Race & Ethnicity

12 Years a Female Slave—Not Coming to a Theatre Near You

We can't fully understand American slavery and its legacy without mining the diversity of enslaved experience in scholarship as well as film.

AP Images/Fox Searchlight
AP Images/Fox Searchlight O nce again, America is reckoning with its original sin of slavery—this time with the critically-acclaimed movie, Twelve Years a Slave, which had its nationwide release last week. The movie has been lauded for its uniquely unflinching look at the brutality and inhumanity of slavery. What is not so unique about the unquestionably affecting film is that it tells the story of an enslaved man . When will we see a mainstream, big screen film that explores American slavery from an enslaved black woman’s perspective? The few cinematic glimpses into the black, female slave experience have been rendered mostly through independent films and television or as a part of stories more broadly focused than slavery. The 1974 TV movie, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman , based on the Ernest Gaines book, begins with the eponymous Jane being freed post-Civil War. Cicely Tyson, the actress who portrayed Pittman, also played escaped slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman in...

Soul Food's Contested History

Does a new account with recipes get it right?

AP Images/ Jeff Roberson
AP Images/ Jeff Roberson The kitchen of Sweetie Pie's in St. Louis, Missouri. A bout a year ago, I was going down the line at Sweetie Pie’s at the Mangrove, Ms. Robbie Montgomery’s culinary temple to all things soul in St. Louis. The macaroni and cheese gleamed, the fried chicken was crisper than Ms. Robbie’s outfits when she sang backup as an Ikette, and the peach cobbler was worthy of a last meal. Surveying the clientele, however, I wondered how much connection the crowd that packed the house had to the food at hand. My fellow bear brothers (stocky, hairy, gay, but unlike me almost all white) were in town from across the Midwest for their bar night. I was in St. Louis to present on the heritage of Missouri’s African American foodways during slavery. I was hankering for a dialogue—minority to minority—on the meaning of food as hot-sauce bottles were passed around and the uninitiated suspiciously sniffed, then scarfed plates of collard greens. I suppressed my culinary-historian self...

The Supreme Court v. Civil RIghts

The disturbing failure to prosecute alleged rapists in Maryville, Missouri, represents an all-too-common failure of American legal systems. In The Nation , Jill Filipovic has a must-read article highlighting another part of the problem: the Supreme Court. The Court's conservative justices have taken a federal remedy away from sexual-assault victims, in a case that represents a pattern in the Republican war on civil-rights enforcement. As Filipovic details, U.S. v. Morrison resulted from a case in which Virginia Tech student Christy Brzonkala was allegedly raped by two members of the school's football team, one of whom for all intents and purposes conceded that he had nonconsensual sex with Brzonkala. One alleged assaulter was acquitted entirely by the school's disciplinary process. Morrison had a one-year suspension for sexual assault lifted, and then had a one-year suspension under Virginia Tech's Abusive Conduct policy (after the alleged assault he had told Brzonkala "you better not...

When Kids Stand Their Ground

AP Photo/Mike Brown
AP Photo/Phil Sears O n September 20, 21-year-old Bryon Champ was shot at by rival gang members, who grazed his leg with a bullet. That night, Champ and three allies allegedly went to the other gang’s neighborhood and opened fire on a crowd with an assault rifle, wounding 13 people, including a 3-year-old boy. They have been charged with multiple counts of attempted murder. Our nation's libertarian approach to guns has exacted a terrible toll on young people. The U.S. firearms homicide rate is 20 times that of other industrialized countries. But for those ages 15 to 24, it’s an off-the-charts 43 times higher . And until this year, a 17-year congressional ban on federally funded firearms research wrecked efforts to systematically understand the links between state gun laws and gun casualties. (The Obama administration lifted the ban in January.) Violence and easy access to guns have especially created a lethal witches’ brew in poor neighborhoods. Crime experts agree on the need for...

Jezebel Grew Up

Nikola Tamindzic
Nikola Tamindzic/Jezebel T he website Jezebel was born in 2007 out of the idea that the urban (or at least urbane) American woman was a ripe demographic, yearning to read about pop culture, fashion, and sex in a more skeptical way than the package provided by the traditional glossy women’s magazine. “In media, men are not a coherent sect,” Internet entrepreneur and Machiavellian overlord of Gawker Media Nick Denton told The New York Times in 2010. “You go into a magazine store and see rows upon rows of women’s magazines. [With women], there’s a much clearer collective.” The mother ship blog of Denton’s empire, Gawker, had made its name in the aughts by obsessively covering the then-Manhattan-centric media scene, turning its cool kids into Internet celebrities, their lives and movements chronicled, snarked at, and used as signifiers for Gotham’s ills and triumphs. Gawker media expanded to include a consortium of blogs focused on everything from sports (Deadspin) to gadgets (Gizmodo)...

The Seven Stages of Important Black Film Fatigue

AP Images
I f you live outside of major film markets like New York or Los Angeles, this weekend marked your first opportunity to see Steve McQueen's much-lauded 12 Years a Slave . But it's probable that you've already heard early buzz, either from fawning reviewers or from friends who've caught advance screenings. Perhaps you've heard that its commitment to historical accuracy has resulted in graphic depictions of violence and torture. Maybe your best friend still can't shake the cracking urgency in Chiewetel Ejiofor's voice or a haunting expression on Lupita Nyong’o's face. If you've experienced any of this as a member of the black movie-going public, you're already in the cycle. You've entered the Seven Stages of Important Black Film Fatigue, a tiring exercise in decision-making whenever films like 12 Years a Slave are released. The stages are doubt, guilt, self-preservation, annoyance, anger, vulnerability, and acceptance. You may have never heard these stages named, but you've likely...

The Inevitable Elimination of Affirmative Action in Michigan

Yesterday, the Court heard oral arguments in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. The case involves a decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down a Michigan constitutional amendment banning the use of racial preferences in higher education. The oral argument did nothing to dispel the nearly universal assumption of court-watchers that the decision will be reversed, although the argument against the amendment has a stronger basis in precedent than it's sometimes been given credit for. Like Slate 's Emily Bazelon , I was skeptical of the 6th Circuit ruling. I very strongly believe that most affirmative-action programs do not violate the Constitution. But arguing that Michigan is constitutionally required to use affirmative-action programs already in place would obviously not be right. The constitutional question is more complex than that, however. There are circumstances in which it is unconstitutional for a state to use a constitutional amendment to...

In Catalonia, a Warning on One-State Solutions

AP Images/Paco Serinelli
AP Images/Paco Serinelli F rom the balconies above the narrow stone-paved streets of Girona hung gold-and-red striped flags. A blue triangle and white star adorned most of them, transforming the banner of the autonomous region of Catalonia into the standard of Catalonian independence. Here and there a legend emblazoned a flag: Catalunya, Nou Estat D'Europa —"Catalonia, A New State in Europe." I'd taken the train north from Barcelona to see Salvador Dali's personal museum in Figueres and then explore Girona's medieval old city. I was on vacation from the Middle East. But a political writer's time off can so easily become a busman's holiday. I looked at the flags and thought of the arguments about how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio, about political scientist Ian Lustick's very recent New York Times essay despairing of a two-state outcome, and about the furies that the late Tony Judt released almost precisely 10 years ago when he came out for a one-state solution. Nationalism...

Why Liberals Love TV's Fictional Conservatives

AP Images/ABC/Eric McCandless
AP Images/ABC/Eric McCandless When the third season of Scandal premieres tonight, you can bet I’m going to be glued to my set (and Twitter feed) like millions of other Americans. Shonda Rhimes creates mighty good, sexy, nail-biting, oh-my-sweet-God-that-didn’t-just-happen TV. But, good liberal that I am, I can’t help feeling that my love of ABC’s hit show should be attended by some guilt. No, not because what Rhimes calls “fluffier” entertainment is inherently inferior; I don’t feel guilty about it in that sense. But instead because beneath plotlines like that of black political fixer Olivia Pope’s interracial love with the white president and a gay White House Chief of Staff raising a baby with his husband, Scandal is, in essence, the story of an allegedly apolitical (amoral?) woman who routinely abets an illegitimate conservative administration, complete with a radical Evangelical vice-president a heartbeat away from being president. Rhimes and Co. have me rooting for these people...

Eric Holder's Big Voting-Rights Gamble

AP Images/Manuel Balce Ceneta
J ust about everyone who goes through a musical-theater phase at some point falls in love with Sky Masterson of Guys and Dolls . In the movie version, Marlon Brando plays the gambler who will wager “sky high” stakes and finds himself singing “Luck Be a Lady” while rolling the dice to see if he gets the girl. Going all in may be what you’d expect in a fictional singing crapshooter, but it’s a bit more surprising in a U.S. attorney general. Eric Holder’s announcement Monday that the Justice Department was going to bring a lawsuit against North Carolina’s new and wide-sweeping election law , which includes a laundry list of voter restrictions and changes making it harder to vote, showcases just how high he’s willing to make the stakes when it comes to voting rights. His department is now going to be litigating two high-profile cases—one against a voter-ID law in Texas, and the other against the omnibus bill in North Carolina. The DOJ is also involved in a case to show that Texas’s...

A Long Way from the End of Men

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky T hough we’ve technically been recovering from the Great Recession since late 2009, the poverty rate in the United States has been stuck at about 15 percent since 2010. New data released yesterday from the Census Bureau showed that last year wasn’t much better. Poverty rates held steady at the highest levels in a generation. Median incomes have fallen in the last ten years by more than 11 percent. Coupled with recent studies showing that most of the recovery’s gains have gone to the top 1 percent of income earners, the data on poverty confirms what many already knew: Inequality is growing, and the middle class is dying. That’s especially true when you examine the status of women and racial minorities. The median incomes for Asian and white families last year were $68,636 and $57,009 respectively. For Hispanics and blacks, they were $39,005 and $33,321. These incomes are statistically unchanged from 2011, which means that if the economy is growing, the average...

Proof the Left Coast Is the Best Coast?

AP Images/Reed Saxon
The AFL-CIO held its national convention in California last week, and it turns out it couldn’t have picked a better time to be there. For it was last week that California really began to deliver on the promise of the labor-Latino alliance. On Thursday, with the legislature rushing to meet its targeted adjournment date on Friday, it passed a bill raising the state’s hourly minimum wage from $8 to $10—the highest in the nation. It passed a bill permitting undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses. Governor Jerry Brown has committed to sign both bills. It also passed a bill mandating overtime pay for domestic workers, and, for good measure, outlawed the sale of rifles with detachable magazines and required owners of such rifles to register them with the state. And perhaps just as remarkably, on Thursday, 15 Republican members of the state legislature announced their support for federal immigration reform, including legalization of the undocumented. None of these victories were...

A Twerk Too Far

AP Images/Charles Sykes
AP Images/Charles Sykes A t last week’s MTV Video Music Awards, Miley Cyrus continued her journey to adulthood, aided by proximity to popping black female asses. The former Hannah Montana star sparked a national dialogue about rich white girls borrowing empowerment from "low" black culture. The conversation we need to have about cultural appropriation is thorny and complicated—and necessary. But in the heat of a pop-culture moment, the significance is trivialized, reduced to the mere shock of a wiggling, latex-clad derriere pressed against Robin Thicke’s manhood. And ideas that support useful dialogue get lost in the scrum. It is impossible to have a meaningful discussion about cultural appropriation without first understanding the difference between inspiration and minstrelsy, the diversity of American racial experiences, and what we have a right to expect from white artists influenced by other cultures. One thing glaringly absent from last week’s breast-beating was recognition of...

Going Beyond Protest

In 1963, America was overtly racist and needed a massive March on Washington. Today, racial bias is more subtle but just as insidious—we must learn to fight it differently.

AP Images/Susan Walsh
I t's been years since racism's most common manifestations were overt—in 2013, the charge of racism is still most commonly identified with people like Paula Deen, and it's easy to dissociate oneself with someone who resembles a Daughter of the Confederacy, wistful for the days when black employees could be asked to wear butlers' attire while being called the N-word, without a hint of backlash. But most recipients of racist practice have long understood that the most insidious and damaging cases are covert—so covert, in fact, that they can be easily denied. Recently, much has been made of the idea that racial bias has become so implicit that most people who impose their prejudices are blissfully unaware that they're doing so. The 1963 March on Washington was organized in a time of overt racism. This year's 50th anniversary events commemorating that march were performed in an age of implicit bias. It's difficult to attack a terror that will no longer allow itself to be named by marching...

Moses of Mississippi

Bob Moses organized for voting rights during the darkest days of the 1960s South. Today, his fight for civil rights continues, with a project to help inner city kids succeed in the classroom.

B ob Moses did not speak at the March on Washington. The Harvard student turned-rural organizer spent the day before picketing outside the Justice Department, with a sign quoting St. Augustine that read: “When There Is No Justice, What Is the State but a Robber Band Enlarged?” Moses wanted the federal government to protect the civil rights of poor black Americans, who were beaten and killed, whose churches were burned, whose fundamental personhood was under assault for trying to vote in Mississippi. White Mississipians wanted to kill Bob Moses: they shot at him, imprisoned him, beat him savagely on city streets. After one of those beatings—one day in Amite County—Moses rose to his feet, gathered himself, and walked into the county courthouse. Inside, blood dripping from his head, he alerted a baffled clerk that the two men with him wanted to register to vote. “I just couldn’t understand what Bob Moses was,” a Mississippi native said later. “Sometimes I think he was Moses in the Bible...

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