Common Performs for Black Workers in the South

Common Performs for Black Workers in the South

This Friday night, Common will headline a Jackson, Miss., concert in support of autoworkers seeking to unionize. Admission is free. Located in nearby Canton, the Nissan plant differs in one key respect from the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. where workers’ in a February election with national implications, voted against joining the UAW. The Chattanooga plant is 90 percent white. The Canton plant, according to Labor South, is 80 percent black. (Blacks, immigrants, and low-wage workers, labor experts say, are all more likely to choose unions. White southern males are not.)

A couple of other things are working in the Canton workers’ favor, too. Jackson, still mourning visionary mayor Chokwe Lumumba, is a Democratic stronghold. And it’s looking like the Canton election will coincide with the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. Indeed, the civil rights legacy is said to be strong. One popular pro-union slogan: “Labor Rights are Civil Rights.”

This Friday’s concert, “Fight 4 Justice,” also features Danny Glover. We’ll be checking to see how it and other local organizing efforts impact the Canton election, as well as the larger fight to unionize the South.

Obama Wants Immigration Enforcement to Be Done ‘More Humanely’

Obama Wants Immigration Enforcement to Be Done 'More Humanely'

President Obama met with Latino lawmakers in Washington on Thursday, where they talked about immigration. Undocumented immigrants, allies and some advocates have long called for a halt to the Obama administration’s record-setting deportations. Now, with legislation unlikely to happen in an election year, an increasing number of high-profile groups as well as politicians are looking for the president to do the same. 

One of the representatives who met with Obama in the Oval Office is Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rubén Hinojosa (D-Tx.), who as recently as three months ago did not sign a letter penned by Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Az.) and signed by 27 other representatives urging Obama to offer relief from deportation for more undocumented immigrants—the way his administration has with youth under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

After meeting with Hinojosa and others, the White House issued a statement reflecting that immigration enforcement will once again be under review.

“The President emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system,” reads the statement. “He told the members that he has asked Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to do an inventory of the Department’s current practices to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law.”

But some are unsure that the review will create any meaningful change. Pablo Alvarado, who heads the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, whose organization has long been seeking an end to deportations, wants Obama to be more concrete moving forward. “Relief delayed is relief denied.” says Alvarado, “The President has no excuse to continue his unjust deportation policy, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus should not delay joining what is now a consensus position that the President can and should suspend deportations, expand deferred action, and end the disgraceful Secure Communities program.”

This is not the first time immigration enforcement has been under review by the Obama administration. The head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Morton issued what’s referred to as the Morton Memo in 2011, which should have resulted in far fewer detentions and deportations—but has hardly done that. Morton left ICE last year, and the agency remains without a leader. It’s unclear which director, if any, would implement any proposed changes to immigration enforcement. 

Obama Administration Tries Again With Regulations Targeted at For-Profit Colleges

Obama Administration Tries Again With Regulations Targeted at For-Profit Colleges

After courts blocked the Obama administration’s prior attempts to rein in the for-profit college system, the Education Department is back again this week. Late Thursday the Education Department released a revised “gainful employment rule,” which judges schools based on the debt load they leave students with and seeks to crack down on schools that send students and graduates away with tens of thousands of dollars of debt they’re ill-equipped to repay.

“We want to protect students from enrolling in poorly performing programs that leave them with debt they cannot pay and a degree they cannot use,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, Politico reported.

Under the new proposed rules, the Education Department would cut off colleges’ federal student aid eligibility—which often serves as the backbone of revenue for for-profit schools that target low-income students and students of color—if schools fail to meet a certain threshold. Programs would fail if students leave schools with debt loads higher than 12 percent of their incomes and 30 percent of their discretionary incomes. If students have debt-to-income ratios between 8 and 12 percent, schools would be labeled as in “the zone,” and would be required to inform students that they could lose their aid at that particular school. If programs fail these tests two times in a three-year period or stay in “the zone” without moving out of it for four consecutive years their students would become ineligible for federal student aid, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported. The proposed rule will be open to public comment for 60 days.

As it is, for-profit colleges enroll just 13 percent of the nation’s higher education students, but are responsible for a whopping 46 percent of the nation’s student loan defaults, according to The Institute on College Access and Success (TICAS) (PDF). They enroll a disproportionately high number of students of color. As it is, in the 2010 to 2011 school year, the for-profit college University of Phoenix was the nation’s top producer of black baccalaureates.

The well-intended regulations don’t do enough to protect students who are easy prey for for-profit universities. “Rather than requiring failing programs to limit enrollment until they improve, the draft rule gives bad programs every opportunity to put more students at risk,” TICAS Vice President Pauline Abernathy said in a statement. “And it does not require schools to provide any relief to students who took on debt to enroll in programs that lose eligibility for federal funds.”

Paul Ryan Knows Your Inner City

Paul Ryan Knows Your Inner City

Former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has been “quietly visiting inner city neighborhoods,” for more than a year. Here’s what he learned: “inner city” men don’t want to work. He elaborated in an armchair radio interview yesterday with mentor and conservative septuagenarian Bill Bennett, saying, we have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities in particular of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.” He even salutes the “inner city” cultural expertise of another septuagenarian, Charles Murray of “Bell Curve” infamy— thus rounding out 44-year-old Ryan’s homage to all beliefs precious and dear to a dying generation of Americans. Interesting strategy for a party that, according to its 2012 election autopsy, needs to win the next America in order to be relevant.

Below, read excerpts of the radio interview with Bennett, who once christened Ryan, “the man for the moment.” Then check out his recently released 200-page poverty report described by the Times’ editorial board and others as, “polished intellectual cover for his party to mow down as many antipoverty programs as it can see.” 

Bill Bennett: A boy has to see a man working doesn’t he?

Paul Ryan: Absolutely.


PR: That’s this tailspin or spiral that we’re looking at in our communities. Your buddy Charles Murray or Bob Putnam over at Harvard, those guys have written books on this. Which is, we have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities in particular of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work. And so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with. Everybody’s gotta get involved. This is what we talk about when we talk about civil society. If you’re driving from the suburb to the sports arena downtown by these blighted neighborhoods you can’t just say I’m paying my taxes, government’s gonna fix that. You need to get involved. You need to get involved yourself whether it’s through a good mentoring program or some religious charity, whatever it is to make a difference. And that’s how we resuscitate our culture.

Ryan may also want to add “the suburbs,” to this year’s getting-to-know America, tour.

(h/t ThinkProgress)

Arizona’s Jan Brewer Won’t Seek Reelection

Arizona's Jan Brewer Won't Seek Reelection

Arizona’s embattled governor, Jan Brewer, will not be seeking reelection. As The New York Times explains, it’s been unclear whether Brewer would run once again, based on the fact that she came into office in the middle of a term:

Arizona governors are limited to serving two terms at the state’s helm. But because Brewer took over mid-term from Janet Napolitano when she left to head the Department of Homeland Security there had been speculation Brewer could seek another four years in office on the grounds she had not served two complete terms.

Brewer, who’s long defended her state’s practice of targeting people for immigration detention and deportation, had recently stated she was considering an additional term.

Arizona’s voters will pick a new governor this November.  

Watch Janet Mock and Laverne Cox Talk about ‘Redefining Realness’

Watch Janet Mock and Laverne Cox Talk about 'Redefining Realness'

The LGBTQ Student Center at NYU is hosting a conversation between Laverne Cox, transgender rights advocate and star of “Orange is the New Black,” and writer/activist Janet Mock. Tune in from 7:30pm-9:00pm tonight!

Studies Point to ‘Access to Justice Gap’ Among Low-Income and Immigrant Communities

Studies Point to 'Access to Justice Gap' Among Low-Income and Immigrant Communities

In what some advocates are describing as a human rights crisis, new studies reveal how widespread lack of access to adequate legal counsel is among those who struggle with income inequality and limited English language proficiency. The National Center for Access to Justice recently launched a Justice Index, which looks specifically at access to legal representation, language assistance and disability assistance across the country. Their study found that: 

  • In 45 percent of states judges do not provide assistance for those without legal counsel, even though 80 percent of people self-represent during court proceedings. 
  • A quarter of states don’t use certified interpreters in courtrooms, often leaving people with limited language ability relying on friends, family member, or uncertified interpreters. 
  • The ratio of attorneys available for people living in poverty compared to the rest of the population is 1:40. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, the states with the lowest ratings (meaning the least access to legal justice options) are concentrated in the South and the Midwest, with a few exceptions such as Arizona and Montana.

The data collected by the Justice Index also supports findings in a report by the Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic, which advocates for increased access for legal counsel in civil cases among low income people of color, women, and immigrants—who have a significant “civil justice gap.” In addition to these initiatives, the Department of Justice (DOJ) convened a meeting in February to address the challenges faced by those with limited English language proficiency, a number that’s nearly doubled since 1990 to 25 million people. 

(h/t NPR

Federal Guide Warns: Don’t Discriminate Against Job Applicants With Background Checks

Federal Guide Warns: Don't Discriminate Against Job Applicants With Background Checks

On Monday two U.S. agencies issued joint guidelines for employers and job seekers on the proper use of criminal background checks. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, together with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission emphasized that employers need express written permission to conduct a background check, and must warn applicants that such information could be used in hiring decisions. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission warns that it’s illegal, “to check the background of applicants and employees when that decision is based on a person’s race, national origin, color, sex, religion, disability, genetic information (including family medical history), or age (40 or older).”

“For example, asking only people of a certain race about their financial histories or criminal records is evidence of discrimination.”

All too often often though, background checks are a tool of discrimination which relegate men of color in particular to the ranks of the terminally unemployed.

For more, read Kai Wright’s deep dive into the widespread use of illegal background checks, and the EEOC and FTC joint publication in full.

The War on Drugs Continues to Keep Prisons Full

The War on Drugs Continues to Keep Prisons Full

The latest stats from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) shows drug arrests are the main source of incarcerations across the nation—a proportion that has been rising steadily over the past four decades. More than 50 percent of those in prisons are there because of drug offenses, of which 28 percent were arrested for marijuana-related charges. The BOP doesn’t include include racial demographics in the most recent stats, but according to the Drug Policy Alliance 61 percent of those in prison for drug offenses are black or Latino, and the ACLU reports that black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana related offenses than white people (even though both groups have similar drug usage rates).

Notably, the second largest source of prison populations is immigration. Combined, more than 60 percent of those currently in prison are there for nonviolent crimes. 

Gawker Compares New Dating Service to ‘Comfort Women’

Gawker Compares New Dating Service to 'Comfort Women'

In an article about The Dating Ring—a startup that aims to even out the ratio of (heterosexual) women and men of “dateable” age in New York and San Francisco by flying women out to the West Coast—the popular daily gossip blog Gawker raised some serious eyebrows. While this new dating site perhaps deserved a jab, the way that Gawker and its Silicon Valley blog ValleyWag chose to go about it was regrettable and offensive to those connected to legacy of Japanese occupation during World War II and that of “comfort women”—girls and women forced to work as prostitutes for the Japanese military. 

And the timing couldn’t be less appropriate. On Monday the Japanese government announced it would not amend a 1993 apology made by a cabinet secretary, which refused to acknowledge the women were coerced into sex work. Scholars estimate tens of thousands of women were forced into prostitution during this era.

But social media users aren’t letting Gawker off the hook for its latest gaffe. Check out this Korean American writer’s Storify charting how the general public took Gawker to task for its insensitive remarks. 

Watch the Latest Episode of the Black Girls CODE Web Documentary

Watch the Latest Episode of the Black Girls CODE Web Documentary

The U.S. technology sector remains predominantly white and male, with few opportunities for young women of color to get involved and succeed in the field. Black Girls CODE (BCG), founded by tech entrepreneur and White House Champion of Change award-winner Kimberly Bryant, teaches young black women and girls HTML coding, app design, and marketing starting as early as elementary school.

Last fall BCG launched a web documentary to introduce some of the young people they work with and the kinds of projects they complete. In the latest episode we hear from educators and youth in South Florida, who struggle to help youth of color get ahead in the midst of underperforming schools, income inequality, and racism. Hear about the experience of learning to use new technology from young women at a “build a game in a day” in Miami-Dade County.

ICYMI: Belly Dancing When You’re a White Woman

ICYMI: Belly Dancing When You're a White Woman

Reaction is still coming in to last week’s, “Why I can’t stand white belly dancers,” essay by Palestinian-American novelist, Randa Jarrar. Muslimah Media Watch, a Muslim feminist forum on global religions site, Patheos, is the latest to weigh in. But notably, so too have white men in the MSM, including a First Amendment law professor blogging at The Washington Post and Atlantic writer, Conor Friedersdorf. As in all cultural appropriation conversations, a common thread: where do you draw the line?

Jarrar’s essay, which uses the Egyptian name, “Raqs sharqi,” after the popular style, is worth the read. For her:

This dance form is originally ours, and does not exist so that white women can have a better sense of community; can gain a deeper sense of sisterhood with each other; can reclaim their bodies; can celebrate their sexualities; can perform for the female gaze. Just because a white woman doesn’t profit from her performance doesn’t mean she’s not appropriating a culture. And, ultimately, the question is this: Why does a white woman’s sisterhood, her self-reclamation, her celebration, have to happen on Arab women’s backs?

Over at MMW, some of the women identify with Jarrar’s visceral recoiling. They also inject a definition around cultural appropriation versus cultural exchange, as well as introduce a new question: is it still cultural appropriation when “minorities” do it?

UCLA Law prof, Eugene Volokh objects to the idea that belly dancing like all cultural art belongs to anyone but humanity.

Maybe — and I know this is a radical thought — artists, whether high or low, should be able to work in whatever artistic fields they want to work in. Maybe they should even be able to work in those fields regardless of their skin color or the place from which their ancestors came. Maybe telling people that they can’t work in some field because they have the wrong color or ancestry would be … rats, I don’t know what to call it. If only there were an adjective that could be used to mean “telling people that they mustn’t do something, because of their race or ethnic origin.”

And Conor Friedersdorf uses a Native American example to agree with Jarrar that appropriation can be insensitive or disrespectful. But common ground ends there:

Randa Jarrar writes as if all appropriation is self-evidently objectionable, and if her attitudes were adopted widely, we’d miss out on the awesomeness that emerges from our wonderfully polyglot country. Insofar as anyone considers any aspect of any culture to be partially mine, I hereby cede my share of it to the creative commons. Have at the appropriation. 

Be sure to check out all the perspectives above. And, add your own.

Mic Check: Joan Morgan and Brittney Cooper in Conversation

Mic Check: Joan Morgan and Brittney Cooper in Conversation

Joan Morgan, author the hip-hop feminist bible, “When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost,” sits down with Rutgers University professor and Crunk Feminist Collective co-founder, Brittney Cooper. The early February talk was the closing keynote of The Ohio State University’s annual Hip Hop Literacies conference.


(h/t For Harriet)

Live Chat: Dear White People and Black Student Activists Talk Race on College Campuses

Live Chat: Dear White People and Black Student Activists Talk Race on College Campuses

College campuses are rife with incidents of racial ignorance, and even plain old racism. Sadly, none of that is new. But in this post-affirmative action era, when colleges’ ability to consider race in their admissions policies is only becoming more constrained, higher education is also becoming increasingly racially stratifed. Black, Latino and Asian-American students depend heavily on community colleges and the for-profit college system, but black and Latino students in particular are underrepresented among the nation’s elite universities. It all makes for deeply racially isolated college climates. In recent months students from University of Michigan, UCLA and Harvard have launched social media-driven public conversations—#BBUM (Being Black at University of Michigan), UCLA Law School students’ YouTube video, and Harvard’s #itooamharvard Tumblr campaign—raising all of these issues.

Today at 4pm PT/7pm ET, join Colorlines, students from all three campuses, and the folks from Dear White People for a Google+ Hangout to discuss race in higher education and how social media’s stepped up the public conversation about all of it. Just click the play button in the YouTube embed above at 4pm PT/7pm ET to join us. 

Suicide Crisis Continues Among Native Youth on Reservations

Suicide Crisis Continues Among Native Youth on Reservations

Domestic violence, poverty, substance abuse, unemployment, and what some experts describe as “pervasive despair” mark the lives of many young Native people living on reservations, which many say leads to higher suicide rates among these youth. A recent report from the Washington Post tells the chilling stories of places like Gila River Indian reservation—where eight young people ended their lives in just one year, and Spirit Lake Nation—where a 14-year-old killed herself after laying in bed for three months following her father’s and sister’s suicides.

Native youth are more than three times more likely to commit suicide (a number that increases to more than 10 times on some reservations), and have post traumatic stress symptoms on par with Iraq War veterans. Experts say in addition to these factors, a “trail of broken promises” adds to a feeling of hopelessness, as do the experiences many youth have in public schools off the reservation, where they often face abuse, bullying, and sexual violence. But advocates also point to changes in some Native American cultures, once extremely protective of youth, that have diminished as tribes are pressured to assimilate. 

Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon, and Native youth suicide rates appear to be holding steady. Institutions such as the Aspen Institute Center for Native American Youth and the recently formed DOJ American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) Children Exposed to Violence task force are both working to address the suicide crisis in this community, though the federal task force has yet to share findings or provide recommendations for helping Native communities cope with these tragedies and prevent future suicides. 

(h/t Washington Post)

Border Patrol Use of Force Rules: Shooting at Rock-Throwers Still OK

Border Patrol Use of Force Rules: Shooting at Rock-Throwers Still OK

On Friday the Border Patrol released guidelines to officers outlining when the use of deadly force is permissable. The guidelines come after intense advocacy from immigrant and human rights activists in the wake of multiple deadly Border Patrol shootings aimed at people who were allegedly throwing rocks at officers.

Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher wrote that the officers’ “level of force applied must reflect the totality of the circumstances surrounding each situation.” Fisher advised officers to stop shooting at moving vehicles and rock throwers, that is, unless officers believe that the “subject of such force poses and imminent danger of death or serious injury.” According to Fisher, Border Patrol officers have killed 10 people since 2010 after rock-throwing incidents after 1,713 incidents of rock-throwing. 

The memo “leaves much to be desired,” ACLU policy counsel Chris Rickerd told the AP. “It is largely a restatement of existing policy, which is a shame because clearly existing policy isn’t working,” Rickerd said.

Read the Border Patrol memo (PDF).

Watch DREAMers Come Back Home

Watch DREAMers Come Back Home

Some 150 people who have been deported from the United States are set to return over the next few days via the Otay Mesa post of entry between Tijuana, Mex., and San Diego, Calif. Organized by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, the crossers will split into two groups: Dreamers will cross today, and families (including children) will cross sometime this week. The group has pulled off largely successful similar actions in the past. This third crossing is being called Bring Them Home 3. 

You can watch two live streams of the crossing—one from the Mexican side, and the other from the U.S. side

Ann Coulter Suggests Creating ‘Death Squads’ if Immigration Reform Passes

Ann Coulter Suggests Creating 'Death Squads' if Immigration Reform Passes

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter is never one to mince words, but in her recent debate with journalist Mickey Kaus at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) she expressed some shocking attitudes about immigrants and immigration reform. She began by suggesting that Democrats only support immigration reform because they’re looking to increase their voter base, and criticized both Democrats and Republicans for endorsing so-called “amnesty.” But she also shared some disturbing views on shaming and “the poor.” 

There’s an overwhelming cultural sense, a political correctness, to end shaming. Shaming is good. It’s almost a cruel and insensitive thing for the upper classes, the educated, the college graduates, to refuse to tell poor people ‘keep your knees together before you get married.’

She went on to suggest immigrants should be shamed for “running across the border illegally,” and said the notion of families getting torn apart by immigration policies is a myth perpetuated by liberals and the media, because most undocumented immigrants are young men (who come into the country illegally in the backs of trucks marked “pico de gallo”). Coulter ended the conversation with a zinger. 

Immigration is forever, it is game over when that happens. Amnesty is forever. You gotta vote for the Republicans one more time, and just make it clear that if you pass amnesty that’s it, it’s over. And then we organize the death squads for the people that wrecked America.

Considering the climate around immigration reform, the hardships caused by record numbers of deportations under President Obama, and the most recent polls suggesting voters across political parties favor immigration reform, Coulters comments come across as narrow-minded, cruel, and disconnected from the tough realities immigrants face. 

New Romantic Comedy Explores Detroit’s Arab-American Community

New Romantic Comedy Explores Detroit's Arab-American Community

Stereotypical representations of Arab-Americans as hyper-religious or terrorists are all too common, and one Detroit filmmaker hopes to challenge these notions in a new romantic comedy. “Detroit Unleaded” tells the story of two young Arab-Americans, Sami and Najila, falling in love and balancing culture, romance, and everyday life in Detroit.  Lebanese filmmaker Rola Nashef originally produced the film as a short, and was encouraged by local community members to create a full-length version.

In a recent Q&A with Truthout, Nashef describes the challenges of dating within Arab-American communities, racial tensions among different groups in Detroit, and what inspired the film. 

I wanted to present a story that was told through an Arab-American dynamic instead of explaining Arab-American culture. It was my goal to create complex characters on both sides of the glass, seen through an Arab-American perspective. If I can get an audience member to identify with Sami, who is trapped in a job that he doesn’t like - and just happens to be Arab - that audience member is bonding with a person that they have been told is their enemy. 

I think it is important to balance our image with more universal experiences. Who hasn’t lied to sneak out of the house to see their crush or been stuck in a job they don’t like?

(h/t Truthout

Kumbia Queers Launch U.S. Tour

Kumbia Queers Launch U.S. Tour

On Thursday the Kumbia Queers, an all-woman Latin American cumbia band whose name parodies the popular all-male Kumbia Kings, launched a U.S. tour to promote their newest album “Pecados Tropicales.” Playing for an intimate crowd at the Queens Museum, the Kumbia Queers talked about the role of women in a music genre that continues to be heavily masculine, where women are more often sexy backup dancers or sex object in songs than performers. Nearly all the band members have backgrounds in punk and heavy metal, and said that they chose to develop their unique cumbia style, which they call tropi punk, in part to make a statement about the representations of women (particularly queer women who challenge common notions of femininity) within the cumbia scene 

Cumbia, described by some as the “backbone of Latin America ,” is a music form that blends African and Indigenous sounds and rhythms with Latin American styles and instruments.  The music is commonly heard, with distinct regional characteristics, throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and has also been growing in popularity in the U.S.  The Kumbia Queers tours continues on to Washington D.C., Chicago, and Austin, as well as multiple dates in California. 

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