Russell Simmons: ‘I’ve Done More For Blacks in Fashion and Gay Rights’ Than André Leon Talley’

Russell Simmons: 'I've Done More For Blacks in Fashion and Gay Rights' Than André Leon Talley'

You may have heard of André Leon Talley. As a contributing editor at fashion bible “Vogue”, he’s Anna Wintour’s right-hand man who’s been a front-row fixture at fashion shows in New York, London, and Paris for nearly three decades. 

During New York Fashion Week, Talley told The Grio that Russell Simmons had no business sitting in the front row at some of this year’s most highly anticipated fashion shows after his Harriet Tubman sextape fiasco

“I don’t think Russell Simmons should be seated on anybody’s front row this week after having done that disgusting Harriet Tubman sex tape,” Tally said. “He is a man of great achievement. He is a great philanthropist — why would he think it would be an honorable thing to do? He said he thought it was funny. That is not funny, it is outrageously disrespectful to the legacy and history of Harriet Tubman and to the struggle.”

Late last week, Simmons responded in a Twitter rant in which he says that his track record in the fashion world speaks for itself.


New Miss America Faces Harsh Racism

New Miss America Faces Harsh Racism

What could have been a celebration of a historic moment turned into an opportunity for many people to express racist attitudes. Nina Davuluri became the first ever Miss America of Indian descent, and it sparked a flurry of activity online. Davuluri, who is Miss New York and an aspiring physician, became the subject of fierce racist and xenophobic comments, much of which stemmed from people thinking she is Arab. 


Davuluri has brushed off the comments, saying she will rise about them, and is proud to have won. 

(h/t BuzzFeed)

HBO’s ‘Girls’ May Be About to Welcome Its First Black Girl Character

HBO's 'Girls' May Be About to Welcome Its First Black Girl Character

Actress Danielle Brooks made waves with her role on the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.” Now, according to an interview in EBONY, Brooks says that her next project will be a role on the HBO hit series “Girls.”

The show, created by 20-something writer and actress Lena Dunham, has already taken a ton of criticism for its lack of racial diversity. Donald Glover made an appearance in its second season, but the show has so far been without a black female character.

Brooks says that’s about to change.  EBONY asked what was next on her plate, and the actress responded: “Of course you’re going to get to see a lot of Taystee [on ‘Orange is the New Black”] in season two and I just shot an episode of ‘Girls’ for HBO. I will be the first Black woman to be on ‘Girls,’ so that’s exciting for me. Other than that I just don’t know. I’m hoping Melissa McCarthy will hit a sister up.”

(h/t Shadow and Act)

Latino Novel Banned in Arizona Public School

Latino Novel Banned in Arizona Public School

Arizona public schools are becoming notorious for censoring Latino literature.  This time, it’s Cristina García’s critically acclaimed book “Dreaming in Cuban,” which explores themes of exile, politics and family after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. The book has been banned at a Sierra Vista, Ariz., high school because a parent complained about sexually explicit content in the book. 

Dreaming_in_Cuban_091613.jpegThis book’s banning is the latest in what appears to be a statewide pattern of censorship. In 2010 the Arizona legislature voted to ban any courses that “promote ethnic solidarity, foster racial resentment, or encourage the overthrow of the United States,” which led Tucson public schools to do away with an experimental Mexican-American Studies curriculum. Earlier this year, the Tucson Unified School District approved a list of “culturally relevant” books for the upcoming term, which conspicuously excluded any literature written by Mexican Americans (even though Arizona’s Latino population is overwhelmingly Mexican). 

According to the book’s author, and the American Library Association, this book has never been banned before. 

Watch Julie Chen Talk about Racism and Getting Eyelid Surgery

Watch Julie Chen Talk about Racism and Getting Eyelid Surgery

This week, CBS’ “The Talk” host Julie Chen revealed she had plastic surgery to “make her eyes look bigger” at age 25. In this extended version of her emotional revelation, she talks about how past employers, talent agents, and even some family members pressured her to have the procedure. She says

It took me back to when I was growing up in Queens, and would get on the school bus, and would hear people say “ching chong” and pull their eyes. And it felt like a weird grown-up version of racism in the workplace. But I couldn’t challenge him. He was my boss.

Chen admits that her career took off after she had the surgery, and while she doesn’t regret her decision she has often wondered if she “gave in to the man.”

NYPD Commissioner Sends Memo: Indians Are Asians, Not American Indians

NYPD Commissioner Sends Memo: Indians Are Asians, Not American Indians

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly issued a memo on Monday to address ‘incorrect racial identification’ used by the NYPD.  According to a report from the NYPD’s Quality Assurance Division, police officers mistakenly identified crime suspects and victims who are Indian as “American Indian” instead of Asian.  Sometimes a person was labeled as both Asian and American Indian, although apparently the error was not widespread. publisher Rinku Sen is quoted by the New York Daily News, saying she appreciates the efforts made by the NYPD.

“The memo might give police officers the chance to understand the difference between American Indians and Asian Indians,” she said.

In a city like New York, which has the largest population of Native Americans and Alaska Natives in the country, this move by the NYPD is a notable effort to correct inaccurate racial categorizations, and increase awareness in a police department notorious for racial profiling

(h/t New York Daily News)

What the NSA’s Spying Has to Do With Racial Justice

What the NSA's Spying Has to Do With Racial Justice

If you’re reading this, chances are you probably didn’t have too tough of a time logging onto the Internet. But if Verizon has its way with a federal lawsuit aimed at overturning the FCC’s 2010 open Internet regulations, that could change, and companies could be allowed to create fast and slow lanes in an effort to boost profits. 

Over at New America Media, Malkia Cyril, who’s the executive director at the Center for Media Justice, and Joseph Torres, who works as a senior external affairs director at Free Press, wrote an op-ed that links the broader fight for fairness in telecommunications with the fight for racial justice.

The FBI’s counterintelligence program, created in the 1950s, often wiretapped phones to discredit the civil rights and black power movements. And these strategies aren’t relics of the past: After the Sept. 11 attacks, the New York City Police Department created a secret surveillance program that targets the local Muslim community.

Our government’s decision to work closely with ISPs to spy on U.S. residents is troubling, and underscores the need for rules that protect free speech online. 

If Verizon wins in court, one has to wonder how hard the government will fight to protect free speech online, given that the same companies lobbying to gut open Internet protections are essential to our nation’s domestic spying apparatus. 

For more, visit Voices for Internet Freedom.

Sunday Marks the 50th Anniversary of the Birmingham Church Bombing

Sunday Marks the 50th Anniversary of the Birmingham Church Bombing

This Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Birmingham, Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Church. Four Ku Klux Klan members planted a bomb at the church, which was long associated with the civil rights movement. When it detonated, it claimed the lives of 11-year-old Denise McNair, 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, 14-year-old Carole Robertson, and 14-year-old Cynthia Wesley. More than two dozen people were also injured. 

One of the bombers, Robert Chambliss, was charged with possession of dynamite. He served a six-month sentence. The others weren’t prosecuted for decades. Fourteen years after the bombing, Chambliss was tried again and found guilty in connection with the bombing. He died in 1985. Thomas Blanton wasn’t tried until 2001, and is still serving a life sentence; Bobby Frank Cherry was convicted in 2002, and died two years later—that means it took nearly 40 years for most of the bombers to be brought to justice. The other bomber, Herman Cash, had died in 1994 and never faced charges.

The bombing took place at a time when the city faced so much anti-black violence that some in the civil rights movement dubbed it “Bombingham.” Medgar Evers had been killed in neighboring Mississippi just three months previously, and the March on Washington (during which time Dr. King shared his famous “I Have a Dream” speech) had taken place about two weeks previously.

In an op-ed published this week, Dale Long, who survived the bombing as a child, explains why he’s returning to Birmingham this weekend:

There had been church bombings before in Birmingham, but no loss of life. We quickly learned that to exist in Birmingham as an African-American child, understanding the subject of race and discrimination was critical to our survival.

You can read Long’s full post at The Dallas Morning News

Snoop Lion Joins Rappers Donating to Funeral for LA Girl

Snoop Lion Joins Rappers Donating to Funeral for LA Girl

Snoop Lion (the artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg) gave an undisclosed contribution to the family of Tiana Ricks, a 6-year-old girl killed this week in suspected gang violence. She and her father, Tyrell Ricks, were shot on Monday in Moreno Valley, Los Angeles by two men who remain at large. Her father sustained injuries but survived the shooting. Snoop hopes to bring attention to ongoing gun violence nationwide, and told the LA Times

“From the mass shootings in Aurora and Newtown, to gang violence in the streets and murders in our own backyards, too many tears are being shed, too many young lives are being cut short. We need to come together to change this.”

He joins rapper The Game in donating to the girl’s funeral, both sending heartfelt condolences to the family. The Game gave a $10,000 donation as part of “The Robin Hood Project,” a personal initiative to donate $1 million to people in need this year.

(h/t LA Times)

Laverne Cox, Janet Mock Talk Stigma of Loving Transgender Women

Laverne Cox, Janet Mock Talk Stigma of Loving Transgender Women

Transgender activists Laverne Cox and Janet Mock joined scholar Mark Anthony Neal and The Nation’s Mychal Denzel Smith for a discussion on HuffPost Live about DJ Mister Cee’s latest scandal. The famous New York City DJ resigned from his post as host of Hot 97 after a blogger posted a video of an encounter he alleges to have had with Mister Cee in which the longtime radio personality solicited sex for money.

The HuffPost Live conversation was an interesting one because instead of talking about Mister Cee, the guests focused on how we’re talking about him. “There’s consistently an erasure of trans identity when we have these discussions,” said Cox, who’s skyrocketed to stardom because of her pioneering role on the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.” “The reason I’m here,” Cox continued, “is because whenever we have these discussions, trans women’s voices are not included…. The extent to which men who date us or are attracted to us is so intense.”

Mock argued a similar point in a critical essay that she published on her blog:

The shame that society attaches to these men, specifically attacking their sexuality and shaming their attraction, directly affects trans women. It affects the way we look at ourselves. It amplifies our body-image issues, our self-esteem, our sense of possibility, of daring for greatness, of aiming for something or somewhere greater. 


Florida Man Tasered, Arrested for Walking While Black

Florida Man Tasered, Arrested for Walking While Black

Bobby Wingate is a black man who lives in Jacksonville, Florida who was only trying to get to an appointment when he was stopped by a local police officer, beaten, tasered, and arrested. A judge later dropped all charges against Wingate, but the police officer involved in the incident is still on the job and his department has not launched an internal investigation. Wingate says that he wants an apology from the officer, but adds: “If I ever see him again, and he needs my help for something, I’ll help him.”

(h/t Gawker)

New York City Says Goodbye to Its Oldest Taxi Driver

New York City Says Goodbye to Its Oldest Taxi Driver

When Johnnie “Spider” Footman moved to New York City from segregated Florida, his mother didn’t think he’d last in the Big Apple. “My mother told my uncle, ‘Take him away from here, because he’s going to get killed,’” Footman told the New York Post last year in an interview.  Not only did Footman make it in the city, but he also wound up becoming its longest tenured taxi driver. Footman picked up fares from 1945 until 2012 and, this week, he passed away at the age of 94. Before his death, Footman shared some of his most memorable stories. Check out the video above.

(h/t Gawker)

TAGS: Taxi

Immigrant Window Washer Documentary Shortlisted for an Academy Award

Immigrant Window Washer Documentary Shortlisted for an Academy Award

The Windy City is probably one of the most dangerous places to be a window washer. Taking a closer look at the workers who daily dangle down the city’s skyscrapers, Paraíso highlights a group of Mexican immigrants who have built their careers in this risky profession. 

In a New York Times op-ed published this week, filmmaker Nadav Kurtz says he was inspired to make the film when he watched a window washer at work from his desk in Chicago. 

This momentary interaction seemed a perfect metaphor for life in many multiethnic American cities where the work of immigrants often goes unnoticed. 

The film, which we highlighted as a top-10 Sundance pick earlier this year, was just shortlisted as an Academy Award nominee and screened at the Tribeca Film Festival. 

One Day in the Life of Sikh Captain America

One Day in the Life of Sikh Captain America

Meet Vishavjit Singh, an editorial cartoonist behind Sikhtoons, which chronicles the experiences of everyday Sikh Americans in the aftermath of 9/11. Inspired by one of his comics, Singh decided to spend one day roaming the streets of New York City and wrote about it for Salon:

People shook my hands, and a few literally congratulated me. The celebrity-of-the-moment experience was a little overwhelming. But I was jarred out of that trance by a few negative outliers. One man tried to grab my turban. Another yelled, “Captain Arab.” And yet another: “Terrorista!”


It was the most unlikeliest of days for me. Hundreds of strangers came up to me. And we were able to lay to rest any anxieties or inhibitions in those moments — about other people, about the unknown, about ourselves, about violating other people’s personal spaces or not understanding their beliefs. We could simply meet. Say hi. Snap a memory of that moment. And I could leave brand-new images on the hard drive of their mind — as well as their hand-held devices, Apple clouds, virtual worlds.

You can read the rest of Singh’s tale over at Salon.

(h/t Angry Asian Man)

White Woman Becomes Maasai Warrior (Seriously)

White Woman Becomes Maasai Warrior (Seriously)

When Mindy Budgor was 27 years old, she apparently tried to find meaning in her life by temporarily ditching her wealth in Santa Barbara and jetting over to hang with the poor people of Kenya for two weeks on a humanitarian mission. While there, she says she met Maasai warriors and a chief named Winston who told her women were not allowed to be warriors. Budgor then returned home and hired a personal trainer to prepare her to return to Kenya to test the Maassai’s practice. According to, Budgor says she was rejected by Winston, but then found someone else to help her meet her personal challenge:

After working with a personal trainer for six weeks in California to get in shape for her upcoming challenge, Budgor, along with a similarly adventurous friend, returned to Winston. He reneged on his offer, but the determined women found their way to a more open-minded warrior named Lanet, in Nairobi, who agreed to take them on. 

In an essay on The Guardian, Budgor claims that she was successful in her inexplicable drive to change a people she never had any connection with. On her website, which promotes the book she penned called “Warrior Princess: My Quest to Become the First Female Maasai Warrior,” the oddly beaded Budgor is described as answering a higher calling:

Mindy immediately realizes her calling and thus begins her amazing adventure to become the first female Maasai warrior. As a result of this training and advocacy, the Maasai in Loita, Kenya, are leading the charge to change tribal law and allow women the right to become Maasai warriors. Mindy as a tribe member is ready to return to stand with her fellow-warriors against whatever opposition they might face—be it lions, or elephants, or Western-influence.

There’s a very long and tragic history of white people acting as saviors, going abroad and wreaking absolute cultural, environmental, economic, and political havoc. There’s also a very troubling history of white people misappropriating customs and robes that do not belong to them. Budgor seems to be comfortable repeating these practices and then some.

The fact that Budgor recognizes tribal law but feels comfortable challenging it—while claiming she is helping “her fellow-warriors against […] Western-influence”—is disturbing, least of all for the contradiction her practice contains. Perhaps more disturbing is that Budgor regards herself “as a tribe member” after spending several weeks in Nairobi on a self-styled safari and returning to her actual home in the U.S. Budgor seems to be behaving less like a Maasai warrior and more like a white woman writing a book to turn a profit from her romanticized trip to Kenya.  

Shonda Rhimes to Produce New Show with Scandal’s Dan Bucatinsky

Shonda Rhimes to Produce New Show with Scandal's Dan Bucatinsky

“Scandal” fans, Shonda Rhimes has something new cooking. She’s collaborating with Dan Bucatinsky, who plays Cyrus Black’s husband James on the show, in a new series inspired by his recently published book “Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight.” The new series, called “Show & Tell,” will be a hour-long dramedy about the also scandalous lives of parents, including (from the sounds of Bucatinsky’s book) gay parents, whose children all go to the same school.

TV Host Julie Chen Says She Was Pressured Into Eyelid Surgery

TV Host Julie Chen Says She Was Pressured Into Eyelid Surgery

Julie Chen, the host of CBS’ “The Talk”, recently revealed that she had eyelid surgery to appear “less Asian.” At the urging of an agent, and after feeling pressure inside of local television newsrooms to appear more relatable, Chen got plastic surgery. As she tells the story:

“My secret dates back to - my heart is racing - it dates back to when I was 25 years old and I was working as a local news reporter in Dayton, Ohio,” Julie began.

She then set the scene by showing a clip of what a young Julie Chen looked like as a reporter at one of her first jobs and explaining how it was her dream to be a network news anchor some day.

“So, I asked my news director… over the holidays if anchors want to take vacations, could I fill in? And he said, ‘You will never be on this anchor desk, because you’re Chinese.’ He said ‘Let’s face it Julie, how relatable are you to our community? How big of an Asian community do we have in Dayton? On top of that because of your Asian eyes, I’ve noticed that when you’re on camera, you look disinterested and bored.’

“So, what am I supposed to say to my boss? I wanted to cry right then and there. It felt like a dagger in my heart, because all of my life I wanted to be a network anchor,” she continued.

(h/t Angry Asian Man)

Watch 100 Women Risk Arrest for Immigration Reform

Watch 100 Women Risk Arrest for Immigration Reform

With Congress back in session this week, 100 women—several among them undocumented—participated in an act of civil disobedience in front of the House of Representatives today. Organized by the We Belong Together initiative, the women came together to highlight the undue burden faced by women in the struggle for immigration reform. 

Four undocumented women joined the demonstration today, risking arrest and subsequent deportation to advocate for immigration reform. These women were joined by directors and representatives from organizations including the National Domestic Workers Alliance, CHIRLA, NOW, UltraViolet, America’s Voice, The Black Institute, 9 to 5 Working Women, the Tennessee State Conference of NAACP, and many others.

With an incredibly short amount of time left this year to deal with a host of issues, Congress is unlikely to pass the much contested immigration bill. Yet activists have continued to participate in actions such as today’s protest to highlight the struggle of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who have been told —yet again—they must wait for reform. 

Naming the Shame Surrounding Trans Women

Naming the Shame Surrounding Trans Women

If Mr. Cee’s resignation has proven anything, it’s that many of us continue to base our conversations about trans women on a sense of shame and secrecy—and a troubling, unnecessary urge to pathologize certain attractions. As writer and activist Janet Mock points out in a critical essay today, the conversation about Mr. Cee isn’t one about “soliciting sex from someone he perceived as a trans woman;” it’s about a pervading ideology that questions the mere existence of trans women:

The shame that society attaches to these men, specifically attacking their sexuality and shaming their attraction, directly affects trans women. It affects the way we look at ourselves. It amplifies our body-image issues, our self-esteem, our sense of possibility, of daring for greatness, of aiming for something or somewhere greater. If a young trans woman believes that the only way she can share intimate space with a man is through secret hookups, bootycalls or transaction, she will be led to engage in risky sexual behaviors that make her more vulnerable to criminalization, disease and violence; she will be led to coddle a man who takes out his frustrations about his sexuality on her with his fists; she will be led to question whether she’s worthy enough to protect herself with a condom when a man tells her he loves her; she will be led to believe that she is not worthy of being seen, that being seen heightens her risk of violence therefore she must hide who she is at all costs in order to survive.

You can read Mock’s full post, titled How Society Shames Men Dating Trans Women & How This Affects Our Lives, over on her site,

Legendary DJ Mister Cee Grapples with Homophobia in Hip-Hop

Legendary DJ Mister Cee Grapples with Homophobia in Hip-Hop

Yesterday the legendary hip-hop DJ Mister Cee resigned from his 20-year post at New York City’s Hot 97 after a male video blogger named Bimbo Winehouse released audio of a man who sounds like the DJ soliciting sex for money. Born Calvin LeBrun, Mister Cee had been arrested previously for soliciting sex from transgender prostitutes. 

This morning Mister Cee, who is most famous for DJing for Big Daddy Kane and serving as an associate executive producer on Notorious B.I.G.’s debut, “Ready to Die,” did a revealing interview with Hot 97 programming director Ebro Darden about sexuality, shame and homophobia in hip-hop. Throughout the interview, Darden invites the DJ to return to his job and reassures him that the station accepts him as he is. At times tearful, Mister Cee says that he’s tired of hiding his desires. The exchange is worth a listen.   

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