Watching Zimmerman’s Trial Might Break Your Heart

Watching Zimmerman's Trial Might Break Your Heart

George Zimmerman is finally having his day in court. We know that the jury includes some interesting, concealed-weapons-permit-having jurors. The stage is now set for heartbreak from the witness stand.

In a case about life and death—and the charge of second-degree murder to be specific—Zimmerman defense attorney Don West started his opening statement with a knock-knock joke that no one seemed to find too amusing.

The courtroom grew somber as the state called its first witness: 15-year-old Chad Joseph. His mother is Brandy Green; her boyfriend is Tracy Martin (Trayvon’s father). Joseph—whose relationship to Trayvon might be described as a stepbrother to Trayvon—testified that he and Trayvon watched television and played video games all day on that fateful February day last year that would end with Trayvon’s death. Joseph explained that he stayed home while Trayvon went to the local store for goodies—adding that he asked Trayvon to get him Skittles.

That was the last time Joseph ever saw Trayvon alive.

Where to Get Your ‘Native Americans Discovered Columbus’ Tee

Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 4.04.29 PM.pngNavajo Times reporter Shondiin Silversmith did a great write up on Jared Yazzie and his OxDx t-shirts. Silversmith writes that Yazzie was once an engineering student, but soon turned to graphic design:

He sold his first shirt design to 25 people, whom he calls his “dream team.” The design on his first shirt was of a Navajo child’s head with a distorted dream bubble floating above him and a bandana that says “dreamer.”

“After that I had enough money to come up with my next design,” Yazzie said.

He left UA and moved to Phoenix in 2010 where he continued to design his shirts.

“Everything is either hand-drawn by me or graphically altered by me. I do all the graphics for my stuff,” Yazzie said. Each of his T-shirts is either screen-printed or hand-painted.

Yazzie learned the screen-printing process in his brother’s garage from a friend in 2011. When he first started, his designs would be sent out to screen shops and professionally printed, but does the printing himself today.

Read the rest of the article—and check out Yazzie’s Native Super Woman, Native Americans Discover Columbus, and other shirts at

Justice Ginsburg’s Dissent a Roadmap for Defenders of Affirmative Action

Justice Ginsburg's Dissent a Roadmap for Defenders of Affirmative Action

The Supreme Court has left affirmative action alone for now, even as they’ve indicated that race-conscious admissions policies stand on shaky legal ground. But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used her dissent to provide an outline for the University of Texas to follow, as it will presumably continue to defend its admissions program when the case returns to the Fifth Circuit. 

In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the lower Fifth Circuit Court didn’t properly examine whether the University of Texas’ admissions policies fulfilled a compelling state interest, as they’re required to do by Grutter v. Bollinger, a prior Supreme Court ruling. Ginsburg disagreed.

“In my view, the courts below adhered to this court’s pathmarking decisions and there is no need for a second look,” Ginsburg said today when reading her dissent aloud, the AP reported. The Supreme Court had sufficient information to gauge whether the University of Texas complied with the legal standard set by Grutter, and according to Ginsburg, their program is constitutional.

Still, Ginsburg wrote for just herself, while Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion that he’d overturn Grutter altogether. She used her opinion to lay out a framework for the University of Texas to follow, and to push back on the arguments made by the plaintiff, a white Texan named Abigail Fisher who was denied admission to the university.

Eliminating race and using race-blind alternatives could be able to produce a diverse student body to a satisfactory degree, Fisher argued, and so race-conscious admissions ought to be eliminated. Fisher stood in favor of Texas’ Top 10 Percent Plan, which automatically accepts a portion of the top graduates from each Texas public high school, and the separate admissions process Texas uses to round out its incoming class, which takes other factors, of which race is but one, into account. The Top 10 Percent Plan seemingly race-neutral, yet because of enduring residential segregation that determines where students go to school, “race consciousness, not blindness to race, … drives such plans,” Ginsburg wrote.

“[O]nly an ostrich could regard the supposedly neutral alternatives as race unconscious,” Ginsburg wrote. 

Universities and public institutions have no need to hide from the “legacy of ‘centuries of law-sanctioned inequality,’” and that race-consciousness is preferable to some backdoor effort to address inequity by concealing the mention of it. And because, Ginsburg pointed out, the University of Texas “flexibly” considers race as but one of many factors in its admissions process, and puts its admissions program up for regular review to determine whether its consideration of race is still a necessary part of its admissions process, its programs are constitutional. 

There’s still a chance for the Supreme Court to dismantle the deeper underpinnings that are holding affirmative action together when the Court revisits the practice in its next term.

Read the Supreme Court opinions, along with Ginsburg’s dissent, here (PDF).

Nick Cannon to Re-Launch Soul Train on NBC

Nick Cannon to Re-Launch Soul Train on NBC

In a recent interview with The Grio at the 2013 American Black Film Festival in Miami, Nick Cannon revealed that he just struck a deal with NBC to bring back the hit variety show “Soul Train.” 

From the Grio:

“One of the things I’m the most excited about, and we’re just now starting to talk about it is the re-launch of Soul Train and that coming back,” Cannon told theGrio’s Chris Witherspoon. “It means so much for our culture. It truly is something that to be able to bring through my deal at NBC Universal is that in itself is kind of taking it to the next level for where the brand began. I’m excited about that.”

When asked if Soul Train would air on NBC, Cannon responded “Yes, that’s the plan.”


Showing Love for Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland: A Cross-Genre Tribute

Showing Love for Bobby 'Blue' Bland: A Cross-Genre Tribute

Bobby “Blue” Bland passed away over the weekend. The singer’s 1974 hit single “Ain’t No Love (In the Heart of the City)” is one of my personal favorites. And it’s also one of the most sampled songs around. Originally released in 1974 on Bland’s hit album “Dreamer”, the song was written by Michael Price and Dan Walsh and landed in the top ten of the R&B charts that year. But the song has been kept alive by artists from across generations.

I’ve gathered up a handful of samples to illustrate how Bland’s voice helped change 20th century American music. From country to reggae to rock and back to R&B, Bland influenced artists from every genre imaginable.

Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland: ‘Ain’t No Love (In the Heart of the City) 1974

Jay-Z: Ain’t No Love (In the Heart of the City) 2001.

Allman Brothers (2009 live recording)

Joe Budden: “No Love Lost.” 2013 (Hip-Hop) 

Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds (1985)

Vaya con Dios (2004)

Al Brown’s reggae remix (mid-1970s)

Here’s Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland With BB King on Soul Train in 1975

Here's Bobby 'Blue' Bland With BB King on Soul Train in 1975

Legendary blues singer Bobby “Blue” Bland passed away on Sunday. Family members told the media that Bland died from complications from a protracted illness and that he was surrounded by family members. He was 83 years old. USA Today remembered the singer as the “Sinatra of the blues.” Here’s a look at the height of his popularity after his 1974 album “Dreamer” on Soul Train.

Watch 11-Year-Old Cellist Prodigy Sujari Britt

Watch 11-Year-Old Cellist Prodigy Sujari Britt

Meet Sujari Britt, an 11-year-old New York City cellist who’s been playing since pre-school. Sujari’s currently studying at the Manhattan School of Music and has performed on some of the world’s biggest stages, including at a private event at the White House with President Obama back in 2009. 

(H/T Shadow and Act)

TAGS: Kids Music

Supreme Court Issues Big Non-Decision on Affirmative Action

Supreme Court Issues Big Non-Decision on Affirmative Action

In a 7-1 vote, the Supreme Court has decided to wait for another day to kill affirmative action. The Court has sent plaintiff Abigail Fisher’s case back to the lower Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling that the lower court did not properly examine a section of Grutter v. Bollinger, a prior Supreme Court affirmative action decision, in its consideration. The Supreme Court has now asked the Fifth Circuit to again look into the case, but to ask the University of Texas to prove, as Grutter demanded, that considering race in its admissions policies is a compelling state interest. The opinion, written as expected by Justice Anthony Kennedy, was ultimately rather narrow. 

The Supreme Court did not overturn Grutter, as many affirmative action watchers thought they might, but neither have they released University of Texas from further legal action. In her lone dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she did not think there was any need to send the case back to the Fifth Circuit. She argued that the university’s admissions program was fastidiously modeled on prior Supreme Court rulings so as to ensure its legality.

The case centered around the complaints of Abigail Fisher, a white female student who was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin and argued that the university’s race-conscious admissions policies discriminated against her because of her race. The University of Texas has staunchly defended its admissions policies, and argued that their practices hew exactly to the law as most recently interpreted by Supreme Court rulings just a decade old. UT Austin uses a blended admissions policy, whereby three-quarters of students are admitted via a race-blind program called the Top 10 Percent Plan, which automatically extends offers to the top graduates of each Texas public high school. The remaining incoming class is composed of students admitted after the consideration of many factors, of which race is but one.

UT Austin, in its defense, even pointed out that because of Fisher’s academic scores, she would not have been admitted, no matter what her race was. But that, and the fact that the Supreme Court most recently answered a challenge to race-conscious admissions policies in just 2003, did not stop the Supreme Court from taking up Fisher’s case. The eagerness with which Chief Justice John Roberts has seized upon affirmative action has signaled to many that he’s prepared to eliminate it in his tenure. 

Despite having been argued in October, the Court’s ruling came in the final days of the term after weeks of tense anticipation. Racial justice advocates and supporters of affirmative action had long been bracing for a further narrowing of universities’ rights to exercise the policy, if not the elimination of it altogether.

The ruling will not be the final word on affirmative action though. In March the Supreme Court agreed to hear yet another affirmative action challenge in next year’s term. Stay tuned for more from Colorlines.

Is Paula Deen Just a Product of Her Deep-Fried-Racist Time?

Is Paula Deen Just a Product of Her Deep-Fried-Racist Time?

That’s the question that seems to be bubbling to the surface in the fallout from Deen’s n-word controversey. Bill Maher made the case on his show recently, asking, “If you’re 66 years old, and you were raised in Georgia, and you were a child before the civil rights movement, do you get a bit of a pass?”

That question was also at the center of a New York Times piece that looked at Paula Deen’s supporters, who gathered in front of her Georgia restauraunt and threatened to boycott the Food Network for dropping Deen amid the controversey. “I get it, believe me,” one woman told the Times. “But what’s hard for people to understand is that she didn’t mean it as racist. It sounds bad, but that’s not what’s in her heart. She’s just from another time.”

Let’s hear from our readers. What do you think?

(H/T Jezebel)

TAGS: Paula Deen

Bill Maher Sorta Defends the ‘Hot Mess’ That Is Paula Deen

Bill Maher Sorta Defends the 'Hot Mess' That Is Paula Deen

Paula Deen probably had her worst week ever. She admitted to using the n-word, issued a couple of awful public apologies, and then was booted from the Food Network. But a recent episode of Real Time With Bill Maher brought up an interesting question: Is Deen just a product of her time — and should she get a pass? The answers on the show trended toward “no.”

But, as described at the Atlantic Wire:

…Maher stood his ground, and argued that the move to fire Deen was another instance of the outrage economy that dominates modern discourse claiming a new victim. “I also think that people shouldn’t have to lose their shows and go away when they do something bad,” he said. Deen clearly did something reprehensible, that isn’t up for debate, Maher says. But he also thinks firing her maybe wasn’t the right thing to do. “It’s just a word, it’s a wrong word, she’s wrong to use it. But do we always have to make people go away?” Herbert argued that, yeah, you do have to go away if you’re going to throw “the N-word” around. “It’s a free country, she has the right to say that word. It’s not illegal to say that word. But her boss said, ‘you’ve gotta go if you’re gonna use that word.’”

TAGS: Paula Deen

Let the Aaron Hernandez Prison Rape and Racist Jokes Begin

Let the Aaron Hernandez Prison Rape and Racist Jokes Begin

NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez is still at the center of an ongoing murder investigation in suburban Boston. Exactly one week ago, the body of a 27-year-old acquaintance of Hernandez’s, Odin Lloyd, was found about a mile away from the New England Patriots player’s home in North Attlesboro, Massachusetts.  Over the next several days, a cascade of damning evidence emerged pointing to Hernandez, including reports that the player destroyed his home surveillance system, hired a professional cleaning crew the day after Lloyd’s death, and delivered his cell phone to investigators “in pieces.”

Things aren’t looking good for Hernandez, who overcame a troubled collegiate career at Florida to become a star with one of the NFL’s best franchises. Hernandez is of Puerto Rican descent and one of only a handful of Latino players in professional football, a fact that’s led to some sadly predictable racist backlash on Twitter. 

NYC Gave Hundreds of High School Graduates Post-It Notes Instead of Diplomas

Graduation season is almost over, but hundreds of newly minted high school graduates in New York City have yet to recieve their diplomas thanks to a computer system glitch. Turns out that the company tasked with grading the students’ Regents exams, which are required to graduate, failed. So instead of diplomas, some students got post-it notes with their names written on them in Sharpies. 

From the New York Times:

The computer system, created by McGraw-Hill Education as part of a $9.6 million contract over three years, broke down this week, leaving students and teachers anxiously awaiting results. Passing grades on Regents exams in English, science, math and history are required for graduation in most public high schools. Students can retake an exam even after the school year ends in order to get a diploma; the next round of tests is given in August.

Erin Hughes, a spokeswoman for the city’s Education Department, said the city would hire extra teachers for the weekend so that exams could be graded before the school year ends on Wednesday. She said that the problem affected fewer than 3 percent of the roughly 57,000 seniors and that each year there was a relatively small number of students who received their scores, and their diplomas, after graduation ceremonies.

Read the whole story at the Times.

Paula Deen: ‘Please Excuse Me for the Mistakes I’ve Made’

Paula Deen: 'Please Excuse Me for the Mistakes I've Made'

Paula Deen has apologized for the racist comments she made that came to light earlier this week.

TAGS: Paula Deen

Senate’s Border ‘Surge’ Plays Political Games With Border Lives

Senate's Border 'Surge' Plays Political Games With Border Lives

The bi-partisan group of Senators leading the immigration reform push in Washington have agreed on a border security deal that Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham called “a border surge,” likening it to a war zone. “We have practically militarized the border,” Graham told Politico.

The deal, seen as a means of pulling more Republicans into the immigration reform fold before an expected vote on the legislation before July 4th, would send an additional 20,000 border guards to the Southwestern US, doubling the current number of armed agents. It would also buy even more new drones and complete 700 miles of wall between the US and Mexico. Republican Senators John Hoeven, N.D, and Bob Corker, Tenn, introduced the amendment to the bill. It has the support of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate Gang of Eight who drafted the bill.

For years, Republicans have demanded vast investment in border security as a prerequisite to immigration reform. Yet even as the Democratic and Republican administrations built up border controls to historic levels in recent years, Republicans continued to say it was not enough. Now, it appears Senate Democrats and Republicans have agreed to something that might be enough. “If this amendment holds together and it passes as currently constructed, border security will have been achieved at a level that nobody would have thought possible a month ago,” said Graham.

Politically, the amendment will likely gain Republican support. And Democrats will get behind it because it does not create a hard and fast border trigger that must be met before undocumented immigrants can move toward citizenship. Democrats and the White House have said that an enforcement trigger could stall the path to citizenship indefinitely, leaving millions in a nearly permanent legal limbo. Yesterday, as part of the deal, the Senate killed a trigger amendment from Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and instead agreed to new investments in the wall and border agents.

But here’s the thing: the existing border infrastructure is already dangerously out of control. The new investments will make that worse. Though the total number of people crossing the border has plummeted to lows not seen since the 1970’s, the number of migrants who perish in the desert while attempting to enter the US has remained steady. In other words, those trying to cross the US-Mexico border are now more likely to die. Most die of heat, others of brutal violence.

Robin Reineke coordinates the Missing Migrant Project at the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner.  She’s one of the people in charge of examining and documenting these deaths.

“We’ve seen that every time there’s a border enforcement build up, more people die,” Reineke says. “In 1994 when we had the last expansion of this size, more people crossing were pushed into the desert. I see this as another nail in the coffin in creating an inhumane border. This was not a war zone until policy made it one.”

Pushing people into more dangerous parts of the desert is not the only way the border patrol build up has killed people. We’ve learned recently from reporter John Carlos Frey that border patrol guards have shot and killed at least six people inside Mexico in the last five years. They’ve been shooting over the border and killing Mexican citizens. We know from the Government Accountability Office that the Department of Homeland Security has so rapidly deployed border patrol guards to the California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas border region that the agency hasn’t been able to adequately train them all. Indeed, border patrol agents are so plentiful that they’ve been shooting each other.  

20,000 more guards portend more of the same.  

The border expansion amendment may help get this immigration passed out of the Senate with significant Republican support.  That may generate more GOP backing for the bill in the House, where Republicans are more entrenched about their border security demands. As a purely political trade, it may make sense.  But let’s be very clear about what’s being traded: people’s lives.

Does Miley Cyrus Accessorize Her Cool With Black People?

Does Miley Cyrus Accessorize Her Cool With Black People?

Dodai Stewart over at Jezebel thinks so. Take a look at Cyrus’ video and judge for yourself.

TAGS: Miley Cyrus

These Ancient Chinese Herbs Could Help Improve Your Sex Life

These Ancient Chinese Herbs Could Help Improve Your Sex Life

Hyphen Magazine’s annual sex issue is out and it’s filled with goodies. Among them is a piece by Valerie Luu on ancient aphrodisiacs for the modern woman, which include: ginseng, epidedium (aka horny goat weed), fo-ti, and cordyceps. If you’re like me and have only heard of one of the things on that list, you can read more over at Hyphen and pick up the latest issue.

TAGS: Herbs Hyphen Sex

Watch Wu-Tang’s Sign Language Interpreter Become a Star at Bonnaroo

Watch Wu-Tang's Sign Language Interpreter Become a Star at Bonnaroo

Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to fuck with — and the same apparently goes for their sign language interpreter, Holly, who wowed fans during last week’s show at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee. 

(H/T Gawker)

Here’s 16-Year-Old LeBron James Talking About How Good He Is at Basketball

Here's 16-Year-Old LeBron James Talking About How Good He Is at Basketball

LeBron James and the Miami Heat captured their second straight NBA champioship on Thursday night in thrilling fashion against the San Antonio Spurs. James dominated with 37 points and was named the series’ most valuable player. It’s hard to remember that James, who’s only 28 years old, has been in the spotlight since around the time he got his driver’s permit in high school. He first captured the country’s attention as a spindly teenager playing  high school ball in Akron, Ohio.

Behold: an ESPN segment from James’ high school career in which he talks how he wants to elevate his game and become the best. Mission: accomplished. 

Meet Zimmerman Murder Trial Juror B-37 (AKA, The Parrot Lady)

Meet Zimmerman Murder Trial Juror B-37 (AKA, The Parrot Lady)

Six jurors have been picked to decide George Zimmerman’s fate in a Seminole County, Florida court. All six are women; at least four are mothers. Five are white and one is a woman of color (somehow, in a case that’s central to the way we think about racial justice, no one seems to be exactly sure whether she is black or Latina). Four alternate jurors have also been chosen, and can step in if needs be.

One juror in particular, known as B-37, is white, and the mother of two children. But she also cares for other life forms. During the publicity phase of questioning, B-37 assured attorneys that the media coverage around Trayvon Martin’s death and subsequent protests wouldn’t taint her duty as a potential juror because newspapers in her home are only used to line her parrot (or parrots—that remains unclear) cage.

Aside from the parrot or parrots, B-37 also cares for a crow with a missing wing. And three dogs. And four cats. Oh, and two lizards. Orlando Sentinel court reporter Jeff Weiner, who has been live tweeting from the courtroom, assures us that the so-called Parrot Lady is one of six jurors on the case.

Yes, you read that correctly. The woman who was too busy taking care of her exotic animals to pay attention to the death of Trayvon Martin will now be a juror in Zimmerman’s murder trial. Wait, did we mention that she had a concealed weapons permit? Her husband has one, too. We’ll keep you posted on the trial.

Update: June 21, 2013, 9:27 am ET

Several media outlets, including the New York Times, are reporting that the one non-white juror, known as B-29 is indeed Latina. But others, including the Miami Herald, are still unsure, writing that she is a “lighter-skinned black woman, possibly Hispanic.”

As a smart reader pointed out to us yesterday on our Facebook page, it is entirely possible that B-29 can be both black and Latina. Duly noted.

Poarch Creek Band of Indians High Schooler Can Finally Graduate

Poarch Creek Band of Indians High Schooler Can Finally Graduate

17-year-old Chelsey Ramer is a Poarch Creek Band of Indians member who wore an eagle feather in her graduation cap during her graduation ceremony at Escambia Academy High School, a private school in Atmore, Alabama last month. Feathers, and eagle feathers in particular, hold a special significance for many Natives (which is federally recognized), and are sometimes used to commemorate special events—graduations included.

Yet Ramer was fined $1,000, prevented from accessing her high school transcripts, and was deprived of the diploma she earned for wearing the eagle feather because of a bizarre and racist contract (which Ramer did not sign) that outlined that feathers are not allowed to be worn during graduation. Three other Native students were so fearful of the school’s exclusionary policy that they declined to wear an eagle feather.

An online petition called “Chelsey Ramer can’t graduate because she is proud to be Native American” was created in response to the incident, and raised more than enough money to cover the $1,000 fine—but it turns out it Ramer won’t be fined at all. ICTMN reports that the school has reversed its decision, and Ramer has now received her diploma.

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