Race & Ethnicity

The Unbearable Whiteness of Liberal Media

If left-leaning publications value diversity, why don't they have any?

Flickr/Sean Winters
*/ Flickr/Sean Winters This article has been corrected. O n the staff of The American Prospect , I’m the only member of an ethnic minority. That's not because I bring all the variety the magazine needs, or because the editors don't think diversity is valuable. Everyone on the masthead of this liberal publication is committed to being inclusive—not just of racial and ethnic minorities but of women; gays, lesbians, and transgender people; and the poor. It's not just the Prospect . Journalism upstarts like Vox Media and FiveThirtyEight have come under fire recently for lack of diversity in their hires, but that's largely because they are drawing from the milky-white pool of “existing talent.” In the corner of the publishing industry that caters to college-educated wonks—a slightly fuzzy designation, but I've included most of the publications my colleagues and I read on a daily basis—racial and ethnic diversity is abysmal. (Numbers include only editorial staff. Have updated numbers? Send...

Daily Meme: You Probably Should Check Your Privilege

Screen shot of Tal Fortgang via Fox News
Sometimes, in the wilds of the internet, all it takes to get people's blood boiling is a screed from one college freshman. Such is the saga of Tal Fortgang, a Princeton first-year who wrote an inflammatory essay in the campus conservative magazine about being told to "check his privilege."If you're not familiar with the phrase ( described by the New York Times as "conversational kryptonite"), it's often used to remind those who may not be aware of their elite status (including, but not limited to, white male Princeton students) of their personal social advantages. Fortgang wrote that "check your privilege" has become a kind of liberal policing mechanism. "The phrase, handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness, and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung." (Extra points here for his exceptional use of jargon.) In other words: This...

Time for Democrats to Stop Celebrating Andrew Jackson

Democrats have rightly condemned the racist name of Washington, D.C.'s NFL team. So why do they continue to name their fundraising dinners after the president who presided over the genocide of Native Americans?

Sabotsabot.deviantart.com
Sabotsabot.deviantart.com I n February, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), then the chairwoman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, wrote an impassioned letter to National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell expressing her disappointment with the league’s stance on the racist name of Washington, D.C.’s NFL team, which stands by its franchise brand, the Redskins. “For you to pretend that the name is defensible based on decade-old public opinion polling flies in the face of our constitutionally protected government-to-government relationship with tribes,” she wrote. Rightfully, Democrats from Cantwell on up to President Barack Obama have joined in the condemnation of the team owners’ refusal to give up the offensive name. In her letter, Cantwell letter excoriated Goodell: “It is not appropriate for this multibillion dollar 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organization to perpetuate and profit from the continued degradation of tribes and Indian people.” Yet there is another large organization...

All of a Piece: Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy and the Supreme Court of the United States

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
B eginning with the April 22 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States allowing affirmative action’s fate to be decided at state ballot boxes, followed 24 hours later by rancher Cliven Bundy’s comments on slavery’s positive attributes, followed 48 hours later by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s plantation master attitude on display in a recorded telephone conversation attributed to him, this past week has been hell for African Americans. So much for post-racialism. During the conversation in which a man said to be Sterling demands that his girlfriend not be seen in the company of African Americans--nor even attend Clippers games in the company of black friends-- saying : “We live in a culture.” He goes on to argue for adherence to the rules of prejudice that exist within the culture. Yet another aspect of that culture, the one Sterling says we all live in, is a news cycle that enables each of these stories to supersede the other solely on the basis of...

Daily Meme: Racist Team Owner Loses Dignity; Keeps Team

Contemplating how best to celebrate the birthday of the late, great Edward Kennedy Ellington, one of the finest composers and orchestra leaders who ever lived, one might not have considered the banning for life of a racist team-owner from attending the games of his own team, but that’s not a bad way to fête the Duke. But that’s just what happened to Donald Sterling, franchise owner of the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Clippers--that, and a $2.5 million fine , which is pretty much chicken feed to a guy who apparently gave his alleged mistress two Bentleys and a Ferrari . However, reports the Los Angeles Times , Sterling, for the time being, will get to keep ownership of the team, unless other NBA team owners find a way to force him to sell. This all stems, of course, from reports of a recorded telephone conversation that has a man alleged to be Sterling telling a female friend not to bring black people to his team’s games, despite the fact the the team comprises mostly...

Daily Meme: Post-Racial America From Hell

It’s been quite a week in post-racial America, beginning with a Supreme Court decision on Tuesday that upheld the results of a ballot measure that barred the use of race-based affirmative action in the admissions process used by the University of Michigan, and exploded this weekend with the utterances, attributed to NBA team-owner Donald Sterling (who like all but one NBA team-owner, is white), of the alleged reputational harm of being seen in the company of black people. In between, a rancher celebrated by Fox News host Sean Hannity , and Republicans across the country, denied that his comments suggesting that “the Negro” may have been better off as a slave were in any way racist. Hannity has since stepped back from his support of Cliven Bundy’s quest to resist the federal government’s insistence that he not graze his cattle on federal land. Sterling, who owns the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, is alleged to be the male voice on a recorded telephone conversation with friend V...

Words, Ideas, Actions, and the Tangle of Race

Beware of these. (Flickr/Pierre Metivier) (AP Photo of Cliven Bundy/Las Vegas Review-Journal, John Locher)
We seem to be having one of those moments when a series of controversies come in rapid succession and make everyone newly aware of the relationship between language, ideas, and actions. And naturally, it revolves around our eternal national wound of race. Nevertheless, it's nice to see that in a few of these controversies, we aren't actually arguing about what words mean. This is often a focus of disagreement when somebody says something that other people take offense at; for instance, when Paul Ryan said a few weeks ago that "[w]e 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 of the culture of work," conservatives believed he was being unfairly tagged as racist for using a common phrase, while liberals objected to the connection between the word and the idea that followed. There's nothing racist about the term "inner city" in and of itself, but when people say...

Pardon Me, Mr. President?

Flickr/Salticidae
Flickr/Victoria Pickering T his week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the start of a new initiative on clemency, encouraging thousands of inmates—particularly those convicted during the Drug War crackdown of the 1990s—to send in petitions to have their sentences commuted. The new initiative offers six new criteria by which petitioners will be judged, including the following: prisoners must have served 10 years of their sentence, must not have lengthy criminal records or gang convictions, and show that they would have gotten off with a lighter sentence had they been tried today. In his more than five years in office, Obama has been the stingiest president in history when it comes to granting pardons; the new program could make him one of the most generous. But the biggest news for criminal-justice reformers has been the administration’s appointment of a new pardon attorney to oversee the program: Deborah Leff , who spent her years at DOJ working on the Access to Justice...

With Cliven Bundy, the Right Is Reaping What It Sows

One of the Bundys' many interviews on Fox News.
Some great causes achieve their goals and transform the world, while others fizzle out when it's discovered that their leaders are unadorned racists who think black people were in much better shape when they were slaves. Isn't that how it goes? At least that's what some conservatives must have thought today as they learned of the New York Times report on Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has been grazing his cows on federal land and refusing to pay grazing fees, what you or I might consider "stealing," but what the folks at Fox News, who have given Bundy hour after hour of glowing coverage, consider a principled stand against federal overreach in the finest American traditions. Prior to this morning, Bundy's fans were a limited but influential group, including senators Rand Paul and Dean Heller, the entire Fox network (but especially Sean Hannity), and the National Review , where one writer compared him to Gandhi . Now that Bundy's fascinating ideas about "the Negro" have come to...

Daily Meme: The Court's Faux Colorblindness

"A blinkered view of race in America won out in the Supreme Court on Tuesday when six justices agreed, for various reasons, to allow Michigan voters to ban race-conscious admissions policies in higher education ... " So starts the New York Times 's righteous take-down of today's Supreme Court ruling in Schuette v. BAMN , in which the Justices upheld a Michigan law banning the consideration of race in admissions. The plurality's justification—six Justices in total agreed with the ruling, but differed in their reasons for doing so—for reversing the lower-court decision? As long as the voters want it, they get it . But the real news has been Justice Sonia Sotomayor's dissent, which the New York Times 's Adam Liptak called "the most passionate and most significant of her career." It is the first time Sotomayor—whose nomination conservatives bitterly opposed—has spoken up about race. "In my colleagues' view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination...

Justice Sotomayor's Powerful Defense of Equality

AP Photo/Steven Senne
AP Photo/Steven Senne Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Y esterday, the Supreme Court upheld a provision of Michigan's constitution that bans the state or any of its subdivisions from "grant[ing] preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." The Court was fractured; the six justices who voted to uphold the amendment did so for three independent reasons. Written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the plurality decision—to which Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito signed on—was narrow: It upheld the amendment without disturbing any precedent. Far more interesting was Justice Sonia Sotomayor's dissent, which makes a strong case for a robust interpretation of the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment and represents perhaps her most compelling work in her tenure on the Court so far. The case for upholding...

How Big Data Could Undo Our Civil-Rights Laws

iStockPhoto
iStockPhoto B ig Data will eradicate extreme world poverty by 2028, according to Bono , front man for the band U2. But it also allows unscrupulous marketers and financial institutions to prey on the poor . Big Data, collected from the neonatal monitors of premature babies , can detect subtle warning signs of infection, allowing doctors to intervene earlier and save lives. But it can also help a big-box store identify a pregnant teenager —and carelessly inform her parents by sending coupons for baby items to her home. News-mining algorithms might have been able to predict the Arab Spring . But Big Data was certainly used to spy on American Muslims when the New York City Police Department collected license plate numbers of cars parked near mosques, and aimed surveillance cameras at Arab-American community and religious institutions. Until recently, debate about the role of metadata and algorithms in American politics focused narrowly on consumer privacy protections and Edward Snowden’s...

Race-Blind Admissions Are Affirmative Action for Whites

L-R: Brooke Kimbrough, Coach Sharon Hopkins and Rayvon Dean of the University Prep Debate team.
B rooke Kimbrough always dreamed of becoming a University of Michigan Wolverine. Her score on the ACT—a college-readiness test—dwarfs the scores of most of her classmates. Earlier this month, she was part of a winning team at the National Urban League Debate Championship in Washington, D.C. Last week, she became a powerful symbol for exactly how Michigan's race-blind college admissions policies have failed. In December, the University of Michigan informed Kimbrough that her application for admission had been wait-listed. Two months later, she received the letter that she had not been accepted. But instead of conceding defeat, Kimbrough decided to fight. Today she hopes that her story will highlight how Michigan's current approach to race in admissions fails exceptional students of color. Black students comprise just 4.6 percent of the 2012 freshman class; in 2008, the number was 6.8 percent. Over the course of this year, I had the honor of working with University Preparatory Academy...

The Obscure Heroes Behind Congress’s Great Moment

AP Images
O n 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. The Kennedy brothers’ outspoken attachment to advancing racial equality was entirely newfound. For the first two years of the Kennedy administration, civil-rights activists had been repeatedly disappointed by the brothers’ unwillingness to live up to the promises John Kennedy had voiced during the 1960 presidential campaign. Only the horrific violence visited upon interracial groups of “Freedom Riders” in May 1961, as they sought desegregation of interstate bus stations, and white racists’ attacks upon federal officers during the October 1962 desegregation of the...

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

This post originally appeared on the personal website of Tressie McMillan Cottom. 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.” Cornbread, if made properly, is delicious. Even when it is made poorly it is hard to argue with the beautiful form and function of ground meal, fat, dairy and heat alchemy that sustains, fuels, and serves up sustenance as well as culture and community. Cornbread is, in hip-hop parlance, that good-good. So, when someone is being a nasty piece of cornbread they are combining the ingredients and process of a remarkable foodstuff in ways that poisons its inherent goodness. They are being nice-nasty. They are serving you cornbread that turns to...

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