Colorlines

NOW IN RACIAL JUSTICE

NYPD’s Lone Black Scuba Diver Files EEOC Complaint Over Racial Taunts on the Job

NYPD's Lone Black Scuba Diver Files EEOC Complaint Over Racial Taunts on the Job

In the seven years Oscar Smith served on the New York Police Department’s scuba-diving unit, he was the only black member of the team. And according to allegations detailed in an official complaint he filed with the Police Department of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, he was unwelcome among the unit’s ranks. 

Smith told the New York Times he faced regular racial and homophobic taunts:

When his application to join the unit in 2003 was first denied, Mr. Smith said, he heard that the captain of the unit had blocked the transfer “because, he said, ‘black guys couldn’t swim,’ ” according to his complaint. That stereotype would rear up even after he joined the unit, he said. A supervisor “repeatedly asked me how it was that a ‘black man’ could have passed the swim test,” Mr. Smith wrote in the complaint.

In his complaint, he said that shortly after joining the diving unit he was “subjected to racial hostility, derogatory comments and unfavorable treatment.” He was soon given a nickname, Tautog. When he asked the other divers what it meant, he was told it was another name for the blackfish. Some colleagues dismissively told him that he was “descended from slaves.”

At first, he said, his instinct was to “brush it off,” but the comments got worse and even turned menacing.

“You could go on a dive op and not wake up — anything could happen,” he said his co-workers told him. “I’d say, ‘That’s nice to know.’ ” But as such comments increased over time, he said, “It didn’t seem like it was in jest.”

The NYPD’s spokesperson declined to comment on the complaint. Read the rest of the article at the New York Times.

Former Rikers Island Youth Inmate Opens Up About Solitary Confinement

Former Rikers Island Youth Inmate Opens Up About Solitary Confinement

As a teen Ismael Nazario did time in New York City’s Rikers Island prison for assault and robbery charges. “Without being convicted he says he spent a total of 300 days in solitary. The longest stretch was four months,” reports Daffodil Altan for NewsHour. It was excrutiating, Nazario says. “Like, my eyes would start playing tricks on me. I would start seeing black dots. And I’d focus on them. It’s crazy. It looks crazy when I demonstrate it, how it used to look. You see the black dots and you just focusing on the black dots and your eyes is just follwoign them around all over the cell. You’re trying to escape seeing the black dots. But you can’t, there’s no black dots there. It’s crazy.”

Today he’s a youth counselor in Brooklyn. But back on Rikers, solitary confinement proved to be a profoundly destructive practice. After long stretches in solitary confinement, which requires 23 hours of total isolation in a small cell, Nazario started talking to himself, pacing back and forth, screaming through a small slit in the door at his cell, a not uncommon response to the solitary confinement. For years advocates have been highlighting the dangers of solitary confinement, which many prison reform advocates consider tantamount to torture. 

Folks are finally listening. In late February New York state announced that it’s rolling back its use of solitary confinement for the most vulnerable populations, including youth, pregnant inmates and those with mental disabilities. 

Watch the rest of the PBS NewsHour segment.

Google To Fund City Kids’ Bus Rides

Google To Fund City Kids' Bus Rides

And you get a car! And you get a car! OK, so it’s not nearly the same as Oprah gifting free wheels to her studio audience but, global behemoth Google will cover two years of mass transit for 31,000 working-class kids in San Francisco. Google is the city’s second largest tech employer. The $6.8 million dollar donation comes, notes the Chronicle, “as tech companies are facing a backlash from city residents upset about rising housing costs, gentrification, a wave of evictions, and perceived aloofness from those companies and their employees.”

Through the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the money will extend the life of an existing pilot program, originally won in 2012 by grassroots organization, People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER)

Google and city leaders appear to agree that the donation is a first step.

(h/t San Francisco Chronicle)

Sears Employee to Asian Customer: ‘Let Me Guess, You Came Off the Boat?’

Sears Employee to Asian Customer: 'Let Me Guess, You Came Off the Boat?' Play

An employee at a Canadian Sears store has been fired after video of a racially charged exchange with an Asian customer was posted online.

The video, which you can see above, catches the employee in the middle of a heated exchange with a customer over removing his child off a display lawnmower. After several moments of arguing, the employee says to the customer, “Let me guess, you came off the boat?

A spokesperson for Sears confirmed with the Canadian Broadcasting Company that the employee has been fired. 

(h/t Angry Asian Man)

Indian-American Man Charged with Firebombing Synagogues

Indian-American Man Charged with Firebombing Synagogues

A complex case is unfolding in New Jersey that’s pitting some members of the Indian-American community against their county prosecutors. Pre-trial motions are underway, according to The Record, in the case of a 21-year-old Indian-American man accused of taking part in the firebombing of Jewish facilities two years ago. Supporters of Aakash Dalal, according to New York-based weekly, News India Times, allege that he is being treated like a terrorist and last week rallied community members to protest his multi-million-dollar bail and treatment. The former Rutgers student, according to the weekly, has been held in solitary confinement in an 8x6 cell for the past two years.

Aakash Dalal is accused along with co-defendant Anthony Graziano, 23, of firebombing synagogues and other Jewish facilities. In one of the attacks, Graziano is accused of throwing Molotov cocktails into the living quarters of Congregation Beth El in Rutherford, where a rabbi lived with his family. They escaped unharmed. Prosecutors say Dalal used electronic communication to plan the attacks and encourage Graziano to set several facilities on fire.

In addition to arson, conspiracy and bias intimidation, Dalal faces additional charges tacked on after arrest in 2012, for conspiring to murder the assistant prosecutor then handling the case.

Dalal’s parents, on advice of their attorney, according to the weekly, did not share details of the case during last week’s community meeting. Both men face up to life in prison if convicted.

Read the latest on The Star Ledger.

(h/t Voices of NY)

The Racist Things You’ve Been Saying in Class? Harvard’s Black Students Heard You

The Racist Things You've Been Saying in Class? Harvard's Black Students Heard You

Part PSA, part crowdsourced rebuke, part catalogue of everyday racism, #ITooAmHarvard is the newest social media conversation to pick up on the race dialogue happening around the country on college campuses. Tune into the Twitter conversation and scroll through the Tumblr for a quick tour of the stunning array of ignorant questions and statements these students have heard, as well as the retorts one assumes they’re regularly tempted to say in response.

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(h/t Latoya Peterson)

Mich. Muslim Awarded $1.2 Million in Discrimination Suit

Mich. Muslim Awarded $1.2 Million in Discrimination Suit

Jurors in a federal court in Detroit last Thursday awarded $1.2 million to a Muslim and Arab-American man who argued that he had been discriminated against in his workplace because of his religion, race and appearance. Ali Aboubaker, 56, who is originally from Tunisia, wears a long beard. He worked for Washtenaw County for 17 years as a bus driver and a maintenance technician before they fired him in 2008.  His attorney describes the two-week jury trial as a “he-said, she-said,” case, in which ultimately, the jury believed Aboubaker more.

(h/t Detroit Free Press)

Yes, Cesar Chavez Called Strikebreakers ‘Wetbacks’

Yes, Cesar Chavez Called Strikebreakers 'Wetbacks'

Cesar Chavez (not to be confused with, um, Hugo Chávez!) is probably best remembered as an incredible labor and civil rights leader. Along with the United Farm Workers—the union he helped found—he organized in innovative ways to lead a farmworker strike and grape boycott that brought California’s agriculture kings to their knees. Chavez is also credited with popularizing the Spanish language phrase, “Sí, se puede,” which can be translated to mean, “Yes, [we] can.”

During a massive farmworker strike that first started in 1965, farmers sought to bring in undocumented laborers from Mexico. Those laborers, who were strikebreakers, were often called “illegals” and “wetbacks” by strike supporters—including by Cesar Chavez himself. Chavez himself was not an immigrant; his mother was brought to the United States as a newborn, and his father was born in Arizona. Most striking farmworkers were also Mexican-American, and the slurs could easily have offended those workers as well.

A copy of video of Chavez making these remarks on San Francisco public television station KQED in 1972 is now resurfacing, just a few weeks before the release of a major Chavez biopic staring Diego Luna and Rosario Dawson.

Chokwe Lumumba, An Intro For Those Who Didn’t Know

Chokwe Lumumba, An Intro For Those Who Didn't Know

Over on The South Lawn, the excellent group blog about all things Southern and progressive, black labor organizer Doug Williams begins: “suffice it to say that when a city councilman named Chokwe Lumumba announced that he was running to be the mayor of Mississippi’s capital city, I was skeptical.”

Williams, a third generation organizer recounts not only how Lumumba won him over during the 2013 mayoral race but also the change he portended for communities of color throughout the South:

Jackson was a majority-white city as late as the 1980s. But when the last vestiges of Mississippi’s particularly virulent strain of Jim Crow were dismantled in education, housing, and employment, white residents began fleeing to [the surrounding] suburbs. … As the city emptied out…the economic and political power shifted along with it [and the] new suburbanites managed to maintain a measure of control over their former neighbors through their ownership of local businesses. … But while Jackson had seen sixteen years of unbroken Black leadership, there was little to show for it in the way of concrete policy change for its Black citizens. Nearly 50 years after we first gained free access to the franchise, it is no longer enough that we simply seek descriptive representation; we must seek substantive representation of our interests and aspirations.

Enter Chokwe Lumumba. Williams drum rolls Lumumba’s early and game-changing policy initiatives, saying:

Seeing Chokwe’s initial successes in Jackson gave me hope that I would live to see a day that Southern progressives would not be faced with the same meaningless choices that we are constantly confronted with when we close that drape behind us and participate in our democracy. …

I will never understand why God chose to take Chokwe at a time when his voice is so crucial to everything that I hold dear as a Southerner, a leftist, and as a Black man; none of us will. But it is at times like this where my faith is a crucial component for my ability to move on. And not my faith in God; but rather my faith in movements and communities. 

Be sure to read Williams’s excellent remembrance of Chokwe Lumumba, 1947-2014.

(h/t The South Lawn)

Obama Launches My Brother’s Keeper Initiative for Young Men of Color

Obama Launches My Brother's Keeper Initiative for Young Men of Color

Today President Obama will kick off “My Brother’s Keeper,” a new White House initiative to change the terrible odds for boys and young men of color who are trying to make it to adulthood.

“The data proves it,” says the My Brother’s Keeper landing page. “Boys and young men of color—regardless of where they come from—are disproportionately at risk from their youngest years through college and the early stages of their professional lives.” At risk for what? The White House doesn’t say it in so many words but the answer is plain: at risk for growing up in a deeply racially stratified society which criminalizes black and brown boys and men. Black and Latino boys lag behind their non-black and non-Latino peers in reading proficiency but are overrepresented among homicide victims. 

The initiative has two parts. It’ll include a task force which will examine the impact that federal policies and programs have on boys and young men of color, “so as to develop proposals that will enhance positive outcomes and eliminate or reduce negative ones.” The task force will put together recommendations for national, state and local agencies to support boys and young men of color. The Department of Education will also manage a public website which will assess important factors contributing to the life outcomes of boys and young men of color.

Separately, a group of philanthropic foundations is today announcing a $200 million investment over the next five years to support programs aimed at nurturing and supporting black and Latino boys and young men, and President Obama plans to meet with Adam Silver of the NBA, Joe Echevarria, CEO of Deloitte, and Magic Johnson and other businesspeople to involve the private sector in the initiative.

“The effort launched today is focused on unlocking the full potential of boys and young men of color - something that will not only benefit them, but all Americans,” the White House said in a statement.

Racial Harassment Picks Up After Video About Being Black at UCLA Law School

Racial Harassment Picks Up After Video About Being Black at UCLA Law School

How does it feel to be a black student at UCLA Law School today? A black student named Alexis Gardner received a note in her mailbox telling her, “Stop being a sensitive nigger,” just two weeks after a handful of black UCLA Law students released a video about the emotional toll of being in the extreme minority at the school. 

UCLA police are investigating the incident after Gardner reported the hate mail she received on Monday. Students have also been reporting that Black Law Student Association posters have been getting ripped down, according to Above the Law

UCLAblackstudenthatemail.jpg(photo via Huffington Post)

“We recognize that racial issues exist across the campus, not just in the law school,” UCLA Law School Dean Rachel Moran told the blog Above the Law. “At the Law School, my staff and I are taking concrete steps — such as workshops, vigorous outreach and curricular reform — to advance diversity and racial tolerance so that we can enjoy civil dialogue about these very sensitive issues.”

Racial issues, indeed. 

It’s been quite a month for racial violence and anti-black antagonism on college campuses. University of Mississippi indefinitely suspended the campus’ chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon after members of the fraternity hung a noose and a former Georgia state flag which includes the Confederate battle emblem in its design around a statue of James Meredith. Meredith was the first black student to attend and desegregate Ole Miss. In a separate incident this month Asian-American student groups and student service offices at UCLA and USC started receiving racist, sexist fliers. “Asian women R honkie white boy worshiping whores!!!!” the fliers read. 

Emotional Dad Rocks Arsenio with Love Poem to Son

Emotional Dad Rocks Arsenio with Love Poem to Son

But don’t miss poet Prentice Powell’s message about time, either—specifically, how much he does not get with his son. Choking back tears, he says:

Try dropping your son off at the airport with three teeth in his mouth, go forward and watch him come back with five and see if you don’t beat yourself up for not being around during that time so don’t tell me I’m a good father when you don’t know anything about me.

“Good Father,” is the name of the poem. Can you relate?

On the Two-Year Anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s Death

On the Two-Year Anniversary of Trayvon Martin's Death

Today marks the two-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. Vigils are being held in Florida and across the country in memoriam. But they’re only one of many ways that those outraged by the shooting and the Zimmerman verdict are choosing to remember a young life and, to also say, “Never again.” Confronting the new “self defense regime” says Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick will also mean tackling a new, warped “normal.” 

The gun lobby has single-handedly made certain that the very definition of what one might reasonably expect from an altercation at a Walmart, a movie theater, or a gas station has changed. By seeking to arm everyone in America, the NRA has in fact changed our reasonable expectation of how fights will end, into a self-fulfilling prophecy about how fights will end. It should surprise you not at all to learn that of the 10 states with the most lenient gun laws in America, seven support “stand your ground.” In those jurisdictions shooting first isn’t merely “reasonable.” It borders on sensible.

Over on Al Jazeera America, the way forward, writes Rinku Sen, executive director of Race Forward and publisher of Colorlines, is:

… not by ignoring racial bias, endorsing a color-blind approach or focusing on people’s intentions. Instead, the path forward lies in understanding fully how such bias works in our public schools and prisons and at the ballot box — and how those systems enable or discourage discriminatory actions. … To breathe life into the national race debate, we must deal with race fatigue the way we deal with other kinds of exhaustion. We rest, and then we keep the muscle moving so that it does not atrophy. The prizes for our willingness will include a stronger body politic, a more unified community and real improvements in people’s lives, including the actual preservation of those lives.  

Martin’s parents continue to fight the “Stand your Ground” laws that facilitated the acquittal of their son’s killer. Sybrina Fulton is scheduled to speak this Friday evening at the University of Connecticut.

How are you remembering Trayvon Martin’s life today?

Attacks, Arrests and Deportation for Immigrant Hunger Strikers

Attacks, Arrests and Deportation for Immigrant Hunger Strikers

A little over a week ago, six immigrant detainees at the Eloy Detention Center began a hunger strike to demand their release from one of several privately owned facility that has holds immigrants in Arizona. Among them was Jaime Valdez—who was suddenly deported in the middle of the night late Tuesday, despite the fact that his immigration case was in appeal. Valdez, who had been held at Eloy for more than a year, was entering the ninth day of his hunger strike, and his body was undoubtedly weakened as he was deported to Mexico. Five of the original hunger strikers remain at Eloy, and say they have been placed in solitary confinement as a result. 

The detainees’ loved ones on the outside are striking in solidarity. One of them, Anselma López, was hospitalized late Monday, but has since been released. The strikers on the outside had been camped out at the Downtown Phoenix ICE office, and were joined by supporters in Phoenix. Civilians have already attacked the group: burritos with racist messages penned on them were thrown at the strikers.

But that’s not all. Phoenix Police Department officers began evicting the camp late Tuesday night, taking personal property and arresting two well-known immigrant rights activists, Carlos Garcia and Erika Andiola. It’s expected that both will be released on bond soon. 

The strikers are determined to continue their vigil—and hope their loved ones will be released from Eloy. Some supporters are raising funds to send them “solidarity flowers.”

Watch Harry Belafonte and Dream Defenders Talk Civil Rights

Watch Harry Belafonte and Dream Defenders Talk Civil Rights Play

Today is the second anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s murder, so it’s fitting to have a discussion on what makes up the modern fight for civil rights and justice. Longtime activist and performer Harry Belafonte will join Phillip Agnew of the Dream Defenders and journalist Raquel Cepeda at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad in a discussion that will be live streamed starting at 6:30pm EST.

(h/t The New School)

Remembering Chokwe Lumumba, 1947-2014

Remembering Chokwe Lumumba, 1947-2014 Play

Chokwe Lumumba, the seasoned human rights activist, attorney and mayor of Jackson, Miss., passed away last night. He was 66 years old.

Here’s how the Associated Press remembered him:

As an attorney, Lumumba represented Tupac Shakur in cases including one in which the rapper was cleared of aggravated assault in the shootings of two off-duty police officers who were visiting Atlanta from another city when they were wounded. Shakur died in 1996.

In 2011, Lumumba persuaded then-Gov. Haley Barbour to release sisters Jamie Scott and Gladys Scott from a Mississippi prison after they served 16 years for an armed robbery they said they didn’t commit. Barbour suspended their life sentences but didn’t pardon them.

Lumumba was involved with the Republic of New Afrika in the 1970s and ’80s. He said in 2013 that the group had advocated “an independent predominantly black government” in the southeastern United States. Lumumba was vice president of the group during part of his stint. The group also advocated reparations for slavery, and was watched by an FBI counterintelligence operation.

Lumumba’s name bubbled to the surface of national discussion in recent years after he was elected mayor of Jackson, Mississippi in 2013 and had big aspirations for the city. “We are the right people at the right time,” he told Laura Flanders at GRITtv.

Immigrant Detainee Mom Hospitalized While on Hunger Strike

Immigrant Detainee Mom Hospitalized While on Hunger Strike

Six people whose family members are being held in immigrant detention began a hunger strike more than a week ago, in solidarity with their loved ones also on hunger strike inside the notorious Eloy Detention Center in Arizona. The strikers inside of detention say they’ve been placed in solitary confinement. But those on the outside are suffering as well.

Anselma López, whose son Elder Gómez López has been in detention for more than two years, has been on hunger strike since Monday, February 17. One week later, on February 24, she was taken to the emergency room after complaining about heart palpitations. She remains hospitalized today.

The hunger strikers, who are affiliated with the Puente Movement, plan on ending their strike on March 3. They’re demanding a change to the way detention and deportation continue to tear families apart under Obama’s administration. 

How to Compare ScHoolboy Q’s ‘Oxymoron’ to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’

How to Compare ScHoolboy Q's 'Oxymoron' to Kendrick Lamar's 'good kid, m.A.A.d city' Play

ScHoolboy Q’s new album “Oxymoron” is out today, and it will inevitably be compared to his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmate Kendrick Lamar’s last album, “good kid, m.A.A.d. city.” They’re with the same crew and have guested on one another’s projects in the past. But, as Billboard points out, they’re two very different rappers:

To say that ScHoolboy Q’s major-label debut is “less consistent” than “good kid, m.A.A.d city” is something of a misnomer, because, while Lamar dazzles with precise storytelling, Q conjures attention with brusque physicality. Both MCs are aiming for different marks, and although Q’s style is too unkempt to produce an album full of clean shots, his misses on “Oxymoron” are often just as compelling. 

For a track-by-track review, head on over to Billboard. 

An Actual Sociologist Highlights Flaws in Faux Sociology of “The Triple Package”

An Actual Sociologist Highlights Flaws in Faux Sociology of

Jennifer Lee, a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine, has hit back at “The Triple Package,” Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld’s new, deeply flawed work which purports to explain the outsized economic success of some ethnic groups. This being “The Triple Package” though, there are myriad holes in Chua and Rubenfeld’s arguments. Lee chooses just one in an article over at Zócalo Public Square by honing in on the authors’ narrow definition of social mobility and success. She says Mexican-Americans in fact make the largest strides toward economic success in the U.S.:

Who is more successful: a Mexican-American whose parents immigrated to the U.S. with less than an elementary school education, and who now works as a dental hygienist? Or a Chinese-American whose parents immigrated to the U.S. and earned Ph.D. degrees, and who now works as a doctor?

Amy Chua (AKA “Tiger Mom”) and her husband Jed Rubenfeld, author of the new book The Triple Package, claim it’s the latter. They argue that certain American groups (including Chinese, Jews, Cubans, and Nigerians) are more successful and have risen further than others because they share certain cultural traits. Chua and Rubenfeld bolster their argument by comparing these groups’ median household income, test scores, educational attainment, and occupational status to those of the rest of the country.

But what happens if you measure success not just by where people end up—the cars in their garages, the degrees on their walls—but by taking into account where they started? In a study of Chinese-, Vietnamese-, and Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles whose parents immigrated here, UCLA sociologist Min Zhou and I came to a conclusion that flies in the face of Chua and Rubenfeld, and might even surprise the rest of us: Mexicans are L.A.’s most successful immigrant group.

Read Lee’s piece in full at Zócalo Public Square for context that’s all but absent from The Triple Package. Lee’s larger point though is that unlike the fictional world Chua and Rubenfeld theorize within, success can’t be boiled down to the supposed cultural values a family passes down to children. Institutional and structural factors like immigration status, access to economic and social capital, and the educational backgrounds of immigrant parents matter a great deal in shaping the opportunities a child may or may not have.

Critics—myself among them—have had a field day with “The Triple Package.” But Chua and Rubenfeld may want to pay attention to this one—the authors actually cite Lee’s work in their book to bolster their erroneous claims. 

Michael Jackson, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix to Get Postage Stamps

Michael Jackson, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix to Get Postage Stamps

The U.S. postal service announced recently that it will unveil a new series of stamps over the next two years featuring some of the 20th century’s most influential musicians, including a handful of iconic black performers. The lineup includes Michael Jackson, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Sarah Vaughn and Sam Cooke.

According to Rolling Stone:

Among them are general music-related stamps honoring guitars and hip-hop, as well as several new entries in the U.S.P.S.’s Music Icons series, including Lennon, Bill Monroe, Jim Morrison, Sam Cooke, Tammy Wynette, “Fats” Waller, Freddie Fender, Roy Orbison, Sarah Vaughan and Willie Dixon. Michael Jackson will also be getting his own stamp that is not part of the Icons series.

It’s an honor, albiet a somewhat strange one. Barack Obama is slated for a stamp soon, along with Dora the Explorer. At least the U.S. Postal Service is trying to keep it interesting. 



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