Race & Ethnicity

The Obscure Heroes Behind Congress’s Great Moment

AP Images

On Tuesday July 2, 1963, Assistant Attorney General Burke Marshall caught an early morning flight to Dayton, Ohio. Six days before, Marshall’s boss, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, had appeared before a House Judiciary Subcommittee to present the newly introduced civil-rights bill that his brother, President John F. Kennedy, had committed himself to enacting during a powerful nationwide television address on June 11.

A Nasty Piece of Cornbread: Chait, Coates, and White Progressivism

I once set out to write a book of southern aphorisms. It was going to be a serious treatment of (mostly) black (uniquely) southern “mother wit” as philosophy. Then, grad school and so on and so on.

If I were to undertake a project today I would start with a favorite handed down to me from my Aunt Jean who is fond of saying that someone is a “nasty piece of cornbread.”

Hobby Lobby and the Return of the "Negro Travelers' Green Book"

Jalopnik

Victor Green loved to travel. Being a mail carrier in the mid-twentieth century was a good, solid job, and the heyday of the American automobile was just beginning. Americans felt more mobile than ever before, especially once Eisenhower's interstate highway system expanded like a web through the country. The freedom of the open road beckoned.

The GOP's Racial Dog Whistling and the Social Safety Net

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite

You've no doubt heard the famous quote about race in politics spoken by the late Lee Atwater, the most skilled Republican strategist of his generation. Liberals have cited it for years, seeing in it an explanation, right from the horse's mouth, of how contemporary Republicans use "issues" like welfare to activate racial animus among white voters, particularly in the South. Race may be an eternal force in American politics, but its meaning and operation change as the years pass. It's time we took another look at Atwater's analysis and see how it is relevant to today, because it doesn't mean what it once did. Atwater may have been extraordinarily prescient, though not in the way most people think.

The Disgraceful Rejection of Debo Adegbile

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite

In other words, the extraordinary stupid arguments that Republican Senators raised about Abu-Jamal shouldn't be allowed to conceal their real agenda: kneecapping federal efforts to do things like protect voting rights, address police brutality, oppose employment discrimination. The Republican rejection of Adegbile is of a piece with a broader anti-civil rights agenda, such as their ongoing efforts to suppress the vote of racial minorities and the poor and a bare majority of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act based on incoherent arguments with no basis in the text of the Constitution.

The Infinite Circle of Black Responsibility

Bill O'Reilly tells Valerie Jarrett what black people need.

In 2006, after being a United States senator for one year, Barack Obama made an appearance on Meet the Press. After talking about the Iraq War for a while, Tim Russert asked Obama this: "I want to talk a little bit about the language people are using in the politics now of 2006, and I refer you to some comments that Harry Belafonte made yesterday. He said that Homeland Security had become the new Gestapo. What do you think of that?" Obama said he never uses Nazi analogies, but people are concerned about striking the balance between privacy and security. Russert pressed on, asking Obama to take a position on whether some insulting things Belafonte had said about George W. Bush were "appropriate."

I thought of that interview today as I watched another interview, this one with Bill O'Reilly interviewing White House aide Valerie Jarrett. I bring it up not because it's important to be mad at Bill O'Reilly (it isn't), but because it's yet another demonstration of the rules both prominent and ordinary black people have to live with. Unlike white Americans, they are subject to an entirely different and far more wide-ranging kind of responsibility. A black senator has to answer for the remarks of every black activist, black musicians are responsible for the actions of every wayward teenager, and black people everywhere carry with them a thousand sins committed by others. That burden isn't just psychological; as we've seen in cases like those of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, it can be deadly.

Roberts Was Wrong on Voter Rights

AP Images/Rex Features

Writing about the Supreme Court's outrageous decision to gut the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder at Talking Points Memo, Amel Amhed of University of Massachusetts Amherst writes that "the court’s decision was correct about one thing: Section 4 — and frankly, Section 5 as well — was obsolete, and it had been rendered inadequate by changing facts on the ground." To be clear, Amhed's intention in making the claim that "Roberts was right" is not that Congress shouldn't protect voting rights—indeed, she advocates going further than the 1965 Act, and I agree with many of her proposals.

We Have Known Black Boys (But None Have Been Bullet-Proof)

After today's verdict in Jordan Davis's murder trial, a writer reacts in verse.

Jordan Davis (1995-2012)

AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Bob Mack

A makeshift memorial to Jordan Davis, who was shot to death after an argument over loud music.

Guns and the Thug Life

AP Images/The Florida Times-Union/Bob Mack

On Saturday night, the jury in the case of Michael Dunn rendered a strange verdict, convicting Dunn of attempting to murder the three teens who survived the hail of fire he sent at their car, but deadlocking on the charge of murdering the one he succeeded in killing. We may never know what went on in the jury room, but if nothing else, Dunn will not be driving into any more parking lots and getting into any more arguments that end in death, at least not for some time.

This case is, of course about race, which we'll get to in a moment. But it's also about—to use a word that crops up repeatedly in Michael Dunn's written comments—a culture. It's a culture where manhood must continually be proven, where every disagreement is a test of strength, and where in the end, your fellow human beings are only waiting to kill you, so you'd better draw first.

This was the culture of violence that Michael Dunn carried with him to the convenience store, the one that ended the life of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. It was Dunn's manic hyper-vigilance, his fear, and the .45 he carried with him that brought death to the parking lot.

Racial Fears, Gun Fantasies, and Another Dead Teenager

Dirty Harry confronts a punk.

Among the arguments I've made about the troubling aspects of American gun culture is the way so many gun owners have in their heads a dangerous fantasy about what the world is like and what role they play in that world. The people I'm talking about, the ones who think it's terribly important that they be able to bring their firearms into any store or coffee shop or church they might visit, believe that every moment of every day in every place they go is nothing more than a deadly violent situation just waiting to happen. Will they be there to stop a mass shooting at the Safeway? Will they be walking down the street and come upon a group of heavily armed thieves taking down an armored truck? Will they encounter an Al Qaeda strike team at the Starbucks, and this 50-year-old insurance salesman with a concealed carry license will be the only thing that stands between America and disaster? They sure seem to think so.

Is that all gun owners? Of course not. It's not even most gun owners. But it's lots of them, and I think it comes through in the case of Michael Dunn, the Florida (of course) man who got into an argument with some teenagers outside a convenience store over the teens' loud music, and ended the argument by firing 10 shots into their car, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. This case includes some rather remarkable statements about black people from Michael Dunn, which we'll get to in a moment. But I think it's the way race and the gun owner's fantasy come together that produced this tragedy.

Michael Sam, "Distraction"

AP Images/Brandon Wade

Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam was the co-winner of the Defensive Player of the Year for the powerhouse Southeastern Conference. While a little undersized for an NFL player at his position, Sam was certainly a decent pro prospect sure to be selected in the upcoming NFL draft. But Sam is no longer just of interest to SEC fans and NFL draft obsessives. On Sunday, Sam came out as gay. If he makes an NFL roster, he would certainly not be the first gay man to play in the NFL, but he would be the first to be out to the public during his playing career. Whether he will get a fair shot to make it as an NFL player, however, is not entirely clear, as multiple NFL decisionmakers have announced their intent to discriminate.

A Mighty Shout in North Carolina

Jenny Warburg

Geoffrey Zeger didn’t attend last year’s Moral Mondays, the series of civil- disobedience events at which more than 900 people were arrested at the North Carolina legislature. The weekday occupations, coordinated by the N.C. NAACP to protest the state’s sharp-right policy turn, conflicted with Zeger’s work schedule. But when he learned that tens of thousands of demonstrators planned to descend on Raleigh last weekend, the private-practice social worker from Durham couldn’t stay away.

Why Obama Should Take a Cue from Gerald Ford on Crack Pardons

AP Images/Felipe Dana

In late December, the Obama administration announced that the president would commute the sentences of eight prisoners serving decades-long sentences for crack-cocaine distribution (or intent to distribute). Last week, at a New York State Bar event, Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced that there may be more—many more. The administration, he said, will seek other drug cases to consider for clemency, working with the Bureau of Prisons to encourage inmates to request commutations and asking that state bar associations help with preparing their petitions.

Now It’s Time to Talk About Chicago’s Tale of Two Cities

AP Images/Charles Rex Arbogast

Rahm Emanuel has a favorite four-letter word for members of the labor movement. When Emanuel was White House chief of staff, he was told that tens of thousands of autoworkers could lose their jobs if General Motors and Chrysler didn’t receive a federal bailout. His response: “Fuck the UAW.” As mayor of Chicago, Emanuel became so enraged during negotiations with Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers’ Union, that he shouted “Fuck you, Lewis.” (The teachers went on strike for seven days, claiming Emanuel had “disrespected” them, as well as tried to force them to work longer hours after reneging on a promised pay raise.)

Stevie Sings for Martin Luther King

AP Images/Carolyn Kaster

If we ignore 1979’s soundtrack to The Secret Life of Plants (though it featured “Send One Your Love,” 28 on the Billboard R&B chart), when Hotter Than July came out in 1980 it marked Stevie Wonder’s first album of newly recorded music since Songs in the Key of Life in 1976. It was his longest break between albums since he started cutting LPs at age 12.

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