From the News Wires
It's hard to find two writers who are more important than Zadie Smith and Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie. Both women have written wonderfully well-recieved novels that often touch on race. On Wednesday, March 19 at 6:30pm EST they'll be in conversation at the Schomberg Center and the discussion will be broadcast live.
What is especially is interesting is how Adichie's most recent novel, "Americanah," has opened up dialogue between American-born black women and black women born in Caribbean and African countries. Will they discuss that? We'll see. You cann follow along on Twitter with the hashtag #americanah.
I'm not sure what kind of day Lorraine Hansberry was having on April 1, 1960, but whatever was going on led her to come up with this lengthy list of things she likes and hates. It's random, and interesting. Take a look after the jump, courtesy of the New York Public Library.
Jose Antonio Vargas' remarkable journey from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist to leading undocumented activist is coming to the big screen. "Documented" chronicles Vargas' path to becoming a crusader for immigration reform. It's already been slated to broadcast on CNN, but the film will now be released in select New York City and Los Angeles theaters and will be eligible for Oscar consideration.
The film was written, produced and directed by Vargas, and counts among its executive producers Silicon Valley heavyweight Sean Parker and Janet Yang of "The Joy Luck Club."
Vargas talked to the Hollywood Reporter about why film is such a powerful medium for his story. "As a newcomer to America who learned to 'speak American' by watching movies, I firmly believe that to change the politics of immigration and citizenship, we must change culture -- the way we portray undocumented people like me and our role in society. I am thrilled to be working with CNN, Tugg and BOND/360 to share my story on screens around the country and remind people that when we talk about immigration, we are talking about real people and their families."
"Documented" will be released theatrically and digitally by Vargas' nonprofit Define American media and culture campaign, along with BOND/360, in New York at the Village East Cinema on May 2 and in Los Angeles at the Landmark Regent on May 9. It will then air on CNN in the summer.
ARRAY/AFFRM has acquired "Vanishing Pearls," a documentary that follows Louisiana's black oystermen following BP's disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The film, directed by Nailah Jefferson, will be in theaters starting April 18, which marks the fourth anniversary of the spill.
The last time 29-year-old Verónica Noriega saw her husband, Ramón Mendoza, was before he took off on the morning of September 4, 2013. He called her that evening, told her he'd had a couple of drinks, and asked if she could pick him up from his parked car. When she arrived she found that local sheriffs were questioning him. Mendoza was arrested for driving while intoxicated--although he and Noriega say he was not actually driving. Mendoza, who is undocumented, was eventually transferred to a privately run immigrant detention center in Tacoma, Wash. More than six months later, Mendoza is now entering the third week of a hunger strike in protest of what he's experienced there.
Tacoma's Northwest Detention center is owned and operated by the GEO Group under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and holds some 1,300 detainees with non-criminal immigration cases including green card holders and asylum seekers. The vast majority of detainees are men, and starting on March 7, up to 1,200 of them started a hunger strike. Shortly after the strike began, ICE confirmed that some 750 detainees were participating. That number has dropped, but it's unclear how many detainees are still refusing to eat.
"They want better food, they want to be treated better, and they want better pay," says Maru Mora Villalpando, who works with Latino Advocacy, a local organization that focuses on immigrant rights. The hunger strike inside the detention center followed an action outside the facility on February 24, when dozens of people blocked two vans and a truck carrying immigrants headed for deportation. "They pack people for deportation every Wednesday," explains Villalpando. "But we stopped the deportation of 120 people that day."
Noriega, who hasn't been able to visit her husband because of her own immigration status, wasn't part of the action to stop the deportation vehicles. But now, along with her three children, she regularly attends rallies outside the detention center. She heard about them from Mendoza during their frequent telephone calls. "They saw what happened on television from the inside and decided to organize their own hunger strike," she says.
Detainees run some of the facility's most basic functions, including cooking, cleaning and doing laundry. And even though many of the detainees are not legally authorized to work in the United States, they do, indeed, work for and receive pay from the GEO Group--$1 per day, literally pennies per hour. But an increase in wages isn't the only demand. Detainees complain of inadequate food quality and quantity. Those inside often buy additional food from GEO's commissary, but the costs are often prohibitive. Detainees also say the center fails to provide basic healthcare.
The hunger strikers' demands, however, haven't been met. And detainees say authorities haven't dealt kindly with those who chose to join the strike. The facility was placed on lockdown and those who refused food were denied phone calls and showers. "They threatened us that if we did not eat that they were going to take our personal commissary that we bought with our own money and they were going to force feed us," explains 26-year-old Paulino Ruíz, a permanent resident who's lived in the U.S. since the age of three, and in the Tacoma detention center for nine months. And although it appears no detainee has been force fed, at least three say they have been placed in solitary confinement.
The conditions that detainees face at the Northwest Detention Center are not uncommon. "I think there's a misconception that private prisons are inherently worse," says Silky Shah, who works with Detention Watch Network. Shah explains that medical and mental health access remains a constant issue in nearly all detention facilities, which sometimes leads to suicide. Her group is currently working to draw attention to change the language in the 2015 appropriations bill that mandates filling 34,000 immigrant detention beds daily--a practice that started in 2009 without as much as public comment.
That type of mass detention, however, is also leading to detainees inside along with their friends, family members and allies on the outside, to take unprecedented steps to challenge detention and subsequent deportation. After the hunger strike spread by word of mouth in Tacoma, immigrant detainees at GEO's Joe Corley Detention Center in Conroe, Tex., began their own strike--part of a nationwide call to not only change how detainees are treated inside detention, but to also put a halt to deportations.
What's happening inside immigrant detention centers now is largely the result of a series of trainings that were held in Arizona last October led by the National Day Labor Organizing Network and Arizona's Puente Movement. Those trainings, part of the Not 1 More Deportation campaign, brought in community activists from around the U.S. to encourage people to put their bodies on the line to stop the Obama administration's record-setting deportations.
Despite Obama's announcement last week that he wants to identify new ways to make immigration enforcement "more humane," it's not clear how the executive office will change its policies. And as legislators amp up for this fall's elections, it's all but certain that 2014 will also not be a year for comprehensive immigration reform. Massive changes, if they happen, may well be propelled by those who are most affected by it.
Noriega, whose husband Mendoza is now in solitary confinement because of his decision to remain on hunger strike, says that his choice to support other detainees against imminent deportation was an easy one. "He's on hunger strike because the only left for him to fight with is his own body, and his own health," says Noriega. "All we can do is support what people inside are already doing for themselves."
The next generation of news providers looks a whole lot like the old generation: they're mainly white and male. That's the new gist of an old and resurgent debate about diversity in new media newsrooms that NPR's Michel Martin tackled yesterday on "Tell Me More." It all boils down to who'll be providing news for 2042 America--and whether that group of talking heads and influencers will look much the same like the mainly white cast of today's Sunday talk shows.
In an open letter last week to new media ventures expected to become the next "New York Times" or "Wall Street Journal," (Buzzfeed, Vox, FiveThirtyEight, Politico, etc.) the National Association of Black Journalists invited principals for a diversity chat. And Buzzfeed editor Shani O. Hilton in a widely circulated to-do offered great analysis and one solution for both job seekers and employers: expand your networks.
Check out the above conversations. But other questions to ask if improving newsroom diversity in order to fairly cover America today and in 2042 is the goal: One, what's happening with the journalist pipeline? Namely, which students (and their families) can best afford to sustain multiple years of unpaid or poorly paid internships in order to become competitive in the field? And two, what's the FCC's role if any in ensuring that newsrooms accurately reflect and cover their communities--particularly those who are underserved?
Individual actions like better and broad networking by both employers and applicants are important. But, structural issues play a part in shaping this newsroom diversity conversation, too.
(h/t Tell Me More)
Hisham Aidi, a lecturer at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, has a new book out called "Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Youth Culture" that explores looks at hip-hop's hold on Muslims in cities around the world.
In a recent interview with NPR's Rachel Martin, Aidi talks about how hip-hop represents the richest interplay between American music and Islam, beginning with the pioneering Afrika Bambaataa in the 1970s. Islam's presence has remained strong and steady throughout hip-hop's development; Michael Muhammad Knight's recent book, "The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip Hop and the Gods of New York" does a deep dive into some of this.
But Aidi's work points to an odd phenomenon that has developed in which national security officials have tried to use hip-hop to promote a more moderate political agenda among Muslim youth across the globe. In a book excerpt published at Salon, Aidi makes his case:
As in America, some of the biggest stars on the European hiphop scene are Muslim, the children of immigrants and/or converts, a number of whom have been embroiled in controversies about freedom of expression, national identity, and extremism. Britain became the first country to deal with the issue of "Muslim hate rap" when, in 2004, the song "Dirty Kuffar" was released online by rap group Sheikh Terra and the Soul Salah Crew. The video, splicing together images from Iraq, Palestine, and Chechnya, praises Osama bin Laden and denounces Bush, Tony Blair, Ariel Sharon, Hosni Mubarak, and Saudi Arabia's King 'Abdallah as "dirty infidels." The track drew the attention of the Home Office and Labour MPs, who saw the lyrics and imagery as advocating violence. In 2006, Aki Nawaz of the popular hip-hop techno group Fun-Da-Mental released an album, All Is War, with a cover depicting the Statue of Liberty hooded and wired like an Abu Ghraib prisoner, and a song ("Che Bin Pt 2") comparing bin Laden to Che Guevara. Two MPs called for his arrest.
Realizing the influence of hip-hop, when in April 2007 the Home Office introduced Prevent, an initiative to stop British Muslim youth from being lured into violent extremism, it made sure that hip-hop figured prominently. Muslim organizations in Britain would receive Prevent funding to organize "Spittin' Light" hip-hop shows, where American and British Muslim rappers with "mainstream interpretations" of Islam would parade their talents. The initiative was directed at younger Muslims, who may not have been associated with mosques or other religious institutions. Prevent's advocates claim that art can provide Muslims with "an acceptable outlet for strong emotions." Given Prevent's involvement in the arts, leaders of cultural organizations--wooed by the American embassy and the British government--are unsure of whether to accept state funds.
Blacks in the U.S. are almost four times as likely as whites to be arrested for possession of marijuana, even though whites report higher rates of usage than blacks. Today the ACLU is putting those arrest statistics at your fingers with The Uncovery. The project, produced with the brand strategy company Interbrand, compiled statistics on drug arrests for marijuana possession broken down by state and race, as well as dollar figures for how much each state has spent on drug enforcement for pot.
In a country where more than half of all drug arrests in 2010 were marijuana-related, the statistics put the War on Drugs' deep racial disparities into sharp focus.
Visit The Uncovery and check out the racial disparities in your state.
Former vice presidential candidate and House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan last week set off the latest round in the ongoing saga of race and the Republican Party when he uttered words that obscured the truth about racial and economic inequity in America. The trouble started seven days ago in response to a question on right wing radio about his own experience as a young man. When asked, "Who taught you how to work?" the GOP standard bearer veered off course into an riff that oddly fused the racial euphemism "inner city" and the topic of joblessness: There's "a tailspin of culture in our inner cities, in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even working or learning the value or culture of work" he said.
Although Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marcia Fudge said that Ryan should be "ashamed," Ryan's not likely swayed.
Given the cringeworthy nature of Ryan's comments, it's easy for economic progressives to ignore what he said and move on. But given Paul Ryan's position--chair of the House Budget Committee--and his youth and ambition, he's likely to influence American economic policy for at least a generation. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at who he is, what he said, and what it might mean.
Paul Ryan's Beliefs
The Wisconsin representative-- like his party--has a history of pathologizing those on the most precarious rungs of the nation's economic ladder even as he pursues the very policies that will keep them there. Ryan has served as the primary architect of the Republican party's budget and economic policies since 2010. As I have written before, these center on vast giveaways to the wealthy paid for by debt and dramatic reductions in economic opportunity programs centered on health, education, transportation and housing.
The core document that reflects his thinking, "A Roadmap for America's Future"--like his radio comments--cites the need to terminate a "culture of dependency" caused by the economic fairness efforts of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. His new poverty report reverberates with the same points (PDF). Somehow Ryan manages to overlook the fact that in the wake of Johnson's Great Society and Civil Rights programs, poverty in the black community fell by half and the black middle class doubled.
But that's a key problem with Ryan's ideas. They can be light on evidence and long on ideological social engineering. The people behind his thinking reveal why.
During the radio interview, Ryan cited the work of researcher Charles Murray whose 1994 book "The Bell Curve" argued that whites form a "cognitive elite" of high IQ holders. Murray believes that the inherent advantages of this "cognitive elite" explain why non-whites have lower levels of wealth. A key takeaway from Murray is that the difference in intelligence between whites and everybody else is result of their social habits and values. "The Bell Curve" is clearly one of the reasons why Ryan believes that culture is the key to everything.
Data Point to Another Story
The irony is that this attachment to cultural arguments as a way to explain economic differences between whites and everyone else demands that Republicans abandon one of their key beliefs: faith in market economics. That's because economics doesn't measure culture it measures results. And a core tenet of economics is that broad-based outcomes have systemic origins. In other words, if people of color are doing less well economically it's because there are widespread barriers to them doing so. The existing evidence is compelling.
As I have written before lower levels of education, the mass application of disproportionate school discipline for boys of color, and extensive incarceration are key drivers behind the 50 percent unemployment rate for young black and Latino men in urban areas across the country. Moreover the economy is still short eight million jobs from where we need to be to get it working for everyone.
Additionally there are nearly 10 million long-term unemployed and "discouraged" workers in line for whenever those jobs come back. The bottom line here is that work begets a culture of work, and there are not enough jobs to go around.
In fact, while Ryan is busy exhorting "inner city" (read: black and Latino) communities to change their culture he's been busy rewriting the economic rules of the road in favor of the One Percent. Ryan advocated the nation's dangerous flirtation with default in 2011 in a bid to rescue the Bush Tax Cuts. Had he and Mitt Romney won the White House the wealthiest Americans would have received the lion's share of $5 trillion in tax cuts while the working poor would have had to bear the brunt of $10 trillion in spending cuts.
While Ryan works to get the wealthy more, the working poor find it harder to get ahead. Sequestration--championed by Ryan--cost tens of thousands of poor children a shot at early childhood eduction and more than 100,000 working poor families with decent housing that they could afford. Sequestration lived up to its name and wreaked havoc across the board. It also cut economic growth by 30 percent and prevented the creation of close to 2 millions jobs. America is stuck economically with historically marginalized communities falling behind not because of "culture" but because of many of the policies that Ryan advocates.
It's important to point out that Ryan and his party are not alone in pointing to cultural reasons as a cornerstone for economic disadvantage in communities of color. President Obama cited the "negative reinforcement" that young men of color receive and the need to give them a "sense that their country cares about them" as motivating factors behind his initiative "My Brother's Keeper." But as I laid out there are concrete actions that can be taken at the federal level right now to improve the prospects for young black and Latino men.
What the entire political class in Washington should grasp is that historically marginalized communities need more results and less stigmitazation. Policies from both parties since the 1980s have rolled back much of the economic progress that communities of color made in the aftermath of far-reaching economic changes in the 1960s. These are the very changes that Ryan castigates.
On a hopeful note, Paul Ryan and the Congressional Black Caucus agreed late last week to meet in order to discuss these and other differences. Perhaps this a start to ensuring that communities of color get the real economic help they need. Though unscheduled, it should take place sooner rather than later. The persistent gap between cultural perceptions and economic realities is too big to ignore, and too many are continuing to live out the consequences.
BuzzFeed's Saeed Jones has a great profile of transgender actress Laverne Cox that, in addition to many other things, touches on some of the lessons that she's learned as a politically active actress in the entertainment industry. Before her massive success on Netflix's "Orange is the New Black," Cox was featured on the VH1 reality TV show "TRANSform ME," a makeover show in which trans women offered cis women advice on being more confident.
Shot in 2009, the show premiered in March 2010 with Jessica Simpson's show as the lead-in. Cox says the show was intended to be a kind of "gateway drug" to introducing mainstream audiences to trans women and their stories.
"You know, there hadn't been a show with trans women on VH1 before. We all felt like we were doing something important, the cast and the crew," Cox says. "And then when the show premiered, we didn't have any viewers!" What's worse, she says, is that many viewers didn't even realize Cox and her cast members were transgender. The show Cox had hoped would lead to a cultural breakthrough regarding trans issues barely made a blip on the radar, and the attention it did get was often critical.
Trans women, in particular, took issue with the show's premise. As Cox explains, "The critique was -- and now, I think it was right -- that the premise of the show presupposes that all trans women are hyper-feminine and that trans people exist for the entertainment of cis people." Like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy before it,TRANSform Me is certainly part of a "magical queer makeover" genre. In addition to RuPaul's Drag Race, Logo currently is running episodes of RuPaul's Drag U, which features drag queens giving women "drag makeovers" to help them get in touch with their self-confidence. In all three reality television shows, LGBT people exist for the sole purpose of helping straight people work out their self-esteem issues. It's like the "magical negro" trope but with glitter.