same communities appear to be the targets of new schemes, this time in the form of totally unregulated “pension advances” that saddle elderly folks with mammoth interest rates. Some of these borrowers are pushed to advance companies because an earlier foreclosure tanked their credit score and all hope of getting a bank loan.

Sherman Alexie, and the ‘Homoerotic Extravaganza’ of Sports

Sherman Alexie, and the 'Homoerotic Extravaganza' of Sports

So what’s so scary about having an openly gay man like Jason Collins in a professional sports locker room? Straight men may have to start recognizing basketball as the “homoerotic extravaganza that it is”, according to Indian writer and lifelong basketball enthusiast Sherman Alexie.

In a piece for The Stranger, Alexie names what so many sports fans have been tip-toeing around in the aftermath of Collins’ historic coming out.

So who are the best-looking men in the USA? The answer, obviously, is professional athletes. I mean, Jesus, Google-Image Adrian Peterson. Study how cut, shredded, and jacked he is.

Cut. Shredded. Jacked. Those are violent straight-boy adjectives that mean “beautiful.” But we straight boys aren’t supposed to think of other men as beautiful. We’re supposed to think of the most physically gifted men as warrior soldiers, as dangerous demigods.

And there’s the rub: When we’re talking about professional athletes, we are mostly talking about males passionately admiring the physical attributes and abilities of other males. It might not be homosexual, but it certainly is homoerotic.

There are strict social rules governing sexuality and gender, and nowhere is that more evident than in the world of sports. Read Alexie’s entire essay over at The Stranger.

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